In January I got a chance to visit Meizhou in northeastern Guangdong Province. A rivertown, the city sits on the north bank of the Mei River, connecting it to the South China Sea some 150 kilometers to the south via the Han River. Meizhou and much of the eastern part of the province tells the story of a very different Guangdong than the one found in Shenzhen and Guangzhou.Read More
I have been experimenting with tilt-shift panoramas recently. I use the Canon 24mm tilt-shift with an adaptor on a Sony A7r. The results are some incredibly sharp, high-resolution pictures. I am particularly attracted to the level of detail, these pictures are able to deliver. When printed large, this gives the picture a certain duality: From afar, the overall composition will stand out but moving closer, the view will be able to see the dust on a railing or the cracks in the paint on the door.
Click through to see the pictures in full resolution on Flickr.
I was fortunate to get a chance to go to Zhangjiajie in Hunan Province last mosth. Zhangjiajie is home to Wulingyuan--a national park and UNESCO heritage site. Wulingyuan is famous for thousands of sandstone columns and dramatic rock formations and caves. The scenery served as an inspiration to James Cameron's Avatar and truly has an otherworldly feel.
Sadly, it was rainy for most of the three days I was there. But when the rain wasn't pouring down, the mist and fog added to the photos.
1/40s, f/7.1, ISO 5000, 24mm (Nikon Df)
This week, I contributed a piece to the Guardian's series on "a History of Cities in 50 buildings". I wrote about the Old Beijing Stock Exchange and what it tells about the city's development. You can read it here. Make sure to follow the excellent series as well.
15s, f/16, ISO 50, 24mm (Sony A7r; Nikkor 24mm f/2.0)
Guomao Bridge at Night. The first (east-west) section of Guomao Bridge was opened to traffic in 1986 as Dabeiyao Bridge (大北窑桥). In the 90s, when the third ring road was built, a north-south lane was added on top. Located in Beijing's central business district, it's one of the city's busiest intersections today.
Before it was named Guomao in the early 1990s, the neighborhood was known as Dabeiyao (大北窑), which means something like "large northern furnace". The name is a reference to the fact that the Japanese used the area as a brick kiln during World War II. Continue below the fold for a picture of Guomao from the mid-1980s.
Dabeiyao Bridge, 1986 (picture courtesy of 中国桥梁网)
1/2000s, f/5, ISO 200, 70mm
In two recent posts, I have written about my experience with Nikon’s new retro-style DSLR, the Nikon Df. Nikon was kind enough to lend me the camera for a month and I’ve put the camera to use for my street and urban landscape photography.
The image quality and light weight make the Df a versatile fit for all day shooting. And the readily available manual controls made me feel that I was truly crafting my images. In this post I will wrap up with some general thoughts after taking the Df with me on a hike on the Great Wall.
For my last day with the Df, I went to the Great Wall at Simatai (司马台). Simatai is a few hours northeast of Beijing and offers stunning and dramatic views of the wall and Yanshan mountain. To keep things light, I only packed the Df with the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED.
1/1250s, f/5, ISO 200, 24mm
Hiking with the Df is a treat. The light weight is an obvious advantage and the ergonomics feel right. I’m used to larger camera bodies, so it took me some time to get used to the Df’s smaller size. Once I did, I really got to appreciate the compact design. Similar to shooting with the camera in an urban setting, I found that I rarely had to stop to look at the actual controls when composing and exposing an image. Instead, I was able to focus on the image and framing it exactly the way I wanted it.
The day of my hike was a bright day, which makes it challenging to capture both the details in the (bright) sky and the (darker) foreground. Not so with the Df. The dynamic range of the Df is exceptional and offers a lot of leeway in post-processing in terms of bringing out details in the darker parts of the image.
Processing the images, I was able to recover plenty of details from the darker areas of the images without really compromising on noise and color accuracy (see below for before-and-after samples).
1/100s, f/2.8, ISO 100, 62mm (before processing)
1/100s, f/2.8, ISO 100, 62mm (after processing)
The worst part of trying out the Df was having to return it. After going back to conventional DSLR bodies, I noticed that the Df had changed the way I think about taking photos. It was as if the camera, with its dials and buttons, reminded me of the importance of shaping my compositions and paying attention to the different variables that go into “getting the shot” -- all while keeping my eyes on what I’m shooting.
You can check out more about the Df on Nikon’s website.
Full disclosure: while this post is based on my unfiltered thoughts about the camera, the post is sponsored by Nikon.
1/3200s, f/2.8, ISO 200, 24mm
1/3200s, f/9, ISO 200, 24mm
8s, f/4, ISO 400, 24mm
In my last post, I shared my impressions on using Nikon's new retro-style DSLR, the Nikon Df, for my street photography. In this post, I will share some thoughts on how I thought the camera performed for the urban landscape photography I do.
Doing landscape photography in Beijing can be challenging. The city’s unpredictable air pollution means that you rarely know what the light and the sky will look like the next day or even later the same day. The convenience of being able to have a light camera to carry around and yet still have the power of an amazing sensor make the Df a great fit for a place like Beijing. The camera makes it possible to shoot handheld in the low light around dusk and dawn and still get sharp pictures. Images are amazingly crisp at ISO 1600 and even at 6400 and beyong there is plenty of detail left.
1/125s, f/2.8, ISO 1600, 34mm
The evening I took the shot above from the Shuangjing neighborhood, I had gone out without a tripod carrying just the Df and the Nikkor 24-70mm lens. The morning had been gray and polluted but later in the afternoon the weather cleared up. Nevertheless, getting a sharp shot was no issue, handholding the camera at ISO 1600 (although I would have liked to smooth out the traffic with a longer exposure).
30s, f/22, ISO 100, 24mm
The manual dials are also handy for landscape photography. With other digital SLRs, I often find myself taking my eyes off the scene I’m shooting to check the viewfinder and the display for exposure settings. With the Df, after getting familiar with the dials, I can quickly set the shutter speed and ISO without taking my eyes of the scene I’m shooting.
1/30s, f/2.8, ISO 2500, 24mm
Another great feature for handheld landscape photography is the virtual horizon function. When enabled, a bar in the viewfinder will indicate rolling, horizontal tilt. The virtual horizon is also available when shooting in live view where forward and backward tilt is also indicated.
1/4000s, f/2.8, ISO 800, 24mm
I will sum up with some general impressions on what it’s been like to work with the Df for the last few weeks.
You can check out more about the Df on Nikon’s website.
Full disclosure: while this post is based on my unfiltered thoughts about the camera, the post is sponsored by Nikon.
1/800s, f/2.8, ISO 1600, 24mm
1.6s, f/3.5, ISO 800, 24mm
1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 200, 24mm
1/4000s, f/2.8, ISO 100, 55mm
Earlier this month, Nikon gave me a chance to try out the Nikon Df, Nikon’s new retro-style full-frame DSLR. The camera itself is beautiful, taking design cues from Nikon's 1970s-era FM film cameras.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve put the camera to use for the photography I do the most: urban landscape and street photography. I will cover my impressions of the camera for street photography in this post. For my next post, I will focus on using the camera for landscape shots, and then wrap up with some more general thoughts in a final post.
The technical specifications of the Df have been well documented, so I won’t go into a lot of detail here. The camera features the same 16-megapixel image sensor as the Nikon D4. The images are sharp and the performance in low light is superb.
Images at ISO levels of up 25,000 maintain plenty of details and the noise is kept under control. The camera’s dynamic range (the ability to capture shadow and highlight details at the same time) is also exceptional. In short, the Nikon Df is plenty capable of producing stunning pictures in the right hands.
1/400s, f/7.1, ISO 5000, 55mm
What sets the camera apart from other digital SLRs in the same class is the camera’s old-school layout with dedicated dials and buttons. Other camera makers have introduced similar designs with great success. The Df, however, stands out as the first full-frame, retro camera (not counting mirrorless models).
The camera is also noticeably smaller than peer cameras and, with a prime lens attached, it makes for a very handy and discreet combo for street photography.
Using the camera for my street photography has been a joy. I like to explore neighborhoods in the early morning and around sunset. Capturing a moment that conveys a narrative with an interesting and revealing composition takes patience and some luck -- like waiting for a worker to walk down the street in the right light or a parent walking a child to school.
I try to get a good sense of the scene I want to shoot and what kind of exposure I am looking for. In those situations, there are few surprises in terms of light and color, and I don’t have much need to rely on the camera’s meter. And this is where Df excels. Give and take a few adjustments, I generally have a sense of what exposure, say, the morning light demands, and here it’s really helpful to be able to rely on dedicated buttons to fine-tune the exposure.
1/50s, f/8, ISO 3600, 24mm
In fact, it’s as if the camera begs you to shoot in manual mode. I have found myself more carefully considering the different variables that go into capturing a given moment exactly the way I want. In that way, the camera makes me feel that I am truly crafting the image in a similar way to how I used to shoot film.
Coming from a conventional digital SLR, the retro design can be challenging. Mastering the controls takes some time getting and the camera is not for someone picking up their first DSLR (as the price point would suggest as well). Shooting at night, it can also be difficult to see the settings of the different dials. In the end, I started to get the hang of using the dials and buttons without looking and relying on the display in the viewfinder.
The Df is a fantastic fit for street photography. Light and fun to use, I also felt challenged to think more carefully about my shots. It’s for situations where you have time to think more carefully about each shots, and that’s when the camera will reward you with outstanding results.
For more information, be sure to check Nikon’s website on the Df.
1/50s, f/4, ISO 2800, 24mm
1/400s, f/2.8, ISO 800, 24mm
The former Beijing Stock Exchange (中原证券交易所) at 6.30am on a Sunday. Opened in 1918 and tucked away in an alley behind Qianmen, this was Beijing's first stock exchange. Thanks to Sue Anne for the discovery. If you haven't already, do yourself a favor and follow her stories and pictures at Shanghai Street Stories.
6s, f/20, ISO 200, 24mm
The second ring road in Beijing (more or less) runs the parameter of the old city wall. The Beijing city wall stood for more than 500 years until most of it was torn down beginning in the 1960s to make room for Subway Line 2 and the second ring road. The Beijing Ancient Observatory, which formed part of the city wall, is visible on the left.
I shot the picture just after sunset on a hot July summer night on a pedestrian bridge. The exposure is six seconds long at the lens' minimum aperture at f/22. Taking long exposures on Beijing's pedestrian bridges can be tricky because the bridges to to shake a little large vehicles pass below. If the platform had been a bit steadier, I would have gone for a slightly longer exposure to make the light trails a bit stronger.
1/640s, f/5, ISO 200, 43mm
I finally got a chance to explore Guilin and YangShou. It was a short trip with packed program and I didn't get to spend as much time shooting as I would have liked. In the picture above, I was really drawn to the life by the river side around sunset and the contrast between the rigid lines of the manmade bridge and the hills and rock formations in the back. A similar contrast is present in the picture below on a larger scale.
320s, f/11, ISO 400, 24mm
2s, f/3.5, ISO 800, 27mm
Officially, the Inner Lakes of Copenhagen, the Lakes (Søerne) are a row of three small rectangular lakes on the western edge of the city center. The Lakes date back to the middle ages when they formed part of the fortifications of the city. The paths around the Lakes stretch for about 6 kilomaters and are a popular with bikers and runners.
At night, old school neon ads light up some of the buildings around the lakes. I took the picture on a late January evening. I wanted a longer exposure to make the reflections in the water a bit more smooth. But just as I was about to take the longer exposure I ran out of battery. I didn't get a chance to go back and so had to stick with a shorter 2 second exposure instead.
1/640s, f/6.3, ISO 200, 27mm
With the odd day or two of smoggy air, the last month have brought unusually clear skies to Beijing. The city is a different place when the air is clean. From smiley faces on the streets to chummy taxi drivers, you can feel the people of Beijing draw a collective sigh of relief. And no doubt most Beijingers enjoyed a moment of schadenfreude as Shanghai reached record breaking pollution levels a few weeks ago. Perhaps the liquid nitrogen is already working its magic.
On a beautiful day earlier this week, I stopped by the Hongqiao Pearl Market across from the Temple of Heaven. They have a balcony with great view of the park. Above is a shot from the late afternoon.
Fifty years ago this month, my father boarded the SS Constitution at Pier 84 on Manhattan. At 23, he'd just driven across the country from San Francisco to Washington DC and then up to New York. He was on his way home. Some two years earlier, he had left Denmark for America to work on farms in Montana and California.
Along the way, he took more than 1000 photographs. And he seemed to carry his camera everywhere. The pictures show him working the fields, drinking with friends, and cooking turkey in the oven. There are shots out of airplane windows, of skylines and street life and tomato pickers. He would have been a great instagrammer.
My family recently had the photos scanned and it’s been a treat to rediscover them. I grew up with those photos along with my dad’s scrapbooks with maps of cities and states. About once a year, usually around the holidays, he would get out the slide projector and show his pictures and tell his stories. He was the best storyteller I knew. And as a kid, no-one seemed to know the world better than him.
The pictures shaped me. There were landscapes and cities on a scale I would never see in Denmark. And my father’s stories suggested that travel and discovery was a normal part of adult life. I understand now that those experiences were based on choices. My mom made similar choices in her early 20 and spent time as a waitress in Germany, a nanny in England, and later as an exchange student in Spain. The experiences of my parents had a profound impact on me, and I couldn’t wait to go out and see (and photograph) the world on my own.
My father was born on a farm in southern Denmark in 1940. His name was Hans Oluf Knudsen. As the middle son, the family farm passed on to his older brother. He came from a family of farmers going back generations and never seriously questioned a different career. But not having the responsibility of taking care of the family farm suited him just fine, and he was off to the States soon after he completed his military service and vocational training
The winter my dad returned to Denmark, he reunited with my mom at a New Year’s Eve dance. He'd left her behind a few years earlier and would soon leave again for another year (to be a bus driver on the American military base in Greenland). But this time my parents kept in touch. At 25, he was back in Denmark for good. Together, my parents bought a farm close to where they’d both grown up and raised three children. And they stayed put. Once their children moved away from home and began their own lives, my parents took pride in seeing them move around the world. We didn’t travel much growing up but once my brothers and I gave my parents places to visit, they eagerly followed.
My dad’s photographs is a window into his personality. There are shots of children playing in the street, friends staring dreamingly into dramatic scenery, laughing co-workers on large farming equipment, and open roads. Going over each shot, I’ve paused to think of the moment before my dad pressed the shutter--what prompted him. The shots seem so very him, but I find it difficult to describe exactly what it is about the pictures that reveal his personality. A friend once wrote about how describing his dad made him feel like a fish who can’t describe the sea. I feel the same. Both my parents were so central to my upbringing that I too struggle to describe who they are. I can still see and feel who my father was, and some details stand out: his kindness and compassion, his teasing and his laugh. Yet, I can’t seem to get close to an adequate description of what made my dad who he was. Of course, a complete portrayal is impossible. But the pictures fill in some important gaps and help me remember him.
I wish my father could have been around to show my children his pictures and tell his stories. He passed away suddenly last year from a heart attack when he was out biking with friends. I didn’t have the feeling that there was anything more that he needed to tell me although there were plenty of life events I still wanted to share with him. The last time I saw him, I told him that I loved him and wished him goodnight and safe travels.
More pictures below the fold.
More pictures below the fold.
1/60s, f/1.2, ISO 3200, 50mm
So I have been trying to settle on a new photography theme. Lately, I haven't had a chance to shoot much during the day, so I've ended up with a lot of evening shots. And most of them have been landscape shots of the citiscape variety. When I lived in New York and Hong Kong, I ended up doing a lot of late night street photography but in Beijing I've found this type of photography more challenging. This is mostly my own fault. Unlike New York and Hong Kong, I no longer have a bustling street at my doorstop. I have lived in Beijing neighborhoods without much street life, and to capture street scenes and portraits, I have had to make it a point to go somewhere and shoot. But I am trying to change that since Beijing has so many parts that are rich with street life, character, and contrasts.
In this post, I have compiled some of my street photography highlights from my time in Beijing. More to come soon...
1/800s, f/1.4, ISO 1600, 35mm
More shots below the fold.
1/400s, f/1.4, ISO 1600, 35mm
0.6s, f/2.2, ISO 1600, 35mm
1/125s, f/2.0, ISO 1600, 135mm
1/80s, f/1.7, ISO 1600, 20mm
1/50s, f/1.6, ISO 1600, 35mm
1/800s, f/10.0, ISO 400, 30mm (HDR)
As you set out for Ithaca
hope that your journey is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laestrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon-don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare sensation
touches your spirit and your body.
Laestrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon-you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope that your journey is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind-
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and learn again from those who know.
Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so that you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.
Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would have not set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.
C.P Cavafy (1910, 1911)
1s, f/4.0, ISO 800, 35mm (cropped)
What a relief! After a week with heavy smog, a rainstorm came through last night and washed away the polluted air. This morning it was all blue skies and the light in the early dawn was totally stunning. Beijing will seduce you like that. Just when you think you've had more than you could possibly take, she will come back with the most amazing weather.
Regular blogging will resume soon. I've been travelling over the last month and will be back with some shots form Denmark and France.
1/500, ƒ/2.2, ISO 400, 35mm
Sanlitun is an area in Beijing's Chaoyang District packed with high and low end shopping malls, restaurants and bars. In the 1950s, the new government moved most of the embassies here and built several apartment complexes reserved for foreign diplomats in and around the neighborhood (until the 1980s, these apartments were generally the only places where foreigners could legally live). As China opened up in the 1970s and 1980s, bars and restaurants catering to foreigners began to appear.
Like most of Beijing, Sanlitun has undergone a dramatic transformation. Until about a decade ago, most of the businesses catered to a younger, budget-minded audience, and cheap bars and hostels were surrounded by low-rise apartment buildings and hutong neighborhoods. Then the Olympics arrived and with that several high-end developments. Today, an upscale, open air shopping complex called the Village (recently renamed Taikoo Li in an effort of corporate branding) has become the center of Sanlitun complete with designer stores like Rolex and Versace and a trendy boutique hotel (where the nightly rates exceed the monthly salaries of people living just blocks away).
Despite the changes, traces of old Sanlitun remain. I recently took a walk with my camera around one of the hutongs behind Sanlitun Village. The contrast between the new and the old is mind-boggling, really--even if it's typical by now for most large Chinese cities.
1/2000, ƒ/1.4, ISO 1600, 35mm
Read on below the fold for more shots.
1/2500, ƒ/1.8, ISO 1600, 35mm
1/160, ƒ/2.5, ISO 1600, 35mm
1/4000, ƒ/1.4, ISO 400, 35mm
1/400, ƒ/1.8, ISO 1600, 35mm