Tag Archives: night photography

Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin

Last fall I spent a couple weeks traveling in China. This trip had been on my wife Anita’s bucket list for quite some time and she was gracious enough to take me along. Obviously we did all the touristy stuff like the Great Wall, Forbidden City, the Bund and so on. However, we have learned over the years to also get away from the mega bus tours and go out on our own …especially at night when most tourists are snug back in their beds and skylines beckon to the photographer.


We hired a local guide, Lucy, with Discover Beijing Tours for our exploration of the capital city after dark, Lucy supplied her own car and driver who knew how to navigate the confusing Beijing traffic patterns. Plus she knew where to park and had some inspired opinions on creative angles and perspectives.

Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
Access to Tiananmen Square was restricted the night we visited so I had to grab this shot through the window of our moving car. Back at home and two hours of tweaking with Photoshop and I end up with this image!

At the nearly empty Olympic Village, we parked and walked to some of the highlights. I’m glad we were able to visit at night because later in the week we got to stop by again during daylight and there was NO comparison…this is a venue that is dramatically more impressive after the sun sets!

Bejing's Olympic Bird's Nest Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
Beijing’s famous Bird’s Nest in Olympic Park. It’s inspired architecture is neat to see during the day but it will blow your mind at night!
Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
The Olympic Tower was completed just a few years ago and is pretty impressive

Some of the modern architecture in Beijing and China’s other big cities is truly over the top. All of it is expertly illuminated after sundown. The futuristic National Center for the Performing Arts shown below is an example:

Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
Not surpisingly, residents of Bejing call this the “egg.” After dark, its color gradually shifts from red, to blue to silver….quite mesmorizing

Another example was the CATV building which is just plain head-scratching:

Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
This long exposure captured the light trails from Bejing’s insane traffic.

“The Place” is a huge upscale area that features the world’s largest LCD panel mounted to the bottom of a vast covered walkway between two shopping malls. A local cop saw me struggling to find a good spot and on his own he actually stopped traffic and urged me to set up my tripod in the street where I could fit this entire sceen into my image. Customer service at its best.

Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
The Place…bring your wide angle lens!

We also had the chance to stroll down Yandai Xie Street, a traditional marketplace in the old part of town. It’s narrow streets were packed with vendors hawking every conceivable type of merchandise and food.

Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
How about a crunchy late night snack…anyone?!
Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
Everywhere I turned there were exotic details to admire
Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
Lake Houhai is at the end of Yandai Xie Street. This facinating area is absolutely gorgeous at night!

Beijing is a huge spawling city that is home to over 21 million people (almost equal to the entire population of Australia!). Obviously a single night wasn’t adequate to hit even the highlights, but that’s all we had because we were off the next day south to Hangzhou.


Hangzhou is home to the stunning West Lake area which I would have loved to have photographed at night. But we only had one evening in town and our tour group was locked into a visit to the “Songcheng Romance Park”: Yes, it’s a cheezy theme park (but hey, we live in Orlando…gotta check out the competition!)

Songcheng Romance Park Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
Not exactly subtle, or old but perhaps photogenic?

The park did have a great live stage show. “The Songcheng Romance Show” has been seen by over 6 million folks. It may have been a bit challenging to follow the story, but visually, it was like catnip for this photographer:

Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
Incredible lighting and stage effects made it a photographic feast
Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
Sometimes I thought the show was created with photographers in mind. It featured little vignettes like the one above that were oddly emotional and visually captivating.


The next morning we were off to the world’s 2nd largest city: Shanghai. I’d been long impressed by night images taken of its skyline and Anita and booked a river cruise to see for ourself:

Shangai at night
WOW…just WOW! This view did NOT disappoint.

On one side of the boat, the futuristic vision of 21st century Shanghai slaps you silly in the face, but directly opposite on the other bank of the Huangpu River the dignified and elegant 19th century city facade known as the Bund calms your soul: Talk about a study in contrast!

Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
The classical Bund waterfront
Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
180 degree panorama off the side of the boat
Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
Back to the dock after the cruise…


Our last stop in China was even further south and far inland. In fact, we flew over Wuhan, which has been in the news lately because of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Guilin (pronounced Kway-leen) isn’t usually included in a typical itinerary for visitors to China…unless you are a photographer who wants to capture some of the world’s most dramatic landscapes.

There is a hill (Xiangong) along a bend of the Li River that features a killer vista of the dramatic limestone karst hills. I was excited even though I had to get up at 4am to make the drive there (oddly enough, Anita did not fully share my enthusiasm). I climbed the (hundreds of) steps, scouted my location, set up my gear, took my test shots and then patiently waited for the sunrise.

Which. Never. Came.

It was totally overcast. Never even a a peak of the sun. Oh well, I did capture some long exposures and the intense clouds did provide images with lots of atmosphere when converted to black and white:

Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
A long exposure before dawn of Xiangong Hill near Yangshu.  
Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
Sunrise images here can be absolutely breathtaking…hopefully I’ll be back one day for a second try.

That night, we walked to dinner. Steps from the entrance of our hotel in downdown Guilin is a pedestrian area that winds along part of the old city’s medieval-era moat. The landscape lighting is amazing and it creates a picturesque and relaxing area for a stroll. It is also a target-rich environment for photographers.

Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
On Shanhu Lake’s shore, twin pagodas, the Sun and Moon, light up the sky at night
Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
 The Tang Dynasty Ancient South Gate (aka Gu’nanmen)
Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
A ‘Moon” bridge…
Night Photography in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guilin
I never did figure out exactly what this was…but I liked it!

Anita patiently allowed me to get my photographic fix and then gently pushed me along to a restaurant for our delayed dinner.

All too soon, we had to return home.

I’ll have more to come about our trip to China…even some daytime shots. But, my days are blissfully full and life is busy, so it may be awhile!



Posted in Night Photography, Travel Photography Also tagged , , , , |

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer’s Perspective

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

Can you say BFE?

New Mexico’s Bisti Badlands is one of those places that most folks have never heard of but landscape photographers  idolize as an ‘icon’.   So why is that? 

I guess we could start with the fact that the whole area was once the shore of an ancient sea which covered much of New Mexico 70 million years ago.  And…so what, how does that make Bisti cool?   Well, the answer lies in what happened after the dinosaurs (including the “Bisti Beast”) had their time in the sun   Erosion over the millennia on Bisti’s unique geology created vast areas of absolutely bizarre and delightful rock formations unique on earth.

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

Not of this earth…

So why isn’t it famous and packed with tourists?    Well, first of all Bisti is way off the beaten path…about an hour from the nearest hotel.   Plus, this isn’t a ‘pull up and whip out the iPhone’ kinda place.  Once you park you have to hike across a desert for at least 45 minutes.  Yes, I said desert…which gets  a bit toasty in the summer with temperatures soaring over 100° Fahrenheit (38° Celsius).  Oh…and did I mention that there isn’t a visitor’s center, or bathrooms, or water, or food, or shade or trails, even decent cell coverage for that matter?  


Maybe that’s why you’d have to be a crazy photographer to consider Bisti a “must see.”   But to be honest, even though landscape photographers say they love Bisti, you won’t find many that have actually been there.   I was certainly guilty…it had been on my ‘bucket list’ for ten years or more…but I had still only seen photographs of it. 

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective Cracked Eggs the Alien Egg Hatchery

The ‘Hatchery’…more about this spot later.

But last month all the planets aligned and I finally found myself hiking out into the Bisti Badlands in the cool fall weather.   So after a decade of anticipation, how did it measure up?  In this blog I’ll discuss my impressions and share photos so you can see for yourself.  If you are a photographer and plan to visit Bisti yourself, check out my free “Photographers’s Guide to Bisti” which is chock full of maps, tips and other info that will help make your trip as productive as possible. Down the road I’ll write a longer blog in more of a ‘how-to’ format with lots of photographer specific info.

First of all, Bisti really is in the middle of nowhere.  Some days I would hike from before sunrise to after sunset and see only one or two other souls the whole time.  Seriously, I saw more coyotes than people.   Other than the occasional footprint, there are few signs of mankind here.   If you are like me and enjoy some time alone, then you will appreciate the solitude.  It is deeply peaceful place.

Bisti isn’t Disney.  Once you leave the parking lot, there are no rangers, no boardwalks, no trails, no signs, no way to find your way unless you have a guide or can use GPS.  Maybe that’s why they call it the Bisti Wilderness.  2020 UPDATE…a pit toilet at the main Bisti Parking lot has recently been added…so at least you don’t have to drive 40 miles to find a bathroom like in the past! 

Bisti is about as alien as anyplace on earth.  For example, would it really surprise you to see the image below in Luke Skywalker’s photo album from his boyhood home on Tatooine?

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

Would it be difficult to believe that this image was created a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?  The ‘Conversing Hoodoos’ are tall, graceful formations with a commanding view of the surrounding valley.

The area is huge.  The Bisti Wilderness covers over 45,000 square acres.  Even though I hiked 10-20 miles per day, I covered only a small fraction of the area.  You could literally spend weeks exploring here and find something new every day. 

Bisti is full of surprises.  I had done a lot of research before my trip but even so, I was unprepared for the sheer number of hoodoos, arches, wings and formations of every possible, misshapen and contorted shape imaginable.

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

Hoodoos, Wings and Arches…oh my!

Known as the Vanilla Hoodoos, this is one of many football field sized areas full of hoodoos you will come across in the Badlands

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

UPDATE:  The Bisti Arch collapsed in March of 2020.  The ‘Bisti Arch’ is no more than two feet tall. But you can make it look larger by getting your tripod down to just a couple inches over the sand.

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

Every variety, every shape, every size…





There are hundreds, if not thousands of wings and hoodoos. 

I had heard that you could find shards of petrified wood at Bisti.  Well, heck with that…I found whole trees:


One of my neatest ‘finds’ was the hoodoo shown below: 

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

Look again…yup that is a  hunk of petrified wood on top….only in Bisti!

Yes, Bisti was alien during the day but it truly was magical at night.

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

The ‘Stone Wings’ are one of the best known locations in Bisti. These ‘star trails’ were created by combining 25 or so four minute exposures ‘. I used my backpack as a pillow while the camera automatically took a series of shots for over an hour. It was peaceful, quiet and, to be totally honest, just a tad spooky.

Other than the mournful howling of coyotes, the loudest sound you will hear is the beating of your own heart as you gaze up at the Milky Way.  The nearest towns are 30-50 miles away so light pollution is minimal and Bisti’s 6500 feet of elevation ensures that the stars are incredibly colorful, bright and crisp.  

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective Stone Wings under the Milky Way

That’s Mars in the upper left. I was lucky to have a small cloud pass just under it when I was making this exposure.

The Bisti Badlands are beautiful but barren.

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

The “Beige Hoodoo’s”…literally hundreds of them.

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

Badlands…as far as the eye can see.   Nary a tree or critter in sight..

By that I mean that this isn’t a place conducive to life.  No grass, no trees. An occasional, desiccated scrawny bush and some insignificant lichens growing on rocks.  Perhaps a few birds and you might even flush a jackrabbit if you are lucky…but don’t expect to see much else green or moving. 






Bisti is the kind of place that really fires up your imagination.  You see the wild shapes sculpted millions of years of persistent erosion and then your brain struggles to make sense of what you are looking at. 

For example, my eyes saw this hoodoo:

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective Stone WingsBut to my brain, it was a Klingon Battle Cruiser:



Then I noticed this one :

But my inner Jedi saw a Star Destroyer bearing down on me!


As I explored Bisti my mind kept drifting and I found myself daydreaming about Sci-Fi movies.   Apparently that doesn’t make me unique…after all, the most famous place in the Badlands was named after a scene in the classic Sigourney Weaver Alien movie…

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

This set from the movie ‘Aliens’ inspired some creative soul years ago when he/she named Bisti’s “Alien Egg Hatchery”…

The ‘eggs’ are a collection of rounded boulders, each about 3′ long or so.  From a distance they seem nondescript but as you get close they really do appear eerily organic.  The experts will tell you that they are are remnants of limestone tubes that eroded into egg shapes, but your imagination might come up with a more frightening explanation.  The Egg Hatchery can be wildly dramatic near dawn or dusk when highlighted by direct, low-angle sunlight.   At night, it just takes a little low level lighting (LLL) on the eggs to create stunning images. 

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

An image like this only needs Ripley to jump out and start roasting these limestone eggs with a flamethrower…


Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

The wonderful low angle sunset light really makes the whole scene pop.



























I found Bisti to be one of the most entrancing, memorable and emotionally stirring locations I’ve visited.  It is easy to understand why Native American’s consider the area to be sacred.

Just the same, Bisti clearly isn’t for everyone, but if you want to see something totally different, don’t mind solitude and can put up with a bit of walking, it might just sing to you like it has to me.


Reminder to you photographers out there:  If this place interests you, I also have written a comprehensive Bisti guide for photographers.  Just click here to check it out!

“Warp Speed Mr. Sulu”



Bisti Badlands Photography

Bisti Badlands:  A photographers perspective


Bisti Badlands Photography a photographer’s perspective







Posted in Landscape Photography, Milky Way Photography, Night Photography, Southwest U.S.A. Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , |