It’s dawn in Xiapu county and sunrise over southeastern China is welcomed by dozens of clicking camera shutters.

Locals along this rather isolated stretch of coast in Fujian province have drawn their livelihood from the sea since ancient times.

In this photo taken on December 12, 2019, Chinese tourists take photos of the sunset from Dong An Island in Xiapu in China’s Fujian province. Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP.

But another thriving industry has emerged as steadily rising incomes put cameras and smartphones into the hands of countless Chinese.

Xiapu is a major attraction for budding Chinese photographers drawn to its striking imagery and a traditional way of life far removed from the skyscrapers and bustle of the country’s mega-cities.

The chief attraction is the coastal flats, alternately exposed and flooded by the ebb and flow of the tide, which wind around Xiapu’s maze of inlets, coves and promontories.

Seaweed production is perhaps the most visible industry, and the wide shimmering flats are marked by long graceful rows of bamboo seaweed-farming frames stretching into the distance.

Elsewhere, oddly geometric patterns emerge, created by sandbars whose winding ridges are gradually exposed by the tide.

Nearby, fishermen in conical hats toss billowing nets, while beached fishing boats lean on their sides until the water rises again.

The photography rush hour comes at dawn when the east-facing coastline is bathed in the golds and salmon-pinks of sunrise over the East China Sea.

“The people, scenery and food are all beautiful in Xiapu,” said Liu Hong, a 67-year-old retiree who travelled from distant northern China to capture Xiapu’s colours.

“I’m obsessed with the sunrise over the sea and the view of fishing boats dotting the horizon,” added Liu, standing on a hill overlooking hundreds of floating fish farms topped by wooden houses.

Local media said more than 400,000 professional and amateur photographers came to Xiapu in 2016, a figure expected to have grown since then, with the autumn seaweed harvest a particular draw.

The influx has triggered a tourism boom and resulting local government investment in the development of photographic vantage points and other infrastructure, as well as photo contests that receive tens of thousands of entries annually.

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