The most memorable, useful, and true piece of advice my photography teacher told me was the subject of an image is always the light.
To elaborate: to be careful of looking for interesting subjects in poor light. A seemingly mundane subject in good light will often make a better photograph.
It’s through experience that I know this to be true. My favourite images in my 365 project were almost exclusively shot in good light. The ones in poor light were shot because I needed quantity as well as quality.
Have you ever compared shots that are ostensibly the same, just taken in both good and bad light, though?
Because thanks to me taking ages to finish a roll of Fujicolor Industrial 100 and forgetting what I’d already shot, that’s what I ended up being able to do in this set from Qibao ancient town in Shanghai.
The difference is not insignificant. But first, some sightseeing.
What and where is Qibao ancient town in Shanghai?
Qibao ancient town is a tourist spot out to the west of Shanghai city centre, in the Minhang district of the city.
It’s easily reachable by taking the subway, getting off at the Qibao station on Line 9, and walking around 10 minutes south to Qibao old street.
Once there, you’ll find a picturesque square that leads to the first of the two stretches of souvenir shop-lined old street, a beautiful old bridge alongside a couple of less attractive ones, and, if you go on the wrong day, thousands of other tourists who have gone to see the same things.
Qibao is apparently the only ancient town in the greater Shanghai area, first being built in the Northern Song Dynasty of 960 – 1126 AD and finding real prosperity in the later Ming and Qing periods.
The name translates as seven treasures although there is uncertainty why, with at least two different local legends said to be the source of this. All we know is, nobody knows for sure.
A break from the crowds in Qibao temple
In fairness, these places do take a few hours to get to from Shanghai, and Qibao is good for seeing a smaller version of them without leaving the city.
It’s not really big enough to be called Qibao water town in the same way those places get that suffix either, in my opinion. You can see Qibao’s old streets and bridges in around 10 minutes flat.
That’s okay though because it leaves you more time to check out the temple.
First built between 907 – 960 AD and renovated numerous times since, with the last rebuild happening in 2002, Qibao temple is a cornerstone of the historical prosperity of the area. It’s also believed to have once been the home of the seven treasures from which Qibao takes its name.
The less scenic side of Qibao old town
As Qibao is a residential area of Shanghai and not just a tourist site, there are parts of it that are less likely to be on postcards.
A lot of the neighbourhoods in the area, especially around the temple, are pretty run own. Or were at the time I made these photographs.
As I write this up, a lot of them have already been demolished.
The red Chinese character painted on the shutter doors means the building is to pulled down, while the red banner says something like firecrackers are not a small thing and your responsibility is bigger than a mountain.
Don’t use firecrackers around empty wooden buildings, basically.
How good light improves your photography
The roll of Fujicolor Industrial 100 I shot these photographs on was in the Olympus Supertrip for around a year.
Once I got it developed, I realised I’d taken almost the same shot a couple of times on the different occasions.
That made me question the amount of originality or new ideas in my photography, but it also gave me the opportunity to see how good light affects your shots.
The first and third images below were shot in good light. The second and fourth were made in more overcast conditions.
What jumps out to me is the difference in contrast. The second examples of each are just flatter.
Wrapping up from Qibao ancient town
If you’re ever in Shanghai and have time on a non-holiday weekday, I would recommend getting out to Qibao.
You wouldn’t need too long there.
Perhaps arrive mid-afternoon, check out the old streets, bridge and temple, get some street food, get your photographs as the sun begins to set and the light is at its best, and then dinner and drinks once it’s gone.
As you can see from the last few images here, if you’re lucky enough to be there on a bright day, it does make a difference.
Just like my photography teacher said – the subject of an image is always the light.
… p.s. if you liked this piece on Shanghai’s Qibao old town and think others will too, why not give it a share?