Travel Photography in China Page 2

Elson says that the winds that scour China's far western deserts carry particles in the air that contribute to some striking sunrises and sunsets. "Dawn seemed to produce different sky colors from what I'm used to seeing here," he notes. His image, entitled "Dawn, Li River, China," is actually a combination of three different scenes. The original photo was taken one morning when he got off a boat in the river in the Guangxi region of southwest China. He photographed an old woman, who was washing her boots in the water. He later removed a large, anchored boat and ripples in the water with Photoshop. "The peaks rising out of the water in the right two-thirds of the scene and the glimmer of dawn were added later."

Elson photographed "Rice Field, Long Ji, China" from an elevated vantage point and added the field worker later in Photoshop.

"South China Sea" was also photographed in the south, on the island of Hainan. Elson changed the color of the sky, which was originally cloudy, to a warm gold tone. He also removed some people camping out on the shore, and added the silhouetted subject and umbrellas with Photoshop.

"Rickshaw" is a very impressionistic rendering of "a sickly old man sleeping in a rickshaw, which is not only the means of his livelihood, but by his appearance, I believe he had gathered around him most of his worldly possessions." Elson says, "People in China live in such a way that few of us understand in this country." He toned down the color palette to emphasize the bleakness of the scene. "This isn't usually the type of image I sell," he says, "but this was so evocative and haunting. To me, it's a metaphor of how unique and fabulous America is."

"Rice Field, Long Ji, China" with its precipitous fields and carved terraces, is a popular photo spot, according to Elson. "People live in these one-street, nearly barren, villages and tend the rice fields. As evening falls, you'll occasionally see the pallid flicker of television, but there's no activity in the dirt streets, no movie theater, no cafes. Rural China is a no-frills existence." He says that most people photograph this scene from a spot that's level with the fields, but he arrived early in the morning and hiked up to a higher, more interesting vantage point. (The original scene consisted only of the fields, and later, in Photoshop, he added the field worker with the heavily charged yoke to indicate scale, and to symbolize that all the work in these fields is performed manually, only occasionally aided by oxen.)

"Tai Chi" was taken at a boat landing at dawn. The composition was pared down to this simple, yet striking statement about Chinese culture.

"Day's End" was taken in a fishing area in the southern part of China. "I saw the sunset starting to happen," he explains, and he immediately shot the scene. He later punched up the color in the sky, and added the woman carrying baskets and the fishing boat.

Elson describes a professional photographer as one who "knows what you have to do to get a great image. Knowing how to transfer what's in your mind to film (or a memory card) is essential." He says that a photographer must learn to make his camera record what his mind sees. "And if not all of it is there to pass through the lens, then there's software. With every scene, every image, it's only as good as your editing. Not so different from life, really, because all of life is editing--what you add, what you remove, and what you do with what you see."

Travel Gear
When traveling, Elson pares down his equipment. For his Chinese trip, he took his Nikon F4, and Nikkor 20mm, 15mm rectilinear, 75--300mm zoom, and 60mm macro lenses. He also used an SB--24 flash with a cord that allows for off-camera lighting. He uses his in-camera meter to confirm what are pretty accurate guesses acquired from experience. "When I do use the meter, it's rarely centered. I'm always trying to get a little more out of the highlights or shadows. And when I find the lighting unusual, I'll take readings from a gray card," he says.

One day, he says, he plans to get a digital camera, partly because of the problems involved when traveling with film. "Especially abroad," Elson says, "Everything goes through the x-ray machine, and it's difficult to convince people at many airports to hand-examine film."

For now, Elson shoots with Kodak's E-series transparency films. He uses E100G and E100GX "almost always," and E200, "which is pushable." In addition to this, he always uses a sturdy Gitzo carbon fiber tripod "even on a sunny day!" He enlarges some of his images to 40x60-inch prints, and says, "At this size, there would be some noticeable image blur if I didn't use a tripod."

Elson toned down the color palette in his impressionistic rendering of "Rickshaw" to emphasize
the bleakness of this scene.

A Unique Experience
In terms of travel photography, Elson observes, "You should be prepared to find anything you do to be more problematic when you photograph in places like China." He adds, "Even if someday it becomes possible to rent a car and drive around China yourself, I advise against it. Hire a car and driver, someone who speaks at least a little English, as it will be many years before the `outback' will be ready for western tourists. No road signs in English, no motels, and very few people to help speed you on your merry way. It can be like stepping back in time 100 years." He also feels strongly about exploring areas that haven't been photographed a million times: "Be adventuresome and take the road less traveled."

All in all, he concludes, China provided some wonderful memories and photo opportunities. "It's a unique experience from other travel destinations."

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