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Examples of Chinese Landscape Photography

Kate Miller-Wilson

Jaw-Dropping Chinese Landscapes

China is home to some of the most stunning landscapes in the world including mountains, rivers, lakes, and cityscapes. You can capture these natural and man-made wonders with your camera and create photographic art you'll be proud to display and share. The key is knowing how great Chinese landscape images are made.

The Karst Mountains are an incredible natural phenomenon and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This image, taken in Yangshuo in Guangxi province, perfectly displays their beauty. This gorgeous photo is all about the light and proper exposure. Here, the photographer chose an overcast, misty day to make the image. Even on a cloudy day the direction of light is important, and you'll notice the diffuse light hits low on the valley and throws the sides of the mountains into shadow. This gives wonderful depth. Additionally, the photographer exposed for the brightest parts of the image, the river and the sky, allowing the viewer to see all the detail and texture in these light-colored areas.

Dawn Light and Mountain Silhouettes

Another view of the Karst Mountains, this time from Xianggang Hill in Yang Shuo, Guili, Guangxi, China, offers a very different landscape image. In addition to the gorgeous ribbon of the Li River and the exceptional texture of the mountains, this image is lovely because of the dawn light and the angle at which it was taken.

Here, the photographer chose a high vantage point and shot against the rising sun, which is to the left of the image, just out of the frame. The strong back light and the way the image is carefully underexposed to show the lovely sunrise tones create silhouettes of the mountains. The mist softens the photograph and gives a distinct morning feeling to the light.

Luoping Hills in Morning Light

The Luoping Hills in Yunnan Province are a famous attraction for landscape photographers from around the world. These spectacular hills provide exceptional texture in an image and give photographers a chance to play with light and create stunning dimension in their images.

In this shot, taken at "golden hour" after the sun has just come up, the photographer chose to have the sun camera left and slightly behind the hills. This low angle casts long shadows across the image, toward the lower right corner of the frame. This leads the viewer's eye directly toward the hills and the beautiful, golden morning light.

Kanas Lake in HDR

Kanas Lake is a top tourist destination in Altay Prefecture, Xinjiang. This lovely finger-shaped lake offers a stunning reflective focal point for images of the surrounding mountains and lush vegetation. It's also a perfect place to try out HDR, or high dynamic range photography.

In this image, the photographer took a series of shots of the lake from the same angle but at slightly different exposures. In some shots, the foreground boardwalk was properly exposed, but the lake and sky were overexposed. In others, the sky was properly exposed, throwing the mountains and trees into deep shadow. Then, as part of the post-production, the photographer combined the shots to create an image with perfect exposure of all aspects. It takes practice to make this technique look natural, but done properly, it can yield stunning results.

Leading Lines at the Great Wall

The Great Wall of China is one of the most recognizable symbols of the Chinese landscape and great place to work with leading lines in composition. Choosing the best angle to take your shot is important in any image, but with this many lines, it's an essential tool for success.

Also taken as a series of shots to create and HDR image, this photo of the Great Wall combine exceptional light with excellent composition. You'll notice the photographer chose a relatively low angle, allowing the lines of the wall to lead the eye into the image. Additionally, the distant lines of the wall lead to the sun, as does the fortuitous bank of clouds at the upper left of the image. Every line in the image combines to draw the eye into the scene and creating a powerful and compelling shot.

Texture and Shape in a Xiapu Waterway

Lines also play an important role in this image taken in Xiapu in Fujian Province. Another favorite destination for landscape photographers, Xiapu offers plenty of opportunity to play with texture and shape, as well as light. The waterways and mudflat of the rural area are a photographer's dream.

Here, the lines lead into the image, but the real shining stars are texture and shape. The photographer chose a higher angle to give more of a sense of perspective and show off the strong vertical lines and the ripples on the water. The cloudy, diffuse light washes out much of the color and prevents it from distracting from the shape and texture. The tiny boat serves as a focal point and gives a dramatic sense of scale.

Detian Waterfall with Wide Depth of Field

Known as one of the largest transitional waterfalls in the world, Detian Waterfall in Guangxi Province offers a great opportunity to practice waterfall imagery, a favorite of many landscape photographers.

This image focuses on the dramatic scale and depth of the landscape. Because the waterfall is not on one plane in relation to the camera, the photographer chose to use a very wide depth of field. Everything is in focus, from the trees in the foreground to the distant mountains far behind the falls. This allows the viewer to appreciate all the detail of the falls. It required the photographer to close down the aperture of his or her lens and use a slightly longer exposure to allow enough light to reach the camera's sensor. This longer exposure shows a bit of blur in the water and enhances the sense of movement in the image.

Tianmen Mountain with Natural Framing

A tourist destination famous for its glass walkway and spectacular views, Tianmen Mountain in Hunan Province is also a great location for landscape photography. The Tianmen Mountain National Forest Park offers views that go on for miles, perfect for practicing wide depth of field.

This is also a great location to play with natural framing, as this photographer has. The gorgeous mountain vista in this shot is framed by rocky slopes on either side of the frame. This directs the eye to the view and also provides context for the shot.

Shanghai Cityscape Long Exposure

Not all landscape photographs feature natural vistas; in fact, some of the loveliest shots in China are of the impressive cities. And when it comes to impressive, nothing beats the largest city in China, Shanghai. The nighttime city lights make for some amazing shots.

Here, the photographer chose to soften the harsh lines of the city skyline with a long exposure. Likely lasting a few minutes, this exposure was long enough to capture the movement of the clouds and soften the water to a silky sheen. Because the image was being made the entire time the shutter was open, all movement blurs. The only crisp things in the shot are the stationary buildings. This was done with the aperture closed down to provide a wide depth of field, and the photographer may also have utilized an ND (neutral density) filter to block out some of the ambient light and allow for the slow shutter speed.

Wide Angle Images in Kalajun Grassland

An inspiration to landscape photographers from around the world, the Kalajun Grassland in Xinjiang offers breathtaking views that beg for a wide angle lens. Capturing all this scenery is easier with a wider lens, which takes in more of what you see in a single shot.

Composing with a wide angle takes practice since perspective is distorted. Items closer to the camera, such as the flowers at the left of this image, appear significantly larger than those farther away. However, you can use this to your advantage by choosing foreground items that provide context.

Dongchuan Red Soil in Vibrant Color

Another destination known as a photographer's paradise, the red soil of Dongchuan in Yunnan Province offers plenty of opportunity to play with color and texture in images. Local photographers report that the best time to get a great image is three days after it has started to rain, since the soil becomes saturated and has a richer color.

You can also get more interesting color in your image by shooting when the light illuminates the landscape with rich tones, as this photographer has. This evening golden hour image uses light which imparts extra warmth to the already warm-toned scene.

Mount Huangshan With a Clear Focal Point

Many landscape photographers make a pilgrimage to Mount Huangshan in Anhui Province, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and what is often called "the loveliest mountain in China." There's so much to see here that the challenge can be composing a shot with a clear focal point. This winter scene is a great example of an image that does this successfully. Your eye knows right where to land in the scene: on the gorgeous building clinging to the side of the mountain.

If you love photographing beautiful scenery, China is absolutely full of wonderful opportunities to create images that shine. Maximize your chances of making something exceptional by shooting in the best light and keeping rules of composition in mind. You'll be sure to get some landscape shots you'll be proud to share.

Kate Miller-Wilson
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Examples of Chinese Landscape Photography