Tuesday, May 29, 2012

China Trip: The very big city of Shanghai (day and night)

After spending 6 days in Xi'an, it was time to make the 2 hour flight to Shanghai. I arrived in this massive city on Saturday afternoon, checked into my hotel, and then less than an hour later I was in a cab to see this city for the first time. As it turns out, my cousin's son has lived in Shanghai for the last 6 months (a little different from New Jersey, where he is from) and so we met up and he showed me around.

It had been a while since we had seen each other, so we spent a couple of hours walking around Zhongshan Park, getting caught up (and taking photos of course).

 I really enjoyed seeing Chris again, and capturing the colors of the foliage.

After walking around the park, we made a stop at Chris' apartment, which was really fun. For someone who only sees hotel rooms and other tourist areas, it is always fun to see how people live in a strange country. Near Chris' place, we passed some of the street vendors and I stopped to grab some more shots. I really liked the colors and textures in these Chinese ingredients.

Later that evening, we came across this cool fountain and I set up the tripod to get a shot. At first I was glad that there was nobody in the shot, so that I could get a clean shot of the fountain without any distractions. But after looking at the images on the back of the camera, I realized that this shot needed a subject to complete the image. Just then a little girl went up to the fountain and started playing with the water. Perfect! So I waited for her to be in a good position and shot this image. (Photographer tip: I did not want to add any additional light to this image with my flash, so I shot this using only the ambient light. In order to highlight the little girl and make her more noticeable, I used the adjustment brush in Adobe Camera Raw to brush in 1 stop of light to her clothing.)

Wanting to show some images of the nightlife in downtown Shanghai, I set up and shot some images of the passers-by. 
I used a slow shutter on this shot to create blur in the vehicles. I waited for a taxi to come into frame (since it has all the standard headlights and tail lights, but also a green light on top) so that it would add some color and interest to the bottom of the frame.

I did the same technique with this shot, but this time I waited for a bus to come by. Using a 4 second exposure, I got the trailing lights from the bus, but also had the shutter open long enough to have the Temple visible in the background. 

We ended walking from Zhongshan Park all the way to East Nanjing Road, which is one of the busiest shopping areas in Shanghai. It was a really long day of walking but a lot of fun. I ended the evening with this shot of the busy shopping street.

On Sunday I started the day with another good friend (and co-worker), Joyce, who was born and raised in Shanghai. She gave me the grand tour. As we walked passed this one street, I saw all the people riding by on bikes and thought that this would be a perfect chance to grab another motion pan shot. (Photographer tip: I shot this photo at 1/15 sec which allowed me to pan and freeze the subject but blur the background slightly. I did not want blur the background too much, since I wanted to show the Chinese architecture. If I had blurred this too much, the viewer would not know see any details of the buildings behind the bike rider.)

When visiting Shanghai, you need to make sure to see some of the older Temples which are scattered throughout the city.
At one point, we were walking through an upscale restaurant district and I saw this Olympic torch from the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, which was encased in glass. I had to shoot an image of this, since this has so much meaning to me. The 2008 Beijing Olympics was my first Olympic experience and has since changed my life in so many ways. Some people might just see this as a torch, but I see this as a reminder of being a part of that amazing event and many more to come.

We went across the river to the area called The Bund, which is a really interesting place with European architecture and an amazing view of downtown Shanghai. As always in China, I was forced to shoot daytime images with a dreary polluted sky, but made the most of it anyways. I saw this patch of flowers, got down low to the ground and shot this. (Photographer's note: So many people take photos in this spot, and it is good to try to shoot something different. In places like this, look for interesting foregrounds to make your images stand out from the rest.)

A much closer look at downtown from The Bund.

As I mentioned in the previous photographer's note, it is a great idea to use interesting foregrounds in your images. For this image, I found this nicely curved walkway and got down low to the wall to have it included in the bottom third of my shot. Notice how the curved wall directs you eye to the downtown skyline.

This is a shot of the Shanghai World Financial Center which is one of the tallest buildings in the world. At 1614 feet high, it also has the tallest observation deck in the world.

We went to the top of the building, which was really amazing. Unfortunately, we timed it wrong and the sun was shining right into us as we faced downtown and the river. If you ever visit this observation deck and want a great view in this direction, go in the morning. :)

Here is a picture of me on the top level of the observation deck. There are even windowed floors, so you can look straight down from this level.

After having some dinner, we ventured back across the river to The Bund so that I could take some night shots of Shanghai. 

After looking back at my images from this location, I think that my favorite night shot was not of downtown Shanghai, but this one of The Bund. Not only does it show the European architecture but it also shows how many people were there on this particular Sunday evening. The other thing that I like about this shot, is the way that the street lights curve off into the distance, giving the photo some movement and direction.

The next blog entry will be the last from this trip to China, but includes some of my favorite shots overall. I had an amazing visit to Zhouzhuang, which is a small water town, sometimes referred to as "The Venice of China". Look for that in the days to come.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

China trip: Chinese windows in Shanghai

On my first full day in Shanghai, I spent all day walking around the city with my good friend Joyce, who was born and raised in the city. And, yes, I did take a lot of photos of downtown and surrounding areas, but before I post those (in the next couple of blog entries) I wanted to share something different with you. As we walked around some of the older buildings, I noticed that there were some really cool patterns in the old Chinese windows.

I started by shooting an image of this window, and then noticed so many more that I thought that it would make an interesting blog post in itself. So sit back and enjoy some ancient Chinese patterns.

This was one of my favorite window patterns, with the intersecting circular shapes. You will notice that I shot all of the images (at f4.0) making sure that the patterns were in focus, but the background was blurred. I also tried to get in close to avoid any other distractions.

I did take some photos of the individual windows in this grouping, but chose this image because it is different. Most of the windows that I photographed were single panes and not grouped like this.

The simplicity of this particular window is what drew my attention. Very clean lines, and so perfectly balanced.

This last window was totally different from the rest since it looked to be made of Jade. I was attracted to the the vibrant free colors and the shiny texture.

There...something totally different for you. There are times in my travels when I try to push myself out of my comfort zone. This was a case where I gave myself an assignment and shot images with one subject in mind. My next couple of posts will show you some views of downtown Shanghai and a very special town an hour outside of the city.

Friday, May 18, 2012

China trip: The Streets Vendors of Xi'an at Night

It was our second to last night in Xi'an and our taxi driver did not understand our crude map to the hotel, so he ended up dropping us off about 5 blocks from where we wanted to be. But since I had my iPhone, we used the map application to find our way to where we wanted to be. But, as luck would have it, we ended up passing an outdoor market which was about 2 blocks from where we were staying. As we walked by all these food vendors, all I could think about was, "I need to shoot some photos here!" So...after dropping off most of my equipment I walked back and went to work (or would that be fun?).

Here is the best part! I decided that I would bring only the Canon 5D Mark III and no flash. I figured that with the high ISO abilities of this camera, I didn't need a flash. Originally I was going to grab a 50mm 1.4 lens which is great for low light shooting, but since others had told me that that many of the street vendors did not like to have their photos taken, I decided to take my Tamron 28-300mm lens. It is far from ideal in low light, but an even better test for the Mark III.

This is one of the first shots that I took as I entered the area. I took this at ISO 3200 and figured that a nice wide shot would give my blog readers an idea of the overall environment.

To get this shot, I stood across the street and zoomed the lens to 100mm. I shot this image at ISO 6400 to compensate for the low light. Judging from the vendor's reaction I could not tell if I was welcomed or not. But after shooting a couple of shots, I noticed that there was some interesting activity happening behind him.

I walked behind the food vendor and saw all these people playing pool outside. I can't recall ever seeing a pool hall outside. But, hey, this is China and everything is different here, right? I had a little more light in this composition, so I rolled the ISO back to 4000. (For those of you who are not photographers, the ISO of the camera determines how sensitive the camera is to light, much like the old days of film when you had 400 and 1000 speed film. The great thing about these new cameras is that they let you take images like this in very low light and the photos are not overly grainy.)

I was attracted to this particular location because the light was so directional. The two merchants were lit, but everybody else was in the dark. I could have shot this differently to light everyone up, but I love how the viewer's eye is drawn towards the main subjects.

At this point, I had been shooting for a couple of minutes, and I noticed something interesting. Not only were the vendors not offended by my shooting images of them, they seemed to embrace it. Based on everything I had been told, this was not what I had expected! And if you know me, being the big ham that I am, you probably guessed that I shot images of these people and then showed them the back of the camera so that they could see what I was doing.

At this point, I felt welcome in their environment and was able to take more photos without feeling like an intruder.

I saw this man cooking noodles over an open flame and I really wanted to get this shot. As you can tell, the only light was coming from behind him, and from the light of the fire. This time I pushed the camera even harder, cranking up the ISO to a whopping 10,000. In all my years as a photographer, this was the first time that I shot an image above ISO 6400 (other than testing at home). It was so liberating to shoot this image using only the ambient light and still get what I wanted. You will notice that, even though I was at this high ISO, my shutter speed (1/160 sec) was fast enough to freeze the noodles as they were being tossed.

This man had just seen some of the images that I was taking of the other vendors and, when I pointed the camera his way, he gave me this big smile. You will notice that all of the photos of people also included the food that they were selling. Could I have just taken a clean portrait of them? Sure, but it is more interesting when you see the vendor and their offerings.

As I was about to leave my new friends, one vendor called her daughter over and asked her to pose for me. I could not pass that up! So...the little girl gave me the sign that all the Chinese kids do when posing for images (not sure why that is) and I grabbed this shot.

There were two lessons learned during this mini photo session.

1. The Canon 5D Mark III handled low light shooting wonderfully and allowed me to capture really nice images in very low light. Honestly, if I had used a flash in this situation, I would have lost much of the ambiance of the scene.

2. Even though people might tell you that you will be unwelcome with certain people, with the right attitude and a big smile, you may get a much better reaction from those in front of the camera.

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!