Terra Galleria Photography

Photographing the Bund in Shanghai

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It could have been difficult to know where to start in largest city in the world, with a population of 24 million. However, Shanghai has a clear focal point, called the Bund, full of iconic photographic possibilities. The Bund refers to a roughly mile-long promenade along the west side of the Huangpu River, where you can glance China’s past on one side and China’s future on the other with plenty of life on the promenade itself.

From the mid 19th century to the second World War, the Bund was the site of a foreign concession to the British and American governments. Western interests built a row of magnificent European-style buildings that housed foreign banks and hotels. The Beaux-Arts style architecture is an incongruity in China, and the stately buildings are particularly striking at night when illuminated.

Across the Huangpu River lies the modern skyscrapers of the Pudong district, which form the particularly futuristic skyline, made iconic by the Oriental Pearl Tower. From approximately half an hour after sunset to 11PM (which gives you half an hour before the sky is dark), the Pudong district skyscrappers are illuminated, with the Oriental Pearl Tower and other skyscrapers enlivened by lights of changing light show – compare the colors in the two skyline photos of this post. The Huangpu River makes a sharp bend at that spot, which gives the impression that the skyline lies on a Manhattan-like island. At dawn, the buildings have only few lights, but their silhouette against the dawn sky is striking.

The skyline views from water level are excellent, but higher viewpoints are also available from rooftop bars. One of the best is the Vue Bar on the 32nd floor of the Hyatt hotel. It has an outdoor terrace with excellent views, accessible for a cover charge of 110 yuan, which includes a drink. The catch here is that tripods are strictly prohibited. I had to check mine at the entrance. With modern cameras, even night hand-held pictures are possible, but for better image quality, I used my camera bag as an improvised bean bag on the ledge. A clamp or table-top tripod would have been preferable.

Situated at the north end of the Bund, there are also two other structures of interest. The People’s Memorial is a communist-style structure symbolizing three riffles leaning against each other. The concrete structure is a bit bland by daytime, but is illuminated a striking red at night. The Garden Bridge, built with steel imported from England at the begining of the 20th century, was the first metal bridge in China.

The Bund is not just a great place to photograph buildings of various types, it is also a great location for people watching and street photography. Although at dawn the place is strangely quiet, shortly after sunrise older men show up with elaborately decorated kites. One of them flew three Chinese flags along the kite’s line, prompting salutes to the flag from passerbys. Individual and groups exercised via Tai-Chi, jogging, or gymnastics. In the evening, the place becomes an even more popular evening stroll for many, and you should make sure to join the crowd!

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