Where (and How) to Take the Best Great Wall of China Photos

Great Wall photography tips and locations shown on a photo at sunset

Great Wall Photography Tips

Capturing the perfect shot is all about preparation, planning and just a dash of chance. You need to know which area to visit, and, depending on your dedication to photography, you might need to consider staying overnight by the Great Wall. Here’s our Great Wall Photography Tips to help you go home with the best shots possible.

Taking Great Wall of China photos is an art. The extreme landscapes, breath-taking architecture, and diverse locations can offer challenges and rewards to photographers willing to make the journey.

If you’ve already taken the time to brush up on our China photography guide for taking the best outdoor photographs, take a look at theses handy tips to help you capture all the majesty of the Great Wall.

Discovering the Great Wall of China

There are few landmarks in China that are as famous or visually opulent as the Great Wall.

The series of parallel structures date back as far as the third century B.C. They sprawl from Shanhaiguan to the Gobi Desert.

The wall was originally conceived by Emperor Qin Shi Huang and has faced many alterations and excavations though its long lifetime.

Each of the many pieces of this series of architectural wonders was built by a different Chinese dynasty throughout the ages. This makes each different section a tangible time capsule, linking us to the past of this culturally rich country.

This location is far more than a chance to capture rolling mountainsides and plunging valleys from a location recognized the world over. It’s also a historical landmark and an architectural wonder.

There are countless historical fortifications and defensive architectural gems that are a photographer’s dream, like arrow windows, parapets, and beacon towers.

It’s this diversity between the ancient world and the natural landscape, contrasted to the cities buzz of modern life that gives photographers such a wonderful array of artistic choices.

Best Great Wall Locations for Photography

The Great Wall has several breathtaking locations, all within an easy reach from Bejing. The most popular of these are Badaling, Mutianyu, Juyonguan, Jinshanling, Simatai and Jiankou.

The shots you’re hoping to get on your China photography tour will depend on which of these locations you should visit.

Badaling is the location that is most frequently photographed for magazines and guidebooks. Although it is a popular photography spot, it’s also one of the most visited (it even has a KFC). It could still be an interesting project, lol, have you ever seen one of those ‘Famous sights of the world from new angle’ type of posts? Where they take a picture of a famous site from within Starbucks or McDonalds. 😉 back to the great wall…

Guardrails, gift shops and hoards of tourists can threaten the ‘authenticity’ of a photograph on the wall. This is especially true if your aim is to capture the wall in a natural, unspoiled state. Then you need to consider a wilder section. The thing is a join-in group tour run by large commercial agencies like China Highlights, China Travel Guide or from your hotel won’t cut the mustard, you need to get a private service and someone in the know. You need ot get our there early and stay on the wall late, have a hiking guide take you long the best sections, and a driver wait to return you to Beijing. Or if you have time, stay in one of the few local new build farm stays, where relocated farmers were given new homes by the government. I’ll come to that shortly…

Mutianyu is about 70km (around two hours’ drive) away from Bejing. That said, it’s worth the extra distance because it’s slightly quieter than Badaling. This is the second with the most turrets, or watch towers, in the shortest space. So you get beautiful bends, turns and more interest in your shots.

This location requires a bit of a hike. But, the lush scenery, parapets, and Ming-era guard towers are a photographer’s ideal. There is a cable car and a chairlift option to get up, it could be worth it, as then you can save your legs for the hike on top of the wall.

Juyongguan is the third in this trio of popular Great Wall passes. It gives visiting photographers the chance to capture shots of ancient buildings, towers, and temples.

Jinshanling is a very popular spot among photographers visiting the wall. To get the best from this location, make sure you arrive early to capture the visually arresting sunrise. It’s this section I would recomend a hike from Simatai to Jinshanling, take a specialist Great Wall Photo Tour from these guys, and decide to hike down hill direction, and capture the morning light on the more rugged less repaired part of Simatai.

Simatai is ideal for photographers wanting to capture the more natural, remote style of photography. It will be untainted by the pollution and the overcrowding of Beijing.

It’s a hike to reach. But the desolated wall ramparts and natural surrounds will give your Great Wall of China photos a completely new perspective.

Jiankou is a spot that photographers are discouraged from hiking to. If you’re happy to take the risk, you’ll be rewarded with stunning pine forests, watchtower-topped ridges, and steep cliffs. It’s know as the white wall. I really liked this, but it is SERIOUSLY steep, and one slip and you can crack your head open. Tour operators don’t like taking people there, so again you really need a specialist.

Best times to visit the Great Wall of China

Timing your Great Wall of China photos isn’t just about the moment you choose to push the button on your camera shutter. It’s also about the season and time of day you plan your tour for, and the type of guide and service you have.

The Great Wall of China is understandably popular as far as China photography locations go. To make sure you can capture a shot that’s uncluttered by tourists and people traffic, you’ll need to make sure you arrive at just the right time.

Here are some of the best times to visit the wall:

If you plan to visit a section of the wall near Bejing, one of the best times to plan your China photography tour is from March to May, during spring.

Bask in warmer weather. Take advantage of an abundance of greenery and flowers in full bloom. If you want to avoid large crowds of tourists, try not to travel during the first week of May.

Want to avoid booking China photography tours at the start of the year? Autumn is also recommended as one of the better times to visit.

The weather is cooler and the crowds less dense. The scenery will be golden and russet in color – absolutely stunning to photograph.

Summertime on the Great Wall is typically crowded and very hot. The advantages of traveling at this time of year will be the full force of the natural surroundings. That said, thunderstorms and sizzling weather make hiking with a tripod difficult.

Although traveling to the wall is not discouraged during the winter months, the temperature can drop to well below freezing. If you’re prepared to wrap up warm and brave the harsh climate, you’ll be rewarded with snow-capped scenery.

Great Wall of China Photography Tips – Taking Photos

Now you know what’s worth photographing, and which section of the wall you want to visit. Brush up on these tips to guarantee incredible Great Wall of China photos.

Urban, rural and historical perspectives

Much like street photography in China, the wall is home to both incredible natural scenery and urban influences.

When you aren’t taking photos of the natural scenery or historical features of the wall, why not challenge yourself by blending them with the more contemporary aspects of this landmark?

Remember to bring a tripod

Nothing ruins photography faster than a shaky hand. Long hikes and windy weather can threaten the quality of your Great Wall of China photos. Be sure to pack a lightweight tripod to lock-off your shots.

Natural lighting

Time your visit well to make sure you can harness the power of natural light. You’ll get the most from your shots.

If you’re visiting a particularly isolated section of the wall, be sure to set off in plenty of time. You can capture the sunset or the high noon sun to enhance those long-distance shots.

By planning your timing and location properly, you can make sure that your Great Wall of China photos are visually stunning and something you’ll want to treasure for a lifetime. We hope our Great Wall Photography Tips help you!

What Great Wall photography tips do you have to share with us?

Feel free to comment, ask questions or a drop a link to a (non-Chinese travel agency or commercial) blog about your experience in the comments.

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