A Little Visit to Nighttime Xi’an China

Today’s Post by Ken MacAdams

I stand in the darkening twilight before the towering South Gate, at one time the main entrance to the ancient City of Xi’an. My camera, mounted on my tripod stands by my side. I close my eyes, and try to imagine life here 700 years ago, in the height of the Ming dynasty, and realize it’s more than I can visualize. Opening my eyes, I see the drawbridge directly in front of me, spanning the moat. On the other side of the moat, the outer city wall rises a towering 40 ft, with the thickness surpassing the height by an additional 5 ft. Perched atop the wall is the first archer station, and if I were a hostile force, I’d be met by a barrage of arrows, some from long bows, others from the far reaching and deadly crossbows possessed by the warriors of the dynasty. If I weren’t a hostile, I could pass on through, into the inner court, where I’d face another daunting 40 ft wall and if I were allowed passage into the city, I’d have to pass through a large courtyard, now with the first archer station behind me, and another wall and archer station ahead. Two more massive wooden gates still controlled access, but if permitted, I’d find myself inside the ancient city. Xi’an was in its day, a very secure city, and in its day, protection came from within.

As I stand outside, dwarfed by this massive structure, I wonder how the ancient city wall has escaped becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Further significance is that Xi’an’s ancient city wall is the only remaining complete original city wall left in China. Accentuated by a continuous string of LED lights outlining the wall and archer bays, the sight from the street of this marvel is unforgettable! By day, rent a bike, and cycle the entire eight-mile loop that lets you pass the other 3 gates: The West, North, and East gates but the grandest gate of them all is the South Gate.

Photo ops abound everywhere; I climb the stairs to the top of the wall, and approach the main guardhouse, now completely lit, and fire away. I turn and look down the roadway atop the wall, there I spot three more guardhouses in the distance, all beautifully illuminated. Turning, I peer out one of the archer ports, and spot the moat below, with a boat plying the water. Looking inward, 21st century is alive and well! I see the colorful lights of modernity, as Comu-capitalism and ancient coexist in this bustling city of 11 million.

This time of the year in Xi’an, the humidity level hovers in the 60+ percent level. That coupled with city smog leaves skies reminiscent of shooting in light rainy conditions. Personally, I think it adds to the images. I used a Sirui carbon fiber tripod for all of the shots. My camera is a Panasonic Lumix G85, and I used a Lumix 12–60mm Image stabilized lens. I keep a Panasonic Battery Grip affixed with a spare battery inserted. Interestingly enough, this was the first time I used the HDR function on this camera. During this session I only shot four images utilizing the feature, as a test for myself. I was quite pleased with the results, and in my next night/low light shooting situation, I’ll experiment further.

For the Gate shot, I was shooting in Aperture priority, at f/8, 1.6 sec. exposure, -1/3 EV, at ISO 200. All shots are in AWB. For the wall and gatehouse shot, I was in Aperture priority at f/8, 5 sec. exposure, ISO 200. For the last shot, I utilized in camera HDR, a two-frame composition, also in Aperture priority, at f/9. ISO was 200.