When I first travelled to Jiuzhaigou Valley National Park in central China, a few years ago, I had no idea that the trip would be as tumultuous as it was.

Travelling from Chengdu, in Sichuan province, to  Jiuzhaigou, was supposedly an eight hour journey, but ended up becoming a very uncomfortable, fifteen hour bus ride.

Firstly, most of our journey to the park including bumper to bumper traffic, so getting there within the projected eight hours was impossible, especially given the geography of the mountainous regions that we were traversing.

Secondly, I was sitting in close proximity to an old Chinese man who had urinated himself at the beginning of our trip, and the smell was unbearable. Fortunately, his trip ended prior to ours, about halfway to the national park.


Thirdly, when we weren’t experiencing bumper to bumper traffic, our driver would speed with little consideration of the fact that we were in a bus, on icy roads, traveling through steep mountains, with incredibly sharp turns.

I have taken many risks throughout my life, and the bus ride that I experienced to Jiuzhaigou was one of the most fear-inducing ones,

When I wasn’t envisioning our bus careening off of the side of a mountain, I was comforted by the few English speaking friends that I made, including a nice lady from Switzerland, some Japanese tourists, and my Brazilian friend, Gabriel.

Once we arrived at the park grounds, it was late at night, and incredibly cold — surely, just as cold as any winter that I had experienced in Quebec or Ontario.

When I first entered my hostel’s room, it was well below 0 degrees celsius, and it took quite a bit of time to heat up, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was the equivalent of a very nice, Western hotel room, with beautiful marble floors and elegant, wooden light fixtures.


The next morning, after breakfast, I resolved to explore as much of the park as I possibly could, especially after barely surviving the journey there.

When I first arrived at the area of the park that was accessible by foot, I was both intrigued and disappointed. I was intrigued by the vastness of the park, and the beauty of the nature around me, but I was disappointed by the sheer number of Chinese tourists that were there, and by the commercialization of the area. A few years before my trip to China, the government allowed Chinese citizens to freely leave their provinces, to explore other parts of China (for the first time in decades).

Prior to traveling to Jiuzhaigou, I imagined that most parts of the park would be accessible by foot, and that I would be able to go explore the area in solitude.  However, myself and the hundreds of Chinese tourists had to stay within the confines of designated areas, in close proximity of one another.

Furthermore, Jiuzhaigou is ancient Tibetan land, and yet I encountered no Tibetans, and was instead greeted by Han descendants that were dressed in traditional Tibetan clothing.


Overall, I enjoyed the scenic beauty of Jiuzhaigou Valley National Park, I loved the greenish-blue waters of its lakes and waterfalls, and I appreciated its fresh air, in contrast to the smog that I had experienced in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu.

After losing my smartphone in Shanghai, I strictly used an SLR camera while shooting in Jiuzhaigou. However, I have been experimenting quite a bit with my smartphone recently, especially while shooting landscapes in the middle east.

Before the world became accustomed to mobile apps and smartphones, I learned about the best angles, lighting, and shutter speeds through photography courses, through mentors, through shooting as much as possible, and by developing film in a darkroom.

Today’s market of mobile apps and games is huge, and it will continuously have an impact on smartphone users who rely on their devices for lifestyle improvements, such as photographers aiming to maximize the capacities of their cameras, photographers that strictly want to shoot with their smartphone(s), or photographers that love shooting with smartphones and SLRs equally.

If landscape photography is your area of expertise, or simply if it’s something that you would like to experiment with, some apps that I appreciate are Photoshop Express, and VSCO.


Some other apps that you may be interested in leveraging are Triggertrap, Sun Surveyor Lite, and Photools.

Initially a Kickstarter Project back in 2011, users have discovered that Triggertrap is a cleverly designed product, transforming your smartphone into a control activation unit for the shutter on your DSLR. A dongle and an adapter are necessary to get the app to fully function. It’s compatible with over 300 models of DSLRs, but make sure to purchase the appropriate adapter for your camera model. Steven Sande further describes the functions and features of shutter adjustments on this mobile app.

Sun Surveyor Lite is one of the few apps that uses photography scouting, as it can be used for architecture, gardening, real estate, solar panel positioning, and “Earth Science geekery”, as explained by App Crawlr. Sun Surveyor Lite helps the landscape photographer to visualise and plan according to the exposure of sunlight. The 3D compass also estimates the times and positions of the sunrise and sunset, which will then help determine the best time and angle to shoot a particular location. Just as the mobile app allows you to envisage the sun’s path, it also reveals the sun-shadow ratio and projection, to give you an idea of the shadow cast.

Photools is specifically tailored to both professional and amateur photographers that aim to gain better control and make the most out of their professional camera equipment. In addition to the predictions of the sunrise and sunset time for the respective locations, it also estimates the projection of the moon. Other features on Photools are the light meter, colour wheel, timer, flash exposure calculator, exposure reciprocation calculator, angle of view calculator, and a few other useful applications.

All three apps are available for download on iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

a j a n i photography: digital image solutions