Postcard Intellect

Travel photography for the uninitiated….



Street Market Photography

As I’ve been traversing the “travel photography blogosphere” I’ve stumbled across this post from Ailsa and decided to put together a quick post on some of the other travels I’ve taken throughout the last several years.

The idea behind this is “Street Markets.”  When Adriana and I travel, we make sure to spend a lot of timing walking through the markets, perusing the souvenirs and learning a bit more about the culture of the place.  Needless to say, some markets are more interesting than others.  I remember being particularly amazed by the Floating Market in Thailand during our honeymoon several years back.  

When looking through my old photos and the many market snaps I had, the next group that caught my eye were the ones from Istanbul in Turkey.  Such an incredible city and my wife and I had a field day walking through the massive souks that they have.  This was a great experience and we learned a lot walking through the markets, bargaining with the carpet salesmen, and perusing the myriad of things they had for sale.  I love the picture below, of the “Turkish Eye” or “Nazars” that they had for sale.  I took this picture from the bottom up to get a more interesting composition.

We eventually ended up buying a small, authentic carpet from the salesmen here.

The markets in Asia and the Middle East are simply incredible, and most of my street market photos are from those locations.  On our trip to Israel, and in Jerusalem in particular, I simply loved the layout of the old city and could imagine the ancient inhabitants as I walked through the cobble-stoned streets.

We also took a trip to Dubai for Adriana’s b-day.  One of my favorite street market pics here is of a series of lights that we saw swaying in a souk.

My most memorable (and potentially most disgusting pictures) is of this guy in India, using his hand to test the goats milk that he’s about to buy.  Yummy!

One of the places I’d always wanted to visit is Nepal.  On the same trip to India, we spent over a week hiking around Annapurna in the Himalayas.  The people of Nepal are just incredibly nice and the country is stunning – I hope that I have the opportunity to return many times throughout my life.  I particularly like the picture below, but the next one of my wife looking over the items is another favorite as well.

We’ve also hit the markets of Egypt, which is my opening picture and one of my favorites of the bunch.

As we move further west we get into Europe – we’ve travelled pretty much everywhere in Europe and truth be told I find many of the “street markets”, at least in Western Europe, to be very similar.  However that doesn’t mean it’s not interesting to look at the wares they have for sale – I personally get a chuckle out of how salesmen sell the souvenirs for which they’re known, but I have to say I’d be doing the same thing in their shoes!

Below you see some of the European photos from PisaRomania (which funny enough was one of my very first posts on this blog), and also Prague with the famous astronomical clock(s).

Finally I leave you with a teaser.  That’s right – if there is such a thing, I leave you with a  Street Market Teaser!  This is one of my favorite photos from a Christmas Market (this was taken in Munich).  Christmas Markets are a whole different animal, and I have a billion (yes, that’s right, put your finger on your lips and say “billion” like Dr. Evil) pictures from Christmas Markets.  My wife was sneaky enough to not inform me before we got married that she’s an absolute freak about Christmas markets (and therefore ornaments) so as we get closer to December I’ll spend some time sharing our random Christmas Market and ornament collection.

Hope you enjoyed this collection.  Most of the links above will take you to my Flickr photos, but I also have my more formal portfolio on SmugMug if you’d like to have a gander (and speaking of markets, those photos are for sale!)  Finally, I also have links to some recent posts that have some interesting market photos, particularly Tunisia and Kiev.  I’ve also taken a recent trip to China, with several interesting photos of the markets in the major cities. Please take a look and thanks again to Ailsa for organizing this – a great idea!

I’ll be travelling for a period of time, heading to Namibia to get some shots of the Namib desert, Skeleton Coast and take a safari.  I’m also hoping to have my first legit crack at star trails photography and am really looking forward to some great posts when I return.

Until then, keep taking pics!


Travel Photography at the Great Wall of China

When we were planning our trip to China (including stops in Singapore and Bali) we had a lot of new and amazing sites to see.  But for me, they all paled in comparison to the Great Wall of China.  My anticipation throughout the entire trip was palpable; it was indeed a case of saving the best for last.

There are various areas of the Great Wall that I’d expect you to research before planning a visit; we wanted to make sure we got some good pictures of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, so we went to two different sections of the wall – the North Pass section near Badaling, which is arguably the most famous part of the wall, and also an area known as Mutianyu, which is east of Badaling.  At the bottom of this post I’m including a very general map that I found along with a link to the agency that describes the areas in a bit more detail if you’re planning a trip.  The Great Wall is ancient, and it’s true that what you’re seeing at Badaling and Mutianyu are reconstructions.  For those of you that are gung ho and have the time, you can explore some very remote areas of the wall where you can see how nature is slowly overtaking the ancient stone.

Before I get to the photos, I have to mention very briefly the adventure we had in getting there.  We wanted to take a train to Badaling from Beijing on our own.  Yes, that’s right – no tour guide, no nothing.  We arrived at the Beijing North train station at crazy o’clock in the morning, trying to figure out how to buy a train ticket to Badaling.  No one spoke a word of English, we waited in a confusing line that didn’t move – I truly felt like an alien on the planet Earth.

After hours of frustrating failure, we didn’t want to lose the day so we hired a driver at the last minute to take us to Mutianyu first.  It was less than 2 hours from Beijing and when we arrived it was a bit strange.  First of all we were the only ones there – I’m not kidding.  There was no one around.  And for some reason it also didn’t “feel” like the Great Wall of China. I guess when you spend 30 years of your life hearing about the place and then arrive to an empty parking lot, the brain does a bit of a double-take.  Is this really the Great Wall of China?  Like, THE Great Wall, the thing that’s supposedly visible from space?  (It’s not by the way).

We got over this strange feeling and proceeded to walk the wall, taking some great pictures of the emptiness and vast expanse of the Chinese countryside.  And after being there for a while, we were thrilled to have the entire wall to ourselves.

The area around Mutianyu is mountainous, so I tried to make sure the background scenery showed in the photos.  In the picture below I leaned outside the wall to get a glimpse of it as it rounded the corner.  It gave a little different perspective than some of the other shots.

You can walk for maybe a mile and a half on the wall.  At the western end of Mutianyu there’s a massive hill.  You can see a glimpse of it in the background of some pictures below.

Can you see what I mean by the steep gradient in the back of the pictures above?  Here’s a zoom of two poor souls hoofing their way up to the top.

Don’t get me wrong – we’re not lazy, and I debated walking up there to get a shot back of the wall.  However it was getting to be late morning and I would have been shooting straight into the sun.  So we decided to not go all the way to the top.  Looking back I took a few pictures directly into the sun.  The one below is the first shot in the panorama that I put together.

I also took a few other photos and processed them slightly differently, giving them an older, darker look.  I particularly like the one below where I used a wider aperture to blur the background a bit.

Although it didn’t feel right when we first arrived, Mutianyu definitely delivered!  I’m very happy with the pictures that we took and it was great to be the only ones there!

Our second day we made another attempt to take a train to Badaling, and this time with the help of some friendly Japanese girls we were able to get a ticket and take a train to Badaling.  This is not for the feint of heart.  In hindsight taking the train was probably more trouble than it’s worth but Adriana in particular was determined to do it, and we ultimately succeeded!

Once there – it “felt” like the Great Wall!  Tourists were everywhere, people out selling a wide assortment of souvenirs, and family photographers were hugely abundant.  The structure of the wall at Badaling is slightly different than at Mutianyu.  The stone seemed a little more grey than the earthen toned wall at Mutianyu.  But both sites were worth visiting and after going to Badaling I was really pleased that we’d also seen Mutianyu.

Upon arriving at Badaling, the image below is the first you can take as you step off the chairlift.  You then walk to the right and proceed down the steps that you’re looking at here.

You may or may not notice that I’ve processed these photos above a bit differently. While looking them over on my computer I started to experiment with giving these pictures a dreamy look. So instead of bumping the clarity slider to the right, which I normally do for most of my photos, I moved it to the left on a lot of the Badaling photos. This creates an ever so slight “glow” for the pictures and I quite like the effect.

I also took several pictures sort of “hanging over” the side of the wall; this seemed to be more effective at Badaling for me, I think the wall twists and turns a little bit more and has a slightly more interesting formation than the wall at Mutianyu.

Finally, I took the picture above which I processed differently again.  I put the picture in Photoshop, used a saturation slider to take out all of the color and then masked over the people walking on the wall.  I was trying to accentuate the size and magnitude of the wall and yet still highlight the tourists.  Popping color can be really overdone but on occasion it’s a nice effect.

And of course I needed to include a good old fashioned HDR.  Actually several of these photos are HDR but I’m purposely processing them a bit differently so it’s not incredibly obvious.  Lately I’m getting a little tired of the look in the photo above but I did like the way this one turned out.

So what did I learn?  Here’s a few thoughts and tips on photography at the Great Wall of China.

  1. Get there early or stay late.  Light is always key.  For us we were fortunate to be there in winter, so the sun is always a little less harsh and the shadows are a bit longer.  At both locations we were there fairly early in the morning and had beautiful days.  But only Mutianyu was void of people.  There are of course other areas of the Great Wall; we only saw two.
  2. Be ready to walk.  Particularly at Badaling the wall is almost slippery in some places.  If it was raining or snowing it would be downright treacherous.
  3. UV and Polarizing filters.  I didn’t have these with me and I wish I had.  The blue skies really were beautiful and using a polarizer would have really strengthened the contrast of the pictures.
  4. Capture scale.  From a composition perspective I tried to do two things.  I wanted to always show the size and length of the Great Wall.  This structure is infamous for being “visible from Space” so people looking at these photos will want to see you prove it.  I tried to do this by making sure I used the wall as a leading line to show the length and scale.  I also, on occasion, used people to make this point.  This is especially true in the B&W photo with the color pop and the picture of the couple climbing up the massive incline.
  5. Foreground interest.  This is a tough one and honestly it’s not something I did well. Hence I want to mention it.  Lots of people go the great wall and do their best to capture the overall scene (basically my point above).  However if there’s not a focal point to the image, lots of those pictures will be quickly glossed over.  So do your best to include a watchtower, tree, or friend/family in the pictures composition to differentiate it from one of the many “normal snapshots” that are taken everyday.
There are a few photos from my trip that I’m selling on SmugMug. You can choose the print size and format, pricing information can be found by clicking on each individual thumbnail.
Below I’m including a map that I found; clicking will link to the website where it’s used.  It gives some additional information on the locations that we visited.  Note that we didn’t use this group or agency or whatever they are so I have no idea if they’re good at what they do….I just liked the map.  

I hope you find this write-up both entertaining and useful.  Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to respond!

Travel Photography in Beijing – Beihai Park and the Temple of Heaven

I’m closing in on finishing the series of posts on China, with Beijing being our final destination.  I’ve already given a description and some thoughts on photography in the Forbidden City, and my closing post will be on the Great Wall of China.  But there are some other sites to see in Beijing, so I wanted to have an interim post to discuss two of the other famous photo-worthy locations in China – Beihai Park and the Temple of Heaven.

Beihai Park is located north-west of the Forbidden City; it’s essentially a Chinese garden, famous for it’s white Dagoba sitting atop an island in the middle of a lake.  We went to Beihai park in the late afternoon.  Although the overall park is open till 8:00, the White Pagoda closes at 5:00 and as a result we were really rushed to get some good pictures from the top (in fact we got kicked out as I was frantically setting up my tripod!)

As you enter the Jade Flowery Islet (by crossing this bridge) you can see the White Dagoba in the distance.  Upon entering through the gate we were confronted by an enormous collection of red ornaments, hanging in the trees.  There was writing on these but I’m afraid to say my ability to read Chinese is not what it used to be, so I have no idea what they said.  I took numerous pictures here as there were so many options.  I wanted to give a sense of place but also create a repeating pattern to show the sheer number of ornaments.

As we came through the red ornaments you walk up another flight of stairs heading towards the famous White Dagoba.  In the image below I framed the stairs with the gate and the overhanging tree canopy.

As I said, we unfortunately ran out of time when we got to the top as they were just closing the Dagoba.  They do have some repeating patterns of these praying monks that I took below – this is a basic composition of repeating figures with a leading line fading into the distance.  Finally you can see a snap that I took the of the White Dagoba itself.  The sun was setting and the light was nice, but once you get up there you’re smack on top of the thing so it’s not easy to get a good picture.

As is usually the case when out traveling in a foreign city, you live and learn.  Beihai Park is a nice little park; a great environment to walk around and enjoy the scenery.  I do think that if we’d had more time you can get some good images from the top of the pagoda of the surrounding area.  To the east is Jingshan Hill, another location where you can get some good pictures overlooking the Forbidden City.  If you’re going solely to get a better view of the Forbidden City, I think Jingshan Hill is a better option than Beihai Park.

On another day in the evening we went to the Temple of Heaven.  This place is just beautiful, and we had great, great light in the late afternoon.  It was pretty busy while we were there, but we hung around long enough for the majority of people to leave and get some good pics.

While arriving at the site, they had these big, red hanging lanterns in preparation for the Chinese New Year celebration.  They provided a great opportunity for different compositions, in many ways similar to the red ornaments hanging in the entry to Beihai Park.

As I said the light was really good; I’m particularly pleased with the picture at the top of the post but I took a few others that you can see below.  The first was taken with the dragon engraving in the foreground; this is located on the middle of the stairway as you head up to the main landing.  The second photo is taken on the platform so that I was level with the Temple.

While we were there we wanted to get the all important picture of us!  So as we usually do we exchanged cameras, took a few shots and then eventually setup the tripod to get a picture of the two of us in front of the famous landmark.  I know I don’t spend enough time discussing this but I think it’s absolutely critical to take pictures of you and your family while you’re there.  I love taking pictures and capturing these incredible landmarks from all over the world, but at the end of the day it’s great to have pictures of you and your loved ones.  As you grow older these are the pictures that will remind you not just what it was like to be there, but also what YOU were like when you were there.

As always, a few select images (non watermarked of course) from this trip are for sale. If you’d like to take a look and purchase you can click on the thumbnails below.

Photography in the Forbidden City – Beijing, China

Ah!!  Beijing!!

What a great, great city!  Adriana and I arrived in Beijing after visiting the terracotta warriors in Xian.  We were fortunate with good weather while we were there, albeit cold. The Forbidden City, also known as the Forbidden Palace, was built in the early 15th century.  The buildings are incredible – and it’s just the kind of place that I really enjoy taking pictures.  Once I’m in a closed off area like this (there’s a small admission fee) I feel like I’m in my element.  It’s just great to walk around and have the freedom to take pictures of whatever you want in such a unique environment.

We begin with the main gate and entry at Tiananmen Square.  This is where the Chinese soldiers are guarding the entry to the Forbidden Palace, with a large photo of Chairman Mao hanging on the gate.  The photo below is a pretty classic and basic composition – guard in focus in the foreground with the background giving a sense of place.  Aperture was set to f/6.3 to create enough blur but plenty of detail to recognize Mao.

As you enter, this is the site you see:

This is an 11 picture panorama.  I set my camera to manual, set the exposure (meaning the aperture, shutter speed and ISO) as well as the white balance, and took 11 vertical shots from left to right.  No tripod, no nothing.  When I got back I put the photo into Photoshop and it merged the image, which I then cropped and adjusted.  It came out pretty well for a handheld shot.  Click here for a larger version.

As I entered the site I was really struck by the architecture.  The curving lines of the buildings, the circular, repeating structures on the roofs and the exquisite carvings all created an incredible atmosphere.  Instead of taking standard clicks of the buildings I found myself trying to get more interesting compositions of these aspects.

I chose to process the last picture here slightly different from the others.  Instead of adding a little vibrance and saturation, I did the opposite.  I took away some of the color to give it a more ancient look.  While many photographers strive to create their own style, I prefer to mix things up and keep people guessing!

In addition to being struck by the flowing architecture, there were also a lot of guards around.  These guys were standing stoically, watching the crowds with barely a move.

When shooting photos in a place like this I also like to get a variety of images.  Instead of just getting the buildings, I like to make sure I capture the detail of the place.  Taking close up pictures of the incredible sculptures and carvings can really give a sense of place. And for me personally, it helps me to remember what it was like to actually be there.  We’ve all seen pictures of the Forbidden Palace, but the pictures below strive to be different from the norm to give the viewer a more personal sense of the place.

In line with the details, I wanted to make sure I also captured the interior of some of the more famous buildings that are on the “main drag” of the complex.  These were challenging to take – there were people everywhere, crowding in to take a picture.  When I confront a situation like this I make sure that my camera is set appropriately (right lens, Av mode) and then wait patiently until I get a center spot.  Once I get that center spot I’ll take a few quick snaps and then get out of the way so that others can have a look. These pictures are HDR, due to the tricky interior lighting and the fact that …. well, I like to take some HDR pics!

The above is the throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity, one of the larger and more important buildings in the Forbidden City.

The picture above is another famous building, the Hall of Preserving Harmony.

I also wanted to ensure I got whole buildings, so you could get a sense of scale and understand their overall shape and how large they are compared to their surroundings.  Of course my favorites of this group are the ones with my beautiful wife!

The picture below I edited in Silver Efex and made it completely black and white.  I really like the couple walking together with the buildings in the background – it gives an excellent sense of scale and tranquility.

I also like this one – it gives that same strong sense of Asian architecture with the tubular roofs and flowing gables, but also includes the beautiful white Stupa in the background.  This is known as the Miaoying Temple and yes, we visited it as well!  Pictures to come in a future post!

 The next photos I have to guess, I’m not entirely sure which building this is but I think it’s the Hall of Supreme Harmony.  I really like the picture of the building as the colors complement each other very well.

On the photo above you’ll notice at the edges how the gables flare out to the sides.  On top of them there’s a collection of figurines, or charms.  One of the things we learned while reading about the site was that the more figurines a building has, the more important the building.  I snapped a picture of these as well, shown below.

To the north of the Forbidden Palace is Jingshan Hill.  Below you see a picture of the building on top of the hill; the view down on the Palace is one of the best views in the city, which is the opening picture of this post.

All in all, we had a wonderful time in the Forbidden City.  If you get a chance to go, I would say you need over half a day to really get to see everything and not feel like you’re rushing through it.  If you’re a history buff or architecture junkie, you could probably spend more than a day on site.

Below is a Google Satellite image of the site.  We entered from the south and then walked north, which is what you pretty much have to do.  We were there in winter and I can honestly say the light was pretty good the whole time; the shadows weren’t too harsh.

I hope you enjoyed looking at these pics and it gives you a better idea of how you can capture some memorable images from your visit.  We really had a wonderful time exploring the site, taking pictures, and soaking in the history from one of China’s great historical locations.  Any comments and constructive criticism is welcome and if you’re interested in purchasing any of these photos as postcards or prints, you can do so here.  And if you’d like to see more images of our visit to the Forbidden Palace, you can check out my Flickr photostream where I post a wider collection of photos.

Until next time, hope you get some good pictures and for my UK friends enjoy the long weekend!

Freezing cold at the Summer Palace in Beijing

We arrived in Beijing from Xian in the morning, and chose to spend our first day checking out the Summer Palace.  We took the underground (which was it’s own adventure) and arrived at the Summer Palace on a brisk, winter morning.

Unlike Xian, we were fortunate with some blue skys (well, pretty blue) while we were in Beijing.  But it was cold – and I mean freezing cold.  We were bundled up and still freezing our butts off, with camera batteries going dead in no time flat.  It didn’t stop us from enjoying the beautiful sites and gardens though of the Summer Palace.

There are several different sites to see while you’re in the Summer Palace.  I was absolutely blown away by the Long Corridor which is … wait for it … a long corridor.  It’s basically a covered walkway that extends for several hundred meters, and the photographic opportunities are significant.  When I see something like this the first thing I think about is the compositional technique of receding parallel lines, and the simple leading line that the corridor presents.  Below are a few pictures that I took of the long corridor where you can see what I mean.

I like all three of these pictures, but I really like the first and the third the best; the first gives a perfect example of a leading line and the eye is drawn into the frame, just making out the person at the end of the line.  But the one above is slightly different, with the “line” slowly turning to the right, leading the eye around the picture.  I also like the contrast between the vertical lines of the corridor with the horizontal cross beams above.

In addition to the Long Corridor, there are some other interesting sites at the Summer Palace.  There’s Longevity Hill, which is arguably the most famous site.  It’s where the Tower of Buddhist Incense sits, which is the largest building on the entire compound.  In the picture below you can see it to the left.

The lake, known as Kunming Lake, was completely frozen over while we were there.  It made for an interesting scene with many visitors either trying to ice skate or sitting chairs that were built to have ‘blades’ on them so they could effectively skate while sitting down.

Since it was winter the light was beautiful as the sun set and we were able to get some nice pictures with some good light on the Tower of Buddhist Incense.

While there I also wanted to get some shots that were a bit more abstract.  I think it’s important to get some detail pictures while you’re there to mix up the portfolio a little bit.  Below is a picture that’s trying to capture the lines that are common in Asian architecture; we saw these same lines time and again in the Forbidden Palace the next day as well; they’re very representative of Asian architecture.

One of the other highlights of the Summer Palace is the 17 arch bridge – this thing is pretty interesting but a little smaller than I thought.  Later in the day as the sun went down it gave some opportunities to capture some nice silhouettes as well.

There’s also the famous (infamous?) marble boat.  This was built in the 18th century and is not actually made out of marble, but rather wood painted to imitate marble.  The boat just sits there and there’s a bit of a conspiracy about the money spent to build it in the first place.

Anyway, back to some of my favorite pictures taken on the day.  I really liked the color associated with both the Long Corridor and the Tower of Buddhist Incense.  I used HDR in some instances to bring out the color and really make the photo pop, as this is the way I remember seeing it when I was there.

I also really like this photo below with the 17 arch bridge in the distance, and the pavilion in the foreground.  I was fortunate to capture this with the individual in silhouette inside the pavilion, looking up at the interior of the pavilion.   It really creates a sense of scale and the light was pretty incredible at this time of day.

Finally I took this last photo on the way out, again the leading line of the bridge into the small pavilion creates a nice composition.  The light from the sun hitting the bridge with the two individuals in silhouette walking adds to the atmosphere of the picture.

Below is a map so you know where to take pictures when you visit the Summer Palace.  This will give you an idea of how the place is laid out, where everything is, etc.  Remember the picture tags below show where the photos were taken from, not actually what is at that location.  I’ve also included a “sun line” to give you an idea of where the sun was setting while we were there.

Next up will be another palace, this one a little more famous – the Forbidden Palace!  At first glance I’m really happy with the photos that I captured so I can’t wait to get them processed and online!  Until then, happy shooting!

Xian – Ancient warriors in 21st century smog

After our adventures in Shanghai we took a flight to Xian; we meant to take a sleeper train to get an element of real adventure but it ended up that the agency we were working with weren’t able to secure us a ticket.  So instead we bought a last minute flight (which wasn’t too painful) and flew to Xian.  When we arrived I thought something was wrong – it smelled like the plane’s tires were on fire or something.  We calmly grabbed our bags and walked out the jetway into the airport, and that’s when I realized the smell wasn’t going away.  Well it turns out the “smell” was the pollution in the city.  It was nuts.  I don’t smoke, but I wanted to buy a pack of cigs just to get some fresh air.  Yep, it was that bad.

We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel in the middle of the city; the taxi ride was pretty crazy.  It was night time and with all of the pollution and smog (call it what you will) I don’t know how the driver knew where the road was.

In the morning we got up early and had a guide take us to the Terracotta warriors.  One piece of advice when travelling in China – you need to be VERY CLEAR on what it is you want to do and see.  We got in the car in the morning, agreed that we wanted to see the Terracotta army, and they proceeded to drive us to the site.  Three times they offered to stop – at a Jade Museum, a Terracotta Army “factory” and some other god forsaken place that I forget.  They get commission for taking you to these sites, so you need to very clear if you don’t want to go.  They’re basically tourist traps and will do anything in their power to sell you anything that catches your eye.  This is where I become sort of a dick when I travel.  I fully appreciate these people are trying to make a living like everyone else, but when I have one day to see a site I really don’t want to have to sit for two hours to some guy trying to sell me a Jade trinket – I just have no interest.  Anyway, rant over.  We succeeded in getting to the right museum, and it was well worth the minor frustrations.

The museum gives you some background on what they’ve uncovered so far and has some of the highest quality pottery warriors.  They’re covered within glass cases but I was still able to get some decent pictures.  I took some close-ups to try and capture the detail in the pottery work; each one is unique.

After walking through this initial museum you then walk into one of the three primary dig sites.  The first one is in it’s early stages, and is not quite as big as the main one.  It’s covered and sort of resembles a big warehouse as you can see below.

It was a bit tough to take pictures here because of the low light, and needless to say flash was frowned upon.  I used my 70-200 f4 IS lens.  It was perfect for the scenario; I set the ISO to anywhere between 1600 and 3200, then let the IS (Image Stabilization) do the rest of the work.  I kept the aperture set to f4 the whole time, letting in as much light as I possibly could.  My 50D does fairly well with noise but many of the images shot at 3200 required some noise correction.  For this I use one of two programs, either Lightroom (which in LR 3 really improved their capability around noise reduction) or a program called Dfine.  The latter probably does a better job but I only use it on occasion as it tends to lengthen my workflow.  I’m pretty pleased with the way the pics turned out, I think the one below is my favorite from this particular dig site.

All of the pottery warriors look like this when they dig them out – I was surprised to find of the thousands of warriors that they’ve found so far, only a few of them were found in one piece.

When we entered the main chamber it’s pretty awe inspiring.  It’s vast and has hundreds and hundreds of the warriors in various levels of completeness.  I also saw a group of archaeologists working on their latest discovery.

Now – our guide stated that there were possibly as many as 200,000 warriors buried throughout the area.  Yep, that’s right – 200,000.  Now if you read (and believe) Wikipedia it’s stating more in the range of 8000.  Who knows, I leave it up for debate.  But I did find it interesting that they haven’t opened the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China for whom all of this is for.  Must’ve been a pretty popular guy.

When taking the pictures in the exhibit I tried to create a sense of repetition, to give the viewer an idea that the number of warriors is vast if not infinite.  Using the f/4 aperture helps by ensuring the depth of field is shortened and creates a more intriguing picture, having the eye immediately focus on one warrior and then extending out to the others.

After the Terracotta warriors, we went back home and walked around the city a bit.  Xian is a small city by Chinese standards – only 8.5 million people.  🙂  The pollution remained, and created a pretty surreal environment for us as we tried to check out the famous Bell Tower towards the middle of the old city.  You can vaguely see it through the smog below.

Here’s a pic from the Bell Tower – I like the composition here as there’s obvious symmetry, and the smog actually creates some interest as the eye looks down the central line.  And the biker in the forefront shows that China still has some steps to take towards modernization.

Finally, we walked along the famous Xian wall.  Honestly this is pretty cool – it’s an ancient medieval wall that’s been up for a long time, with it’s current incarnation dating from the 14th century.  It’s wide, and quite honestly blows away most of the medieval walls I’ve seen in Europe (particularly in England – sorry York).   We walked around for a bit and took a few pictures, the entrance to the area was rather cool as they had these red banners flying in the wind that created a pretty cool tunnel like image.

And finally as we were atop the wall, the smog provided an excellent atmosphere.  Not that I’m promoting pollution, but I do like the way these images turned out as it sort of captures that de-saturated, ancient, foggy look.  We don’t need to know that the fog is actually created by millions of tons of coal burning throughout the country.  Just keep that to yourself.

This wraps it up for our trip through Xian!  It definitely gave us a different view of China; getting out of the big tourist hotspots of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing and instead getting a view of what a “normal” Chinese city is like.  The Terracotta warriors were pretty amazing and something I’d always wanted to see, and I’m happy with many of the images and memories I captured as part of the trip.

Next will be the final stop on our Asian trip – we go to Beijing to see the Forbidden Palace and of course the Great Wall!  Until next time I hope you get to take some great pics….

The Bund and Pudong – Photographing the skylines of Shanghai

After spending a couple days in Shanghai and working out how to get around in the city, it was time to start some serious photography of the incredible skyscrapers.  I was pretty impressed with both Hong Kong and even Singapore despite the latter being relatively small, but I was really looking forward to our last significant cityscape of the holiday.

First things first, the reason we ended up waiting a few days to take these photos is because we found out the hard way that the Pearl Tower’s lights actually go out after 10:00 PM (I’ve heard some say 11:00, but for us it was definitely 10:00) And it just so happened that the way our schedule worked, the first day on the Bund we were exhausted and the second day we were having a late dinner and not out before 10:00.  So our last day it was our one and only focus – to walk the Bund, get over to Pudong, and take some great pics from either side.

Before I really get into the pictures, let’s take a moment to describe what I mean by the Bund and Pudong.  The Bund is on the north side of the Hungpao river and is essentially a mile long embankment; the picture above gives an idea what it looks like.  The street is filled with older colonial buildings from foreign embassies in the 19th century, and was primarily a British district 100 years ago.  The embankment itself is for pedestrians only, with a great wide sidewalk to enjoy the scenery and the large buildings on the other side, which takes me to Pudong.

Pudong is on the other side of the river, and this is where the famous skyline of Shanghai is continuing to be reinvented on a regular basis.  The whole area used to be swampland – this picture sort of shows that and also gives you an idea of the rather un-impressive skyline of the Bund (I believe the buildings are restricted in height along the Bund due to the historical buildings).

One of the more noticeable buildings is the Oriental Pearl Tower.  This behemoth is pretty unique as far as famous buildings go and at one time was the highest building in China.  It’s a TV tower so it all has all the normal “stuff” associated with a big building that they’re not sure what else to do with – observation decks, shopping and a revolving restaurant. The Oriental Pearl Tower is shown below.

In addition to the Pearl Tower there are a slew of other towers and skyscrapers in Pudong; no doubt that it’s the up and coming district of Shanghai.  The World Financial Center is now the tallest building in the city (and I believe it’s the tallest in China now, if you don’t count Taiwan).  Apparently though the World Financial Center will be surpassed shortly by yet another tower being built in Pudong, the Shanghai Tower.  So as you can see all of these things you’re reading in the news about how incredible China’s growth is – yeah, they’re right.  The place is growing like crazy, and the sheer sprawl of the skyline behind Pudong is incredible.  Below is a pic taken during daylight hours that captures the skyline.  You can easily see the Pearl Tower and to the right side (and the tallest building) is the WFC – it looks like you could pick it up with it’s handle (if you were half a mile tall).

Below is a similar photo to the one above (and also my featured pic at the top) that shows the famous Pudong skyline at night.  Both this and the one above are HDR photos, and the map at the bottom of the post will show you exactly where I took all of these photos to make things a bit more clear.

I processed this picture in the same way as shown in the Singapore tutorial.  One interesting processing technique that was required was to shift the towers in Photoshop.  The towers in a picture like this have a tendency to “lean” towards the middle due to lens distortion.  So in Photoshop you can use the Transform tool (I used Skew) to sort of drag the top two sides of the photo apart.  This keeps the tower(s) straight and corrects the photo.

From the Bund we wanted to get across to Pudong to get up to the WFC observatory.  Now there are various ways to get across – you can take the underground, you can take a taxi, or if you’re ready for the experience of a lifetime you can take the “Bund Sightseeing Tunnel”  Now I’ve gotta tell you, this thing is a complete piece of shit.  It’s like a bunch of deranged and drugged out Disney rejects decided to give it one last go.  You ride on a little cart and there are weird lights, the most bizarre voices saying the most bizarre things, and it’s just the strangest experience I can imagine.  If you were high, drunk or a combination of all of the above there’s no doubt it would be outstanding.  To me it’s one of those things that I would encourage you to see just to have a laugh about how bad it is.  Anyway the pic below is Adriana getting ready to enter ( fuzzy and out of focus, sorry).

From the Pudong side of the city we went up to the WFC.  I was surprised but they didn’t say a word about me bringing my tripod to the top.  Once I got up there I was able to take some pretty cool pictures of the surrounding area, including the Jin Mao Tower where the Grand Hyatt is.  You can see the Pearl Tower in the background.

What’s also pretty cool is the view of the Bund that you have from this observatory.  The photos below are images of the Bund.

Finally a panorama to give you a full idea of what the Bund looks like (in miniature).  If you look in the back you can actually see the Radisson Blu mentioned in the Nanjing Road post that gives some other great views of the city.  For a larger version of the pic below click here.

All in all we had an outstanding time in Shanghai – I didn’t expect a whole lot from the city and was pleasantly surprised.  During our time there the weather was great with no pollution, the people were nice and we simply had a wonderful time.  The architecture is awesome and it’s easily a place you could spend many days taking incredible photos.  I’ll close with the pic of the two of us below and then a map to give you an idea where the other photos were taken from.  Next stop on our trip is Xian!

Finally the map to pinpoint exactly where I took my photos.  Hope you find it useful.

A walk along Nanjing Road Shopping District in Shanghai, China

While spending a few days in Shanghai we spent one evening walking down Nanjing Road, which is the primary shopping street of Shanghai.  We had strolled down the street during the day but after walking for a while we decided it would be a great photography walk at night.  The buildings are lit up in fluorescent lights, reminding me of Macau (or Vegas for that matter).  But more interesting for me was checking out what they had for sale in some of the stores.  Despite all the places we’ve traveled, China was still a country capable of giving me a significant jolt of culture shock to make me feel like an alien on my own planet.

One of the stores that we walked into was sort of like a dry goods grocery store.  They had all kinds of things that looked … foreign.  Things that looked like taffy, various animals that almost looked like they were “candied” (see the pig face below) and some things that were less appetising – yes, that’s right, less appetising than a candied pigs face.  They were also selling what looked like petrified meal worms, but in reality are called cordyceps and are actually sold for huge amounts of money.  While researching for this post I found a great write-up of some of the stuff I was seeing, you can read about it here.

I took a few pictures in these stores but didn’t go crazy; I know some people will think I’m overly careful but I’m still a bit hesitant to just snap away in someone’s store with my DSLR.

The other thing I found for sale in some of the stores were calligraphy sets.  I find calligraphy a very interesting aspect of Asian history and culture.  While we were there we got a little sign made up for the “Millers” by this gentlemen below.  He did it right in front of us and charged us a few bucks.  I like the picture with him blow drying the finished product; it really was interesting to watch him do it and I think we even took some video of it (which I’ll eventually post).  To be clear the picture below wasn’t taken in Nanjing Road but rather on the illustrious “Bund Sightseeing Tunnel” which I’ll write about in my next post.

The store below was on Nanjing road and was super cool – it had a huge selection of calligraphy and painting brushes, stamps, inks, and all the material to take up and learn this ancient art.  It was fascinating to walk through and see all of these interesting things for sale.

Aside from the stores, we really enjoyed the street itself, particularly at night.  Nanjing road is largely pedestrianized, so you don’t have to worry about cars (although there’s a little blue train which you can see below that you do need to watch out for!)  The picture below is a 3 exposure HDR that I took with my tripod.  Yep, that’s right – I carried my tripod down Nanjing road and it was absolutely fine.  I never felt in danger or that we were getting too many strange looks, and I’m glad I had it because I don’t think as many of these pictures would have turned out without it.

As you can see the lights are just amazing.  And I like the movement of the blue train in the picture to offset the largely pink/red colors of the lights.

While we were walking down the road we took a few pictures of each other, on occasion setting up the tripod.  To take a picture like the one below I would first understand what settings provide the proper exposure for the scene in general, without Adriana.  Then I remember those settings (in this situation they were aperture of 6.3, shutter speed came out to 1/25 sec, and an ISO setting of 800).  So I set the camera to Manual, enter all of those settings, and turn on the flash (to manual) and set it to 1/8 as a start.  I snap the photo, check to see how she looks compared to the background light, and generally need to take one or two more to make sure I nailed it.  Once you get used to practicing it’s fairly easy, but I have to tell you it sure helps to have a patient wife (or partner) because photo’s like this used to take me 20 minutes each!

Notice the Radisson in the back that sort of looks like a flying saucer ready to take off?  Remember that – I took some other photos from there you’ll be seeing below!

Here’s another picture of my beautiful wife – in this one I zoomed in closer to her face for a tighter picture.  I think people often underestimate how effective a tight crop is – don’t be afraid to show a person’s face!  Sometimes I see people taking pictures from like 300 yards away – the end result is a human shaped ant that’s completely lost amongst the background.  Like all my little rants there are certainly times that this is very effective, for example to show the insignificance of man or to show scale.  But here it’s not what I wanted to do.

We walked around for quite a while, taking some pretty cool pictures of the lights, the people walking, and trying to capture the general ambiance of the place.

Now – remember the Radisson in the background of the Adriana picture?  Well we went up there to have a few drinks before our dinner that evening and …. you guessed it!  We took some pictures from the top!  It’s a rotating bar and at night that creates a challenge in taking anything that resembles a long exposure.  So I had to crank up the ISO and take at a much larger aperture (smaller number) than I wanted.  The two pictures below are the two best ones that I got.  It made me really wish that I had gotten a better viewpoint to try and capture a quality image.  One of the things they do in Shanghai is light their roads – you can see it below in the eerie blue light and after looking at some of the images on 500px or Flickr from Shanghai you can see how beautiful the lights look.

After having a few drinks we left and went to Mr. and Mrs. Bund for dinner.  This is a rather upscale modern French eatery, we honestly went for the view over the Bund but didn’t realize that the lights on the famous Pearl Tower turn off after 10:00!  So we focused instead on having a wonderful meal and good conversation – it wasn’t terribly difficult!  Below is one picture that I did take of the Bund (you can see the large walkway on the right) from the terrace of the restaurant.  It’s a nice teaser for the next post!

That’s it for Nanjing Road.  I definitely recommend taking a walk to check out the stores and the view from the Radisson Blu is pretty amazing.  Next post will be my final for Shanghai; I’ll detail the Bund and how we took some incredible pictures of the Pudong skyline.

Yuyuan Gardens in Shanghai

After our few days in Singapore our next stop on our tour of Asia was Shanghai.  Now this city is is B I G.  The population is over 23 million and it’s the largest proper city in China. And I have to say I absolutely loved the place.  We stayed in a great hotel – the Westin Bund so we had a great view of the famous skyline and easy access to many of the cities well known sights.

I’ll probably write a few posts on this but I wanted to get started with the Yuyuan Gardens, which is where we went on our first day.  It was overcast and the pictures weren’t great due to a slight lack of motivation on our part but it’s still a pretty incredible place.  The garden was originally built in 1559 and is one of the finer gardens in the area.  I’m not an expert on Asian gardens so let me just tell you – it looks like an Asian garden.

There are beautiful fishponds – I would probably call these goldfish but I think they’re more correctly carp (they’re large, and I like this picture because they’re all moving in the same direction).

I took this picture of the Chinese writing – I was using a wide angle lens that allowed me to give this an interesting perspective, but unfortunately I can’t tell you what it says.

The day was a bit rainy and overcast (reminded me of English weather!) but that didn’t stop us from getting some detail shots.  This is one of the figurines that adorns the sweeping roof.  I always try to take more detail shots when the weather isn’t great; it allows you to hone in on what it was like to be there without being reminded that the weather failed to cooperate.

I took a panorama of the garden which I put together using Photoshop CS4.  It gives a nice feel for what the overall scene looks like – a bridge over the goldfish pond, rocks and plants all around and beautiful buildings surrounding the environment.

After taking some pictures and walking through the garden we also spent some time walking around the general area.  They were getting prepped for the Chinese New Year which is a huge celebration; this year will be the Year of the Dragon.

While walking around the rest of the area there are several markets and tea houses.  I particularly like the picture below; I was trying to capture the hanging lanterns when I spied this woman looking at her friend.  It fit the composition well and I’m very pleased with the bokeh and the focal point directly on her.

For a break during the day we stopped in a famous (and crowded) teahouse called Huxinting.  It was kinda funny because we had absolutely no idea on how to order tea.  Adriana’s drink was served in such a strange looking cup that we had to ask for instructions on how to drink it!

Finally while walking through the markets I snapped this moment in time that I just love – it’s one of the merchants selling his stuff and I really like the way people are not only huddled around him but also the lighting on their face.

I think this is where Gremlins came from!  Next post I’ll be writing about our adventures on Nanjin road and finally my experience on the Bund taking pictures of the awesome buildings of Pudong.

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