Tuesday, May 15, 2012

China trip: The Terracotta Warriors and more

Late last week we had a break in our work shooting and realized that we had enough time to leave Xi'an and head up to see the 8th wonder of the world, the Terracotta Warriors. This is an incredible display of thousands of these life-sized warriors which were created around 200 BC to protect the first Emperor of China.

Amazingly, these sculptures were not discovered until 1974, when 3 local farmers went to dig a well and found some artifacts.

They experts estimate that there are more than 8000 soldiers, 130 chariots and 500 horses buried within these pits! It is truly amazing when you walk into the building and see so many of these objects in excellent condition after being buried for thousands of years. As you can see from this photo, the entire area is covered to protect the terra cotta sculptures from the elements.

It is a challenge to photograph these warriors and come up with something different, since so many people visit this location and shoot photos. I used a couple of lenses with varying focal lengths to shoot these images. I preferred my Canon 24-105 for it's sharpness but also used my Tamron 28-300mm to get in a little closer. I also moved around to shoot the warriors from different angles.

I figured that since these were discovered almost 40 years ago, that all of the recovery would be complete by now, but this is not the case. The Chinese people are still working hard to uncover the remaining artifacts from the last remaining pits. Here is a shot of one of the workers. (Photographer's note: It is important to compose your images to tell the story. I could have shot a close-up shot of this gentleman focusing solely on his face, but wanted to shoot from an angle, and wide enough, to show some of the half-completed warriors in the background. I also waited for him to get in close to the light to illuminate his face, and for him to stay still since I was shooting in low light and wanted his face to be sharp, even though this was shot at 1/15 sec at ISO 1250. I have to admit, that although there was a sign saying that people should "refrain from using a tripod", I could not help myself and did shoot many of these images with my tripod.)

I really like this image showing the back of the sculptures. Not only was it interesting to see these outside of the pits, but I love the light spilling in to their right.

The detail is so impressive that I wanted to zoom in and get as much detail as possible. They say that all of the heads were molded from only 8 molds and then details were added to each warrior to make them unique. There sculptures have varying heights and uniforms, signifying their rank.

After spending a couple of hours with the Terracotta Warriors, it was time to head back into Xi'an. But that does not mean that we were done shooting for the day. Figuring that we had to make the most of every minute in this area of China (and ignoring the sleep deprivation), we then headed to the Big Goose Pagoda.

I saw images of this on the Internet and wanted to get some shots of this ancient building, with the water in the foreground. When seeing one of the images online, I figured that the photographer must have boosted the saturation way too far in order to show these crazy colors, but I was wrong. It turns out that these are not trees that are lit with red lights, they are actually light sculptures lit with bright red bulbs. I set up my tripod at the edge of the water and waited for the spotlights to cross each other and took this.

It wasn't until we got dropped off by the water that we found out that there was a water fountain show at 8:30pm. So, even though we were now tired and hungry, we waited for that as well. Before the show started, they turned off all of the smaller fountains which were constantly flowing, and the water went still. This gave me a chance to get a really nice reflection off of the water. This was a 2.5 sec exposure to help neutralize any small movement in the water.

And then at 8:30 the water show commenced. It was fun to shoot this, but honestly, we felt that the water covered the pagoda too much and the better shots were taken before the show. At this late hour, we had also lost the post-sunset blue sky and now had a muddy grey sky as a background. Since we were so close to the water edge (with very little options to move), we also had a lot of over spray hitting our lenses which made shooting the fountains a bit frustrating. But, with all that said, I did get a couple of nice fountain shots, like the one pictured here, which makes it all worth it!

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