Current Works in Progress

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Dongyang (东阳) Photowalk Highlights

In my first week or two using Google+ I happened to add a large circle of photographers. Two things happened as a result; I got to look at photographs much better than anything I can take (yet), and I found out about something called a photowalk.

A photowalk is when you go for a walk mostly so you can take pictures along the way. Many people do this in groups and it is a social event. I don't know many people here who are interested in photography. I do know a number of people who own very expensive cameras, but they are more interested in making sure everyone knows how expensive it is than in learning how to use it.

At any rate, I went on a solo photowalk the other day (except I rode my bike) and took some pictures of some people and some places and some things. I thought I'd share some of the better ones ones I like the most.

I'll put any photography related comments in italics in between the picture and my "social commentary" in case anyone is interested. In a related note, all pictures were taken with a Canon Powershot S5 IS. They are presented here straight from the camera with no post processing. My philosophy is to try and improve my skills with the camera rather than with the computer. 

This picture shows the limitations of my camera quite effectively. It is a very, very good point and shoot camera and I love it, but no matter how small I make the aperture I can't make it give me a narrow depth of field.Had I been able to make the camera do what I wanted the boy would be in sharp focus and the girl would be blurry enough that you couldn't recognize her. This is the best I could do with the equipment I have.

While out riding I stopped (for 4 hours) to have a cup of coffee with the other foreigner who lives here. I decided this was no reason to stop taking pictures.

This little guy was fascinated by the two white guys having coffee. He started out by walking up and standing about three feet from our table and staring at us for a few minutes. He was surprised when I asked him what he wanted in Mandarin Chinese (Chinese people always assume that Caucasians are genetically incapable of learning their language - usually with good reason). When he didn't answer me I switched to the local language and he just about fainted. After that there was no getting rid of him.

I was working mostly on my framing and composition on this one. I wanted to catch the feeling of the location while maintaining attention on the two people. I used a fairly small aperture (and correspondingly high ISO) to try and zone focus on the girls.

Dongyang is a small town of almost a million people and is part of a larger metropolitan area called Jinhua that holds more than 4 million people. It has a population density of 420 people per square km (just for reference, I grew up in a place with a population density of 1.75 people per square km). Thirty years ago, however, it was all farms and while you can take the farms away from the farmers, you can't make the farmers stay indoors, pay for electricity, or stop spitting.

The people here tend to spend a lot of their time outdoors doing activities that most westerners would consider indoor activities. Here a woman is teaching her granddaughter how to knit. At the risk of being too cynical, it says something about the housing here that sitting in the back alley is more comfortable than sitting inside.

Great big old aperture on this one. I wanted both the foreground and the background in focus. I really with I had a wider lens on this camera. I'd love to do some landscape photography around here, but I can't get a wide enough angle of view. Someday I'll get a DLSR and the first lens I buy (aside from the kit lens) will be a nice wide 16-35mm.

This is one of my favorites.

There are a number of places like this where there's a cement wall and someone has knocked a hole in it, and on the other side you can see a green space. Every time I see one I get Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall (pt. 2)" stuck in my head (except instead of "brick" my brain sings "hole"). Also, this image ties in with a novel I'm working on in interesting ways (more on that later).

These holes are made for a very specific reason, any guesses what the reason is?


  1. Wonderful pictures and commentary. Because of your blog, I feel that I'm getting to know China better. Have you already gone home on vacation to Canada? I seem to remember that you had a trip planned.

    1. :) What an odd (yet totally accurate) turn of phrase, "gone home on vacation". 6 days left until we fly. 6 days! 6!

      I will also have possession of my brother-in-law's very expensive camera that he doesn't know how to use. I'm looking forward to taking an awful lot of pictures while I'm there.

  2. My photographic amateurism means I've 'photo-walked' (inadvertently) but haven't 'photo-shopped' (deliberately)! SO agree with your philosophy of improving camera rather than computer skills - but it also comes down to the reason one takes photos in the first place. I don't take pix to impress other photographers - first and foremost, they're my record of what I've done and seen.

    Your lovely hole in the wall shot shows an appealing wistfulness - I immediately thought of Pink Floyd, then I read your comment!!! Great minds, huh?!

    1. Well, I think at the heart of it all I'm a story teller. The goal of pretty much everything I do artistically, including writing, music and photography, is to tell a story. The photos (both my own and others) that I like tend to be the ones that at least imply a narrative. I gather from your blog that this is another "great minds" moment. :)

  3. Best of luck getting a better camera where you can control aperture and shutter speed. The larger the aperture the narrower the depth of field. At f22 nearly everything in front of the camera should be in focus, but at f4.2 the depth of field becomes narrow.

    1. The Powershot actually has shutter priority, aperture priority and full manual modes (it doesn't have manual focusing, though).

      I think the problem is mostly with the lens, actually. It's a 6-72mm (36-432mm 35mm equivalent) telezoom with macro capabilities - it can focus at 0mm from the front element. I assume that the trade offs involved in such a wide zoom range with such a small sensor result in an invariably wide depth of field. There are a few things you can do in terms of composition to get some of the effect, but it's a real pain in the bum.

      I'm really looking forward to playing with my brother-in-law's Canon EOS 60D. I will be picking it up in a few days and will have it more or less indefinitely after that. He seems to have lost interest in photography since he found out that you have to learn things to be good at it. :)

  4. Mike, I'm loving your blog, and your photos. Thank you for sharing such thoughtful posts and images with us! Because I'm really enjoying your work, I nominated you for the Kreativ Blogger Award. :) (Now if I could just figure out how to get your posts delivered to my inbox...Blogspot and I are having a love spat, I guess.) Keep up the great work!


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