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China: 9 Spots for Minimalist Photography Around West Lake (Part 3)

Updated: 8 hours ago

The city of Hangzhou is a historical and cultural gem of China. West Lake, in turn, is a significant source of artistic and literary inspiration. Around its shores, historical structures and temples reflect the region's spiritual depth. The Grand Canal, connecting Hangzhou to Beijing, is an engineering feat and a vital link for trade. Together, Hangzhou, West Lake, and the Grand Canal illustrate the harmony between nature, culture, and progress that China has consistently demonstrated over the centuries.


China: 9 Spots for Minimalist Photography Around West Lake (Part 3)

Once the capital during the Southern Song Dynasty between 1127 and 1279, Hangzhou has maintained an impressive cultural character. This city with a luxurious past also displays a rather rare state of wealth. This becomes quickly apparent when strolling in the evening through the tourist streets. Besides these aspects, Hangzhou also boasts a magnificent natural lake that every photographer visiting China should see.


Introduction

The West Lake region and the city of Hangzhou are brimming with historical treasures. The very peaceful atmosphere that prevails makes Hangzhou the most beautiful Chinese city I have had the pleasure of visiting for several years. Its modern and ancient streets, traditional shops and shopping centers, temples, and contemporary buildings coexist in an intriguing harmony. It's as if the city of Hangzhou had always anticipated its evolution.


The temples, pavilions, and gardens surrounding the city of Hangzhou have been the source of inspiration for numerous Chinese poets and artists since the 9th century. The city is also the end point of the immense canal that connects it to Beijing, covering more than 1700 km.


West Lake, meanwhile, is probably one of the most beautiful lakes in the country. Depicted on the 1 Yuan note and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, this lake has everything to appeal to landscape photographers.


Through this series of articles, I aim to revisit the fascinating history of the city of Hangzhou, its origins, and the relationship it has always maintained with West Lake. I also offer some tips to optimize one's photography trip and movements around the lake. I invite you to read and discover these 3 parts in chronological order.


Part 1: History of the city of Hangzhou and West Lake, traditional constructions, and the Grand Canal of China.

Part 2: Traveling to Hangzhou, the shores of the lake, and how to organize your stay there.

Part 3: 9 photographic spots around West Lake.

 
China: 9 Spots for Minimalist Photography Around West Lake (Part 3)

9 Spots to Photograph Around West Lake

In this 3rd and final article of the series, I offer a selection of must-visit spots around West Lake that will delight minimalist photographers, whether they specialize in color or black and white photography. I will take Liu Park (famous for its Marco Polo sculpture) as a starting point and reference for distances.


Located north of the lake, it generally serves as the meeting point with the lake when you arrive from the city. Here, you'll find a large number of shops, restaurants, cafes, and various kiosks. It's also near Liu Park where the Hai Hua Hotel is located, which I recommend for its quality, comfort, and location. It is just a 5-minute walk from the lake, a major advantage for getting to the shores early in the morning and enjoying those rare moments of solitude for photography in peace.


I will then circle the lake clockwise. However, if you plan to stay a few days, I strongly recommend walking around the lake in both directions alternately to enjoy the early light on both shores and to try to be as alone as possible.


Once again, this selection is personal. It does not claim to be exhaustive and represents places where I have been able to photograph subjects that interested me under optimal conditions. As always, everyone will have their own experience. This list is therefore a suggestion that can serve as a basis during your visit.


You will quickly notice that some site names are quite poetic. The Chinese have long accustomed us to these evocative denominations. Translating them from Chinese to English and then to French is another challenge. Generally, the names are indicated in English on the tourist maps that can be easily obtained. For the purposes of this article, I have translated them into French.


My equipment: GITZO Ball Head S4. The ultra-stable and versatile head with friction control. The ultimate in smoothness and precision of movement. A durable reference for landscape photography and long exposures.

My equipment: GITZO Ball Head S4. The ultra-stable and versatile head with friction control. The ultimate in smoothness and precision of movement. A durable reference for landscape photography and long exposures.

 

Contents of this article:


 

1. Jixian Pavilion

Located 1 km south of Liu Park, the Jixian Pavilion is undoubtedly the iconic image of West Lake. At dawn, one should head immediately to the Jixian Pavilion to enjoy the first light and potential morning mists (depending on the season).


Easily accessible, this symbol of the city of Hangzhou is also a popular tourist spot. Consequently, it is almost impossible to photograph it without people during the day. The only opportunity is to go there around 5 a.m. when it's still dark and wait on-site with the tripod set up.


China: 9 Spots for Minimalist Photography Around West Lake (Part 3)

You won't have much time at your disposal. Either the municipal employees are busy cleaning the walkway pavings with large quantities of water, or they are cleaning the floor of the pavilion (and placing "slippery floor" signs for long minutes). Therefore, you need to be ready, watch their movements, anticipate their intentions, and photograph "quickly". There are several interesting viewpoints.


Don't hesitate to move around this pavilion. If you go in winter (which I highly recommend), you can also observe the dried lotus leaves, which have a beautiful graphic effect (photos above). The pavilion is lit up at night. But in my opinion, this does not add any extra interest.


My Equipment: K&F Concept ND Filter Kit + magnetic ring and carrying case. Rain-proof coated glasses. A practical solution for photographing in challenging conditions without compromising on quality.

My Equipment: K&F Concept ND Filter Kit + magnetic ring and carrying case. Rain-proof coated glasses. A practical solution for photographing in challenging conditions without compromising on quality.

 

2. Orioles Singing in the Willows

Continuing your tour, you'll pass through a beautiful alley lined with weeping willows along the lake. In addition to the interesting views through the delicate branches of the willows, you'll also find nearby a pavilion flanked by two stone lanterns on either side. A mandatory stop as the spectacle is superb.


This pavilion is also an interesting place for morning meditation, which the locals thoroughly enjoy, and understandably so. The clear view over the lake, the infinite background, and the wooded context make it a magical place, conducive to reflection or contemplation. It's also a spot where you can listen to musicians who come to the park to play some traditional music for everyone's enjoyment (see my previous article). This musical accompaniment transports visitors to another world and greatly contributes to photographic inspiration.


China: 9 Spots for Minimalist Photography Around West Lake (Part 3)
 

3. Shuangtou Bridge

Located south of the lake, approximately 3.5 km (a 45-minute walk) from the starting point, the Shuangtou Bridge consists of a stone walkway built right on the water's surface and a pavilion, Xiying, similar to the Jixian Pavilion (spot no. 1 above). This pavilion is illuminated at night.


Shuangtou Bridge is also known as the Two-Headed Bridge. It is famous for its unique design and architectural structure. The ensemble gets its name from its design, characterized by two distinct arches that meet at a central point. This configuration creates the impression of two heads, hence the name "Two-Headed Bridge." It is an excellent example of traditional Chinese engineering and architecture.


Shuangtou Bridge is not only a landmark for its architectural design but also a popular place to appreciate the natural beauty of West Lake. Visitors often come here to stroll, take photos, and enjoy the serene view of the lake and surrounding mountains.


China: 9 Spots for Minimalist Photography Around West Lake (Part 3)

This location, for example, is very popular for wedding photography. Therefore, it is almost impossible to photograph it during the day because couples of newlyweds and their photographers parade one after another. Observing this activity is interesting because the newlyweds are generally dressed in traditional costumes, adding a picturesque note to the scene.


This provides an opportunity to sneak in some telephoto shots. Portraits of newlyweds in this exceptional setting are generally very beautiful and worthy of the finest travel magazines.


Take advantage of your long, mandatory waiting periods to taste one of the local specialties, Shao Bing, a kind of spicy, stuffed, and baked bun. You can buy them from the roaming kiosks around the lake. It's a delight! However, after multiple attempts, I stopped trying to figure out what's inside. The sellers are very understanding and friendly, but they don't speak a word of English (!).


Be aware, spices (in quantity) are apparently part of the daily food in the region, even for breakfast. If you're not a fan, it's better to let them know right away to avoid fiery surprises... Generally, they understand.


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4. Leifeng Pagoda

A major tourist attraction located south of the lake, approximately 4 km (about an hour's walk) from the starting point, this gigantic and very beautiful five-story pagoda can be visited. However, it's from the outside that it is most interesting for photography.


Originally built in 975 during the Northern Song Dynasty, it was made of wood and bricks. The original pagoda collapsed in 1924 but was rebuilt in 2002. The current Leifeng Pagoda is a combination of ancient and modern structures. It retains the brick foundations of the original structure while adding a new steel and concrete structure.


This unique combination of ancient and modern architecture makes it a popular tourist site, offering panoramic views of West Lake and the surrounding mountains.


China: 9 Spots for Minimalist Photography Around West Lake (Part 3)

Its imposing presence in the landscape of hills and mountains surrounding it makes for a superb subject that you can photograph under the best conditions from the Shuangtou Bridge. It's at this location, or slightly before, where the Leifeng Pagoda will have the best balance in the surrounding landscape.

 

5. Sudi Promenade

Located to the west of the lake, approximately 5 km (about a 1h15 walk) from the starting point, this long, straight promenade cuts the lake into two parts. The western part is divided into two smaller lakes, Xili Lake and Nanhu Lake. Unfortunately, you cannot walk around these small lakes as their shores are primarily residential areas. Therefore, Xili and Nanhu Lakes must be observed from the Promenade.


The Sudi Promenade is one of the most famous and picturesque in the region. "Sudi" literally means "Uncle Su's Dike," named after Su Shi, a famous poet, scholar, and official of the Song Dynasty, who oversaw its construction in the 11th century.


This Promenade, nearly 3 kilometers long, crosses a part of West Lake and is lined with weeping willows and flowers, offering a peaceful and picturesque landscape. Visitors can enjoy the tranquil view of the lake and surrounding mountains.


Sudi is especially appreciated for its serene atmosphere and panoramic views, making it an ideal place for meditation, photography, and relaxation. In addition to its natural beauty, Sudi is rich in history and culture, reflecting the historical importance of West Lake in Chinese literature and art. It has been extensively represented in classical painting, and many literary works also refer to it.


China: 9 Spots for Minimalist Photography Around West Lake (Part 3)

This beautiful avenue offers striking views of the lake and its islands. Lined with a plentiful number of weeping willows, you will feel like you are traveling through a traditional painting while strolling along the beautiful Sudi Promenade.


And if you're lucky enough to get there very early, you can admire the sunrise behind the Leifeng Pagoda. Take the time to visit Huangang Park, located to the west of the Sudi Promenade. The atmosphere there is extraordinary and will certainly be conducive to capturing some more typical shots.

 

6. The Islands of West Lake

The lake has several islands that can be visited by boat, with departures from Liu Park. However, the "Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon" island is by far the most interesting to visit. It is also the largest. You may not find particularly interesting spots to photograph the lake from the shores of the island, but its cultural past is worth a visit.


To be comprehensive, here are the main islands of West Lake:


1. Xiaoyingzhou Island (Little Yingzhou): Known for its natural beauty and traditional Chinese garden landscape, the island is often associated with legends and mythical stories.


2. Huxinting Island (Pavilion in the Heart of the Lake): This small island is famous for its traditional Chinese pavilion, which offers a panoramic view of the lake. It's a popular spot for relaxation and enjoying the natural beauty of the lake.


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My Equipment: GITZO Mountaineer S3 and S3 head. The ultra-stable and lightweight carbon tripod for long exposure photography without compromise. A benchmark brand and a lifetime investment.


3. Ruan Gong Dun Island (Mr. Ruan's Island): Named after a Tang Dynasty official, this island is small but rich in vegetation and has a tranquil ambiance.


4. Huang Gongwang Island (Mr. Huang's Island): Named after a famous Yuan Dynasty painter, this island is known for its picturesque landscape and serenity.


5. Gushan Island (Solitary Hill): Technically a peninsula, Gushan is often considered an island due to its geographical location. It is home to many historical and cultural sites, including the West Lake Museum.


6. Santan Yinyue Island (Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon): This island is famous for its three small pagodas which, when lit by candles at night, reflect in the water, creating the illusion of several moons in the lake.


China: 9 Spots for Minimalist Photography Around West Lake (Part 3)

Even though these islands provide a unique experience and an opportunity to explore the cultural richness of the region, it is, however, from the shores of West Lake that the "Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon" island is most interesting in photography. Its short distance from the shore is ideal and allows for easy integration of the island into compositions (photo above).

 

7. Liujin Bridge

The best viewpoint of this magnificent bridge can be found by taking the first left at the end of the Sudi Promenade, just past the Kuahong Bridge. You can photograph it from a large esplanade where you will generally be quite alone. Beforehand, you can visit the bridge to admire its typical architecture.


As one might expect from its architectural quality and shape, this bridge is also very popular with tourists who generally spend a (very) long time there. Once again, it is best to visit early in the morning, at dawn, to be able to photograph it without anyone around.


China: 9 Spots for Minimalist Photography Around West Lake (Part 3)

Additionally, it's important to keep in mind that Liujin Bridge faces a significant hotel and a complex of buildings. Also, the basin that separates the shore from the bridge is often used for various shows (sound and light shows, etc.). It's not uncommon for technical elements (like fireworks, for example) to still be present in the basin in the early morning. So, it's a matter of luck.

 

8. Gushan Park

Located to the northwest of the lake, approximately 2.5 km (about a 35-minute walk) from the starting point if you take the northern shore, Gushan Park hosts some famous establishments such as:


  1. The Xiling Seal Art Society

  2. The Zhejiang Library Gushan Guanshe

  3. The Zhejiang West Lake Gallery

  4. The West Lake Museum


Luminar Neo: Artificial intelligence for producing perfect commercial images.

Luminar Neo: Artificial intelligence for producing perfect commercial images.


Gushan Park, also known as Solitary Hill, is a major place of interest located on the northwest shore of West Lake. This park is actually a large peninsula that juts into the lake, offering stunning views of the water and surrounding landscapes. Here are some notable aspects of Gushan Park:


1. Natural Beauty and Gardens: Gushan is renowned for its natural beauty. The park includes numerous well-maintained gardens, majestic trees, colorful flowers, and winding paths, making it an ideal spot for walking and relaxation.


2. Historical and Cultural Sites: The park is home to several important historical and cultural sites (mentioned above). There are also historic residences, temples, and other ancient structures.


3. Viewpoint: Gushan offers panoramic views of West Lake. Visitors can enjoy an expansive view of the lake, mountains, and other surrounding scenic sites while savoring locally produced tea.


4. Artistic and Literary Inspiration: Solitary Hill has inspired many Chinese artists, poets, and writers over the centuries. Its picturesque landscapes and serene atmosphere continue to inspire local and international artists.


China: 9 Spots for Minimalist Photography Around West Lake (Part 3)

This beautiful park located on an island can be explored along its shores, which offer interesting viewpoints of the lake. It is also a mandatory stop if you wish to complete your tour by passing through the famous Baidi Road and its bridges (Jindai). Baidi Road connects to the north shore of the lake at the Duanqiao Canxue building.


This beautiful construction allows you to take a moment's rest away from the urban hustle and bustle and shelter from the rain (!) while continuing to photograph. The covered gallery indeed allows you to settle by the lake on rainy days and take some beautiful shots, as the high humidity softens the backgrounds. This shelter is ideally situated for photographing the series of stone bridges.


My Equipment: FERRINO Trekker Rain Cape. The 100% waterproof, comfortable protection with a front opening. Perfect coverage for the backpack.

My Equipment: FERRINO Trekker Rain Cape. The 100% waterproof, comfortable protection with a front opening. Perfect coverage for the backpack.

 

9. Autumn Moon Over the Calm Lake

As you continue along the lake side of Gushan Park, you will pass by a traditional tearoom, poetically named "Autumn Moon Over the Calm Lake," where you can enjoy tea facing the lake. The terrace of this tearoom extends into the lake and is very interesting. You can easily photograph it very early in the morning, when the day has not yet dawned.


The whole area is lit up and the reflection on the water is perfect. As soon as daylight breaks, you will see some elderly people arriving to practice Tai Chi at this spot. Naturally curious, they will come over to you, observe your equipment, take photos of you, and talk to you in Chinese, even if you explain through gestures that you don't understand at all. It's a moment of exchanging smiles, a nice way to start your day in a good mood.


China: 9 Spots for Minimalist Photography Around West Lake (Part 3)

You can then follow the main road towards the starting point, which is about 3 km (a 35-minute walk) from Duanqiao Canxue, to complete your tour. Along the way, you will come across numerous weeping willows which provide interesting framings of the lake.

 

The Final Word

West Lake, with its lakeside landscapes and traditional structures, offers a rich tapestry of philosophical reflections, blending harmoniously with natural beauty and human ingenuity. This place is a microcosm of the coexistence between man and nature, illustrating the unceasing pursuit of harmony and balance in Chinese culture.


West Lake, with its tranquil waters, serves as a mirror to the tranquility, depth, and clarity of its surroundings. This expanse of water, surrounded by verdant mountains and vast skies, echoes the Taoist philosophy of following the natural course of things, living in harmony with the environment. A symbol of wisdom, it invites deep introspection and self-awareness.


The lakeside constructions, such as bridges, dikes, and pavilions, represent human intervention, not as a conqueror, but as a complement to natural beauty. These structures, built with respect and sensitivity, illustrate the Confucian philosophy of order and harmony in human relations. They symbolize man's ability to create beauty and meaning through his work, while remaining in harmony with the natural world.


The Sudi Promenade, for example, is not just a means to cross the lake, but also offers perspectives to meditate on life's path, the continuous journey of discovery and understanding.


The islands of West Lake, with their lush gardens and pavilions, are havens of peace and contemplation. They remind us of the Confucian ideal of retreating into nature for reflection and spiritual renewal.


West Lake is a place where natural beauty and human creations coexist in harmony. These elements provide lessons on the relationship between man and nature, the importance of balance, and the quest for inner tranquility. West Lake has long been and will continue to be a mirror of Chinese philosophy, reflecting ideals of peace, harmony, and mutual understanding between man and his environment.


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NordVPN: Secure your internet activity while traveling abroad. Legally bypass access restrictions in some countries (such as China). An effective and reliable solution.

 
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