Master Class On The Road; Monte’s Journey To China—Part I
By
Monte Zucker
• Posted Apr 1, 2006

Although I've been somewhat pigeonholed as a portrait photographer, I am a traveling man...and love taking pictures along the way, of course. Recently I made a trip to Shanghai and loved every second of it--what great opportunities for pictures! I started out my trip by carrying my camera case with three bodies and four lenses. My basic camera bodies are a Canon EOS 5D, an EOS 20D for backup, and an EOS D60 that has been converted to make infrared images. The lens that I use most often is a 28-135mm IS. For wide angle shots I have a 16-35mm lens. I also have a 24-70mm lens that I use mostly for portraiture and a soft focus lens that I sometimes use for special portraits.

For the most part I do custom white balance all the time with an ExpoDisc, but when I'm traveling and shooting fast I usually go with the white balance presets on the EOS 5D. I've started shooting raw and JPEG simultaneously, because I run into such diverse shooting conditions all the time I like to have the opportunity to adjust the exposure and white balance afterward.

The Old And The New
I was the guest of a friend who I had previously met at the United Nations. I stayed in a brand-new high-rise overlooking the skyline of Shanghai. Immediately outside the gates to the building, however, was a large area just waiting to be torn down. I could see how the locals had been living for years on end.

It was at once depressing, yet picturesque. People were putting their laundry out to dry every day, right in the shadows of new buildings going up all around them. I felt as if I were going back in time. Scenes that to some might have been depressing seemed to me as picture opportunities that cried to be recorded before all the locals would be displaced by "progress." Shanghai is truly a city of extremes. Poverty is right next to incredible wealth. The old and the new mingle together in a blend that is probably not uncommon all over the world. Still, I was amazed by this situation and wanted to photograph both.
A Visit To Old Towne
A short and cheap cab ride from my home away from home brought me to the entrance of Old Towne Shanghai. The entrance staggered my eyes. I photographed it with a wide angle lens, so as to show the scale of the people against the massive structure surrounding the numerous shops. In this picture and many of the others I straightened the verticals in Photoshop. I also darkened the corners of most of my images in Photoshop, as I've described in previous columns here.
Inside was a photographer's paradise. Bright color was everywhere. Souvenir stalls were an invitation to photographers with an eye for seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. Sometimes I isolated the displays and sometimes I included the narrow walkways that separated the sides of each passageway.
Food was sometimes displayed as artistically as it was prepared, such as an arrangement of skewered food that was incased in glass. The color and the arrangement caught my eye. The incredible ease of changing ISOs on today's digital cameras make it so easy to adjust to various light levels in seconds.
Even when ideal lighting conditions don't exist, it's usually easy to go to the shadowed side of what you're photographing and at least start with good lighting. Then, by toning-down in Photoshop it's possible to create a center of interest as well as an interesting composition. The concept is to keep one's eyes open to subject matter that may be unique to where you are. Subject matters like these make great eye-candy when you don't have any extra room in your luggage for more souvenirs. (I had to buy an extra suitcase to take home my purchases.)
Serendipity
Once in a while you round a corner and run into a spectacular vision. Such was the case when I saw this teahouse. By selecting a camera position that included the shadowed people and the bridge in the foreground I was able to create a three-dimensional photograph that captured the complete scene. Most of the people were getting as close to the building as possible and missing the entire picture. It wasn't just the teahouse, but the setting. The red and gold sign on the side of the teahouse welcomed everyone to the building, which has stood there for the past 150 years.
As I approached it I was struck by the contrast between the old and the new.

Eat And Shoot
Although the menu inside was both in English and Chinese, it was nice to have my own interpreter who could help me select something to my liking. One thing that I found that I absolutely loved was this tea with fresh fruit cut up and put inside the glass teapot. Most Chinese tea has the actual tea leaves floating in the tea. This selection, however, was with tea bags and a fantastic selection of fruit that permeated the taste. What a delicious treat! I wasn't going to forget that, so I photographed the teapot and captured it forever in my memories. Oftentimes, it's little things like this that people forget to record with their cameras.
Focal Length Variety
Everywhere I looked there were picture opportunities that most of the tourists passed up. My eye varies with the focal length of the lenses in my case. I knew that with a long focal length I could bring together items that actually were far apart. That's how I composed this picture just outside the teahouse. The statue stood in the middle of a pond framed between one of the flags very close to me and the oriental structure in the background. I chose this camera position because of the effective backlighting of the statue and flag.
Catch The Light
As each day came to an end I downloaded my files into my laptop and selected some to put onto the message board on my website at: www.montezucker.com.

One evening as I was uploading I was surprised by a large burst of firecrackers outside my window. I later learned that everyone does that when they first move into a new home. It's to scare away the demons.

As I was looking out the window I spotted the sun hitting one building in the distance. The rest of the area was fairly covered with smog. I took a chance. There were only seconds until total darkness. I quickly pulled out my infrared EOS D60 and made a single shot. It was almost miraculous that I caught this shot and ended the day with a huge smile on my face.
I have so much more to show you that I'm saving the rest for next month. Thank you for all the nice e-mails that I've been receiving from you. Also, thanks for the huge support I've been getting on my website from Shutterbug readers. With each article I write I try to educate with practical knowledge. It's paid off. Within the last year the registration for my website has more than doubled--can't do much better than that!