Tripod or not? Learnt my lessons!

Basically I am not very fond of tripods. On rare occasions you need one and still you have to carry them around all the time. Another reason for not liking them is the lack of flexibility in positioning the camera (for example, horizontal or vertical, or the position I want to take). So, I never take a tripod with me.
Coming back from Xi’an in China I noticed that in the hall of the Terracotta Army quite a few pictures had an ISO value of 6400 or close to it. And that the Shutter Speed I choose was not fast enough to compensate for the zoom of the lens to avoid shaken pictures. For that reason, a couple of pictures were rightfully not accepted by Dreamstime.  When you blow up the picture (100%) you can see the errors.

Terracotta Army in Xian, China (image is shaken)

Let us have a closer look at the contradicting circumstances and requirements in the hall of the Terracotta Army:

  • In the hall there is not enough light, maybe this has something to do with the preservation of the terracotta sculptures.
  • I wanted a large DoF (Depth of Field) to have several ranks of soldiers in focus.
  • The sculptures are a bit away from where I could stand, so to get enough detail I had to zoom in. Otherwise I would get only overview pictures with no detail.

If there is not enough light, there are four options: use a flash, slower Shutter Speed, wider Aperture, or increase the ISO. Remember, the last three determine the Photographic Triangle. See my post on this to understand the relationship between them: if you change one it at least affects one of the others to get a correct exposure. 
Let us have a look at these four options:

  • Use a flash This was no serious option because the sculptures were a bit too far away to evenly light the two or three ranks of soldiers I wanted to capture. And maybe I was not even allowed to flash.
  • Slower Shutter Speed Because of the low light conditions, the Shutter Speed was already pretty low, even further lowering would produce shaken pictures. Furthermore, there is this rule that if you zoom to for example 200mm, the Shutter Speed should be no higher than 1/200th of a second.
  • Wider Aperture Because I wanted several ranks of the soldiers in focus this was no option.
  • Increase ISO Given the above three, ISO was already in the 5000+ range. Going beyond 6400 (the limit of my Nikon D800) produces only darker pictures with a high noise ratio.

To handle this conflicting situation, I took a slightly slower Shutter Speed. As to be expected, this resulted in slightly shaken pictures. As long as the pictures are small, like in this post, you can hardly see it. However, to sell the picture commercially, the picture has to be perfect, even at 100%.

Terracotta Army in Xian, China (image is shaken)

So, what is the solution? Use a tripod. Because the sculptures don’t move using a slower Shutter Speed is no problem. You can take an arbitray long exposure time to get the right DoF and, at the same time, a low ISO to avoid noise.
So, I have learnt my lessons. Next time I take a small tripod (Traveller Mini Pro) that can be attached to the outside of my photography backpack (Lowepro Transit Backpack 350 AW).
Lowepro backpack with small tripod

Stock Images

Sightseeing Xi'an (2)

If you want to know more about my first day in Xi’an, click here.

Breakfast Crowne Plaza in Xi’an

After a good breakfast, the second day we strolled on the Xi’an City Wall. The original fortification was built in the 14th century. It is one of the oldest city walls in China. As a tourist you have to pay a small fee to get access to the wall, for the inhabitants of Xi’an it is free, once a month. The wall is in excellent condition; it is even possible to take a bike ride on it.
Biking on City Wall Xian
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The parks and streets next to the wall are actively used for gymnastic exercises, playing music, and singing. Also, there was a colorful market (as you can see in the album). 
Gym in park next to City Wall Xian
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Just before lunch we visited the Muslim Quarter. The streets are full of shops and tiny restaurants. You can get a wide variety of  delicious small snacks. It is a colorful and lively quarter. Next time I need to spend more time in this quarter to visit the mosque as well.
Beiyuanmen Muslim Market in Xian, China
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

After lunch at the famous Hai Di Lao Hot Pot Restaurant, I went off to the airport to fly to Beijing to visit Tsinghua University. Xi’an is defintely worth paying a visit.
Here are the pictures of Xian that have been accepted by Dreamstime. I used my general-purpose Nikkor lens: 28-300mm.
And here the street photography pictures I took in the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an.
Stock Images

Sightseeing Xi’an (1)

During my recent visit to China I visited four universities. One of them was NPU, where NPU and the University of Twente signed an agreement about student exchange. Below the official ceremony.

Signing Ceremony NPU

After this ceremony I was lucky to do some sightseeing in Xi’an in the Shaanxi Province with two Chinese friends. During the Zhou dynasty it was the capital of China. First, we visited the Terracotta Army, some 50 km outside the city. It is incredible to imagine that these terracotta soldiers date back to roughly 200 BC, and were only discovered as recent as 1974. These soldiers and animals were buried with the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, to protect him. The Terracotta army is a kind of funerary art.

Terracotta Army in Xian
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Later on in the afternoon we visited the Buddhist Da Ci’en Temple and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. The Buddhist temple is popular; quite a few people burn incense sticks.

 

Buddhist Da Ci’en Temple
Burning incense

 

 
 
 
 

My youngest friend persuaded me to climb the seven story high pagoda. Well, I made it, and took some nice pictures of Xi’an. The first version of the pagoda was built in 652.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

At night it is very nicely lit and close by every evening there is a nice fountain performance with music. The squares in the neighbourhood are crowded with groups performing dances.

Xi’an at night
Dancing in Xi’an

This concludes the first day of my visit to Xi’an. After a good diner at Xi Bei You Mian Cun Restaurant with my friends I went back to my hotel.

Xi Bei You Mian Cun

Look here if you are interested in my second day visiting Xi’an.
Here are the pictures of Xian that have been accepted by Dreamstime. I used my general-purpose Nikkor lens: 28-300mm.
And here are my album of the pictures I took of the Terracotta Army.

Stock Images

Yellow Mountain: 7 times additional format in one day

Yellow Mountain - Huangshan, China
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

As you know, I sell pictures via Dreamstime. Over the years, I sell, on the average, seven pictures per month. So, selling seven pictures in one day is quite an exception.
Last week, somebody bought seven pictures of Yellow Mountain at once. Here is my first blog on my trip to Yellow Mountain. Going there was quite a challenge, however, I have very good memories and the pictures are very popular. Some of them have been sold five times.
Dreamstime sells pictures in various formats ranging from Extra Small (480 pixels) to Highest Size (over 12MP; MP stands for Mega Pixels and refers to the number of pixels in the sensor). Because I shoot NEF, I also provide the RAW version to Dreamstime (36.6MP). This RAW version is called Additional Format. Providing the  Additional Format basically doubles the price I get for a picture, except for subscriptions.
In this case, the buyer had a subscription, so hardly any income, however, it is nice to realize that the buyer was looking for pictures of the highest technical quality: Nikon D800 camera with the Nikon 16-35/4.0 G AF-S ED VR wide angle lens. Quite a superb combination giving very sharp pictures.
Selling seven pictures in one day gives a rewarding feeling!
Yellow Mountain - Huangshan, China
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Stock Images
 

Dreamstime: 25 sales in one month

Yellow Mountain - Huangshan, China
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

On the average I sell 6 licenses per month via Dreamstime. Last month something spectaluar happened. One buyer bought 14 licenses of pictures of Peru and, probably, another one bought 8 licenses of Yellow Mountain (Huangshan) in China. In total 25 licenses were sold in November. I never sold so many before.
I celebrated this via two blogs on Dreamstime and got many positive reactions from colleague-contributors. Four of them decided to follow me. I regard that as a big compliment.
My trip to Yellow Mountain was actually the start of this photoblog in which I want to share my knowledge of photography and to show the pictures I take. Here are the pictures of Yellow Mountain. Dreamstime accepted 13  pictures.
The trip to Peru was more recent. I wrote quite a few blogs on it, starting with the preparation and ending with processing them. Here are the pictures of Peru. Of these 50 were accepted by Dreamstime.
For me the common theme between these two big sales is that they are about places you really have to put some effort in to reach them in combination with a small number of pictures available. I noticed that especially about Peru. The buyer did not buy Machu Picchu, however, he did buy pictures of Chavin de Huantar (first 8 hours by bus from Lima to Huaraz and then another 3 hours to Chavin de Huantar). The same is true for Yellow Mountain, first you have to fly to Hefei, China (via Beijing or Shanghai), flooded by 4 hours by bus, and then the final climb starts.
Enjoy the pictures and realize the effort that was required to take them  🙂
Stock Images

Peking Opera: a must

Peking OperaGoing to the Peking Opera when you visit Beijing is a must. The singing is of course very special, with the high-pitched voices. However, in my opinion, the colorful and elaborate clothes are even more special and nice to take pictures of. Also the movements in combination with the elaborate clothes create interesting lines and shapes.
If you are interested in the history, the roles of the performers, and the visual aspects of Peking Opera please have a look at Wikipedia.
Here you will find an album of some of the pictures I took during a performance. I had taken my general-purpose lens (28-300 mm), which is always good for this type of shoots. There was no way I could have used a flash: annoying, distance, light drop-off. I set the Shutter Speed to make sure that the movements were more or less frozen (1/60sec and 1/100sec), I checked the Aperture to see whether I had enough Depth-of-Field, and the ISO did the rest. A nice memory of a special evening.

Forbidden City, Beijing: feeling like an emperor

31009301
The Forbidden City is a special place to visit. It used to be a place where only a limited number of people were allowed to be and now you are surrounded by hundreds of tourists.
Hearing the stories how the women of the emperor were transported in a carpet to the emperor himself for their nightly encounter gives a feeling of a cultural gap. The place is really beautiful to visit and it gives a good impression of how it used to be in those days.
It is difficult to imagine where all the marble comes from. You find it everywhere. The incense burners representing the 18 provinces of China in the Qing Dynasty are enormous. The symbolic value is obvious. Furthermore, looking at pictures of the Forbidden City it looks like it is equivalent to roofs. One can see these yellow roofs everywhere each with your own sequence of animals on it to show the importance of the building.
Here you will find my pictures of the Forbidden City accepted by Dreamstime. Some of them are Editorial because recognizable persons are on the pictures, others required a lot of processing (removing logos, announcements, and other stuff) to fulfill the requirements for a Royalty Free license.
Stock Images

Summer Palace, Beijing: warm sunset colors

30683740
Last year was my first visit to China. My program was packed with business and touristic activities. The day we arrived we hurried to see the Summer Palace of the emperor in Beijing. It was just before closing time and we had a long discussion whether they would take us by boat to the palace.  As it turned out this delay turned into a golden opportunity: perfect sunset colors shining on the various buildings of the Summer Palace and on another boat accompanying us in a city where there is fog almost every day.
30683749
Another advantage was that the touristic market at the Summer Palace was completely desolate giving the opportunity to see the buildings and the boats. This was the first day of a sequence of days I will never forget.
During this trip I used my D700 and general-purpose lens: Nikkor 28-300mm. Here are my pictures of the Summer Palace accepted by Dreamstime. The one with the boat has been sold four times.
Stock Images

Street photography, quite a challenge

Street
If people know you take a picture of them they pose. Their faces and body language are different than when pictures are taken by surprise. The ultimate goal of portrait photography is to make people look natural, as if they are not aware of the photographer. From my own experience I know this is not always easy.
The idea of street photography is to take pictures of people in there normal habitat, just being themselves. Most of the time these pictures tell a better story than regular portrait photography where everything is arranged.
However, there is one issue about street photography that I like to address: privacy. Is taking pictures of people in a public space without asking for permission an intrusion in their privacy. In a sense it is. At the same time it is regarded as art. Look at the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson or Vivian Maier of very nice black and white pictures taken out on the streets. In my opinion it is essential not to embarrass people with pictures in awkward positions.
Street photography is not always easy with a full frame camera with a long lens. Everybody will see you pointing with your camera. Taking away the unexpected moment. Vivian Maier always used a small compact camera hanging around her neck. Therefore her pictures capture all the emotions in a very natural way. They are really storytelling pictures. And Henri Cartier-Bresson is of course famous for his “The Decisive Moment” with the famous picture of a man just about to step in a puddle of water.
Here are some of my street pictures taken in China.
Street_Girl

Yellow Mountain (China) is like a fairy tale

Yellow Mountain, ChinaFirst, four hours by bus from Hefei to Zhaixicun, then by cable car through a thick layer of fog. Fifty meter before arriving at the terminal station of the cable car the fog disappeared and suddenly it was a sunny day.  Yellow Mountain, Huangshan in Chinese, is, if it is sunny, a beautiful fairy tale landscape. In the evening, however, the fog actually enters the hotel and it becomes pretty cold.
Together with tens of Chinese tourists we got up very early to see the sun rise (6:22 am). The only thing we saw was just fog.
IMG_0681
IMG_0680
The second day was pretty windy. The landscape continuously changed, one moment there was a clear view all the way down to the valley and the next moment the peaks of the mountains almost completely disappeared in the fog. An amazing landscape definitely worth visiting.
Below the track we followed.

In Zhaixicon we heard that we could not take our luggage up the mountain. So I just took my camera backpack and my pyjamas with me. Somebody else carried my wash bag 🙂 
All pictures were taken with my Nikon D800 with a Nikkor 16-35 mm, a perfect lens. Here you will find my pictures of Yellow Mountain accepted by Dreamstime. Update: more than 35 pictures of Yellow Mountain have been already sold.

Yellow Mountain - Huangshan, China
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Stock Images