The Mysterious Chinese Woodwind

Waiting for the Sunset in Atlanta

High Dynamic Range PhotoWhen I was in Atlanta last year, I set up on the top floor of the W Hotel for a sunset shot. I was there with my friend Scott Kublin. So much of taking photos is just patience… in this case, I laid down for a bit to think about things. I didn’t realize it until just yesterday — but Scott took this photo of me! Anyway, I thought it came out kind of nice… and it shows that most of what I do is not really as exciting as it might seem.

And guess what? The sunset was really boring, so I never got a good photo. These things happen quite a bit… But I never have a photo to show of it… the absence of a photo is not a photo that is worth sharing…

HDR Camera Recs

I updated my camera recommendations page with the old good/better/best categorization. I’m sure not everyone agrees, but that’s okay! I could easily describe 10 different Nikon models, but that gets a little overwhelming for new people that are just getting into the sport.

But about that “Entry Level” option. Maybe you can make a case for a better one? I want to recommend something VERY inexpensive that can do bracketed JPEGs. Not everyone can afford $900+ for the better DSLRs, but they really want to make bracketed photos for HDR.

The Mysterious Chinese Woodwind

In one of the older areas of Beijing, I visited several different operas. Luckily, my team on the ground there was able to talk to the management to make sure I could walk around anywhere during the performance to find interesting things. I saw this woman playing this most unusual instrument, so I stayed in her area for a while until the light was right.

This opera had some very unusual instruments, and I heard sounds that were completely foreign to me. They say that these instruments and styles have been handed down over centuries, and I suppose that is why they sound so unique.

There’s one sound in particular, not made from the instrument, that I can’t ever forget. It sounds vaguely, forgive me, like a large metal mixing bowl, 1/3 full of water, that is struck with another, empty metal bowl. It’s a jarring but mystical sound… maybe you know the instrument I am talking about? Or maybe you recognize the one from this photo?

Edit: Smart Commenters below point out it is called a “The Chinese sheng” (Chinese: ?; Pinyin sh?ng).

High Dynamic Range Photo

  • Cool shot Trey! I love these behind-the-camera views showing the composition… I have quite a collection due for upload shortly. Recently uploaded a new HDR taken way back in October, bit of an interesting twist in my description, haha…

  • casusan

    Super capture Trey…..I have no idea what that instrumentis – loved the story though! and ps it’s good to see you ‘rest’ sometimes!

  • Shuang
  • Two great shots today – Scott’s is really really cool.

    I have a few recommendations for entry level cameras that will do HDR. My first one would be my current camera – the Canon EOS 1000D which has proven to be very competitive indeed. I’m not into the whole NIKON vs CANON battle which is just a bit ridiculous for my liking but the ONLY reason I opted for this one was because (from what I could see) the lowest price NIKON DSLR did not do autobracketing. Here’s some of my HDR’s using the Canon EOS 1000D :-

    I also started out using the Fujifilm FinePix S5600 bridge cameras which had all the basic attributes that allowed me to do HDR such as autobracketing and RAW mode. The only thing that made me switch to my Canon was that It couldn’t do continuous shooting in RAW mode. In fairness that was a model I bought in 2007 so the new ones are probably much better and can still be picked up for around Β£150 which is great – The Fujifilm HS-10 looks pretty mean. They would definitely suit someone testing photography out for the first time. Although crude compared to versatile DSLR’s I managed to get some great results from my Fujifilm camera to which I dedicated the album below when I ‘retired’ it :-

  • Simon Morris

    Great shot that Scott Kublin took… that magic green cube may be small, but it certainly takes centre stage for this particular frame πŸ™‚
    I’ll take a guess at the mystical instrument you’re describing… it’s a vuvuzela? πŸ˜‰

  • Vicki Wilson

    Awesome photo, love this! The instrument is called a Sheng (reed organ). I would love to hear the music, how fun to have been there!

  • Gail in Montana

    Neat photos, Trey. It is good to see you resting. Great job, Scott!! Thanks, Vicki, for identifying the instrument! It is a very interesting reed organ. I would love to hear the sound. Thanks Trey, for sharing the photos! OK, Simon, what is a vuvuzela, lol. Have a great day, everyone. πŸ™‚

  • Thanks all!

    Shuang and Vicki – yes it is a Sheng – thanks!

  • I know what you mean about patience. In my case, I try to setup about an hour before sunset. I’ll snap a lot of brackets, but I know they usually aren’t going to be the ones I use. I’m just waiting for the light. It also gives me time to consider what angles or perspectives I want to shoot, how I want to compose the shot. Usually, it doesn’t change that much, but some scenes offer a few good options.

    The downside of waiting for the light is that I always seem to be sitting on a rock. Someone should provide more comfortable seating at these lovely sunrise/sunset scenes around the world.

  • Tom

    Re cheap HDR recommendations: I was able to eBay a used Nikon D80 with the 18 – 55 f/3.5 – 5.6 about six months ago for $415, delivered. I think I got a fair but not fantastic deal. If I were you I’d recommend people focus on used SLRs rather than cheaper point and shoots. I’m getting used to all the functionality, and I’ve already added one lens that I can use if I upgrade to the D7000 body.

  • When I switched over from Pentax to Nikon I realized that Nikon had no bracketing option on their entry level cameras. Until I was able to upgrade to a model offering this function (D200, and recently D7000), I relied on shooting RAW and treating those in Photoshop to create over and under exposed shots.
    The entry level Pentax I had was the K100D I believe. I would think that this would be an option that they still offer in their entry levels.

  • Jeremy

    Get the Canon T2i with the 17-40L and you will be in HDR heaven. πŸ˜‰

  • Geez … just laying down to “think about things” … I never last that long to even get to the THINK PART … Im gone …
    Say goodbye to the SUNSET SHOT ….

  • Trey may have been “thinking about things”, but he was definitely thinking about them while sleeping. Had the sunset turned into something spectacular, I would have been sure to wake him up. πŸ™‚

  • Sharon

    Thoughts on Nikon D300S vs. the Nikon D7000? The D7000 can do 3 autobracketed shots, whereas the D300S can do either 5 or 7, I forget which. How important is that?

  • Sharon, to me this is Very important. I have the D70 and it only does 3 autobracketed shots the problem is that if you want 5 you have to do the autobracketing twice. Once at -2 and one at-1 to get six photos, two being the same at a 0. the in lightroom you have to find out what two are the same shots, this is is easy to figure out but a pain in the butt to do lol. Well I hope all that makes since.

  • Good idea, Matthew. I have a Canon 7D and it only does 3 autobracket shots, that seems like an easier way to do 5 than to take one, change the exposure time, take another, change the exposure time… ugh.

  • Kelley, I have a Canon 7D and rarely have to take 5 exposures. In fact, the only time it’s really necessary is when shooting directly into the sun. To further clarify what Matthew stated, you can set your 7D to step by one and begin at -2. The 3 shots this produces will be -2, -1, 0. Then, very carefully, slide the dial on your camera so that your AEB now begins at 0. The 3 shots this produces will be 0, +1, +2. Since you have now taken a total of 6 shots, with two of them being “0”, simply discard one of the “0’s”.

  • Bob Halloran


    Most of the Canon Powershot’s can get support for bracketing and RAW mode using the CHDK re-flash ( ; I realize this involves some technical work in overwriting the stock firmware (which is NOT destroyed), but it potentially gives a VERY low entry-point for HDR work.

  • Rick Potts

    Great shot. Years ago the Chinese National Traditional Orchestra came to our church during their first tour outside of China. They wanted to hear our gospel choir. We laughed at mass because half of them ran around snapping about a thousand pictures. They left me a couple of CD’s which I love. I am fascinated by the sound of some of those instruments (not to mention their appearance). Your description rings a bell…hmmmm?

Newsletter Sign Up

The most beautiful newsletter ever!