Sometimes you really just need to stay up late, and as part of taking pictures of the super moon over Behai Park, I was right down by the Forbidden City by the end of that particular shoot with Beijing Photo Walks. The Forbidden City is just one of those places you don’t really care if it got rebuilt after the Cultural Revolution or not, it has a special place in the world as one of the largest imperial family complexes in the world. At night time it is pretty darn safe, without all the people trying to sell you stuff as you walk out of the tour, or even just walk by. The nice part is that there were many photographers out that night trying to get the super moon over the Forbidden City pictures. The number of people out and about on a Sunday night was pretty impressive because you maybe had about 40 minutes from the time the moon rose to the time it was obscured by the smog clouds over the city.
The Forbidden City was closed so you are stuck outside the walls trying to get the good shots on the north side of the complex. The north side is the best for nighttime shoots because of the moat, and the lighting provided by the neon and the spotlights provided by the controllers of the area. The lighting is good enough that you can hand hold the camera unless you are doing long exposure. Most people can hold the camera steady at about 1/30th of a second shutter speed.
I shot these at 3200 ASA, Full Auto, ranging from 1/30th to 1/60th of a second shutter speed, and F Stop ranging from 3.5 to 4.0. The thing that made this the best was all the extra lighting from the neon and from the street lights and beacons in the area. You can see some of the spotlight beacons in some of the pictures from the south side of the Forbidden City in some of the pictures as an added smear of light in the otherwise dark sky.
The good part is that this is a totally easy photo shoot to do, it is safe on the streets, and there are going to be a lot of people around doing the same thing. Taking nighttime pictures of the Forbidden City is something that a lot of people do, and a good way to stretch your skills as you learn more about your camera and how to work it in low light settings. If you are ever in Beijing, take Subway Number 1 to Tiananmen East, get out, head towards the Forbidden City and start taking a walk north. You will see some other awesome sights along the way. If you have time, stop by the night time market and take pictures of the street vendors while you are on the way over if you get off at the Wangfugin Stop on Subway 1, and then walk north and west to get to the Forbidden City.
You want to take Subway Line 6 to get there directly, but if you don’t mind a little walk, take Subway Line 2, and you will get to walk along a couple of really nice lakes right in the heart of Beijing. People fish for critters in the lakes, although I would not eat anything from an urban lake no matter where it is. Like all places in Beijing, the two lakes, The Quanhai Sea and then North of that along Gulou West Street are really quite the treat for a nice long multi-kilometer hike through Beijing. If you take Houhai Alley you can end up at some of the less visited places and monuments like the Former Residence of Soong Ching Ling (no English language support but interesting) the turn into the Xaioshibei Hutong for some awesome shops before hitting the Drum and Bell towers. If you are really intrepid and want to walk all the way down to Jingshan Park, walk directly south of the Drum Tower down Di’anmen Inner Street and take a left when you get to the park. Going left you get to avoid all the hucksters, and they were really aggressive when I was there.
In all it is a beautiful walk, but long, plan on walking about three miles in total if you are doing the scenic route long walk. There are a ton of rickshaw drivers and electric scooter drivers, all I can tell you is be very careful and avoid them. They will rip you off and they are a classic Beijing scam talked about on Lonely Planet and other travel sites. They were still active as of June 2013, and will probably always be there. Don’t believe a word, don’t get in the rickshaw, far far better to take a taxi, there are tons of them around.
This photo set takes in both towers and the long walk down to the north entrance to the Forbidden City. Unfortunately the pollution levels were in the 250 to 320 range during the day, and walking around with a mask, and the heat was a pain. There is a lot of good food on Di’anmen Inner Street, from the ever present KFC and McDonalds, to some of the more traditional Chinese fare so you won’t go hungry. Lots of mom and pop stands as well to pick up water or a ice cream to help keep your core body temperature down. In all this was a really fun walk to do, I hope you enjoy the pictures. Feel free to make comments or offer suggestions on other cool places to go in Beijing.
798 is changing, so much of it was missing from my 2012 trip that it was very sad to see what is happening to what is singlehandedly the most amazing place in China if you love modern art. In so many ways Beijing can be a crowded sterile city with small pockets of live amidst the high rise buildings. 798 defies everything you thought about china from the time you walk in the area, to the time you leave every sense from touch to taste (awesome food and drinks) to visual art to everything that surrounds you invades your mind and you will leave changed. 798 is a unique place in Beijing, there might be other places like it, but 798 is a legend.
The interesting part is what you can find there. Everything from all art forms are there. The wall art is the most special and amazing to me. It is simply world class, and would not be surprised to find a Banksy or other world class street artist working out of the spaces there. The other interesting part is that there is art there that can be found on the streets of Seattle. When you see a slap tag on a wall in 798 on a USPS priority mail label, you know that there is communication and sharing between Chinese slap taggers and American slap taggers. I almost fell over to see something like that, and would love to know more about how they communicate and how they share stuff happens. I would love to see some Chinese slap tags floating around Seattle.
It does look like the area is subcuming to the pressures of urbanization. Significant portions of 798 were abandoned this year. Pressure of high rises and other mass housing are everywhere in the area, and that has to be putting pressure on the galleries and artists that live and work there. I have no idea where they will go once 798 is gone, but I hope to find it when they do finish moving to their new digs. China faces incredible population pressures that Americans can only guess at. In a land that is 5000 years old, in a culture that has seen a little bit of everything, 798 manages to stand out as unique. It would be a shame if the area was eventually bulldozed for more high rise housing that few people can honestly afford. (One of my Chinese friends was telling me that it is 50,000 RMB per square meter of an apartment in a high rise, and you only own it for 50 years not forever. $8,000 roughly for those who want to do a quick conversion in your head).
798 deserves to live, but that is up to the Chinese government, and the artists that need to be there to help the community thrive. In all though, for as long as it exists, this is a vibrant and amazing place to go visit, you should soon, because it might not be there for very much longer.
So I got fortunate with my last trip to China to meet up with the amazing people over at Beijing Photo Walks (check out their facebook page if you are in the area). We decided to head on over to Behai Park next to the forbidden city and coal hill to catch the super moon as it traversed the park. The good part is that the pollution was down enough to get some awesome shots of the super moon, and the park along the way. We were not the only people, there were a lot of photographers all over the park, and reaching to the east side of the forbidden city to catch this once a year event.
I took my trusty Nikon 5100, and an 18-105 lens for this, and did not use a tripod to hold the camera still. Rather used the tree or other object to brace myself when taking the pictures. I also had the camera up to ISO 3200 for this to help offset the jitter that is going to happen when you free hold the camera in low light conditions. I really wanted to get good vista pictures, pictures of the beauty of the park, and the super moon at the same time. So the moon does not look huge, nor did I do any special techniques to bring the moon closer by playing around with the F stops on this one. It was really more about catching the beautiful moon at a unique point in time to show off the beauty of Beijing China, and the super moon.
The interesting part was the number of people who were out there with every kind of camera imaginable from the cell phone camera to one intrepid person who had an 8X10 large format camera. I would dearly love to see the pictures that he was taking once they got developed, but we didn’t have a chance to swap photography cards.
I highly recommend Behai Park as a place to visit. Get off at the West Tiananmen subway and walk north from there right from the subway station. Take exit B to get on the right street. There are no people trying to sell the tourists anything, so it is a very nice walk to the park. Beijing has all these special little pockets of space to get away from people, enjoy some amazing history and grab some amazing pictures along the way.
Eastern State Penitentiary Philadelphia Pennsylvania
Ok, so Ghost Adventures has been there, and a ton of horror ghosty spooky shows have been there to talk to the ghosts that tales tell permeate the Eastern State Penitentiary in downtown Philadelphia Pennsylvania, but when you get into the decadent beauty that is the ruin of the site, that is the time that a photographer can have a blast with the place. I was able to get in there before the tour groups and spend three unstructured hours running around the place taking pictures. I brought an 18-105 Nikor Lens and my trusty Nikon 5100 for this photo shoot.
Honestly the feeling of the place is one of being tired; it is probably the most tired place on the face of the planet that I have been to. There really are no words to describe just how this place seems to suck the soul right out of you. I would probably be insane within weeks without anything to do as I lead a pretty active life. I can’t image being stuck in a 8 X 15 foot cell with a roof window, a single bare light bulb, some prison furniture for company, and little else to entertain you. The ruin in its own right is impressive; it is equally formidable when it comes to seeing this place as a ruin. There are places you can’t go because it is still falling down; restoration is going to take forever. But this is also a place worthy of being restored. It is a testament to a failed experiment in how to manage criminals, along with some of the more striking art installation in the cells. When you realize that the prisoners in GITMO have less space and are in a dog cage, you have to see it to believe it. We are far too removed from the butcher in this day and age to understand the art of meat. We are too far removed from crime and punishment to understand GITMO and places like Eastern State Pen.
Well worth seeing and exploring, I shot these in RAW format, and then processed them in Lightroom 5.4 using some fancy HDR effects I learned from watching YouTube videos. Let me know what you think, as always when doing urban exploration like this, you are bound to find interesting things that are left behind, such as an abandoned shoe in an abandoned cell, in an abandoned megalithic prison complex.
Eastern State Penitentiary Philadelphia Pennsylvania
St. Edwards is one of the hidden crumbling gems here in the Seattle area, located north of Kenmore on Juanita Drive, hang a left on Seminary Road, and go all the way down the windy turny back road feeling deliverance country set up to get there. There are lots of light, lots of interesting artifacts throughout the four floors and some 120,000 square feet or more of a run-down Catholic School. From cell like dormitories, to the laundry room, theater, ball room, and other things this is one interesting place to go check out when it is open. You will want your discovery pass for this one, parking is under the Washington State Parks rules, and it is 10 bucks or 30 dollars for a full year pass to all the parks. The feel in there is oppressive at times, you wonder what the stories are, and when you throw in a pile of photographers, it makes for an awesome day of taking pictures.
Urban Exploration folks are going to love this place when it is open, from the paint peeling off the walls, to the danger asbestos signs, including seeing a couple of boxes (empty) that were marked high explosives, you get a real feel for this place, and the stories that are left behind. Oppressive, hopeful, weird, wonderful, huge for exploring, windows, and booby traps on some of the dormitory doors, it is a wonderful place to go take pictures. There are much worst ways of spending your day. The interplay of light and dark within the building is unique in my experience. Well worth visiting and checking out, bringing a couple of models along for the horror show creepy feel that the building has. Zombie fans should check this place out.
Underground Seattle a little Urban Exploration to start the day
Underground Seattle is totally worth the trip, with 33 blocks of underground tunnels, ghosts, stories, and the amazing history that is Seattle, and you have to do it. Ok, yeah so I paid tourist prices, but if you hang back you can get some amazing shots of what it must have been like way back in the day. Exploring your city is always an interesting thing to do, underground Seattle fits that bill nicely.
I went down with my low light lens, set it on aperture priority of 2.8, and let the camera do the rest of the heavy lifting for me. I also hung back to make sure I was the last person in the tour group so I could get pictures without anyone else in them. Sadly there were no ghosts, but some very good moody pieces that show off just how amazing urban exploration can be. Urban exploration is something that photographers should do because it is fun, ok maybe not all, some really only seem to do landscape or sunsets and sun rises. Others do only models, but it is also very good to stretch yourself out a bit and do something unexpected or unusual.
I tend to take better pictures when I stretch myself to see what I can get away with. Of course I held up the tour group, but sometimes that is ok, especially if you let the tour operator know that you are going to be slow because you really want to get some pictures. Well worth taking a gander at if you find yourself in Seattle with a couple of hours to burn, nothing pressing, and you have your camera gear with you.
Underground Seattle a little Urban Exploration to start the day