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.


Anonymous said...

Awesome photos, and advice. Thank you. (I've been getting interested in street photography of late and really must get over my hesitation in getting close to people in order to be successful at this.)

Unknown said...

These are really wonderful picture and advice, i like it. Please keep sharing more and more information about Xian Tour...... Thank you

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It is my dream to go on vacation to China or another Asian country like this. That's a beautiful country with magnificent landscapes.

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