I first heard about the Great Wall of China in a book owned by my father which I believe was called the ‘Boys Own Wonders of the World’. This book was an early inspiration to travel to many places around the globe and included such locations as the giant sequoias in California, the great barrier reef in Australia, the pyramids in Egypt and many more. I was eight when I came across this book stored in our loft.
I have visited several of the places featured in the book over many years but one high on the list to see was The Great Wall of China. So to have the opportunity to stand upon the wall fulfilled a boyhood dream going back nearly 50 years.
The journey to the wall from Beijing took over two hours and most of that was taken up trying to escape the traffic in the city. On arrival the first sight is for a sign for the food chain ‘Subway’ offering the hint that commercialisation had reached this part of the world.
Tickets purchased we climbed to a cable car station which would whisk us over the tops of the trees taking us to the summit of the hill before us, the location of the wall.
As we climbed a tantalising view of the wall emerged through the mist, stretching as far as the eye could see along the summits of all the hills to our right. A few minutes later and we were climbing the short staircase leading onto the wall itself.
My first impression was of an intact Hadrian’s Wall (I walked the length of this a few years ago which also weaved itself over the summits of hills). Where as Hadrian’s wall was now a ruin standing just a few feet high in places, the Great wall in this section was 99% complete offering a fantastic historical context to the monument in that it was much easier to imagine Chinese soldiers standing guard along the wall.
Time was of the essence again, so picking one direction I made my way along the wall searching for a view point that would give me the scale of the landmark.
Setting up my tripod and camera it was soon obvious people were going to be the problem again. The wall was very busy and more annoyingly many tourists were wearing bright pink, yellow or red tops, colours which would immediately draw the eye in any photograph. With the mist, actually pollution from Beijing, causing the light to be relatively flat, HDR was going to be problematic. The merging of frames to reduce the volume of people wasn’t going to work this time, especially as all the people were in a space only 10 feet wide hiding many features of the wall I wanted to include.
I experimented with a new piece of equipment, a 10 stopper neutral density filter. Placed over the front of the lens the filter reduces the light entering the camera by 10 stops, thus pictures taken on bright days can become long exposures. The practical effect of this would be that the people who were moving along the wall would become blurred and semi transparent.
The tourists took an immediate interest in my set up and interruptions were frequent. Many stopped to take pictures right next to my camera, assuming I had picked a magical place to take a shot. Others just wandered in front of my lens deliberately or were just oblivious to what I was doing but in both cases ruining many shots.
For a few magical moments the crowds thinned and I managed to get a few good shots of the wall adding to the joy of my dream visit to this iconic landmark.