Across China, From Tibet to Beijing

July 1, 2018

Buddhist Beauty

China offers one of the vastest varieties of landscapes and beauty in the world. In general our opinion is that Asia holds true beauty regardless of where you are. However, since one of us had been studying in Beijing, China for half a year, the opportunity arose to discover all the beauties the country has to offer. We decided on a travel plan to see the most impressive and stunning landscapes and the most unique cities within two weeks. For starters, this led us from Beijing, where we explored the beauties of the city for a day, to Tibet. We decided to take the train ride all the way to the south, which equalled roughly 3.000 km and took us through beautifully different and elevated landscapes and cities (of sometimes +4,5 km above sea level), straight to Lhasa, the largest city of Tibet which laid at about an altitude of 3.650m. There we were overwhelmed by the different historic and religious influences which expressed itself through culture, architecture, and the general feeling of the city. The endless amount of Buddhist shrines and temples offered a stunning sight throughout the city and caught our attention immediately. Surrounded by mountains, Lhasa’s Monasteries could find perfect refuge in the ridges and valleys that naturally occurred. It absolutely added a new peak to our travel destinations, quite literally.

Walking around in the city offered beautiful sights of the buildings and the streets by day and night. With our all-roundlenses (Canon 24-70mm F2.8) we have been able to capture almost everything perfectly. The range of this lens and it’s F-value allowed us to take perfect shots in open streets as well as narrow alleys all around. On top of this, the lens offers beautifully vivid pictures with it’s great depth-of-field, thereby allowing great street photography with unique subjects only to be found in aunique place such as Tibet. For the angles to which this lens couldn’t give us the desired range, which was very seldom as it is perfect for city photography,we would use our Sigma 12-24mm F4.0, a great lens with a great angle, offering a particularly interesting and new angle to city photography.

Buddhist Temple ~ Canon 24-70 F/3.2 – ISO-4000– 1/80

The many temples and monasteries we visited offered an amazing sight with many unique and enchanting images. As in the home of the monks it would be rude to take pictures, we solely gave our eyes the time to create the memories and limited the amount memories created by means of photos to the temples. The magical play of light and darkness in these places offered a large challenge to capture well, yet turned out to offer incredible images at the end of the day. Low F-values in combination with high ISO are key to give you the faster shutter times needed to make still images in these dark locations. We are aiming to write more about exposure-related topics to give you more insight in what we do and what we need for the perfect shots! Look at our other posts to see if we have written something about topics you want to learn more about.

After several visits to the countless temples and a few monasteries, our trip led us to Namtso Lake, one of the Holy Lakes in Tibet. A stunning view in the middle of the Himalayan mountains was laid out before us, depicting an immense lake that would only stop once it touches the mountain ranges in the far, far distance. As we arrived here just before sunset we were lucky to capture amazing shots and await the nightfall to see the most beautiful starry skies we have ever seen. Night photography is a completely different practice than day photography. Generally, the wider the angle of your lens, the more stars you will capture. Therefore wide-angle lenses are perfect for caputing starry skies or the milky way. It requires many things to take perfect shots when doing night photography, however clear, dark skies without light pollution are among these requirements by far the most important ones. Once that is provided, nearly any camera is able to catch starry skies with high quality! In a different post we explain everything about night photography and discuss gear and techniques we use to take perfect shots. Since there areso many requirements and since we had a lot of stars to see which we, coming from a densely populated area with much light pollution, never saw we took ourtime to be amazed by the night skies and fade into the night and the coldness that roamed the lake for the night that was to come.

Sigma 12-24 - F/4.0 Art – ISO-8000 – 30 sec.

Distant Mountain Ranges ~ Canon 70-200 F/4.0 – ISO-1600 – 1/800

In the morning we decided to wake up early to catch the rising sun across the impressive mountain ranges that bordered the lake. We searched for an elevated place with a good view on the mountains and as we got closer, the sunlight started dawning over the mountain ranges. This amazing sight offered the most stunning photos and though the moments for the perfect shots were brief due to the quickly changing colours of the cloudy skies, we took our time to enjoy this incredible occasion.

A Change of Phase, Rice Terraces and Karst Mountains

When we returned from Namtso Lake it was time for us to continue to our next destination. One that was not as high in the mountains, yet offered plentiful mountain ranges of different nature; Guilin (桂林), famous forits karst mountains. We stayed in an amazing hotel and arranged two tours,since it would be impossible to reach the most beautiful locations in the area without transportation (this was easy through the GetYourGuide app, which offered many different tours). The first day we went to Longsheng (龙胜) where the famous rice terraces are located in the mountain ranges. This area holds stunning sights for beautiful panoramic views and truly gives youthe feeling that you are emerged in nature and greenery. On particular viewpoint,the Dragon’s Back, was particularly stunning as it depicted the aligned rice terraces across the ridge of the mountain, resembling the “dragon’s back”.  There we walked around the terraces and saw the clouds drift along the rice fields, which offered for quite a rainy experience, yet beautiful images! After a long day of walking we resided in a hotel on one of the terrace ridges and as we withdrew ourselves for some rest, sodid the clouds. The evening sun reached over the terraces and offered us aperfect opportunity to test the full potential of our Sigma 12-24 F4.0 Art lens. The incredible span of the rice fields with every now and then ascattered group of houses that would interrupt the green sight was a beautiful caption.

China's Rice Terraces ~ Sigma 12-24 - F/4.5 – ISO-400 – 1/640

Back in Guilin after a night at the rice terraces we went to explore the karst mountains in the area. Yangshuo (阳朔县) Promised to offer the best sights. The tour led us from incredible mountain ranges and viewpoints to the Yangshuo river and city. There seemed to be no end to the mountains that sprouted abruptly from the plain fields of the Guanxi province. It was a mesmerising sight to see how tall these constructions of nature would reach and how low the plains suddenly appeared before our eyes.In the city this contrast was amplified by an even stranger contrast.  10 Stories tall buildings would be humbled by the high mountains these faced. Sometimes even located at the foot of these mountains, the green scenery would be abruptly interfered by the buildings of Yangshuo. The sun would playfully show itself in between these high constructions of both nature and man and offer the most creative and contrasting city photography. It was a true delight to take photos with our Canon 24-70mm F2.8,as it emphasised the beautiful contrasts and hight differences of the city while capturing the beautiful play of light laid out before us.

After a day in this amazing contrast the sun started to set and we made a last run for a famous viewpoint in the Yangshuo area; Wuzhi Hill. Though the place was harder to reach and we had to climb about 300 stairs, the higher we got on our way, the more it felt like this was absolutely worth it! We got to the viewpoint exactly at the right time as the sunset had just started to drift in between the distant mountain ranges,portraying a truly otherworldly view over the plains where mountains and sunlight would dance in a perfect composition. It definitely caught the title of most beautiful sunset we had ever seen. Though sunsets are often hard to capture due to the high amount of backlight which will cover the mountains and valleys in shadows, we managed to take amazing shots. Through a combination of gradual filters and finding the best F-value and shutter time, this backlight can be limited, balancing the light throughout the image and leaving no mountain or valley underexposed. At those moments literally any lens, angle or gear you use is perfect, since in every corner of the landscape there is beauty to be found. We used our wide-angle (Sigma 12-24mm) lenses to capture the whole landscape in its full majesty, using the whole range of the lens and really putting it to the test. We also used our all-round lens (Canon 24-70mm) tocapture great detail, lens flare and play of light for a creative and focussed caption. And ultimately our zoom lens (Canon 70-200 F2.8/F4.0) offered new perspectives and even more focussed contrasts on details in the landscape.

Sigma 12-24 – F/4.5 – ISO-200 - 1/160
Canon 24-70 – F/4.5 – ISO-200 – 1/800
Canon 24-70 – F/4.5 – ISO-200 – 1/1250

Perfect Balance

After our visit to Guilin, we continued by train to the Shanghai area; to Suzhou (苏州), more specifically. This water-rich city contains one of the most unique centres we have ever encountered, holding many water ways for the inhabitants to travel by in this old centre. As Dutch man, impressive water infrastructures don’t always catch our attention, yet Suzhou was a completely different story. We were engrossed with the beauty of the old canals that found their way through the streets without disturbing the charms of the old buildings and structures of this city. The wild contrast of the white styled houses, typical for the Shanghai area, and the green scenery truly captured our attention. Once we were there, we visited the old administrator’s gardens, which are among the canals the highlight of this city, and strolled around the old city centre to get lost in the abundance of culture and architecture. Just like in any other city, the all-round lens offers great images in open streets and narrow alleys (the Canon 24-70mm in our case). Lenses with low F-values offer great depth-of-field to emphasise certain parts of the image, like buildings or streets. As our lens offered this low F-value(F2.8), this allowed us to take excellent portrait and composition photos, yet other portrait lenses such as the Canon 50mm F2.8 also add great quality and detail to these compositions. The fixed vocal point, however, doesn’t offer the full versatility for the great diversity of the city to be captured, so changing lenses was necessary at certain points. The city nevertheless allowed itself to be captured in the most magnificent ways, offering a beautiful balance between nature and cityscape in it’s white-green colour scheme.

Suzhou's Iconic Canals ~ Canon 24-70 – F/4 – ISO-400 – 1/2500

The Great Wall, A Man Made Miracle

Ulitmately, we finished off where we started. We travelled from Suzhou to Beijing (北京) with the high-speed train, definitely an experience to be had. When the buildings shear the horizon in an almost matrix- or sci-fi-like phase like you see in movies, the whole world seems to suddenly be very small. Once we arrived in Beijing, we travelled to the Great Wall. We decided to go to Mutianyu instead of the most visited part, Badaling, as we wanted to see the wall emerged in nature, crossing the mountain ranges. Capturing the magnificence of this man-made miracle and thereby granting it it’s well-deserved place inyour memories offers quite a challenge, since vantage points are the mostimportant part to uncover large stretches of the Great Wall in your pictures.

The Great Wall ~ Canon 24-70 – F/4 – ISO-400 1/2000

Though the Great Wall is beautiful in every season, you will besides the vantage point, have to be lucky with weather. Wide angle lenses can in practice turn the wall in just a line through your image, yet with zoom lenses, the true proportions of the Great Wall can be emphasized. Though wide angles, offer great depth in the pictures, zoom lenses can show distant parts of the wall like they are right before you, yet emphasise the proportions of the other parts of the wall in your image, just as well.

After this final experience, we completed our trip and both travelled back to the Netherlands for new adventures. As China has left a great impression on us and offers us such a wildly different world,we are excited to return to this country once more and visit these great places once again! So stay Tuned!

Julian van der Zwet

Hi There! My name is Julian and I am a passionate photographer and student. On this site I keep track of my trips, advantures and most beautiful photo's. While doing so, I love to inform you about these trips and advantures in my Blog as well. Check out my posts and portfolio and indulge on some beautiful shots and stories!

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