Thursday, May 10, 2012

Traveling in China: The first day of shooting in Xi'an

Wow. It has been a couple of weeks since my blog entry and I have so much to share with you all. Normally I will blog as I travel, but since most North American blogs are blocked in China, I was not able to do this during the last couple of weeks. I am, just returned to the U.S. and jet lagged, and posting the first blog on this trip.

The first stop was the city of Xi'an, which is one of the oldest cities in China, with some sites dating back more than 3000 years. Best known for the city wall and the close proximity of the famed Terracotta Warriors, this town is definitely less westernized than places like Beijing or Shanghai.

We arrived in Xi'an late on Monday night and Tuesday was their Labor Day. So, this gave us a day to adjust to the time zone. Our first stop was one of the lakes in the city, where many of the residents like to spend their days off. There were some really nice walking paths and gardens to enjoy.

Lots of the children were dressed up for the holiday, and this one particular little girl caught my attention, with her cute outfit and bubble machine. I took numerous photos of her with the bubble machine, but actually liked this one, when someone else took the bubble maker, and she looked out to admire the floating bubbles.

As you can see from the sky in this photo, it was very gray, which was not the best skies for taking scenic pictures. But in the 10 days in China for this trip, we never did see blue skies, so this is what you get. Turning this to a positive, these grey polluted skies do create a giant softbox and makes for better portraits of people, so I concentrated on some of the locals.

At one point, we came across this pretty bride who was having her photos taken. I grabbed my camera, and making sure to stay out of the photographer's way, shot some image of this lovely lady.
At one point, the wedding photographers started talking to our translator (and friend) only to find out that they were very jealous of our equipment. In our team, we were carrying 2 Canon 5D Mark III's and one Canon 5D Mark II, and all with some really nice lenses, tripods, and gobs of high speed, high capacity memory cards. You should have seen the smile on the one photographer when I showed him a Lexar Professional 128GB 1000x memory card. He was blown away.

Then after some lunch (and me getting sick) we all decided to rent some bikes and take the 10km bike ride around the old city wall. Even though I was not feeling too great, I was glad that we did the ride.

The wall was built during the Ming Dynasty and is one of the most complete city walls in China. Not only is it old, but this wall is massive, at 40 feet high and 40-60 feet wide. Most people can ride around the entire wall in 1 - 1 1/2 hours, but since we kept stopping to shoot stills and video, we ended up riding for only 3/4 of the wall, before running out of bike rental time.

There are ramparts located every 400 feet, that were built to help defend the wall.

I shot this particular image because I liked the juxtaposition of the newer apartment building directly behind the old building on the city wall.

At one point, as we headed towards the East Gate of the wall, we rode past one of the city's train stations and I was amazed at the amount of people trying to get from one place to another. It reminded me of an ant hill as people scurried from one place to another. (Photographer's note: I shot this image using the Canon 16-35mm wide lens to try and show as much of the scene as possible. I shot this at f22 at ISO 100 to get a 1/2 second exposure. This slower shutter speed creates the blurring motion in the people that are moving quickly.)

Speaking of blurring things...After returning the bikes, we watched other people riding by us, and I thought that it would be a great time to do some motion blur shots. Keeping the same settings as the train station shot, I panned along with the bike riders to blur the background but keep them in focus.

The finish off our long first day in Xi'an, we headed towards the well-known Bell Tower and Drum Tower in the central part of the city. When researching the city, before leaving on the trip, I saw these ancient buildings and thought that they would make great night shots. Built in 1384, these are symbols of the city, and really beautiful landmarks.

We found a good shooting position, which was conveniently located underneath an overhang, as it looked like it might rain. And then we waited for the sun to set and the night sky to balance the lighting on the buildings. This shot was taken at 7pm when the sky had yet to go dark, but I wanted to get a shot of the Bell Tower showing the amazing flowers surrounding the structure.

At 7:45pm, the light was perfect! We were able to get some blue color out of the sky and all the lights were on in both towers. This gave us that small window of time to get the shot that I wanted. (Photographer's note: I did take more than 100 different shots of this scene after the sun had set, and I did so for numerous reasons. First, as the sky continues to change in color and the lights of the buildings increase, the photos will look different. Secondly, I tried different white balance settings to see which I liked better. I can change these later, when processing the RAW file, but like to get it as close as possible in the camera. Thirdly, with the cars and people moving in the foreground, I knew that every image would show different motion blue. This particular image appealed to me, since the cars created a nice circular motion around the tower. This was not always the case, since it was dependent on the type of traffic - whether there were tall buses in the frame or not enough vehicles to create trails, and the speed of the flow of traffic. When you have only one change to get an image, make sure to shoot a lot so that you have a better chance of getting that one great image you imagined.)

After capturing lots of photos of the first shot that I wanted, and feeling comfortable that I had worked the scene completely, I switched lenses and zoomed in on the Drum Tower which was in the background. As you can see, the night sky had lost the deep blue color and now I was working with that dark hazy sky which is not nearly as appealing. But, it still made for a nice shot.

And that my friends was our first day in China. Starting at 6am and finishing at 10pm! Two days later, we did make an afternoon trip out to the see the amazing Terracotta Warriors. Those images are coming in the next blog entry.


Jonathan Weatherhead said...

Awesome shots Jeff! There is certainly lots to see in Xi'an. I was there myself last year and saw many of the sites mentioned and captured in your photos. Your photos are 99999x better than mine though :P

Chinese Tourist Visa said...

Loving all the pictures.. beautiful places.. kids brides all looks good. Thanks to share with us.