Unexpected Sights Await You On Huangshan
It was my last morning exploring Huangshan (i.e., Yellow Mountain) in Eastern China. I was up well before dawn in search of a great place for a sunrise. I made it but heavy cloud cover only allowed a little of what, would otherwise have been, a magnificent sunrise to shine through onto the incredible landscape that surrounded me. Still, the amazing view made the early start worthwhile. The challenge now was to make the most of the location and the time left to me to produce some great photos. Here's how I went about that task.
Exploration is the Key
With the weather closing in, and the world around me surrounded by a heavy blanket of cloud, I began the search for subject matter. Without the benefit of great light it seemed the best option available to me was to look for interesting, as well as, outstanding subject matter. I climbed up and down, following the steep pathways that snaked their way across the mountain top, photographing grand and less obvious scenes alike.
Eventually I found my way to this amazing vantage point. There were numerous times along that morning's walk when the odds were against me and logic suggested I should turn around and make my way back to my hotel. My schedule was tight and I had to get back to the hotel, check out and make my way back down the mountain. But I'd come this far and something told me that I just had to follow the path I was on.
I kept pushing and was rewarded with arguably the most incredible sight I've ever witnessed in all my years traveling and photographing our remarkable world. The scale of the above photo is hard to imagine, but take a look at the massive tree on that peak in the middle of the frame. Being a huge J.R.R. Tolkien fan I can remember being reminded of the Party Tree, the one Bilbo gave his speech under on the night of his 111th Birthday.
I got to this spot, at the very end of a side trail, just as the sun was coming up behind the mountain. The dynamic range between the bright sky and the shaded mountains and trees was extreme and, with a normal exposure, the mountains would have ended up in silhouette. It's taken quite a bit of work to bring the image back to how I remember experiencing the scene. I'm really happy with the result and I can't wait to print it really, really, big.
Subject Matter and Meaning
The above photo was made at what looked like a rest stop or park office. The trouble was, as it was the middle of winter, it was locked up tight. I popped around the back looking for a different vantage point from where I might be able to photograph through a gap in the clouds onto the landscape far below. My exploration led me to this place which, I assume, is a back entrance into the building.
It was interesting to me that the building, from this perspective, appeared to be a bunker. It's actually built into the mountainside and this back entrance was, therefore, accessed via the roof. I love that, at the same time, all the elements that are leading the eye towards the door are negated by the reality of the deep snow covering the path and blocking the entrance. The promise of rest and comfort against the reality of denial. I love exploring such dualities in my photography.
One advantage of the heavy cloud cover was the lovely soft light that it provided. The predominantly low contrast scene is very easy on the eye. The drama comes more from the subject matter, and any associated metaphors, rather than the light.
I made it back to my hotel, just in time to gather my gear together and check out, prior to a short hike to the cable car which would take me back down to the bottom of Yellow Mountain. At the very beginning of my journey the sun shone, for just a few minutes, prior to a heavy mist engulfing the mountain. That mist looked like it was going to clear, several times, over the next few days but, ironically, the sun only shone for a few minutes just before I got to the cable car.
And that's when I made this photo, as the mist cleared, just a few minutes before my time on Yellow Mountain came to an end. It was surreal, after three days of being engulfed by mist and heavy cloud cover, to be able to see what lay beyond the vale of my imagination. I kept the ice-encrusted trees in the foreground as a way of both framing the distant mountain peak and pointing to the experience between that which is known and that which is glimpsed in moments of serendipity and transition.
Surely one of the most amazing places I've yet visited. It's hard to imagine not returning to China, on what would be my fifth visit, without coming back to Huangshan (Yellow Mountain).