Photographing The Temple Of Heaven in Beijing, China
Beijing is a huge, hectic and increasingly modern city. However, as the capital city of China, Beijing offers the photographer temples, palaces and various other historical sites on a monumental scale. One such site, the Temple of Heaven, was relatively close to my hotel in the Chongwen district, southeast of the city centre.
One of the difficulties photographers face in China is the multitude of people, many of whom on seeing a wide-eyed foreign devil with a fancy camera will position themselves and/or one or more companions right in front of your camera for a series of portraits. These portraits often include the V for victory sign (not for peace, as it's commonly used in the west) or, by our standards, a series of trite cutesy-pie poses and fish-pout expressions. Meanwhile we wait (maybe for 10 minutes or more) to get the photo you'd set up for.
Now this sort of behavior probably happens everywhere. Along Australia's Great Ocean Road during the January peak season, it gets very busy. Its like bogan city down there at that time of year. There's been many times when I've set up a camera and a tripod and carefully composed a scene only to see some wally jump out of his car, stand a few meters in front of my camera, aim his point and shoot in the direction my camera is pointed and go click. He's seen what he thinks is a professional and wants a piece of the action. As he heads back to the car with a he-he-he I'm glad that, despite his appalling lack of manners, he's at least been quick.
Travel To China - Yes, It's Worth It
From my experience the situation in China used to be so much more difficult. Cutting in front of someone else, even when boarding an airplane, was considered quite normal. I even witnessed a man bump an elderly lady to the ground when there were only three of us in line to get onto a bus with no other passengers on board. With not even so much as a by your liege, mind you.
It's tiring and difficult not to get upset when you witness such events. But I'm an old hand at travel in this part of the world and there's no doubt that things have changed in China since my first trip way back in 1989 where, amongst other adventures, my companion and I were chased and stoned by an angry mob. No doubt I was before my time promenading, hand in hand, with a local lass through the streets of Chengdu in the relatively conservative province of Sichuan.
I think I've made five trips to China and a highlight of each of those adventures has been the friendship and assistance provided to me by local folk. China is a spectacularly beautiful country underpinned by a rich and vibrant history. Travel there can still be difficult but, from my point of view, it's absolutely worth it. And friendship is what makes the difference.
India Offers So Much, But Remains Tough Going
India remains a very difficult country to travel in as a solo traveler without the protection of guides and minders on a high end group tour. When I visit India I expect to be treated poorly, ripped off blind and basically stuffed around on a daily basis. I'd say I'd loose a good three hours a day with a range of hassles that, frankly, just should not occur. I think the problem is that touts, thieves and the like are attracted to the sites that unsuspecting tourists frequent. We're easy pickings, really.
But, once again, I've traveled to India four or five times over the years and I keep going back because of the amazing photography opportunities and the depth of culture that's so pervasive there. I find India a very difficult place to travel in, but the rewards make it all worthwhile. It's an experience like no other.
If you'd like to taste some of the exotic flavors of India, but don't feel like you're up to the challenge, I'd recommend Sri Lanka. It's similar in many ways, but far smaller, both in size and in population. Hire a driver and car and follow one of several tourist routes. Variety, culture, history and great beauty await. And why not zen out for a few days, at the end of your trip, with a break in the Maldives. Forget the capital, which is a politically sensitive place these days, and head straight for your resort island, many of which are low key and super easy going.
Better To Be Safe Than Sorry
Of course it's always a good idea to check with your own government advisory websites just in case the political situation on the ground has become particularly unstable, prior to planning or embarking upon a trip to a place like the Maldives.
So, how do you deal with all those people at major historical tourist sites in Beijing. Fortunately there's lots of interesting details to photograph and, for someone like me interested in composition (color, texture, line, shape, balance, repetition, etc), many opportunities exist.
Its just a matter of moving in closer, often with a wide-angle lens, to emphasize foreground elements and increase the sense of 3-dimensional space within the frame.
When it comes to photographing larger scenes I'II sometimes sit it out and wait for those few seconds when the scene is clear of people. Other times, as evident in some of the photos in this post, I include people in the frame to tell the story in a different way and/or add a sense of scale to the scene. Sometimes it works to do both.
And if someone is behaving, by my standards, as a bit of a drop kick it can be especially rewarding to make a picture of them, even a formal portrait. The fact that, in response to their poor behavior, you approach them and ask permission for a portrait is not lost on them. And they know you're not rewarding their behavior. More often than not, aware of being given a second chance, they'll accommodate you and then move along quietly. Well, that's my experience.