All panoramic pictures, taken with my Hasselblad XPan
and its 45mm f/4 lens, were definitely one of the goals
of this, my third trip to the Great Wall of China.
Photos © Jack Hollingsworth, 1999
I'm a landmarks guy.
I'm fascinated by their grandeur, and I never get tired of photographing
them. No matter how many times I visit Machu Picchu, the Eiffel Tower,
the Taj Mahal, the Statue of Liberty, or the Great Wall of China, I
never lose my enthusiasm. When I recently took my third trip to the
Great Wall, I had the same childlike anticipation I had on my first
visit. I guess it has to do with my love for photography and my passion
to take pictures, as well as the beauty and fascination of the subject.
The thing about photographing a world landmark, though, is that it can
seem overwhelming simply because it is a landmark, and has been photographed
countless times before. Then there's the factor of its sheer size.
So the problem is not only how to capture the landmark in a different
way, but how to capture it at all.
My plan for photographing landmarks is to have a plan--one that
breaks the task into manageable pieces and recognizes that I won't
be able to get everything that's fascinating and beautiful into
one frame. In a way I'm fortunate--as a professional, chances
are I'll get to go back and try different approaches. For the
photo enthusiast who may get to a landmark only once, a plan is even
Here's how I work. When I travel to any destination, I'm
very clear about what I want to accomplish. I go armed with an agenda,
a photographic goal and a strategy. I'll decide, for example,
that I need more wide shots or more intimate views. I might need to
concentrate on filtration or magic hour photographs or silhouettes of
people. Those will be the overriding themes in my mind, the things that
keep me focused. Without that focus, any landmark location becomes immense
Why is this man smiling? Because although snow wasn't
part of my plan for photographing the Great Wall of China,
it made for some very dramatic pictures.
Once I know what my specific
goal is, I'll devote 60 to 70 percent of my efforts to achieving
it, leaving the rest for my normal coverage and whatever may happen spontaneously.
On my recent trip to the Wall I photograph-ed for three days, and on each
day I had a specific mission.
The parts of the Great Wall that I visited on this trip were the Pass
of Badaling, which is something of a tourist carnival at times because
of its accessibility (it's the section most easy to get to from
Beijing); and Muti-anyu, which is 75 miles north of Beijing. Restored
a few years ago, Mutianyu is as imposing as Badaling, with spectacular
The element of spontaneity that I always allow for appeared in the form
of the weather. On my previous visits to the Great Wall I got very little
cooperation from nature--cloudy, cold, nasty days were the rule.
This time I was hoping for a break, and I got it: one beautiful, sunny
day, one partially cloudy day--and one day that started out looking
like a failure but ended up just fine. We'd set out to visit Mutianyu,
and about two hours out of Beijing it started to snow. As we drove farther
north, the snow got heavier, and I thought, we're going to get stuck,
this isn't going to work. There were so many "don't
go" signals that it would have been easy just to turn around and
go back. But I was still excited about the day and the prospects for photography,
so we continued on, and when we got to our destination I found the snow
had given me the most unbelievably picturesque scene I think I've
seen in a decade. The snow made the scene magical, and all my photography
that day was aimed at shooting snow on the Great Wall.
Another advantage I have as
a pro is never traveling with a tour group. For this trip I had hired
a bus and driver for myself, my assistant, and our interpreter. (If you're
going to do any serious work in China, you need someone who can speak
the language. Fortunately, I'd come to China from an assignment
in Hong Kong, and I'd hired the production coordinator from the
Hong Kong job, who spoke both Mandarin and Cantonese, to be our translator.)
But although I never travel with a group, I have many of the same photographic
problems any serious photographer is going to have when visiting landmarks--or
any well-known, well-visited location. In a word, tourists.
There are only three to four parts to the Great Wall that are fairly easily
accessible to the public; the rest of it is pretty much backpack-and-donkey-ride
territory. So, as you can imagine, those accessible parts are well-trafficked
by tourists. In addition, there are a number of vendors and hawkers--a
great number--whose only purpose seems to be to aggravate and get
in the way.
How do I handle tourists, who are less serious about photography than
I am? I do a lot of sitting around and waiting. And I make them work for
me, including them in photographs for a sense of scale and a touch of
drama or color. But mostly I prefer to hang out and wait for the best
time of the day and the opportunity for the cleanest shots. Now, I know
that most amateur photographers, no matter how serious they are about
their photography, don't always have the luxury of waiting, but
the hard truth of it is you have to make the time if you want to get the
good shots. I'm always, always, the first one at the gate in the
morning and the last one to leave. I'm the guy being ushered out
by security guards or park rangers or police and being told, "I'm
sorry sir, we're closing and you'll have to leave."
Or, "Sir, I'm sorry, we closed half an hour ago."
On this trip I had three Nikon F4 bodies and a full complement of lenses
from 16mm to 300mm, plus converters and my favorite filter pack combination
of 85B and 85C--which are color conversion filters but which really
warm a scene up. And I brought something special--my Hasselblad XPan
panoramic camera (24x65mm format). I spent almost a whole day shooting
with the Hassy and getting some incredible views of the Wall; now, there's
a subject made for that camera! I shot a ton of Velvia, a handful of Kodak
infrared E6, a bit of Agfa Scala black and white 200, and some Agfa 1000
speed that I bought up in tons before it went away. I wanted to see what
that high-speed grainy look would do for the Great Wall in photos I took
not for stock, but for personal use.
That film, those cameras, and the views they captured--all part of
the plan. The snow was a bonus.
Bold compositions and vivid
colors mark the work of our new columnist, world-traveling photographer
Jack Hollingsworth. His images have appeared in "Condé Nast
Traveler," "National Geographic Traveler," and "American
Way," among other publications. His clients include American Airlines,
Renaissance Cruises, Four Seasons Hotels, American Express (Asia), and
numerous tourist and visitors bureaus. Beginning with this issue, Passport
will appear on a bimonthly basis in our magazine.
One of the questions I'm always asked is, "What's your
formula for film? How much do you allow per day?" Well, I'm
a little obsessive about film, and I'm not frugal. I'd say
on non-lifestyle shoots, where I'm shooting only for travel, I'm
usually in the 60 rolls a day range. If I've been hired for lifestyle
images and there are people in my plans, it's probably in the range
of 80 per day. That's an average, of course; a slow day could be
20, a real good day with bright sun, lots of color, excitement and emotion,
maybe 60 to 70 rolls.