I’m Back From 16-Days In China

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Hi everybody—I’m back from my break, which turned out to be 16-days in China of nothing but rest and relaxation (with some travel photography throw in as we slowly made our way from Hong Kong to Shanghai by ship and eventually to Beijing for a few days before heading back home).

My wife surprised me with the trip as my Christmas present (I was totally blown away—-and still am), and what was cool was it was just us two—we left the kids at home this time (well, it was us and two other couples who are good friends of ours). Another cool thing is that my wife speaks Chinese (Mandarin), so that made everything much easier (even though they primarily speak Cantonese in Hong Kong, and “Shanghainese”[dialect] in Shanghai, they still understood enough Mandarin to help us get around and get everything we needed).

I’ll have a few more details tomorrow but China was absolutely incredible and loads of fun. I had been to Beijing 11 years ago and I can’t believe how much it has evolved since then. Just simply amazing.

Just like I did for my Tuscany trip last summer (link) I put together an Apple iPhoto book of some of my favorite shots from my trip, and I’ve included some of those pages below (click on them for a much larger view). I did take lots of regular vacation photos as well but those are going into a separate iPhoto book for the family and our friends that were with us.

About the Photos
Although China has all these amazing landscapes, and stunning mountain ranges, our trip was all to major cities and ports, so all the photos are from big cities we stopped at along the way.

The shots below are all taken during group sightseeing bus tours or guided city tours, so I could pretty much only snap shots during those times (though in Beijing we did take a taxi to shoot the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium at sunset, which was a blast). So, if you’re wondering where all those “fisherman in a small both in the mist with jagged mountain behind him” shots are—I’ll have to try and find those on another visit (I’d love to go back on a dedicated photo trip).

Camera Specs:
For the first few days in Hong Kong, I shot with a Nikon D300s with an 18-200mm f/3.5 – f/5.6 VR lens. Having just one lens that does it all was incredibly convenient, but then when I got to Shanghai I switched to my D3 using either my 14-24mm f/2.8 or a 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens. I have no idea why I switched. I guess I thought the quality would be better, but lugging all that heavy gear around for 10 hours a day really turned out to be a huge pain in the $@#. When will I ever learn.

Before we get to the photos; a big thanks to everyone who covered for me here on the blog while I was slacking off. They did an absolutely fantastic job (and how about Alex’s awesome guest blog, eh?).

Anyway, here’s some shots from the trip (click on them for larger views).  There’s no HDR here, but I did shoot a few HDR shots during the trip, one of which I actually like, but it’s not in this batch. I’ll run it separately here tomorrow if I can:

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  1. Hi Scott, great shots, ahd good to have you back :-) A question. I remember , when you created your Tuscany book, you were not that happy with the spiral bound book you received. Id felt a lot like, a calendar, you mentioned. Have your opinion changed in that matter ?
    Thanks – Jesper

    1. Hi Jesper:
      Thanks for the kind words (and it’s great to be back. Missed the kids like crazy!).

      Although I created the book using the spiral layout, I will definitely change it to the regular perfect bound before I send the book for printing (it’s a one-click change). I just like the way the spiral looks on screen. :)


      1. Superb photos as usual. I am always amazed by what you pull off. Have you noticed the quality of iPhoto books to have gotten better. The last one I printed was a terrible experience?

  2. Hi Scott. Great image from china.
    A quick question. Can you share how you put the panorama shot into 2 page in iPhoto. I tried it before but seem like there is no one button solution in the software. Btw, I’m a new macbook user :p.
    Thanks. BiHong

    1. Hi Low Bi Hong:
      Here ya go:

      STEP ONE: You drag the pano on the left page, then you drag the same photo down on the right page (so you have two panos, side-by-side).

      STEP TWO: On the left page, you zoom in quite a bit the size (using the Zoom/size slider that appears when you click on a photo in iPhoto).

      STEP THREE: Use the Grabber hand (which appears to the right of the size slider) to drag the zoomed-in photo on the left page nearly all the way to the left (the photo drags inside the page template).

      STEP FOUR: Then you go to the right hand page, and use the same technique (zoom in to the same amount, then drag that side all the way to the right). Now have to kind of match up the two halves in the center so it looks like one contiguous photo.

      Hope that helps. :)


      P.S. The panos you see here are made up of around 14 photos each. The Forbidden city shot was taken hand held, but the Shanghai skyline just after dusk required me to be on a tripod so the images wouldn’t be blurry in that low light.

      1. Scott, I am a PC user and was wondering if there is a program I can use to make a book like this (I feel the force working to create a SKtraining video ;) ). This is really cool cna you share the knowlege?

  3. Absolutely wonderful images. China is one of the countries I most want to get back to. So unique, powerful and beautiful.

    Scott, you are supposed to be on holidays and you take photos like this? You make me sick! :) To be honest, I would love to see you do more of this work.

    Again, wonderful and thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Stephen:
      Thanks for the kind words. :)

      I would love to go back just for photography (and not on a touristy sightseeing bus tour), and go to some of the amazing landscapes and little villages. I love seeing and being in big cities, but they’re tough to shoot for capturing the real beauty of a place.

      Also, being with a tour group really limits you—not just because you just go to touristy locations, but if you stop to take a photo, you risk losing the group (which I did in the Forbidden City, where I lost the group for more than an hour. I enjoyed it, but the guide wasn’t nearly as happy). ;-)

      Thanks again,


  4. Superb photographs Scott. The image of the gentleman in the wheelchair is my favourite.

    China looks like a wonderful place to photograph. How was the weather? We’re getting snow here in Shetland at the moment and the temperature is 0.5 degrees c and it’s bloomin’ May!

    All the best


  5. Another great book and set of travel images Scott. Nice to get your thoughts on the pro’s and cons of the lenses you took too. I’m heading off on a cruise around the Western Med this summer and I was considering taking my 17-55mm and 70-200mm, but now I’m thinking I should maybe get the 18-200mm and travel light!

  6. Thank very much Scott! Your photos and stories are always inspiring. I’ve learned so much from you and your company. I’ll be in Taiwan and Shanghai soon for a visit. I hope I can put some of your lessons to good use.

    Your wife speaks Mandarin? What don’t you guys do? ; ) I barely speak it, and I’ve been married to a native Chinese speaker for 10 years.

  7. Thanks for your pics of China. They are really marvelous. I am in Chongqing China now, hope for your next visit in China, in Chongqing, for the wonderful photos.

  8. You really captured the faces of China well under the circumstances (with a tour group). The structures, buildings, landscapes, etc. will always be there but the humanity of the place can only be captured faithfully by someone who has the capacity to reach out to others with respect and understanding of their culture, well done!

  9. Just out of curiosity, do you need to get model releases from all those people? On my last mission trip I got a lot of people pictures but am not sure what all I need as far as model releases. I wouldn’t use them for commercial work but it feels like a gray area.

  10. Scott, great shots. Did you have any problems with the polution there? Sometimes it’s hard to stay outside long depending on what part of the country your in. I went to the Darlington race the other day and gave my buddy my D300 w/18-200 and I shot my D3s w/70-200 vr11 and (I’m not telling him) but some of the shots he got were better than mine (he’s never shot a pro camera before). In the daytime outside I think the 18-200 does fine. The Great Wall photos are awesome! Glad you are back saftely and the guys did a good job holding down the fort (we kept the haters away).

  11. Great Shoots. I was just east of Beijing a couple of years ago. Just wish I knew then what I know now, when it comes to photography. And having the equipment I have now wouldn’t hurt either. If you ever decide to take a group over, lt me know!

  12. Welcome back, Scott! I missed you but am glad you had such amazing R&R and time with your wife. The guys did an awesome job filling in for you. Your iPhoto book is inspiring. Wonderful images and faces. Can’t wait to see what you did with HDR.

  13. And yet again I feel compelled to put my camera on eBay. :-(

    Terrific set. Although you might want to review before you print as it appears you have a repeat of images on p.15 from early in the book (Writing on the Wall and Man in Wheelchair). Both amazing shots, by the way, so worthy of repeat. ;-) Thanks also for the pano tip.

    I really take your comments about gear to heart. My wife and I are travelling to Europe (for the first time) next month and I’m struggling as to what I should bring. I’ll probably end up getting the Nikon 18-200 again just for this purpose. Sold my first one in favor of the 16-85 but I can’t argue with the convenience for this type of thing. Plus my 50 f/1.4 for speed should make an effective and portable travel combination. I’ve already ruled out bringing the bid dogs.

    Great work as always. Inspiring.

  14. Hey Scott, Glad you are back! Not that the other guys weren’t great or anything :). This is probably a typical camera guy question but the shot of that ferry is fantastic and I wanted to know how you took it! It looks to be a long exposure and also appears that you panned along but those two things generally don’t play well with each other. Care to share? Also the shot of the people on top of the building with the flag is a shot I would normally have exposure problems with. Is it the metering ability of the camera or you that makes that shot happen?! Thanks!

  15. Man, your wife speaks Mandarin??? What else do you guys do that we don’t know of? :) You totally should ask her to do a guest blog someday… “How to surprise your photographer husband… and how to keep surprising him again and again!” Thanks for sharing and welcome back.

  16. Welcome back, Scott! I’m so jealous! I spent a summer in Shanghai in 1988, studying Mandarin language and Chinese culture, and also visited Beijing. I was at the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, and had the opportunity to hike around in the Huangshan Mountains for a couple of days. I recognize several places in your photos. I just wish I could go back to get some images like you shot. Great photos, and so glad I could experience it again through your eyes. I’ll be glad to go with you on that photo trip back there!

  17. Fantastic photos, Scott! I went on a 2-week trip to China as a graduation present to myself after college and really enjoyed my time there. I wish that I had photos like yours from my trip, but that was long before I started shooting on an advanced level. I’m glad you posted these because they were fun to look at and brought back some great memories. :)

  18. Welcome back, Scott!

    To be honest, your China tour wouldn’t be my kind of travel, BUT you nailed the photography. As always, you’ve painted a great picture of your trip and really captured some wonderful imagery. The fact that this wasn’t my kind of trip becomes irrelevant when presented with such fantastic travel photography.

    Trev J.

  19. Hi Scott. Clearly back with a bang from the look of these wonderful images. Glad you had a great trip and most especially that you didn’t have a repeat of your camera gear experience from that Tuscany trip and the stress therein.
    Mind you, you could’ve used it as an excuse for another new camera / lens purchase ;-)

    Welcome back,

  20. Snapshots my arse. :-) They’re all fantastic shots, I’ve got a trip to Toronto & New York at the end of the month and am really looking forward to putting together something along these lines. (14 shot panorama?! Great Googaly Moogaly!)

    What I’m actually curious about the font used on the last page. I’ve been looking for a nice “Handwriting” style for similar reasons.

    Thanks again, oh, and welcome back! Your crew did you proud in your absence.


      1. I also meant to add that there are 2 versions of Satisfaction, a Regular version ($12) and a Pro version ($20). I believe Scott is using the “Pro” version and is using an alternate “E” on the word “End”. I don’t own the font so I can’t test out my theory.

      2. Remember, Scott is the worlds #1 author of photo books. It will be difficult to recreate anything he does.(I just downloaded the Pro version :) ).

  21. Scott,

    Wow great photos. I often times will leave my camera at home when I go on vacation because it ends up dominating the trip. We take the point and shoot on vacation. We went to Alaska on a photography cruise (with Dave Cross) and we brought all the gear and had a great time but lugging it was a huge hassle.

    I do have a question for you. I frequently refrain from posting pictures of people (unless they are family) on the web. I worry about model releases and stuff like that, I realize that these folks are half way across the world, do you ever worry about that kind of risk?

    Thanks for sharing what looks to be an amazing trip.

    Dave Alton

  22. Hi Scott,

    Your pictures are spectacular! My wife and I went to China last fall and had an awesome time. We both tried your approach to take only 1 lens when we were out and about. She did a better job with it. I had to use a 11-18mm lens for some wide landscapes. Glad you had a great time.


  23. SCOTT!!!

    These are amazing! They take my breath away. You’ve captured China in such an incredible way. I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but sometimes it’s a good reminder to me that you’re not only a teacher. That you are an AMAZING photographer as well, and you know exactly what you’re talking about. Great, great work Scott. Some of my favorite!

  24. Hey Scott,
    Welcome back buddy, your keepers kept your blog intact while you were gone. Brad even answered one of my questions about the PhotoSafari Precon at PSW. You have a keeper there in Brad.
    Great pictures. I wish I could sometime go to China. I especially love the wall photos with the haze, it really makes the image.
    See ya early September,

  25. Welcome back, Scott. Love your photos and glad you got some well deserved R&R. I’m particularly inspired by your photos because I leave for China in less than 2 weeks. Any chance Kalebra can give me a crash course in Mandarin? :)

  26. Hey Scott,

    Great to hear you had a real nice time away. To be honest China isn’t somewhere I’d considered visiting before but judging by the photographs I’m missing out on alot. Needless to say it’s now on the list of ‘Places to visit’ :)

    Your blog has been well and truly looked after with great posts from ‘The Gang’ and Guests.

    Anyway, welcome back.

  27. Hi Scott,

    Glad you enjoyed your trip to my country, it is beautiful isn’t it? There’s so much more to see apart from the City, but just like the States, it is a huge place which you’ll never be able to cover it all. Really liked you photos!

    Good to have you back!


  28. All I can say is “wow” – the shots are fantastic. What a great surprise for you. I’m sure you’ll make it back in the not too distant future, Scott. In the meantime, I’ll put my camera on Craig’s List.

  29. Looks like a really cool trip. You got some nice shots. I’m thinking of purchasing the 18-200 for my up coming west coast trip. If I get half as good of shots as you did on your China trip, I’ll be a happy man with the 18-200.

  30. Great pics. I believe you should write a book on travel photography. I absolutely agree about carrying less gear when traveling with friends and family. It can ruin the vacation.

  31. Hi Scott,

    WOW! Just amazing shots and beautiful iBook to remember it all!! I’m definitely envious! :-). I remember in one of your photo books, you mentioned that you generally shot “Auto and Jpg” when your in this type of touristy situation. Is that the case with these images?

    Absolutely goreous shots! Thank your wife for us!!! :-)


  32. As a photographer, how often did you see a blue sky versus a gray one. Most of the recent travelers to China that I’ve talked to were amazed at the perennial gray skies due to pollution. They thought it impacted their photos not to mention their breathing.

  33. Amazing photos. I was there in 2001 when the only cars on the roads were old taxi cabs. Then, everyone either was on bikes or on carts pulled by men or mules. I have heard that the changes are incredible. I would like to return one day.

  34. Fantastic and inspirational shots considering you were travelling with the touring masses. I know it is probably an intrusion but it would be nice to see the types of “typical” travel shots you take as well. This set is truely amazing but it made me think that most writing about travel photography is about capturing the environmental shots. Everyone comes back with another set of travel shots too. The set capturing the experience of your travel party. I would love to see what a pro comes back with.

  35. Oh man !

    Fantastic shots these and you say this wasn’t a photography dedicated trip ! Great captures I must say. I also want to mention this that when I re-read the travel topics in your books specially all the 3 volumes and compare the photographs, well they are true the every point mentioned :)

    Thanks for posts and welcome back :)

  36. Hello, Scott,
    Really Nice pictures your stuff is great. Wasn’t it during the Olympics in China that there was a ban on DSLR’s? Did you find any pressure from the Chinese government as to what you were doing with your camera, and did they restrict you in any way?
    I heard it said that China’s People are not it’s Government did you find this to be true?

    1. Hi Michael:
      There were DSLRs everywhere!!!!! I never had any restrictions whatsoever. China is full of tourists (even if they are Chinese tourists from other parts of China). :)


    1. Hi John:
      Apple’s iPhoto application, which comes free and pre-installed on every Mac, has a built-in book maker with some really great pre-designed templates and you just drag and drop your photos into place. :)

      Hope that helps.


      1. Thanks Scott,

        I found that out a minute after posting this comment when I searched your site! Thanks again!

      2. Scott have you ever tried Blurb books? I have, they’re great too. Have their own software that’s much better than iPhotos (I can’t stand iPhoto so much I uninstalled it), more sizes and bigger sizes available. Plus you can sell then online to family and friends, or the world and mark them up. http://www.blurb.com – no I’m not an agent, I just use them

  37. wow. this is a stunning album! thank you for sharing.
    hope u had a great time in china.

    -random stranger, who stumbled into your blog, who also happened to have spend her 1st 12 yrs of life living in Hong Kong.
    : )

  38. I will be traveling to China for the first time in June. Did you run into any restrictions of taking pictures during your trip? Did you carry a tripod with you?

  39. I have an iMac and can make a photo book in iPhoto like yours – I love it. But . . . how do you transfer the small page layout images to your blog? It’s wonderful to share on Facebook, but I can’t figure out how you did that. Do you have to complete the project before you can do that? Thanks.

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