Behind Sanlitun (三里屯的后边)

Behind Sanlitun
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.

Behind Sanlitun
1/2000, ƒ/1.4, ISO 1600, 35mm

Read on below the fold for more shots.

Behind Sanlitun
1/2500, ƒ/1.8, ISO 1600, 35mm

Behind Sanlitun
1/160, ƒ/2.5, ISO 1600, 35mm

Behind Sanlitun
1/4000, ƒ/1.4, ISO 400, 35mm

Behind Sanlitun
1/400, ƒ/1.8, ISO 1600, 35mm

Evening Photo Walk in Shanghai

The Bund at Night
10s, f/18.0, ISO 200, 48mm

I went to Shanghai for a short trip last week. I only got to squeeze in a short walk with my camera but luckily the timing was good.  I got in on the train from Beijing late in the afternoon and arrived to blue skies and warm spring temperatures.  The late afternoon light was beautiful and after walking around the area by People's Square, I made my way down to see the sunset and watch the skyline lights turn on  by the Bund.

It's hard not to be struck by Shanghai's immense contrasts.  From the uber-modern, rapidly changing Pudong skyline and the neon signs on Nanjing Road to narrow lanes and night markets, the old and new exist seemingly effortlessly side by side.  Read on to see some shots from around the Bund and People's Square.

News Reader
1/80s, f/1.4, ISO 1600, 50mm

Late Afternoon on Ninghai Lu, Shanghai
1/640s, f/5.0, ISO 800, 27mm

Early 2013 Pudong Skyline
1/400s (bracketed HDR), f/6.3, ISO 800, 24mm

Early 2013 Pudong Skyline at Night
0.3s, f/5.6, ISO 400, 24mm

Around People's Square
1/30s, f/1.4, ISO 3200, 50mm

Shanghai Rooftops
0.8s (bracketed HDR), f/2.2, ISO 800, 50mm

Shanghai Night Market
1/320s, f/1.4, ISO 1600, 50mm

1/125s, f/1.4, ISO 1600, 50 mm

Waibaidu Bridge (外白渡桥)
1/4s, f/7.1, ISO 400, 24mm

Tall, Taller, Tallest
1/125s, f/4.0, ISO 800, 24mm


1/1000s, f/1.4, ISO 800, 35mm

The 35mm f/1.4 is just a stellar performer in low light.  Here's a shot on a 5d Mark II at 1/1000s, an ISO of 800 and the lens wide open.  This being a well-lit street in Hong Kong, I could easily have gone with a lower ISO, but it just didn't occur to me (and besides the 5d Mark II does pretty well at ISO 800).

 Overall, the lens still strikes me as a little too wide for my type of street photography.  Still, it has an amazing ability to turn a lot of eyesores into objects of art.

Tram Ride to Kennedy Town with the Canon 35mm f/1.4

Hong Kong Tram Ride to Kennedy Town
1/200s, f/1.4, ISO 800, 35mm

I have been trying out Canon's 35mm f/1.4 recently.  It's an amazing lens and the wide apature opens up some interesting creative opportunities.  With such a shallow depth of field, you can really make the foreground stand out, and, shooting wide-open, the lens produces photos with a cinematic feel.  The 35mm focal length on a full frame camera makes the lens great for environmental portraits.  You can fit a lot of the surroundings in the frame but still make the subject stand out.  And compared to most wider lenses, it produces very limited distortion.  Still, the lens is a little on the wide side for my general shooting style, especially for street photography.  I feel that I'm too far from the action and that going closer would interfere with the scene I'm trying to capture.  As a result, I sometimes end up cropping my shots more than I'd like to.  On the other hand, it's a fun challenge to frame fairly wide angle street shots, and in that way I like the way the lens forces me to think about how to compose an image, rather than just find, say, an interesting person or object to focus on.

Today, I took the lens on a 5d Mark II for a tram tide to Kennedy Town on the west side of Hong Kong Island.  Continue below the fold, for more shots.

Hong Kong Tram Ride to Kennedy Town
1/160s, f/1.4, ISO 800, 35mm

Hong Kong Tram Ride to Kennedy Town
1/100s, f/1.4, ISO 800, 35mm

Hong Kong Tram Ride to Kennedy Town
1/125s, f/1.4, ISO 800, 35mm

Hong Kong Tram Ride to Kennedy Town
1/200s, f/1.4, ISO 800, 35mm

Hong Kong Tram Ride to Kennedy Town
1/100s, f/1.4, ISO 800, 35mm

Hong Kong Tram Ride to Kennedy Town
1/50s, f/1.4, ISO 800, 35mm

Hong Kong Tram Ride to Kennedy Town
1/80s, f/1.4, ISO 800, 35mm

Hong Kong Tram Ride to Kennedy Town
1/250s, f/1.4, ISO 800, 35mm

Around Hollywood Road (荷李活道)

Hollywood Road at Night (荷李活道) (Explored)
4s, f/13.0, ISO 400, 14 mm

In Hong Kong, I live in the neighborhood of Soho, short for south of Hollywood Street.  The neighborhood is on a dramatic hillside and is home to some truly great streets.  It's also an area frequented by expats.  There are lots of western restaurants and bars around and a number of fancy condo buildings and serviced apartments.  But unlike other parts of Hong Kong, it's also an incredibly diverse neighborhood.  Just down from Hollywood Road, there is a vibrant meats and vegetable market.  Locals live, work, and shop here and walking these colorful streets is a nice contrast to the sterile, mega malls in Central (Hong Kong Island's downtown, of sorts).  I like the that fact that the neighborhood gives me a chance to interact with some people I would rarely encounter if I lived in a true expat enclave--even if that interaction is pretty limited (I'm embarrassed to say that I'm still struggling with the handful of Cantonese phrases I've try to teach myself).

Having such a colorful neighborhood at my doorstep is, of course, a treat for a photographer.  And there is no shortage of great street scenes to photograph.  Many of the vendors are not keen to be photographed, and I generally respect that or ask before I shoot if someone seems uncomfortable.  On the other hand, street photography is about capturing the life on the street as it happens rather than a staged version of it.  So unless someone affirmatively makes clear they don't want to get photographed, I simply take my presence and raised camera as sufficient notice.

Included in this post are some recent shots from around Hollywood Road.  They are taken with a number of different lenses, including the Canon 14mm f/2.8 L lens.  I few weeks ago, I rented this super wide angle lens, which provides more than 110 degree field of view.  The extreme wide-angle made for a bit of a learning curve but once I got the hang of it, it was a very useful lens for pulling in a lot of street life.

Continue below the fold for more shots.

Bananas for Sale (Explored)
1/125s, f/2.8, ISO 1600, 14mm

1/200s, f/6.3, ISO 1600, 50mm

Buying Strawberries
1/1000s, f/1.6, ISO 400, 50mm

Behind the Counter
1/125s, f/2.8, ISO 400, 14mm

Closing Time
1/125s, f/2.8, ISO 1600, 14mm

1/1250s, f/1.4, ISO 400, 50mm