Shanghai - Cityscapes

I've always concentrated on natural landscapes. Not because I have no interest in 'cityscapes', but rather that the opportunity has never presented itself. At home in Norwich, effective shots would have to be taken at a distance and from a height. The difficulty has always bee in finding this kind of camera position.

Shanghai, on the other hand, presented not only numerous accessible high shooting positions but also lots of other stylistic opportunities. In particular, being able to juxtapose people and cityscape to show how one relates to the other. (The Chinese, if asked, welcome being photographed. Contrast that attitude with the suspicion photographers arouse in Europeans, esp. the English). Shooting city life in China is a joy.

Also the rich mix of architecture, ranging from the futuristic to old Chinese - all within a few hundred yards - give the photographer endless opportunities to create pictures that contrast the old and new.

At night Shanghai is a photographer's paradise. This brash, hugely modern city puts on a massive light show every night. There is the obvious riverside lightshow along the Bund, but less obvious are the neon lights that decorate the underside of the elevated roads - albeit only at certain times of the year.

I was hugely excited at the prospect of visiting Shanghai and I wasn't disappointed.

Location(1): The Pudong district of Shanghai is the home of the tallest buildings in China. Each provides an observation deck - giving the much desired vantage point to observe the cityscape from both height and distance.

Futuristic Shanghai skyline taken from the Jinmao Dasha Observation deck

Technique: It is of course essential to choose the right observation deck if you want to shoot the most interesting buildings. The image above was taken from the Jinmao Dasha building which provides views of both the Shanghai Trade Centre (the Bottle-opener) and the Oriental Pearl TV Tower seen here. (The Jinmao Dasha is not that visually appealing).

Once on the deck you have the problem of photographing through sealed, dirty windows - producing unwanted reflections. I found that the best way to avoid reflections was to place the lens hood directly up against the window (with a polarising filter fitted). The other problem was the haze (caused by pollution) that almost permanently hung over the city. Apparently this only disappears after the air has been cleaned by a storm. However I found it relatively easy to cut through much of the haze during post processing in Capture NX2.

More of a problem, and one that NX2 couldn't help with was 'converging verticals'. I had to create a tif file in NX2 and then use Photoshop's Lens distortion filter to adjust vertical perspective, followed by a very small tweek with the perspective cropping tool.

Camera Work:

original pre-processed image
(note reflection and haze)
Nikon D80, RAW(12 bit),
Focal Length: 18mm;
Exposure: 1/125 sec @ F/16, ISO 400;
White Balance: Auto;
Picture Control: Sharpening 8, Contrast 0, Brightness -1, Saturation 1, Hue 0;
Color Noise Reduction: Intensity 10%, Sharpness 50%;

Post-Capture: In Capture NX2 and Photoshop CS2 

In NX2 -
Guassian Blur: radius 0.69px to luminance channel (to further reduce  luminance noise);
Crop (to remove reflection on left hand side). 
High Pass Sharpening of luminance and chrominance channels (radius 2px)

In Photoshop -
remove converging verticals with a combination of the lens distortion filter and the perspective cropping tool.

Location (2): There is an enormous amount for the eye to take in at any time on the Huangpu River. From the grandiose symbols of the old western commercial power at the Bund, tothe burgeoning modern metropolis symbolising the new power of the east on Pudong. And lets not forget the bustling docks that line the river. But, most spectacular of all is the evening light show on both sides of the river that puts many firework display's to shame. The gawdy lights of Pudong dominate the skyline, overpowering the conservative lighting of the Bund - perhaps symbolising the rising dominance of the east over the west.


In the evening people throng to enjoy the spectacular lights of Pudong's modern skyline.

Technique: I took one of the many river tours and positioned myself at the rear of the boat's crowded top deck, where I had a good view of both sides of the river. I stubbornly refused to move for the whole journey for fear of someones head blocking my view.

The Shanghai Financial Centre towers over the Jinmao Dasha

Since I had no tripod (I wouldn't have been able to use it anyway), and I was on a moving boat, I set my camera to shoot at 1/15 sec with Auto ISO. This is the lowest speed I've found I'm capable of using with my VR (vibration Reduction) lens, and still get sharp images. I knew I'd experience a lot of noise at the High ISO levels (most pictures were shaot at ISO 1600) - I reconciled myself to having to spending a lot of time removing noise post capture.
For each image I took a minimum of 3 shots in the hope that at least one would be sharp. However when I found myself using long focal lengths - the twin towers shot above was at maximum zoom of 200mm focal length - I took up to 8 shots. The problem here was the rapid change of shooting angle due to the moving boat limiting the number of shots I could take before the composition was completely changed.

 The conservatively lit Customs House dominates the Bund.

Post Capture: processing was limited to noise removal - a two step process involving first using NX2's color noise reduction tool followed by the application of Gaussian Blur to the luminance channel.

follow the link to view slideshow of the Pudong and the river cruise

Map created by EveryTrail: Travel Community

Location(3) exploring the beautiful Ming dynasty Yu Gardens is a relatively peaceful way to get away from the frenzied activity of Shanghai.

juxtaposition of the traditional and the modern

Technique: Unfortunately on the day of my visit the sky was a featureless haze, and as I was spending most of my time looking up at the amazing roofs (ancient and modern) there was little I could do to avoid the its glare. The picture above illustrates the problem -
  • I needed depth of field to retain focus of the close up traditional roof structures and the distant modern skyscraper,
  • I needed to expose for both the shadows and the bright sky - exposing for the sky I would have to post process in NX2 to get back detail in the shadows at the risk of creating noise, alteratively I could expose for the shadows and produce a burnt out sky.

Depth of field wasn't a problem, exposure was. In the end I took the middle way and suffered with both problems!! As the sky was featureless I should have exposed for the shadows - oh well thats another lesson learned.
Conclusion: Shanghai is a wonderful place for the photographer I wish I could have toured the city at my own pace, but as always there was a schedule to keep to.

outside the garden walls the pace of life in Old Shanghai is frenzied

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