Photographers' Blog

An oddly beautiful surprise

By Aly Song

This wasn’t what I expected at all when I arrived at the beach of Qingdao city in China’s eastern Shandong province.

SLIDESHOW: FACE-MASKED SWIMMERS

I was assigned to shoot portraits for a Reuters story on a Chinese airline company. We settled down to plan to board an aircraft with the company CEO, photographing him and other passengers on the plane. So, I booked myself a 24-hour round trip from Shanghai to Qingdao bearing in mind that during the half day in Qingdao I could shoot the green algae along the beaches which appears almost every summer.

However, my plan turned out to be a failure. The weather wasn’t hot enough so there was very little algae. I was about to head back disappointed until I glanced at these women swimming in the ocean. They were wearing full-size masks on their head which looked a lot like wrestler’s masks to me. I could imagine these women coming onto the beach very soon and starting to fight.

I laughed for a while and took some pictures. I discovered that this phenomenon didn’t look strange to the locals at all. Consulting with some other swimmers, they told me that these nylon-fabric masks were invented by a woman about seven years ago and were believed to be good at blocking the sun’s rays. It’s easy to buy one at local swimwear stores as they are now mass produced.

That was how I came across an interesting method for beach-goers to prevent their skin from getting sunburned. I believe that there could be a wider market for these masks because most of the swimmers, especially women, would love to spend as much time as possible on the beach without getting a serious tan. To me, it’s much easier and cooler to put on a mask than to put on lots of sun block cream.

That black dot called Venus

By David Gray

The alarm woke me at 6am so that I could catch the sun as it rose slowly above the buildings to the east. But this was no ordinary sunrise. This was the morning when the sun had a black dot slowly moving across it, and that black dot was the planet Venus.

SLIDESHOW: VENUS JOURNEYS ACROSS THE SUN

Photographing the ‘Transit of Venus’ as it is known, was something that I was not at all familiar with. For a start, the total time would be around 6 hours. This was extremely slow in comparison to the eclipses I had previously photographed, with ‘totality’ (when the moon completely covers the sun) lasting on each occasion just 11 and 90 seconds. These celestial events, of course, involved the sun and the moon, but this one amazingly would involve a planet. The difficulty of this was that the sun would remain at its normal brightness the entire time.

So, I figured this could be dealt with in two ways. As the transit began in Beijing at sunrise, it would be possible to photograph it just as it appeared above the horizon due mainly, believe it or not, to the pollution that blankets Beijing on any normal day. This would reduce the brightness of the sun enough to allow direct viewing and thus making a photograph possible without the need for any filters. So I awoke at 6am, walked onto my balcony, and to my surprise, could not even see the sun. The haze was so thick in the morning, that the sun was totally obscured. So I waited. 6.30am came and still nothing. 7am rolled on with the sky completely lit up but still with no sun visible. Then at 7.30am, I could just make out a small circle of red peeking through the grey. I grabbed my 400mm lens, added a 1.4x converter, and took some frames. At first I didn’t see anything, but when I magnified the image on the back of my camera, there it was, a black dot that was very obviously not the same as the 3 sun spots also visible.