You are about to visit an ancient and beautiful land full of beauty, diversity, and history. Colorful festivals, boldly adorned buildings, and amazing mountains and rice terraces will take your breath away.
A host of people, some tribal groups that you’ve heard off, will warmly greet you, offering amazing portaits within the landscape.
This is China. And it’s natural beauty is hard to match.
When it comes to outdoor photography tips in China, many of the rules stay the same.
Let’s go over a few tips.
1. Scout Out The Area For The Best Photography
Do your research.
If you are traveling to a remote part of the country, it might best to bring a local guide who speaks English. Locals will know the lay of the land and get you access to the best locations. But becareful, unless they are VERY experienced in guiding photographers, you’ll just end up at what Chinese people (and tourist) think is a ‘Good Photo’!
The most important outdoor photography tip in China is to find the very best specialist photo guide you can afford. Photo-guides are unbelievably rare, but beaware when you find one, it could be a ‘camera carrying guide’, they are becoming plentiful, and sadly I’ve wasted a number of trips, as they lead me on a goose chase to sh1t locations. Actually, I’m sick of it. You won’t believe the times I’ve heard ‘don’t worry, trust me’ or ‘I’ll get your there early, don’t worry!’ Do your research people!
Some say you can also visit local tourist offices to find out when tour traffic will be low and other useful information like rules and regulations, in tourist offices your get little useful help as a photographer. Even emailing, or using there websites is fruitless. The Guilin one I noticed has had a ‘security warning’ from Google about the site being unsafe. It’s also incredibly useless.
2. Bring A Tripod For The Best Outdoor Photography
Tripods are super lightweight these days. And they come in all shapes and sizes.
But the best way to make the best of “bad light” situations (hint: there are no bad light situations, only inexperienced photographers) is with a tripod.
With a tripod, you don’t have to worry about your camera shaking. You don’t have to worry about falling off that ledge while trying to look through your viewfinder either.
3. Don’t Settle For The First Composition
Outdoor photography is about experimentation. Don’t settle on the first framing you come upon.
Try it from different angles. Experiment with various lenses.
Remember your composition. The rule of thirds should always be on your mind. But don’t restrict yourself to this rule.
If you’ve studied photography, you’ll know there are many aspects of composition. Triangular composition is one. Look for triangular shapes in arms, angles, positioning of objects.
Setting up objects in a correct trajectory in the photo is important. Also drawing the eye to where you want the focus. There are many things to consider. Look for those leading lines, enjoy the moment, don’t rush to bag shots, take double the time and capture something great.
4. Outdoor Photography Is Your Number One Priority
You can’t take the perfect shot the first time. Maybe you will. But you won’t really know this until you’re back home and start working on your images in Lightroom.
Just assume that any one of your photos will be the perfect shot, and keep making photography a priority in your trip. Even if you have to miss out on something fun. That’s the nature of outdoor photography if you really want to be serious about it. It takes dedication. When it’s still raining, you need to start hiking that mountain with a hope the weather will do something interesting. Get stuck in.
5. Don’t Forget to Add Humans for Scale
You will never be able to completely erase the human element from photography.
Having something in your foreground can enhance outdoor photography. Sometimes a shepherd in the foreground of a massive mountain landscape can tell a story you would never get otherwise.
Countless waterfalls a beautiful, but place a person in the scene and the scale and grandure of the place hits the viewer.
6. Be Patient. In China, Really Patient!
Outdoor photography is all about patience, especially in China.
If the perfect conditions don’t present themselves the first day. Wait it out. Adapt and circle round again.
At some landscape locations there can be many Chinese people. Photography in China has exploded. Some will literally look through your view finder, take photos of your back screen composition, not yielding an inch. Personal space doesn’t really exist. It’s best to just accept this, and be patient, smile and engage with people.
I hope this doesn’t happen to you, but sometimes the perfect conditions may never arrive. Don’t blame the time of year, it just works out like that sometimes. As
As travel photographers we’re going to have bad days, and sometimes bad weeks.
I’ve been on a landscape photography tour to Iceland and sat for a week in total pea soup, playing board games with 10 people that became my good friends. That won’t occur in China, as you can switch things around. If you have a professional photographer guiding you, or the type of photo guide that is a fixer to the worlds best in China, you’ll end up in tribal homes, places with amazing light, and what turned out to be a rainy day, will yield you epic shots.
7. Get Lost In Outdoor Photography
Don’t literally get lost, especially in the rice terraces of Guilin, or Hutongs, but do explore.
You won’t find the best shots if you aren’t willing to wander and be adaptable. There are hidden beauties all over the place. It’s up to you as the photographer to find them.
If you aren’t searching you won’t ever find them.
One day in China I watched 150 Chinese photographers facing forwards, to a cloud of mist. We could see nothing. My American friend was the only one shooting facing to the right, away from ‘the shot’, you know the composition, the one everyone takes. That day the mist opened for 1 minute, he captured that amazing nearby peak, beautifully isolated and surrounded by mist. Everyone else didn’t even notice. Over 4 hours the only thing we could see is that nearby peak revealing itself for a minute, and my friend capture it. The other 150 went home with nothing.
My friend is one of the worlds top 5 travel photographers, we can learn along from how he plans and looks for the chances on days like this.
We need to learn to work around things, look for the opportunity, and be optimists with cameras.
Getting out there and just shooting photos is the best thing you can do. Take as many photos as you can.
What are some tips you keep in mind as you travel? What helped you on your China photo trip?
Let us know in the comments below. And, as always, keep snapping!