Shooting Huangshan: How to capture China’s most romantic mountain
It is hard to understate the allure of Huangshan, China’s most famous -- and most romantic --mountain.
According to the Chinese saying “五岳归来不看山, 黄山归来不看岳” -- You won't want to visit any other mountains after viewing the Five Mountains, and you won’t even want to visit them after you come back from Huangshan.
The UNESCO World Heritage site is known for its towering granite peaks, pine forests, hot springs and "cloud seas." If you’ve seen a photo of mist rolling over mountains in China, chances are, that’s Huangshan.
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Since the Tang Dynasty, Huangshan has been immortalized in art, literature and religion, particularly in the mountain and water style (山水) paintings of the 16th century.
With such a rich history, photographing the mountain can be an intimidating experience -- resulting in gigabytes of photos trying to catch that perfect mountain shot. There are a few simple steps that will let you shoot and get on with your trip.
For information on the best ways to get to Huangshan, click to the the end of this piece.
Tip 1: Foreground and background
Huangshan isn't a single mountain but a whole range with several peaks reaching more than 1,800 meters above sea level. It can be hard to communicate in a photo the sense of scale and grandeur that the peaks inspire in person.
One way to put this in perspective is to use foreground elements, such as flowers and people, to introduce a sense of scale into the picture.
In this photo, the branches and flowers in the foreground provide a contrast with the mountains extending into the background.
Tip 2: The rule of thirds, repetition and leading lines
One of the basic principals of photography is the rule of thirds. If the photo was divided into nine equal parts with two horizontal and two vertical lines, the focal point (or the main point of interest) should fall on one of the four points where the lines cross, not in the center.
Here, the face of the closest porter is located, approximately, at the lower right third. Other ways to make photos interesting are to use repetitive elements, such as these two similarly dressed porters, and leading lines, like the line of stairs to draw the viewer through the frame.
Tip 3: Use the light
Huangshan is famed for its "cloud seas," which surround the peaks creating "islands" from the mountains tops. People get up at ungodly hours to catch the light streaming onto the clouds at daybreak around the summit of the mountain. You should, too.
By exposing for the sky, a photographer can throw the peaks into darkness, silhouetting the mountains and creating a dramatic image of the clouds.
Tip no. 4: Show the crowds
While photographers often try to replicate the ancient Chinese paintings of Huangshan, portraying a peaceful and serene scene, crowds are an integral part of the Chinese tourism experience -- for both Chinese and foreign flag followers.
Showing the rush of people at the mountain's major lookout points is something to highlight, not to avoid, in your photographic memory.
Tip 5: Look for textures and details
It's tempting to always be looking toward the heavens when climbing Huangshan, but sometimes interesting photos can be found down at your feet.
Look for small details in flowers and stones, textures and patterns in roots, leaves and shadows, and monkeys on the loose for a different take on Huangshan’s scenery.
Tip 6: Slow it down
While you generally want to photograph with a shutter speed of at least 1/60th of a second in order to freeze the action, sometimes blur can provide a sense of movement.
If you photograph a waterfall -- like the ones that dot Huangshan -- with a lower shutter speed, using a tripod or other form of stabilization, you can produce a picture with a dreamy flow of water rather than tack sharp droplets.
Tip 7: Focus on your memories
Hundreds of lovers bring padlocks engraved with their names to symbolize their bond (黄山情人锁), securing them to the chains that run up the mountain trails. However, the hiker's motto is: leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories.
Modern portable cameras make it easier to preserve your unique memories of the mountain without impacting the beautiful scenery. Rather than simply trying to replicate what you imagined Huangshan would look like based on other people’s pictures, the most important photography rule is to follow your own instinct and photograph what is important to you.
Shanghai Airlines also flies every day from Hongqiao Airport to Huangshan.