Group tours and packaged activities are a way of life here in China. Why hike on your own in the mountains when you can sign up for a tour with a hundred other hikers and get a guide to give you commentary of the local scenery right? Why not a group photo event with models and tacky props too?

My friend Mark, a professor at Tsinghua University and amateur prosumer photographer, called me to invite me to a group model shoot in a local park.

"Just bring your D70 camera and pay 30 yuan to the organizer and snap away.  He hired 3 models for the day to be the subjects"

Wow, 30 yuan comes out to about USD 3.65 and I can take pictures of models all day. You can't beat that.

After arriving late at this small but popular park (all the wedding photographers use this site for their portrait background due to the number of tacky fake western style statues and architecture - including a fake piano -littering the park). We discovered that ours was only one of 4-5 photo tours and 6-7 wedding photographers and a few CosPlayers as well.

Mark recently finished a photography course that consisted of teaching people how to take wedding pictures and the ever popular Asian "glam" shot which all women and some men have at home. Picture your high school photographs with flowers and dramatic poses and this is the type of photograpy that is popular in China.

I invited my girlfriend to come along and to use my small little Lumix point and shoot TZ1camera (very good and almost as powerful as large cameras at 80% less weight) while I use the Nikon D70 digital SLR (which looks professional at an amateur level budget).

"I can't use that camera...its too small. I have pride you know, I'll pass, " she said.

She was right, almost everyone there had digital SLRs with lenses that were at time 2 -3 times more expensive than the camera itself.

Mark commented on one photographer, " He's carrying a USD 500 D50 but he has a Telephoto lens that cost USD 2000. He probably borrowed the lens."

Istill took the TZ1 with me for wide angle shots but I did receive some curious looks by the other photographers for having a point and click consumer device at a "serious" photo event..anyway, I slung the D70 for credibility to demonstrate that I was still one of the "boys".

The models themselves were pretty young women who were local office ladies or students who do this for part time work. All they needed to do was to follow some general directions from the 30 or so photographers such as look left, move your arm this way, pretend you see your boyfriend bla blah blah and just look pretty. Very much like booth babes at video game conferences and autoshows the crowd were divided between the "birds" and the "nerds". I'm not sure if the models were even paid but they do get copies or links to their semi-professsional pictures for their portfolio from the photographers...some of whom should be very good considering that the equipment being used were top shelf.

Although we had 3 models of our own, more often we would run into other groups (koreans, chinese, etc)  in the park with their own models and take pictures of theirs and they would take pictures of ours. Our group would take pictures of ANYONE in the park who looked like they were worth taking pictures of.

At the end of the day, all the groups converged into one photo feeding frenzy as groups took pictures of everyone and everything in the line of fire. Our models posed with their models and we posed them near walls, bushes statues and whatever. Its almost an  unspoken understanding that all subjects were fair game o no one bothered to ask if it was alright to take a picture of them anyway.

Everyone seemed to have a good time and the event had a feel of a good LAN party as the brotherhood of geek photographers came away with pictures, training and some e-mails of pretty models.

Come see my extreme unfocused close up Flickr Photos of the shoot  here 

-Frank Yu