Weekly Photo Outing

I’m always happy to run outings by other accomplished photographers who wish to share their experiences traveling in the Asian theatre.  Tom Tweedel is a good friend with significant experience in China and has self-published several interesting volumes of his travels in China complete with many great images and informative narrative.  A few months ago he visited Thailand for the first time and I had a great time showing him around the area.  When Tom told me he’d like to share some of his work in this weekly I was both excited and grateful.  I hope you enjoy China through his lens as much as I have.  For those whose plans include extended travel in China I’d recommend contacting Tom and inquiring into obtaining copies of his books.  Tom Tweedel is an Austin, TX based photographer and can be reached at tomsds@austin.rr.com

Photo Outing – Qianmen Street, Bejing

This week I’d like to bring one of Beijing’s lesser known but very charming (and rapidly developing) sites to into the spotlight.

Qianmen Street is a section of central Beijing just south of Tainmen Square. It has a history longer than its length (845 meters). It was a commercial strip in the Yuan Dynasty (1200’s). It later served as housing for Imperial exam candidates in the Ming Dynasty. It became a commercial and cultural hub in the Qing Dynasty and home to the famous Quanjude Roast duck restaurant.

More recently (starting in 2002) it was refurbished as part of Beijing’s Olympic makeover. Since much of the place was destroyed in 1900 during conflict with the western powers its reconstruction draws its inspiration from photographs and plans that date to the 1920’s and 1930’s.  Reconstruction was just finishing up in the afterglow of the 2008 Olympics, though many of the stores were still vacant. In the months to come that should change.

For a photo outing Qianmen street is a real gem for many reasons. It presents unique period architecture that’s hard to find elsewhere in the city. You might find a little here and a little there but at Qianmen one stop shopping.

Qianmen Street by Tom Tweedle

Entrance to Quinamen street as seen from the south Tower of Tianamen.

On top of that Quinamen street is by and large pedestrian only. You can wander at your leisure with little fear of getting crushed by the notorious Beijing driver. Which is not to say you will completely avoid the crush of humanity. Especially at peak tourist times.

Qianmen Street by Tom Tweedle

Looking North up Quinamen Street

Qianmen Street by Tom Tweedle

Looking South at the entrance gate and the South Tower of Tiananmen Square.

You can spend your time strolling the avenue or take the Street car when it becomes operational. There are numerous shops of all sorts to visit and a number of excellent restaurants.

As much as Quinamen Street has to offer during the day it take on a whole new life at night. The crowds die down, the lights come on and your treated to a whole different vision of the place.

Qianmen Street by Tom Tweedle

Quinamen Gate at Night – Shot in HDR

While it can be a chore this is definitely when you’ll want to bring a tripod along if you’ve got it. The opportunity for the glowing light show is not to be missed.

This is an excellent occasion to use bracketed exposures. When shooting night shots like this exposure is often an artistic choice. Do you want to emphasize the actual lights themselves or the glow they cast on the buildings around them? Your best bet is a good 5 stop bracket 1 stop apart to give you the maximum flexibility when going over your shots afterwards. It also gives you the added bonus of being able to produce HDR shots like I have here to give it a unique look you don’t get from a single exposure.

Qianmen Street by Tom Tweedle

Building to the left of the gate 5 shot HDR.

If there are people in your shot the time exposure (especially with HDR) can give this already exotic scene a ghostly quality.

Qianmen Street by Tom Tweedle

Building to the right of the gate with subject motion. 5 shot HDR.

After you have passed the front gate your treated to a glowing avenue that stretches on into the night.

Qianmen Street by Tom Tweedle

The most scenic bits are to the middle where the have some of the larger and more elaborately lit buildings.

Qianmen Street by Tom Tweedle

Chinese style lattice work is given a whole new look by tasteful illumination.

Most of the buildings are done in the Chinese style using dept, color and texture to give there best appearance. You’ll see many similarities in the patterns and colors and themes borrowed from the Forbidden City.

Qianmen Street by Tom Tweedle

Chinese Styled Period building. 5 Shot HDR.

That’s not to say its all Chinese, there is a hint of turn of the century colonial architecture sprinkled about the street. Most notably the clock tower. Relying on neon traced outlines and broader smoother illumination it gives a different and yet no less attractive look.

Qianmen Street by Tom Tweedle

The clock tower is the strongest example of western influence in the architecture. 5 Shot HDR.

That’s not to say its all Chinese, there is a hint of turn of the century colonial architecture sprinkled about the street. Most notably the clock tower. Relying on neon traced outlines and broader smoother illumination it gives a different and yet no less attractive look.

There is a lot more to see and do at Quinamen street and its location to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen square should make it easy to fit in, especially after dark. One thing to consider when scheduling is that the place does officially close at 10pm (they put out barriers to block access). I found that closing time was realistically more like 10:30-10:45. So be sure to get their early enough to give yourself the time your going to want to spend.