Tips for Taking Amazing Photos on the Nanyan Campus

Due to the COVID-19, as we all know, the Nanyan campus was closed down for a long time. For over 6 months, it was difficult for those inside to get out and for those outside to come in freely.

While this situation was distressing, for people who love photography, to some degree, it offered an opportunity for them to get great shots on the PKU Shenzhen (Nanyan) campus. Yes, you read that right, campus can be transformed into an amazing backdrop for your photos.

First, consider these three factors for great close-up portraits:
  1. It’s essential to keep the colors in the background clean and uniform. When we want to make the subject, the person, stand out enough, the person must be distinguished from the background. This applies whether you are using a large aperture (blurred background) or a small aperture (clear background). This is because people are always wearing clothing in different colors, and the colors from these clothes and skin can interfere with the color of the subject in some ways. For example, if the color of the subject’s skin is roughly the same as that of the crowds’ in the background, it will distract the viewer’s attention slightly, and the power to amplify the subject will be weakened, in other words, the subject will not stand out as much.
  2. Under closed campus, we have had less people here. Thus, there are fewer pedestrians to suddenly crash into your viewfinder and ruin the perfect background you have composed. The school had a lot of greenery, and what a precious thing this is. There are also few skyscrapers, so the sky above us is barely cut by the cold concrete. Therefore, we are able to get the grass and sky intact, perfect for portraits.
  3. The sky, grass and small trees are mostly represented by cool tones of green and blue. Human skin color is mostly warm tones. We can make the photo fresher and cleaner by strengthening the contrast of the warm and cool tones in later post-processing of photos.  This not only highlights the theme, but also conveys a delightful and relaxing mood. This color mixing idea is easy to play with and friendly to beginners.

Fig 1:  Cool & warm color wheel

So, what are the golden shooting spots for photos? Head out with your camera or cell phone and follow every point I mentioned. I highly recommend the following five spots.

Fig 2: Marked map of the recommended spots (1: Grass next to building 5; 2: Large-leafed plants; 3: PKU sports field; 4: Corner of STL facing the Dasha River; 5: Brick façade of STL facing Building A)

  1. The grass next to building 5. The meadow is not only a meadow, but also includes a small forest in the view parallel to the people. Wusi tower of PKU even shows itself in the elevated view.

2. The large-leafed plants by the side of the road of Dasha River, next to the stage of the International Conference Center (the white building next to STL). The green of the big-leafed plants has a higher saturation than other small-leafed plants on campus, which can add a melancholy atmosphere to the fresh tones and create a romantic feeling with proper toning.

3. The PKU sports field. When the sun rises from the east, our sports field can be covered slowly with the early morning sunlight, like a translucent and sparkling curtain smoothly covering your photo. It creates a very warm atmosphere. The early morning of a sunny day would be your best time to shoot here.

4. The corner of STL facing the Dasha River. The sharp, straight lines of the façade of the building, the flat tiles and the triangular flowerbeds create a strong sense of depth. When the subject is standing in this intersection of multiple perspectives, the image becomes three-dimensional.

5. The brick façade of the STL facing the Building A. The brick façade here is similar to the flower bed and façade in the fourth location. Because of the raised bricks, the bricks in the line of sight will be close to each other, in effect, creating a function that highlights the perspective relationship.

Regarding the timing of shooting, as I mentioned in the recommended spot 3, clear morning of a sunny day is definitely a golden time to shoot. The light at this time of a day is perfectly soft and with an oblique angle, which is able to cover the face of the model gently without a strong contrast.

Another decent shooting time is the early evening, about 5-6 o’clock. Evening light is more romantic with more purple and magenta tones than the early morning light, which has a little more cyan and yellow in it. These are all very good natural light conditions whether you are a master or a beginner. It is not cost-effective to spend money to buy lights, cleverly borrow the beautiful light provided by nature!

In contrast, the midday sun shines straight down on us, the top of our heads is bright and our face will be covered by shadows, making us look bald and sickly, this is a horrible time for taking portraits.

Now you’ve learned my photography secrets. Try them out. I’m sure you can get great photos of your own on campus. The new Dasha River sidewalk has just opened! I believe we all should keep exploring more interesting shooting spots!

Written by Mei Siyu

Photos by Mei Siyu