Finally Visiting Shanghai’s Jing’an Temple [Kodak Portra 400]

jing'an temple entrance

Images shot on Kodak Portra 400 in Yashica Electro 35 GSN

There’s something about living in a place that makes you get lazy about seeing all of what it has to offer. Just think about all the things your hometown has to offer and then think how many of them you’ve done or been to.

I was in Shanghai for a good few years but it was only in the closing months that I went to Jing’an Temple. That’s not because I don’t like temples either, having already written about this other one in Shanghai, this one in Wuxi more than once, and this one in Chongqing too.

Now I’ve finally been though I can tell you what to expect and also show you some photographs I got from there on Kodak Portra 400. Shooting this film was another thing I finally got around to, by the way. It’s a stock I should have tried much sooner.

Personal laments aside, read on to learn what and where Jing’an Temple is, see some film shots from there, and get a view on whether it’s worth visiting for yourself if you’re ever in Shanghai.

jing'an temple ticket

What and where is Jing’an Temple?

Jing’an Temple is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Shanghai. It’s in a prime spot in the centrally located Jing’an district, which was named after the temple rather than the other way round.

Unless you’re within walking distance, the easiest way to get there is probably on the subway. Just take Line 2 or Line 7 to the Jing’an Temple station.

Although it can trace its history back to around 247 AD, it hasn’t always been at its current location and hasn’t even always been called Jing’an Temple. The first incarnation moved from its original site to the current one in 1216 and only changed its name to Jing’an Temple in 1945.

Like most historical sites in China, a lot of what you see today is not actually very old at all. Some of the main halls do go back to around 1880, although the place was repurposed as a plastics factory during the Cultural Revolution.

A huge fire then destroyed a lot of the complex in 1972, which was subsequently rebuilt in the 1980s and opened to the public in 1990.

The name Jing’an Temple translates to temple of peace and tranquillity, which may once have been true but isn’t really today considering there’s one of the busiest areas of a megacity just outside its walls and countless visitors coming in each day.

This does make for some nice photographs though with the temple architecture in amongst the shiny glass and steel of the neighbouring office towers.

People photography in Jing’an Temple

As nice as it would be to pretend Jing’an Temple is some oasis of isolation from the hustle and bustle outside, it isn’t. I imagine if you get there as soon as it opens, you’ll have it more to yourself than I did just after lunchtime on the day I went.

For my photography though, I prefer to have other people there that I can include in my shots. Shooting a whole set of textures and architecture would get boring for me.

So of course I made sure to get a good number of images in a similar way to how I do out in the streets. That is, finding a nice scene or background, preferably a well-lit one, and waiting for someone to enter it.

It’s nice not to be too intrusive in a temple where people are worshipping and wouldn’t appreciate a camera lens in their personal space, but I don’t tend to do that anywhere when I shoot anyway.

The location is different but the style of shooting and the results are very similar. I’ll say also that these particular ones on this Portra 400 film are pretty pleasing too.

Jing’an Temple’s upper walkways

As you can see in that picture above, Jing’an Temple has upper walkways that you can explore. You can also use them to get some different photographs. I don’t usually shoot scenes below from on high, but I did here.

Some of these shots were an exercise in trying to balance the people across the whole frame and also thinking about their shadows in one or two of them.

You can see someone in the second image trying to toss a coin into the giant urn in the middle of the yard. Quite a few people were doing this, so it’s something to look out for.

First because it could make a good subject for your photographs, and second because it’s good to be aware of flying coins when people are throwing them around.

Jing’an temple’s exterior

After all those shots from the interior, it’s worth pointing out that Jing’an Temple’s exterior and surrounding roads are decent spots for some photography too.

Remember that the time of day you’re there will dictate which sides of the temple you’ll get the best light at. I was fortunate that I went in November, which meant the sun was never too high anyway.

Another good thing for your shots from the outside of Jing’an Temple is that the main gate faces south. This means on a clear day it should be well-lit for most of the day, although the very best time will depend on the month you’re there.

And actually, if you’re in the area and don’t want to go in the temple for whatever reason, the people hanging around the outside are often good subjects for regular street photography anyway.

Final thoughts on visiting and photographing Jing’an Temple

It took me a long time to get around to visiting Jing’an Temple but once I did, I found out I’d not really been missing out on much anyway.

Of all the temples I’ve been to in Shanghai, Longhua is my overall favourite, although I’m fond of Qibao Temple too having lived next to it for a while.

Compared to Longhua, Jing’an Temple seems a little more… I’m struggling to think of the correctly balanced word, but maybe contrived is close to what I mean.

Having been rebuilt so recently, it feels its age. That is to say, it feels new, whereas I always felt like I was at a genuine historical place when I went to Longhua.

It’s also more than double the price to get in than any other Shanghai temple I’ve been to, at 50 RMB when I went. I didn’t mind this so much as I needed to see it for myself before I left town, but I do think it’s overpriced for what it is.

It’s also smaller than I thought it’d be having seen it from the outside and aerial photos, with the main courtyard being where everything is. There’s not much to see in the large buildings behind the main hall.

Again, Longhua Temple isn’t as tall or imposing but it does have a bigger footprint and is more spread out. I could – and did – spend a lot more time there than at Jing’an.

Overall, I’d say Jing’an Temple is a better spot for photography than it is for a spiritual time or if you’re a history buff. For both of those, head to Longhua instead.

I got a number of shots I like from this roll of Kodak film and I am glad I went. The temple opens at around 0700 or 0730 and closes around 1730, but I wouldn’t recommend these times for photography.

As the temple buildings are so high, you might need to go in the late morning or early to late afternoon to have any sun coming into the courtyard.

And that is pretty much that. If you need to get some film to shoot at Jing’an Temple or get your shots from there developed, there’s a place just around the corner that you can read about here.

If you’re not in Shanghai but liked the look of these shots and want to get some of the Portra 400 I used anyway, you can do as ever from B&H Photo, from Amazon, or from Analogue Wonderland.

Kodak Portra 400 Professional ISO 400, 35mm, 36 Exposures, Color Negative Film (5 Roll per Pack )
Kodak Portra 400 is the world's finest grain high-speed colour negative film. Order yours from Amazon today.

If you enjoyed that post, why not take a look at these others to stay inspired or learn more about some other Kodak films:

  1. Full review of this great and popular Portra 400
  2. Another Chinese temple shot on Kodak film
  3. Some street shots from this same roll of Portra 400

And if you think others will enjoy this post on shooting film at Shanghai’s Jing’an Temple too, help them find it by sharing or pinning.  😀

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