Aly Brunson
Photography in Beijing

I've been teaching English in China for a while and I realized that I'm not a good photographer. I enjoy pulling out my camera and pretending to be. I probably have as much fun taking pictures now as I would if I learned to be better at it, but it would also be nice if my travel pictures came a little closer to capturing my trips.

I looked up the most common tips for amateur photographers hoping it would help me bring back some pictures that would let me relive my Beijing trip when I look back on them later.

Every site started with the same first rule: the rule of thirds. Simply put, divide your picture into three columns and three rows. Put the interesting things at the edges and corners of those columns and squares.

This was a new rule for me. My general art class in school taught me not to center a subject, but I had never heard anything about thirds. Fun fact: this rule can be broken when you have a symmetrical subject, which is something I was even less aware of. Learning about the rule of thirds ironically made me center my subject more often.

I tested out this rule out during an afternoon exploring the Forbidden City. I could have easily spent more than an afternoon there, but there were so many other places I wanted to visit. Deciding which places to visit and which places to skip (this time) was definitely harder than taking pictures. Some of the sites were so amazing that taking bad pictures seemed impossible.

Take a photo of Great Wall

For instance, there's amazing depth to this view of the great wall. There are mountains and distant parts of the wall in the background. There are towers in the middle ground. I'm in the foreground along with some crumbling wall that looks close enough to touch. Pictures in which everything is about the same distance from the camera look flat and boring.

Take a look of Summer Palace

It's also important to fill the image. Leave as little blank space as you can, even if that means cutting of parts of the scene. Blue skies are nice and all, but that's not what people are interested in seeing. This view of the Summer Palace across the lake doesn't capture the whole scene, but the buildings are close enough to kiss the left edge of the picture, the center building nearly touches the top edge, and the tiny boat barely makes it in.

While most people have an intuitive feel for what looks nice and what doesn't, I've found it helpful to have an objective guide to reference. Learning a few rules enable me to explain why this photo looks better than the other one. I've chosen to focus on these three basic rules to start, but there are plenty of guides online that are far more extensive. As I master these three, I'll start learning more. I know I didn't become a professional in a single trip, but I'll continue to work on it as I continue to explore all of the historic sites and natural beauty China has to offer.

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