The Chinese consider a place picturesque when it has mountains and water. With its towering peaks and snaking coastline, the seaport city of Dalian is the quintessential Chinese idea of scenic beauty. August is the perfect time to visit since the temperature is usually a comfortable 24° Celsius (about 75°Farenheit) then.
For shutterbugs, Dalian’s accommodating weather and gorgeous sights that offer both modern urban infrastructure and stunning natural settings make it a landscape photographer’s dream come true. It is no wonder that the city topped the ‘China Top 10 Beautiful Cities 2012’, an honour bestowed by the China Institute of City Competitiveness (CICC).
Positioned to Snap
Taking pictures that are so life-like, they leap out at you is all about infusing something that is naturally two-dimensional with a sense of three-dimensionalism. Where you shoot from can help you do that. A well-placed foreground, for example, gives a sense of depth that draws your viewer into the scene.
Xinghai Square (星海广场), the largest square in Asia, provides a wonderful spot to take pictures of the city. Just half an hour away from Somerset Grand Central Dalian, the 45,000-square-metre space, built to commemorate the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, is surrounded by some of the city’s major attractions like the Xinghai Convention and Exhibition Centre, sporting facilities, restaurants, and a bungee tower.
The massive plaza’s name – Sea of Stars – is derived from its design which features a giant star shape in the centre flanked by two towering pillars. Within the giant grounds are other interesting focal points: a stretch covered with the footprints of 1,000 of the city’s residents representing the enterprising spirit of the people, a musical fountain, and several sculptures. Using some of these features as a foreground, you can capture quite an interesting perspective of the city.
One of the ways to evoke emotions in your architectural photography is to include people in your frame. The popular Friendship Square (友好广场), a little over 30 minutes from the serviced residence, is built in honour of China’s friendship with the former Soviet Union. The crowd-puller will give you plenty of opportunities to have people in your picture. Remember to keep the person off-centre for a quirky composition that will add a point of interest without detracting from the attraction. If portrait photography is what inspires you, here is also where you can capture faces animated with expression.
The huge crystal ball structure that takes centre stage at the square is supported by five hands that represent unity and co-operation amongst the five continents. The great globe lights up night, making for a pretty photo opportunity, if you want to experiment with night photography. Since the structure is by a road, you can try to include action in your photograph with a slower shutter speed.
A 20-minute drive from Somerset Grand Central Dalian is Binhai Road (滨海路), a 35-kilometre stretch of road by the south seashore of Dalian which also includes a nearly 21-kilometre boardwalk, the longest in the country. Built in the 1970s for military use, it is now open to visitors and is a perfect place from which to take several landscape shots of the city’s famous natural attractions. There are 12 tourist attractions along Binhai Road. You may not be able to cover them all. So, if you want landscape inspirations for your album, keep an eye out for Bangchui Island Beach (棒棰島), and Bird Nest Ridge (燕窝岭). From Bangchui Island Beach, you can spy a lone island out at sea. Here is where you can practise your panorama photography to capture the wide expanse of sky, sea, and land. Bird Nest Ridge got its name from the fact that black swallows make their nest there. Time and the elements have left their mark on the sheer cliff surfaces and, with some imagination, the natural structures look like various shapes – fish, sunken boats, warships and even the likeness of Buddha.
Where Light Gently Falls
Apart from a good view, good lighting is also what makes a good picture. In fact, some photographers say catching the right light is the first step towards catching the right moment for a photograph. The best times to take pictures are during the golden hours of early morning and late afternoons. That is when the sun is lower and, therefore, the light less harsh, giving subtle hues and interesting textures to the landscape.
A relaxing way to wait for the golden hour is to spend it on any one of Dalian’s famous beaches. 15 minutes away from my property is Golden Pebble Beach (金石滩). Along its eastern peninsular, there is an eight-kilometre stretch of coastline where you can catch the sunrise over rock formations that are hundreds of thousands of years old. Many of the structures resemble animals and the play of light on them as the sun inches into the sky will have you clicking non-stop. Among the rocky monuments is the Longevous Rock, the largest rock sediment in the world, formed 600,000 years ago!
Another beach a little further away (40 minutes’ drive) is Tiger Beach (老虎滩). Here, you can catch the sunset over sparkling waters. Water, in the subdued light of the setting sun, can have beautiful colours and reflections.
While you wait for twilight, wander China’s biggest modern lido that is the Tiger Beach Ocean Park. Apart from shopping and dining, you can visit Tiger Sculpture Square where tiger sculptures by the famous Chinese painter and sculptor, Han Meilin, hold court. If real animals intrigue you more, the Tiger Beach Polar Region Marine Animals World will wow you with their collection of animals from the aquatic world will let you indulge in wildlife photography in safe confines.
Poised for Perfection
Composition is another consideration when aiming for that perfect shot. The ‘rule of thirds’ which divides the frame into imaginary thirds both horizontally and vertically, is a helpful guide. If you are starting out, place objects at the points where the lines intersect or along any of the horizontal lines for a well-composed picture.
For sweeping vistas that make the best targets when learning to compose your photograph, mountain-top views are the best. Dalian has several mountains you can choose from. Two hours away is Baiyu Mountain (白玉山), one of the top attractions of Dalian, that sits some 130 metres above sea level.
One of the most breathtaking views I have ever beheld was from Baiyu Mountain. The climb gave me quite a workout but the view of sea and naval port from the century-old Baiyu Mountain Tower at the peak made it all worth it. From this vintage point, you can practice aerial photography of the scene below. Aerial photography is often challenging because to requires the photographer or the camera to be on a moving aircraft to get an elevated shot. Being on Baiyu Mountain solves the problem of attempting stable shots while on the move while giving you the elevation you need.
White Cloud Mountain (白云山), also a two-hour drive away, is a pine-covered peak over 250 metre above sea level with temples along its slopes. From the West Peak, you can see all of Dalian, Fu Jia Village (福佳村) and Xiaoping Island (小平岛). Face northwest and you will be rewarded with a splendid view of the coastline snaking its way north to the mainland.
Architectural photography, travel photography, landscape photography, night photography, aerial photography, wildlife photography, portraits, panoramic shots – Dalian offers myriad snapshot-worthy destinations to test these various genres out. So in your next photography tour, do keep Dalian firmly in your focus. It is surely one city that will reward you every time you look at it through your lenses.
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