Published on: 2nd Apr 2017On most of my trips to China everything is arranged for me. Even when I take a group of photographers to China, the planning of the photo opportunities is centred around the members who will be going on the trip and not necessarily on what I would like to photograph as a landscape photographer – remember I am trying to take the photographers to places I have visited before. I always have in mind that I must try to get the best for the other photographers with my own photographic needs playing second fiddle.
My trip in December 2016 to China was different than the ones before. It was not planned for me. This is not totally true… I went for 15 days. On day 4 I was giving a lecture about “Creative Landscape photography” and the second weekend of the trip I was presenting a landscape workshop.
But the rest of this trip was open for my own photography. I could plan it around my own needs!
Landscape photography with impact is all about uniqueness.
We as landscape photographers are mainly dependant on external circumstance to capture that uniqueness; Special light, clouds in the sky, severe weather conditions, special season properties, unique views, the position of the moon and start, etc.
Based on this you might think that a unique landscape photograph is all about chance, and, although this is true in a sense, you as photographer must also work hard to ensure that "luck is on your side".
It does not help to go to a place just because you saw a similar photograph someone else took. Although that photograph had the necessary impact when you saw it the first time, it is now out there. It is done. For you to take a similar photo with similar impact, you will need to outdo that person who took it first!
I have presented quite a number of landscape workshops in the past but have not used these photos in national salons because I want to give the delegates the opportunity to let their photos be the first – have that uniqueness that gives it impact. But even so, for the delegates of a workshop to get a unique photo, they will need to do something different - remember, there are about 10 people at the same scene at the same time, with the same light and the same weather conditions!
I found that "manipulation of the scene" is one of those techniques that could lift your photo to the level of uniqueness that will ensure the necessary impact. This manipulation could be (and very often is) post processing techniques, but it could also be based on your "tools" – what you have with you to when taking the photo to make it different.
One of my "tools" I use quite often, is my set of Neutral Density Filters.
This article is about my Neutral Density Filters.
My photo planning for this trip was actually very biased because of several factors:
Based on the above my planning was mostly about long exposure landscape photography.
As an example, let me explain the photo called "The Guardians" as the planning for this photo was the most elaborate: On a previous trip, during the approach to Hong Kong Airport, I noticed through the aeroplane window that the runway lights were protruding into the sea, and that the base of this platform had an interesting structure. I grabbed a photo through the window as a reminder to investigate this as a photo opportunity.
I used Google maps to confirm that this is actually a possibility as well as how the surrounding area looks from the sky. I then used The Photographer’s Ephemeris ("PhotoEphemeris.com") to confirm the point of view with regards sunset and sunrise direction. My conclusion was that although this platform was pointing south, south west, it will be a morning photo as the mountains on the left will take away some of the simplicity if taken in the afternoon. Simplicity is a very effective composition technique in long exposure landscape photography.
The location however did present a problem. It is located next to the international airport and is actually part of the airport. I did noticed that there is a road that past right next to it but I could not confirm whether this is a public road. There was no bus routes close by, and walking from the actual airport terminals will be impossible as you will need to cross the high ways and climb over barriers. After much deliberation I convinced (via Xiaoyi) an old school friend of Xiaoyi that he will take us there with his car. We decided that if there is not parking he will drop us off and then pick us up afterwards again. On arrival we found that it is a public road and that he could actually parked there and wait for us. Taking the photo took about one hour and nobody ever stopped to ask what we were doing. While we were at it, and having a car (with a private chauffeur) available I decided that it could be the ideal opportunity to explore some other off-the-beaten-track landscape photo opportunities. I did some internet research and made a list of possible photo locations, and in the next two days we were driving around Hong Kong and saw some wonderful places. Some of these places I would like to visit again as the light and / or weather conditions were not ideal for the potential I saw.
I am also including a few photos taken during my landscape workshop.This was my first landscape workshop presented to Chinese photographers and, although language was a great barrier, I did prepare for the workshop by making sure I know all the photographic terms and how to explain to them changes required in their camera settings. The initial plan was that the translator who did the translation at my lecture will accompany us on the workshop, but the day before the workshop she had a family crises and could not come along. It was therefore up to myself and Xiaoyi to teach the delegates. It actually worked amazingly well!
At dinner after the first photo session (I helped them with their camera settings and composition during the first photo session) they were talking to me as if I was fluent in Chinese, but we quickly realised that I still have a long way to go before I will follow a social conversion. Google translate was still a very necessary companion.
If long exposures photography is something you would like to add to your tool-set to create unique landscapes, then make sure to check out my NiSi Shop where you can order ND filters or just read about the reason for creating this shop.
Also feel free to contact me with any questions about ND filters.
As a footnote, I want to show three photos taken of the same scene. The first is of the scene as we would normally see and capture it (before you do some manipulation).The second is a 240 seconds exposure using two ND filters stacked together to reduce the light by 13 stops. The last one is a photo of the same scene but this time I used a 850nm infrared filter to reduce the light reaching the sensor. In this case exposure time was 120 seconds.
(If you have read up to here and did not click on a photo yet, do so to see them in larger format and also to browse through the rest of this gallery)