If I can promise you one thing, it’s that you’ll never be bored with Beijing photography.
Beijing is a city that constantly reinvents itself. Yet it still somehow still remains firmly planted in its amazing and dramatic history. As China’s epicenter for culture and politics, Beijing remains at the forefront of the country’s race to the future.
While past and future fight each other to be heard, at the end of the day, they still somehow harmoniously coexist. Buildings, houses, and sports venues seem to pop up overnight. Yet even amongst this frenzy of construction, it is never too difficult to make a quick retreat to an ancient temple or park.
And of course, at the backdrop of this beautiful juxtaposition, there’s also a city plagued by overpopulation and smog.
While all of this can certainly be overwhelming at first, people here are generally very friendly and open to having their photographs taken.
The following travel guide to Beijing photography will help you make the most of your time in this wondrous city.
Basic Tips for Beijing Photography
When to Go
Depending on what type of traveler you are, you may want to avoid coming to Beijing over a public holiday.
During these times, an influx of domestic tourists pushes this overpopulated city to its limits. While this will give you a unique opportunity for photography, for some, the extra hustle and bustle is just too much to make things enjoyable.
In general, early fall and early spring make a great time for a visit if you’re hoping for blue skies. Any other time of the year and you’ll be privy to the city’s infamous smog.
Planning Your Time
While taking a taxi might be the most convenient way to hop around the city (especially if you are on a time crunch and racing to make it to a tourist site before it closes -most close at 4pm), nothing beats riding a bicycle in terms of soaking up the most scenery.
You can rent a bicycle either through a hostel or at a bike stand with a subway card and valid ID.
Also, although it can be fun to take one for novelty’s sake, it’s best to avoid rickshaws. They’re known for ripping off newcomers.
If you can, allot four or five days to Beijing in order to avoid rushing around the city at a frantic pace.
Basic Do’s and Dont’s for Beijing Photography
Do: Ask locals if you can photograph them! In general, most are open to having their photograph taken. You can even impress them by asking them in Mandarin: wo ke yi pai ni ma? (woe-kuh-yee-pi-nee-mah) (Can I take your photograph?).
Obviously, with candids, you want to follow the general rule of being inconspicuous and quick. However, if someone catches you snapping the candid and seems uncomfortable, it’s not a bad idea to approach them after and then ask to take their photo.
Don’t: Take candids of armed police officers or military men, especially around previous terrorist attack sites like train stations and Tiananmen Square. While it doesn’t hurt to ask for a photo, most of the time they will say no.
Best Landmarks for Beijing Photography
Now, let’s go over a quick breakdown of the best areas in capturing those epic pics.
Pick up any old guide map of the city and you’ll get a pretty clear list of all the landmarks worth visiting.
Many of these are older than the U.S. itself and offer a spectacular glimpse into the city and country’s longstanding history. Some of these top landmarks include:
- The Summer Palace
- The Temple of Heaven
- Forbidden City
- Tiananmen Square
Beijing’s parks promise a great place for capturing some of those candid photos of locals, as well as a welcome escape from the city’s urban sprawl.
Bustling with activity from sun up to sun down, you can easily spend a full day clicking away here. Expect to stumble upon a lot of local elderly patrons boisterously playing card games, diligently practicing Tai Chi, or enthusiastically singing and dancing to ancient hymns.
Some parks worthy of a visit include:
- Jingshan Park (located just behind the Forbidden City)
- Ditan Park (Altar of the Earth)
- Taoranting Park (Joyful Park)
- Yuyuantan Park (Jade Lake Park)
- Zhongshan Park
- Chaoyang Park (Sun Park)
- Xiangshan Park (Fragrant Hills Park)
Also, keep in mind, most parks charge a small entrance fee and have various opening and closing hours (typically 6am-10pm).
Panjiayuan Antique Market
At Beijing’s biggest and best flea market, Panjiayuan, you’ll find merchants selling everything from calligraphy posters to Buddha heads to Tibetan carpets.
The sheer number of people makes this market a worthy weekend trip- just don’t forget to bring your bargaining skills if you’re looking to buy!
Best Neighborhoods for Beijing Photography
Your journey of Beijing photography would not be complete without a trip to some local neighborhoods.
Each colorful district you visit will offer you a glimpse into one thread of the intricate cultural tapestry that makes up the country’s whole.
Some of the cream of the crop neighborhoods include:
798 Art District
Practically spilling over with trendy shops, cafes, galleries, and studios, this previous industrial area now serves as a thriving hub for Beijing’s creative scene.
If you’re a sucker for graffiiti and street art photography, this is the place to go.
Gulou is the perfect neighborhood for exploring Beijing’s famous hutongs- alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences.
While most hutongs in other districts have been swept away by modernization, Gulou’s have survived. Take your pick for a stroll down any one of these unique alleys, and you’ll be sure to stumble across some quirky establishments and people definitely worth photographing.
Home to the most famous and oldest street in Beiijing, Dashilan neighborhood epitomizes the clash between Beijing’s ancient and modern side.
Boasting a history of nearly 600 years, this commerical district is bustling with locals and tourists exploring the many teahouses, cinemas, and cafes strewn amongst ancient architecture.
Beijing Photograhy Wrap Up
There is no doubt that your Beijing photography trip will reward you with some of your most breathtaking and inspiring travel photos.
Just keep in mind- you’ll have to wait patiently to post these photos to social media as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, and Snapchat can’t be accessed without a VPN (virtual private network).
Had an epic time exploring Beijing with your camera? Drop a comment below- readers would love to hear about your experience!