Shooting Shanghai’s darker side

Shooting Shanghai’s darker side

Working notes from a professional photographer, as he snaps Shanghai during its moonlit hours

Roaming Shanghai and getting lost with your camera, away from the typical tourist spots, is one of the best ways to discover the city, whether you live here or are a camera-toting tourist.

Although it’s tempting to rise with the sun and shoot all day, much of the real Shanghai only comes out when then sun goes down. 

Local photographer Franc Peret heads out after dusk to show us how to capture the city’s dark side.

Photo op 1: Shanghai survivor

Shangha photography - plantLocation: Huaihai Zhong Lu and Shaanxi Nan Lu. Specs: ISO100, 1/20s at f2.0, AWB, AFS, aperture priority and average metering. Picture mode is standard.With all the chaos around the city during the day, it’s easy to miss small surviors, showing that life in Shanghai can develop in the most unlikely of locations.

A local shutter bug should look for contrasts like this sprout on old Shanghai tracks to highlight.

Shanghai photography tip from Peret: "A common mistake most people make is trying to reproduce the same daytime shots at night. Play with background motion and narrow depth of field while keeping the camera as steady as possible on your main subject."

(Click "Next" to see more Shanghai night shots and how to take them.)

Photo op 2: A bit of ‘sole’ searching

Shangha photography - feetLocation: crosswalk at Huaihai Zhong Lu and Shaanxi Nan Lu. Specs: ISO100; 1/8s at f2.0, AWB, AFS, aperture priority and average metering. Picture mode is standard.

Shanghai lives up to its fashionable rep from head to toe, but it’s the contrast of constantly changing urban fashion with ever-present infrstrructure that really makes for a great shot.

Although it's tempting to shoot the city’s variety of fashion choices, aiming low will give you unique shots that you won’t find on everyone’s Shanghai Flickr page.

Shanghai photography tip from Peret: "Life looks so different at night and as motion blurs, it creates ghostly images. Reflections make the simplest things come alive in such a beautiful way –- those simple things you’d normally never notice during daytime, such as this manhole cover."

(Click "Next" to see more Shanghai night shots and how to take them.)

Shangha photography - truck at nightLocation: Zhaojiabang Lu facing Caoxi Lu and Huashan Lu intersection. Spec: ISO100, 1/13s at f1.8, AWB, AFS, aperture priority and average metering. Picture mode is nature.

Photo op 3: A city in motion

The city’s southern hub can be dizzying at times, to say the least. Take the challenge to capture it on film.

Shanghai photography tip from Peret: "For top tracking shot efficiency, behave like a golfer who hits the ball but keeps proper body form to get that perfect swing. Hit the shutter, but keep tracking. Composition matters too: select matching subjects and backgrounds such as horizontal lines as seen here, both on the truck and in the background."

(Click "Next" to see more Shanghai night shots and how to take them.)

Shangha photography - lightsLocation: facing central Xujiahui where Caoxi Lu, Huashan Lu, Hengshan Lu, Hongqiao Lu and Zhaojiabang Lu meet. Specs: ISO100, 1/3s at f3.5, AWB, AFS, aperture priority and average metering. Picture mode is standard.

Photo op 4: Chasing the night rainbow

You may not find a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, but with all of Shanghai’s lights, evening is the ideal time to shoot the city's busiest -- and well lit -- shopping districts.

Shanghai photography tip from Peret: "One trick to keeping steady is to use your foreground as support. By selecting this bright handrail, I build a strong composition by filling my shot with light from start to finish and also by playing with the perspective while including three main elements: handrail, bridge and pole."

(Click "Next" to see more Shanghai night shots and how to take them.)

Shangha photography - underpassLocation: intersection of Zhaojiabang Lu and Tianping Lu. Spec: ISO100, 1/6s at f2.5, AWB, AFS, aperture priority and average metering. Picture mode is standard.

Photo op 5: Shooting the dragon’s belly

As with most elevated structures in Shanghai, things tend to turn more bright and colorful after sundown.

Shanghai photography tip from Peret: "At night, many subjects are no longer subjects, but reflections of light. Your eyes have to become aware of the changes in the environment created by these lights reflecting on shining surfaces. The next step is to see how three dimensional your shot can be by using this environment."

(Click "Next" to see more Shanghai night shots and how to take them.)

Shangha photography - walkwayLocation: railing of Xujiahui’s central pedestrian bridge. Specs: ISO100, 1/6s at f2.2, AWB, AFS, aperture priority and average metering. Picture mode is standard.

Photo op 6: Crossing over

If only railings could talk, they just might tell us 1,000 different stories, starting with one reflection, of course.

Shanghai photography tip from Peret: "As soon as you understand the game you play with reflective lights, your aim should be to fill the frame with emotion from foreground to background. Don’t waste any pixels on emptiness. You have plenty of lines and alternating light, colors and shadow to build up something personal."

(Click "Next" to see more Shanghai night shots and how to take them.)

Shangha photography - buildingLocation: shot from same pedestrian bridge but facing Grand Gateway Plaza. Specs: ISO100, 1/8s at f2.2, AWB, AFS, aperture priority and average metering. Picture mode is standard.

Photo no. 7: 'Escalating' your shot

Colors emerge from -- and inspire -- the most unlikely of locations as the sun goes down.

Shanghai photography tip from Peret: "Compared to the daytime, when you only get one instrument to play with -- the sun -- night is a true symphony of light. It's your duty to become the conductor of this anarchist orchestra, which is constantly changing by the second. Composition, here, means being selective to bring order to Shanghai's festive chaos of evening activity and light."

(Click "Next" to see more Shanghai night shots and how to take them.)

Shangha photography - motionLocation: underpass at beginning of Hengshan Lu. Spec: ISO100, 1/5s at f2.5, AWB, AFS, aperture priority and average metering. Picture mode is nature.

Photo op 8: Blurred with intention

Fast living has its advantages, at least when it comes to traffic flow and abstract photography.

Traffic in motion serves as a perfect backdrop for cool evening abstracts.

Shanghai photography tip from Peret: "Night is the right time to try abstract shots. Digital cameras today have come a long way in shooting these kind of shots and it costs nothing to try crazy things an endless number of times -- like getting the perfect car-in-motion photo. Even with my 20 years of professional photography experience, I am still trying out and learning things from my camera -- and Shanghai offers the perfect moments to try."

Equipment:
Camera: Panasonic Lumix GH1
Lens: Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 (35mm equivalent; full frame = 40mm f1.7)
Tripod: None
Have questions for Franc Peret? Email him at eurocameraman@gmail.com. Looking for the perfect gift for a camera junky? Shanghai is the place. Check out our gift list for camera lovers.
Stephanie Thomas is a freelance writer of all trades based in Shanghai.
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