Learning Photography in China: Bringing Images to Life
By Melissa Vitti
Any traveler knows the importance of photographs to keep their memories of each trip alive. Expert photographer Ewen Bell and travel operator Jason Williams have teamed up to form Grasshopper Adventures, a company that helps travelers hone their photography skills while touring China.
The majestic scenery in Southeast Asia provides the backdrop for their hands-on approach to teaching professional travel photography.
Travelers participating in their workshops are sure to capture unforgettable images such as the Great Wall at sunset. The advantage of a small group and a professional to guide your shots is that your intangible experience will not be lost because of a faulty memory card.
Ewen Bell has made a living out of what most can only dream about. This professional travel photographer has visited 25 countries in his 17 years of experience in the field. He’s been published in many different travel publications including STA Travel and Get Lost magazine and the Environmental Protection Agency. His latest venture is sharing these skills with people who are interested in experiencing the rich culture of China up close and personally.
“The trip is designed to be intensely rewarding as far as your photographic skills are concerned, but also as a life experience,” says Bell. “We have created an itinerary that allows more time in each place to explore and begin to understand the local culture. Spending time establishing a real connection with another person or place is the key to capturing those unique moments which really bring an image to life.”
Nestled quaintly in the secluded mountains of southern China is an assembly of villages referred to as “the rice-terraces” found northwest of Hong Kong. Longji, which translates to Dragon’s Back, is appropriately titled for this rich habitat of plush gardens and scaled mountain ridges sprinkled with the unique architecture.
Bell frequents this region twice a year with photography tours to capture what he refers to as the “highlight” of the trip. The beauty of this remote location is just that, it's remoteness. This means travelers forego the usual comforts of the four-star hotels and tour buses that they use the other ten nights of the trip to experience this unique area with locals.
Bell aims to make the workshops as rewarding as possible.
“The trip is about more than taking great photos and capturing the beauty of China. It is about giving back to the people and communities that make our travel experience so fantastic.”
The natives are not only warm welcomers, but also resourceful. Their homes are spaciously built with extended family in mind. These structures are impressively strong, made up of wood without a single nail.
When tourists arrive, the local women tow the newcomer’s luggage for a kilometer hike uphill. They dress in colorful pink and craft jewelry and hand-knitted fabrics to sell.
Crossing paths with a peacock as you stroll through the rice terraces is not uncommon, but definitely a unique opportunity for a novice photographer. With glistening mountain streams and a view that seems endless, this rural location is perfect for any budding photographer.
The architectural splendor that makes up the Forbidden City is without question a quintessential part of Beijing. In the heart of China’s capital lies the largest complex of its kind in the world. Ten-foot walls crowned with four observation towers bordered by a deep moat surround this 2,350,000-square-foot structure. Inside, there are almost 10,000 rooms filled with ancient cultural artifacts and works of art. This must-see for any China trip is the first leg in Bell’s tours.
Beginning the journey as a travel photographer, Beijing is undoubtedly a great way to start. The multitude of temples and laneways and the iconic Great Wall provide an appropriate background for any traveler to take great pictures.
The eighth wonder of the world, better known as the Museum of Terracotta Warriors and Horses, is a part of what makes Xi’an’s history so significant. Life-sized terracotta figures of horses and soldiers arranged in battle formation make this museum more than a facility full of painted reenactments. The second part of this workshop visits this amazing city where The Great Mosque of Xi’an will surely be the subject of many photos.
The majestic green hills and ancient bridges divided by the silky waters of the Yulong River are just a sample of what Yangshuo has to offer. There’s an old saying that attempts to put this region’s scenery into words: "Guilin's scenery is the most beautiful in the world and Yangshuo's scenery is far superior to Guilin's."
With plush green bamboo trees reflecting off the clean waterways in the area, Yangshuo is a perfect setting for any artist. A visit to this unforgettable region would not be complete without a cooking lesson from the locals. For a participant in Bell’s tours, Yangshuo provides a scenic canvas for a traveling photographer before the hustle and bustle of Shanghai.
Shanghai is the ultimate modern international metropolis. With structures like the Oriental Pearl TV Tower (the tallest TV tower in Asia), it’s hard to believe this city was first established as a fishing village in the thirteenth century.
Along with its diverse dining and reputation for shopping, Shanghai has some other attractions that are sure to make an impression on your memory card. The Jade Buddha Temple is an active shrine where visitors can come to see the famous White Jade Buddhas brought over from Burma in the nineteenth century. One is seated while the other is in the recumbent position of Sakyamuni symbolizing the Buddha's attainment of enlightenment or nirvana.
Here’s what one participant had to share about her experience on the tour.
"This trip brought a part of me to life - I feel especially lucky to have received so many smiles from the local people, and to have seen some of what is a very beautiful country. I wish I could do this twelve months of the year," says Kim Rider.
Because of Grasshopper's hands-on approach, the tours are limited to small groups of four to ten. The tour includes most meals, two domestic fights, ten nights in a comfortable hotel, two nights in guest houses and one in a sleeper train.
In addition there are photography workshops and notes to be sure you won’t leave China an amateur. Grasshopper Adventures encourages non-photographers to join as well, but if you do go, it would be a great mistake to forget your camera.
To learn more about this experience visit GrasshopperAdventures.com.
Melissa Vitti is an intern at GoNOMAD.com. She attends the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.