By the Second Ring Road at Dusk

Traffic on the Second Ring Road at Dusk
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.

Beijing Behaving

Temple of Heaven
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.

Beijing at Night

Night Worker
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...

Night Street Vendor
1/800s, f/1.4, ISO 1600, 35mm

More shots below the fold.
Late Night Shopping
1/400s, f/1.4, ISO 1600, 35mm

Evening in the Park
0.6s, f/2.2, ISO 1600, 35mm

Waiting for the Dancers
1/125s, f/2.0, ISO 1600, 135mm

Sanlitun in the Rain
1/80s, f/1.7, ISO 1600, 20mm

Chow Chow (鬆獅犬)
1/50s, f/1.6, ISO 1600, 35mm


Guomao at Dawn
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.

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

With or Without

1/2000s, f/7.1, ISO 400, 28mm

I went for a quick walk at the Summer Palace in the late afternoon last week.  The night before, an unseasonably late snowstorm had covered Beijing in a thick lawyer of snow.  By the afternoon, most of the snow was gone and with blue skies over the city, the Summer Palace was not a bad place to be with a camera.

The light was a real treat.  On the way up Longevity Hill (Wanshou Shan), I came across this hallway where where the late afternoon sun was creating some beautiful long shadows.  With few people around I was able to capture the scene pretty well.  Still, I wish I had taken a wider lens along, so I could have gotten some more windows inside the frame.

Pretty happy with the final result, I still can't decide if it works better with the silhouette of the man passing through the door (above) or the more deserted look with the view of the mountains in the distance (below the fold).  I suppose, they are really two different compositions but ultimately I feel like the person adds more of a story to the picture.  Thoughts?

Where the Light Gets In
1/3200 secs, f/7.1, ISO 400, 24mm

Behind Qianmen (前门)

Behind Qianmen (前门)
1/60s, f/1.8, ISO 3200, 50mm

Qianmen sits on the south end of Qiananmen Square.  Also known by it's official name, Zhengyangmen, it was once part of the Beijing's city wall (Qianmen means front gate).  Today, the city wall is long gone but the gate remains.  It's one of the landmarks of the city and a popular tourist spot.  Despite being in the middle of the Beijing, the neighborhood around Qianmen is home to several hutongs and traditional courtyard homes.  Walking around the hutongs' narrow streets, it's hard to believe that you're just a few blocks away from the political and cultural center of Beijing (and, indeed, of China).

I spent some times getting lost in the neighborhood a few weeks ago.  Continue below the fold for shots of Qianmen and Tiananmen.

Double Quack
1/400s, f/2.2, ISO 200, 50mm

Qianmen (前门)
1/2000s, f/4.5, ISO 400, 28mm

Night at Qiananmen
10s, f/18.0, ISO 200, 32mm


Posing at Beida

1/500s (bracketed) f/4.0, ISO 800, 50mm

I don't like cold weather one bit.  But spending another fall in Hong Kong, I've realised how much I miss the changing of the seasons.  The weather in Hong Kong cools down this time of year but fall and winter temperatures are very mild.  I like how refreshingly crisp fall weather can be--especially after a hot summer.  It was therefor a welcome change when I travelled to Beijing this weekend.  The sky (for the most part) seemed almost an impossibly clear blue and the fall foliage was stunning.  I took a walk around the Beida campus but only had a 50mm lens with me.  A wider lens would no doubt have been better suited to take in the full beauty of the landscape...

1/800s, f/1.6, ISO 100, 50mm

Continue below the fold for a few more shots

Student at Work
1/800s, f/1.6, ISO 100, 50mm

Weiming Lake
1/125s (bracketed) f/5.0, ISO 200, 50mm

Weiming Lake
1/500s (bracketed) f/4.5, ISO 200, 50mm

Yellow Telephone

Yellow Telephone
1/2500s,  f/1.4, ISO 800, 50mm

What's attractive about a dirty, old telephone?  Not much, generally.  But somehow this yellow phone found just the right place in the world.  At first, the phone and the yellow caps on the bottles caught my attention.  Then I noticed, the matching blues of the newsstand and the sign in the background.  I first shot the scene without any people any it, but the result struck me as a bit too desolate (and a bit dishonest given how busy the street was).  So I waited around and got a father and his daughter to talk walk into the frame

On the Move

Yarn + Tree (iPhone) 

I've had to put my blogging on a brief hiatus. I moved to Beijing a few weeks ago and have yet to settle on a reliable VPN (blogger, which powers this site, is blocked in China). Until regular programing continues, you can keep up with my photography on my flickr stream. I've also begun using Instagram, so check out my stream there as well.

The instagram above is from an art installation at the 798 Art Zone in Beijing. It's a tree wrapped in red yarn and it's a pretty stunning site. Once spring comes around, I want to check how the tree looks with leaves on it.