Xi'an: How dim are the terra cotta warriors?

Discussion in 'Geographic Location' started by ntenny, Sep 12, 2010.

  1. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    Hi everyone,

    I'll be in Xi'an this October, and I've booked an extra day, to be spent partly, of course, seeing the famous terra cotta warriors. I've verified that photography of the figures is allowed, but I don't clearly understand what the lighting situation will be.

    Has anyone been there and taken note of the light levels? Will I, for instance, be able to get away with ASA 400 handheld? (Depends on equipment and steadiness of hands, obviously, but let's say I can go to about 1/30 and f/2.)

    Thanks

    -NT
     
  2. ann

    ann Subscriber

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    i will be watching this as i will be there in may
     
  3. Mark Fisher

    Mark Fisher Subscriber

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    I shot 400 speed there with my 50 and 85mm f1.8. There are railings all around it so you can steady yourself pretty well. I seem to remember that there are huge skylights so the light may depend on how sunny it is. A fast longer lens is definitely a good thing there.
     
  4. cowanw

    cowanw Member

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    You should be fine with 400 ASA although a monopod or a bean bag would not be a bad idea.
     
  5. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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    When I saw the warriors in a museum in London( The Victoria and Albert, I think) the light levels were very low. I didn't have a camera but I doubt if 400 would have been enough. It would seem that in China natural light gets in which makes me wonder if the very low level of light in London was required( there was no natural light but the artificial light level on that basis could have been higher.

    If taking the pics is a one-off, I'd be inclined to pack Fuji Neopan 1600 or Ilford D3200 just in case then load the appropriate film according to the readings you get.

    pentaxuser
     
  6. Sim2

    Sim2 Member

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    Hmm, I know they have been standing still for a few thousand years but not sure if I would call any warriors dim........

    :blink:

    Hope you have a good trip and get some shots.

    Sim2.
     
  7. Colin Corneau

    Colin Corneau Subscriber

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    I've been to this place and photographed there.

    No problem with 400 handholding. Tripod or other support is never a bad idea, though, but making photographs there was pretty easy. As always, be respectful -- this is a place extremely important not just to the Chinese people but humanity as a whole, too.

    Lighting conditions do change, depending on time of day, cloud cover and weather, etc. But no problems, as I said. You may want to take either a spot meter or various readings, as highlights play among the vast crowds of figures...you could meter for shadows and end up blowing out the many highlights.

    When I went there, it was at the plans of my former (Chinese) professor. I wasn't keen on going as I wanted to try avoid overtly touristy places...I'm so glad he did plan for us to go there, as I was just blown away.
    I'm not one to be overly sentimental or prone to that sort of thing...but as I said, it was a very moving and powerful visit. A real wonder of the world. Enjoy!
     
  8. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    Thanks, everyone, for all the information! I hadn't thought about the possible need for a longer lens---I'll need to do some thinking about what camera to use.

    I usually avoid the "obvious touristy" attractions, but I have to say, my experience so far has been that the ones in China are worth it. I'm quite looking forward to this trip.

    -NT
     
  9. David Henderson

    David Henderson Member

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    I spent a whole day photographing there on an overcast day last October. I just checked through my settings. ISO 1600, f4-f9.5 with probably f8 being the commonest; 1/15 handheld with IS. Even at these settings I'm exposing dark rather than light. The issue isn't helped by the fact that to get other than bland wide-angle shots you need a longish lens and so depth of field isn't something that you can forget about. I was using pretty much the same settings in pit 1- where the volume is- and in the glass cases/other pits.

    Based on this I couldn't possibly suggest that you will be OK with ISO400 film. You either need something faster or hope for more ambient light getting into the pits. I did see a Chinese guy photographing with a tripod but it was quite a quiet day, and for all I know he got pounced upon by the guards right after I saw him. Probably wouldn't be physically tenable on a busy day anyway.
     
  10. David Henderson

    David Henderson Member

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    Meant to add; the vast majority of my photographs used focal lengths 140-200mm. Nothing was wider than 70mm.
     
  11. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    Based on what you have said, it sounds like 400 film is fine if one does not use f/8. I certainly would not expect to be able to use f/8 there with a 400 film. As always, photography is a balancing act. What is more important to you? Depth of field, or the qualities of a slower film?

    Whatever the choice you make is, it would certainly seem prudent to bring fast fixed-length lenses instead of zooms, as it is obviously a place with somewhat-low light levels. 50 1.4, 85 1.4 or 1.8, 100 f/2 or 105 f/2.5, etc.
     
  12. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    I got my slides back today and thought I'd (1) thank everyone for their very helpful contributions, and (2) summarise how it went.

    As it turned out, it was raining buckets the day I went, but quite bright for a rainy day. There was enough light that I ended up shooting Provia 400X at box speed. My main lens was an 85/2; I had a 135/4 but generally couldn't find stable enough places to use it. (Contax IIIa and Sonnars, with a separate handheld meter, if you're keeping score at home.)

    There's a "no flash, no tripods" sign, although a lot of people were futilely using flash on their digicams anyway without apparent consequence. You don't get terribly close to the actual warriors, so the longer lenses were really necessary. I did find that 85 was long enough to get useful shots into the pits, and while there were times when I wished the 135 was faster, I didn't really feel the need for a longer lens.

    What I found most frustrating is that there's not much contrast: you end up shooting dirt-coloured statues against a dirt-coloured background and just hoping that something makes them stand out. In colour the results are OK but not especially dynamic; in b&w they would have been hopeless unless I targetted extremely high contrast. (If I were to go back and shoot in b&w, I'd probably want something like Tri-X in Diafine, more for the contrast than for the extra speed.)

    I've seen the slides now but haven't yet postprocessed any of the scans---I'll post some when I do.

    Thanks again to everyone who helped me out!

    -NT
     
  13. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    These two are probably the best of the bunch. The first is with the 135/4, and an exposure too long for handholding, maybe 1/8 (I used the railing); the second is the 85/2, probably 1/30 at f/2.

    To my mind, the most visually interesting thing about the warriors is their individuality, which I was trying to show especially with the second image; these aren't just assembly-line statues, every one is different.

    -NT
     

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  14. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

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    Thanks for the info and pictures Nathan -- very useful! I hope to visit China in the near future and the terracotta warriors are definitely on the list.