I’ve always wanted to visit India and finally got my chance to go to Delhi at the end of October. I’m absolutely loving it here, the post monsoon weather is cooler than usual, about the temperature of a hot summer day in the UK which is bearable. Tomorrow I’m going to the markets in Old Delhi to try and capture some of the hustle and bustle of this extraordinary town. It will be my last chance because I’m flying down to Bangalore in the evening.
I thought I’d offer some sage advice at this stage to anyone thinking of visiting Delhi with an expensive camera. Delhi makes a big impression. I walked out of the airport at 5am local time to be confronted with a sea of faces, taxi drivers touting for trade. The noise and the smell struck me like a wall. Pollution is a major problem and the air is heavy with it. The modus operandi of drivers in Delhi is to ignore the concept of lanes, right of way, personal safety etc and go hell for leather into any possible gap. Oh yes, the horn is used all the time. It’s bedlam out there!
I’ve come to the conclusion that the best, even only, way to photograph any city is to walk. There’s no getting around it, you have to be on the ground to see the opportunities. Delhi is huge, and some areas, trust me, you just don’t want to visit, so walking is difficult because the ‘must see’ sites are pretty distributed. There is a bus service, though god knows where it goes and why. The subway is a good option, cheap and much calmer than the streets, but coverage is incomplete. I decided, on the back of my time being substantially reduced, to hire a driver with a car. The cost was less than £20 a day. Watch out though, the hotel tried to charge me £40.
A car cannot navigate the back streets of old Delhi, so I arranged to meet my driver at various spots. He would drive me to where I wanted to go, I’d go off for a couple of hours and take pictures, phone him and he’d come and pick me up. Worked like a dream. The only downside was that hanging around makes you a sitting target for touts, beggars and thieves. Watch your personal space and ignore the beggars!
The other tips I’d mention are equipment related. I use a Kata 3n1 bag to carry my kit. They are tough, pretty secure and can be worn at front or back, sling style or rucksack. Easy for you to get at the camera, not so easy for anyone else. Tripods are not allowed at some locations, I had to use all my powers of persuasion to get into Humayun’s Tomb, and because of the pollution the sky is a uniform grey colour. Not much point taking ND Filters, there are no clouds visible.
For all this, Delhi is by some distance the most exciting city I’ve ever visited – the squalor, the ramshackle buildings – people flying around on motorbikes and scooters, the noise is unbelievable! And quite intimidating at first – give it a go, its an essential, life affirming experience.
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/
Silky smooth waters and frantic skies are the outstanding features that we see in a lot of daytime long exposures and so I decided to take the filters out to Seven Sisters Country Park in East Sussex where there is an abundance of both, to continue my experiments with the Lee Big Stopper.
Having checked the calibration of the filter and finding it to be closer to 11.5 stops than 10, I had a much more productive day today. I was also a lot more comfortable with the physical process of setting up the image:
A couple of tips – I noticed on day 1 that sand and dirt were blowing onto the filter wrap while I was working. Obviously sand and a glass filter will not mix, even worse with the Resin filters – a scratch will ruin the filter permanently. I also worried about accidentally treading or kneeling on one while adjusting the camera settings. The solution, for me was to invest in another camera bag. The Kata DC445 is perfectly sized for the filters in their Lee protective covers. I carry two sets of ND Grads, hard and soft at 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9, a set of ND Glass Filters at 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 and the Big Stopper. There’s room left over to carry a pan & tilt tripod head too, separated by the dividers provided. As a bonus, it also provides a platform to shield the wrappers from the wind and keep the filters off the ground. A good investment? Well it works for me. Using the Lee filter system is most suited to Landscape photography where setting up the shot and waiting for the light can take hours, a modus operandi that is a world away from the rapid response mode of the street photographer! Taking one extra bag in addition to the camera bag and tripod is not a big deal if I’m setting out to take landscapes.
On with the show – The shot at the top of the article was 23 seconds at f22. The water in the foreground was very fast moving and this length of exposure was enough to render it milky white. The shot of the river was made with a 30 second exposure at f22. The intention again, was to smooth what was a fairly briskly flowing river until it was glassy smooth. The light was different in this shot, hence the slightly longer exposure time. I was happy to use relatively short exposures because there was so much cloud and I wanted to keep some of that texture.
Learning point was that now that I have the right calibration to use as the basis for calculating the exposure, I can get to a usable image much more quickly. Its still a little less scientific than I would like, but I’m finding that I’m developing a feel for this filter now that allows me to take the calculation and adjust it for changing light conditions etc without engaging in complex mathematics.
Perhaps the greatest lesson was one that has been true for the whole of my experience with photography. At first, engage with the technique. Once you are comfortable with the technique you will find yourself able to engage with the creative side of the image much more effectively.