Xiapu, China - Day 1 Photography Tour with Andy and Mia Beales (Gatsby Travel)

"An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time, place and circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle but it will never break." Chinese Proverb

Xiapu, is located in Ningde Province approximately 400km from Xiamen and in easy reach utilizing the high speed rail service. Xiapu is a relatively small city, by Chinese standards, with a population of $2m. Within the district of Xiapu are small rural villages providing unique and distinctive photographic opportunities and subject matter, in particular the mud flats where local fisherman have been earning a living for thousands of years. The Mudflats of Xiapu are the largest in the country, encompassing 40 square kilometers and more than 400 kilometers of coastline along the East China Sea. We were based in Xiapu and travelled from this central location during our four day Photography Tour with Andy and Mia Beales-Gatsby Travel. Herein I will refer to Andy and Mia Beales as 'The Beales' for ease of simplicity. Andy and Mia Beales are the penultimate professionals and I cannot thank them enough for all their efforts and thoughtfulness on our behalf. Their command of language, understanding of culture and customs and concern for their clients interests distinguishes them from others.

Beiqi Mudflats at Sunrise

Pre-dawn Beiqi mudflats: Fuji X-T2 56mm lens.

The Beiqi mudflats lie within a short distance from Xiapu. From these mudflats local inhabitants make their living from fishing, much as they have for centuries. As the tide ebbs and flows local fisherman collect seaweed, fish and other edibles. The pencil thin bamboo poles protruding from the mudflat are placed there by the local townspeople to serve several purposes: to hang and dry seaweed; to grow oysters; and the grid system of the poles serves to keep the fisherman organised. The pre-dawn pink blue hues provided a different color spectrum to photograph compared with the golden color tones of sunrise. The scene reminded me of an ink wash Chinese painting.

An early morning rise was required to capture the sunrise as well as to secure a good vantage point on the bridge from which we would be shooting. Other groups also had the same idea...we arrived in good time and secured our spots. The Beales had hired local fishermen to walk among the mudflats thus adding a local interest element. We all perched ourselves along a bridge overlooking the mudflats, secured our long telephoto lenses on tripods and watched and waited as the sun made its entry. The Beales also engaged a local guide who masterfully communicated with the fisherman using a loud-speaker manoeuvring them into our desired positions. Having captured the all embracing pre-dawn image of the mudflats I set about attempting to isolate and capture the micro elements in the scene that was before me. The Chinese fishing nets are quite large cantilever style devices and required a close up shot to show them clearly and to see how they were secured by the fishermen. I have long admired the Asian ink wash paintings and the fishermen walking among the bamboo poles with their fishing nets reminded me of such paintings.

Fuji X-T2 100-400mm lens: Artistically rendered in Topaz Studio

The light changed constantly and the golden light of the sunrise silhouetted the fisherman.

Fuji X-T2 100-400mm lens Artistically rendered in Topaz Impression

Below-Behind the scenes shots at Beiqi: The image on the Left: The many photographers on the bridge overlooking the Beiqi Mudflats: Our group is in the foreground. The image on the Right: At the bottom of the hill from the bridge the immobile boats waiting for the incoming tide.

Captured on the Huawei P9 smartphone

NanWang Crab Nets and Tiger Stripe Mud Flats

Fuji X-T2 100-400mm lens-9 image stitched panorama

From the Mudflats of Beiqi we then moved onto the colorful crab nets and striped mud flats of NanWang. To access the viewing area of the crab nets necessitates an easy walk along a terraced bank through a small fishery. The tide was still out when we arrived and so we set up our tripods and telephoto lenses and waited for the tide to flow in and surround the crab nets.

Fuji X-T2 100-400mm lens as the tide was flowing in
Fuji X-T2 100-400mm lens

The crab nets and the mud flats are set amid a large expanse of water. The all-inclusive images provides context, however the more isolated, micro level images below are interesting, providing opportunities for minimalist photography. As at Beiqi the scene was reminiscent of ink wash paintings and so I have processed the images accordingly using Topaz Studio. The fisherman in a boat, organised by our guides, weaving his way around the mud flats provided a human counterweight to the natural beauty of the area. Isolating the fisherman using a long telephoto lens made them appear as though they were floating on ice.

Fuji X-T2 100-400mm lens

Below-Behind the scene shots at Nanwang: Top two Images: Our team of photographers busy at work (Huawei P9). Bottom image: the fishery through which you walk to reach the crab-nets, with Xiapu in the background (Fuji X-T2 50mm prime)

Xi Shan Mudflats

To reach the hilltop overlooking the Xi Shan mudflats required a steep climb through a fruit farm. The afternoon light was hazy and while it minimized the reflections on the wet mud it also made for a rather flat color spectrum, however it served to accentuate the repeating patterns in the mud left by the receding tide.

Fuji X-T2 100-400mm lens: Left-view from the hilltop; Right-homeward bound fisherman
Fuji X-T2

Sunset at Dongbi Bridge

Dongbi is approximately 28 kilometers from Xiapu. The warm light from the descending sun transforms the soft lines of the tidal water rivulets and channels of the mudflat beach into rivers of blue and gold reminiscent of molten lava. The textures and tones of the beach accentuated by the setting sun were quite breathtaking and provided for endless compositional opportunities. We set up our tripods on the bridge overlooking the beach and for the next several hours proceeded to capture the ever changing tones of the mudflat. Again for our benefit The Beales hired a local fisherman to walk along the mudflat and our local guide provided specific directional instructions as to positioning. This was perhaps my favoured location.

Color Spectrum Prior to sunset. Fuji X-T2 100-400mm lens

During low tide the mudflats are exposed leaving an amazing repetition of patterns and shapes. Nature's tiling.

The Golden Glow as the sun moves closer to the horizon: Fuji X-T2 100-400mm lens

As the sun lowered itself into the horizon the mudflats turned ever more golden and the fisherman was rendered a silhouette. The ever changing colours of the mudflats over the course of several hours was mesmerizing.

Rivers of Gold as the sun sets. Fuji X-T2 100-400mm lens

The image below displays the sunset over the mudflats and the tidal riverlets are shown in the foreground.

Sunset from Dongbi Bridge

Below-Behind the scenes on Dongbi Bridge: The image below shows some of our group marshalled on the bridge, with Andy Beales taking a final iphone shot.

Captured by John Knight.

With that we called it a day and organised ourselves for Day 2. I will post our Day 2 adventures in the coming days.

On a personal note Day 1 provided insight into a centuries old way of life. It was indeed a juxtaposition of worlds. We have all new inventions to make life simple, seemingly always seeking the next new gadget, yet these people of Xiapu have simple things and tools which provides them a simple uncomplicated, and perhaps and even more contented existence. Clearly they have no need for change simply for changes' sake. Applying time tested ways with success serves them well.

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