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The Train from Suzhou to Shanghai

girl in a suzhou subway station

with F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8

This post takes place over the course of a few hours as I travelled from Suzhou to Shanghai on an evening bullet train.

I’d been in Suzhou for a couple of days with a friend and hadn’t actually taken any pictures while I was there.

Of course Suzhou is a lovely place and great for photography, but the inside of a bar isn’t, and that’s where I’d spent most of the time.

So on the way home, starting in a Suzhou subway station, I took my camera out and started shooting the journey.

Suzhou to Shanghai

Suzhou has relatively recently opened a couple of subway lines, and the header picture was taken in one of them as I was on my way to the train station.

Black and white pictures of people on subways can be a bit of a cliche when it comes to street photography, but I think if you have something more than a black and white picture of someone on the subway then you can still get away with it.

Obviously the reflection is the major feature of that image, but I think we have other elements too.

There’s the symmetry in the girl a little further down looking at her phone too (although pictures that just say ‘hey, everyone’s on their phones here’ can also be accused of being overdone now), and I think there’s also some depth given by the diagonal lines at the top and bottom of the glass.

I also like how everyone is facing the way of the reflection; it adds some uniformity to the shot.

suzhou train station

I arrived at Suzhou train station in the early evening, which clearly isn’t a peak time for this particular waiting area.

I do remember taking a few shots of the solo traveller from down on the same floor as he is, trying to get depth and leading lines with the rows of chairs, but this picture I took from the next floor up made them all redundant.

The picture speaks for itself, I think, and is a lesson in simplicity really.

Although the man in the picture may look a bit lonesome, there were plenty of people passing through this area (which was near the entrance) and into the main departure hall, which led me to believe he’d found himself a spot away from everybody else by choice, which is not often an easy thing to do in China.

He’s done well.

suzhou railway station

Further into Suzhou train station and into the main departure hall, I still had time to kill before getting my train, so stalked around seeing who else I could shoot.

This picture actually combines a few of the things I mentioned earlier. We have the symmetry again of two people using their phones (and so the cliche of it also), and we have the depth provided by the row of chairs that I’d been looking for before taking the previous, aerial shot.

One thing I know I have to develop as a photographer is a keener eye for what I can partially cut out of a photograph, and what I need to make sure is in there.

What I’m talking about here is the chair leg in the foreground.

I had other shots from this scene that included the whole leg, and the back of the chair too, although they had other, bigger imperfections than this one. Overall, this was the pick of the bunch.

I do wish I had all of the chair in shot though, but then does it really matter when the subjects really are the people?

Often, when looking at other peoples pictures, I recognise non-essential things that they partially cut out that I would have kept in, although their shots still look great.

I would be interested to know if you had noticed this chair leg before I pointed it out, or whether the subjects are strong enough for it not to matter? Am I being overly harsh on myself?

Let me know in the comments.  🙂

china bullet train

Once it was time to go out onto the platform, I did. And then I stood and waited for the train to arrive, which gave me the chance to get a few more shots.

The light was kind of terrible outside, and I was really struggling to get a decent shutter speed to capture what was quite a lot of general movement and still be shooting at a reasonably low ISO.

In the end, I gave up trying and went for intentionally less sharp images, which gives these next two shots a completely different feeling to the others in the set.

Deliberately losing sharpness isn’t something I often play with, but it’s always good to try new things with photography. I think these two shots worked out, in their own way.

In the one above, I like the horizontal lines that are pretty much the main feature of the image. The roof at the top, the train in the middle, the tracks at the bottom.

Every part of the image has them, while the few curves of the train windows and people give a nice contrast.

chinese train

Again, for this picture, losing all sharpness and image quality by shooting at a high ISO and still not being able to attain a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the people actually led to a shot I like, albeit the kind of shot I never usually take.

You can see the relative darkness I was shooting in from the way the platform is illuminated by the light from inside the train.

Still, I do like the result.

Having a full, unobstructed window makes it work, I think, as does the balance of the people either side of it.

I get a real feeling of being there from the picture, and it’s one of those where the feeling is greater than the technical attributes of the camera and lens.

bullet train china

The final image was taken as we were pulling into Shanghai, around half an hour later, and people were starting to get ready to disembark.

I focussed on the lady and took a few shots in quick succession, and she was looking at the camera in precisely none of them.

She does look a little unhappy, but her expression is really from deliberately trying to look disinterested in what I was doing.

She never asked me to stop shooting though, and I got the pictures I wanted as quickly as I could so as to hopefully not annoy her too much.

I was only really shooting these to kill time, and also because I felt a touch guilty about having done no other photography in Suzhou, but I think they turned out okay.

It’s nice to document something as simple but relatable as a train journey and then present the images here, and I genuinely hope you enjoyed looking at them as much as I enjoyed my time in the bar over those two days.

Cheers.

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This post tracks a short trip from Suzhou to Shanghai on an evening train. Starting in a Suzhou metro station, I shot until the train pulled into Shanghai later in the evening. I think the six shots that make up The Train from Suzhou to Shanghai describe the journey better than I can here. So please, come take a look.

 

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