Three days photographing Beijing was an opportunity i was never going to pass up. So I flew over to China last weekend, slept on Sunday, worked on Monday & Tuesday and spent the rest of the week grabbing as many photographs as possible.
Beijing is an incredible city, extreme in every sense, architecturally especially. The scale is breathtaking, an urban sprawl bigger than London and much more densely populated, it is strange and exciting and I had a wonderful time there.
I managed to get around the places I would never have forgiven myself for not photographing. The Great Wall is truly breathtaking, the Ming tombs extraordinary and the Forbidden City easily lives up to its reputation. One place I was not familiar with before the trip was the 798 Space, a converted factory from the bad old days, designed by East German architects, based on Bauhaus designs in the 1930’s. It is well worth a visit.The Worker’s Stadium is another impressive monument from the communist days, with it’s iconic statue and slogans extolling the virtues of work. China is a country that I suspect is misunderstood. In the west we have a view distorted by the prism of American foreign policy; the jobs are going to China, cheap Chinese goods are undermining our economies etc. In fact China is the second biggest economy in the world and probably the most robust. The financial crash that crippled the west was self inflicted and has impacted China too.
I digress, what did I learn about photography on this expedition? A lot as it happens. My trip to Tiananmen Square was blighted by extreme humidity – so much water in the air that visibility was down to about fifty yards. Hardly ideal for landscape photography. The glare from the sky was overwhelming. I underexposed all the external shots from that day with a view to capturing the detail so that I could bring it up selectively in post processing. Worked a treat. I could have used ND Grads, but there was no feature in the sky, just an endless expanse of grey. I’ve brought a lot of those images to life with monochrome treatments performed in Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex Pro. I took a lot of detail shots inside the Forbidden City and here the 50mm f/1.8 really excelled. Such a great lens. Sharp as a tack.
The Great Wall was a challenge in every way, 35 degree heat and 70 degree inclines do not make a good combination, especially when combined with a backpack full of camera gear. I was grateful for my Lee Polarising Filter and the tripod was a life saver – I used a long lens for most of the shots, to bring the architectural features into a more compact frame. The challenge with photographing a wall in the middle of the day in high summer is that although the scale is immense, a wall surrounded by green is not in itself particularly interesting. It would have been better to have gone in the early morning and captured the mist rolling off the hills, but I couldn’t organise a driver in time and that would also have meant climbing up to the wall on foot! The cable car took minutes, easily an hour’s climb on foot.
The kit I took with me was just about right for the trip, everything got used, it wasn’t too heavy (one day I walked at least 15 miles), the Kata back pack was comfortable durable, in fact the only hint of trouble came when the West German Security asked me if I’d bought it all in China. In fact Canon kit is just as expensive there as it is here, and I’ve never encountered a fake 7D!
I took two cameras – Canon 7D and G1-X. Lee Hard and Soft Grads, Polarising Filter and Big Stopper. My everyday lens, the 17-55mm, a 50mm prime and a 10-22mm wide angle plus the 70-300mm zoom. The Giottos Vitruvian tripod really earned its keep, very light and small when folded. Virtually no wind, so stability was never an issue. I was a little concerned I’d taken too much, and very concerned about the fragility of the filters, but as I said, everything got used and nothing was wasted.
Check out the images from the trip here: http://electricalimage.com/galleries/travel/china-2/