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“Mount Hallelujah” created in movie Avatar has its origin from three famous Chinese mountain regions: Huangshan, Zhangjiajie and Guilin. The image I will talk about in this article was made from Huangshan.

Mount Hallelujah

Mount Hallelujah

About the Location

Huangshan (黄山), also called Yellow Mountains in English, is a mountain range in southern Anhui (安徽)Province. For thousands of years Huangshan has been one of the most famous Chinese mountain regions, becoming a symbolic icon for Chinese poetry and artwork, especially Chinese ink painting. Nowadays, with its rich culture origin and incredibly beautiful landscape scenery, Huangshan has attracted countless tourists and artists every year.

Regarding its landscape, Huangshan offers three unique features that are rarely seen altogether anywhere else in the world: the vigor of the Huangshan pine trees growing straight out of the rocks, unusual rock formations, and the Sea of Clouds.

Access to Huangshan is generally not so difficult, and going by train or by bus is the most common way to get there. However, people should note that Huangshan is a large mountain area, trekking in the mountains requires certain physical fitness, especially for photographers carrying heavy camera gears. The above map shows the main trekking paths and trails in the mountains.

There are a few decent hotels in the mountains, which provide great convenience for people who want to stay there for days.

Huangshan-Trekking-Map

Photography in Huangshan

I started exploring Huangshan for landscape photography in 2008. Since then I have been to Huangshan six times. Taking nice pictures of Huangshan is everyone’s desire. Nevertheless, making outstanding Huangshan images is definitely challenging – you will need a lot of things coming together at the right time in the right place.

Generally, it is not very hard to find a location in Huangshan with a good composition for shooting photos. Locations for sunrise and sunset shootings are usually different, although this is not always true. Keep in mind, however, that to be creative, one does need a lot of effort to explore Huangshan thoroughly. For instance, Xihai Grand Canyon (西海大峡谷, also called the Grand Canyon of West Sea in English) (see the above trekking map) is a huge area in Huangshan, and there are infinite photography opportunities inside the canyon once the light conditions are right. In English, Xihai means West Sea.

During my previous five visits, I was unlucky and did not witness any impressive sunrises or sunsets. Most of the times the weather was rainy, heavily foggy, or just cloudless and sunny without any interesting skyscape features.

In January 2013, I decided to visit Huangshan during the deep winter season, and stayed there for six days. I thought this would give me more opportunities to encounter some special weather conditions. Indeed, Huangshan’s winter was simply beautiful, snowfalls were frequent, and the scenery was very different from the other seasons.

The Picture

This photo was taken in the afternoon on 22 January 2013, in Cloud-dispelling Pavilion (排云楼), the entry of Xihai Grand Canyon. It was a cold and overcast afternoon, and there was no sign that any impressive light was going to appear during the sunset time. But I still decided to go out to shoot something. Cloud-dispelling Pavilion was my favorite location for afternoon shooting because it faced west and from there one could view the vast open field of Xihai Grand Canyon.

When I arrived at Cloud-dispelling Pavilion, two photographers from Hong Kong were already there, waiting for the sunset. I joined them and set up my tripod and camera with a composition that I felt comfortable with for the shot. Since Cloud-dispelling Pavilion was a classical shooting location for Xihai Grand Canyon sunset, most people would use a wide-angle lens to shoot. But this time, I decided to use my Canon telephoto lens 70-200mm f/2.8L IS to try a different perspective.

After waiting 40 minutes, we saw no sign of any impressive afternoon light, instead, a strong snowstorm came suddenly. It was increasingly windy and a lot of hard snowflakes hit our faces and cameras. The two Hong Kong photographers could not stand such snowstorm, they packed up quickly and left.

Indeed, it was a difficult moment. But I clearly saw that an incredibly beautiful scene of Xihai Grand Canyon was appearing before me. I just started to shoot without any hesitation. My shooting lasted about 30 minutes until the snowstorm gradually ceased. By the time I left Cloud-dispelling Pavilion, I knew I had captured some dramatic images of Huangshan that rarely seen before.

Processing

Processing this image was quite straightforward. I first opened the raw file in Camera Raw 6.7, made White Balance adjustment towards a bit more bluish because I felt this was consistent with what I saw in the reality. I also made minimal adjustment by increasing both Clarity and Vibrancy to 12. After finishing these adjustments, I then loaded this file into Photoshop CS5.

In Photoshop CS5, the most effective method I used for enhancing my images was TK Luminosity Mask technique, by which I could locally adjust the colors, contrast, brightness and details on different tones of pixels. For this image, I mainly focused on various areas with mid-tones, and used TK luminosity masks to extract more details and increase the contrasts of the left side mountain walls, then used Light tone mask to make those snow flakes pop up.
After these adjustments, I then increased the overall image Vibrance to 10 and Saturation to 12 (I never increased Saturation over 15).

I saved the image to psd format including all adjustment layers so that I could make improvement later easily if necessary. Depending on how to display the image in a final form, I usually used different methods to sharpen the image and produce jpeg file. For instance, to produce a web display image with the longest size of 1200 pixels, I usually used Unsharp Mask, with Amount of 140, Radius 5, then Fade Unsharp Mask to 85.

Outcome

I was very satisfactory with the final image. Since it was published on 1X, it has become one of my most popular images in my 1X gallery. It won 1X Curator’s Choice and was selected in 1X 2013 Yearbook Passion. More recently, this image has received “Highly commended mentions” in the category “mountain Landscape in the 24th Memorial Maria Lusia International Mountain and Nature Photography Competition.