You’ve seen the postcards, read the guidebook, seen some nice stuff online and now you imagine you can turn up at this far flung destination and shoot fantastic landscape photographs of it, but its never as easy as that is it?! Finding the locations in the first place is an often under-appreciated part of location photography, you’ve got to give yourself the time in a place to get to know it, and the time to get good light. On a trip I’ll often stay at locations I like for days at a time, its one reason why i don’t like to book my whole trip out in advance – there will be places I want to move on from quickly but others where I find myself staying longer than planned.
I was attracted to Vang Vieng in laos not for the tubing and dismal dining scene but for the beautiful Karst hills in the countryside around this town. Vang Vieng also formed a natural stopping point on our itinerary which began in the capital city of Vientiane and finished in the stunning UNESCO Heritage listed city of Luang Prabang.The Limestone Karst hills are synonymous with Asian landscapes and I’ve shot them previously in Khao Sok National Park, Thailand . However finding a shot to do them justice proved frustrating at first attempts, my natural instinct was to set something up with the river in foreground at the karst hills and sunset colours beyond but none of these shoots yielded what I was hoping for. I had to get to know the area, and to do so took a hot air balloon ride
A boat ride down the river
And whilst the town itself was nothing to write home about, it was a pleasure to ride out and explore the countryside around Vang Vieng, I was doing a mix of shooting commercial stock type images (such as the one above) and more personal landscape work.
During the course of our day trips I met this Buddhist monk and asked if I could take his photograph outside his small monastery. I would have liked to have caught his name but he didn’t speak any English and myself no Laos, but still we tried to communicate for a few minutes after the picture! Another of the wonderful smiles I’l remember this country for. I think it was the first portrait I’d shot in Laos so it was good to get off the mark.
Later that afternoon I was struck by the lighting on this landscape, I could see that the sun was slowly sinking behind the hill, and so by partially obscuring it I would be able to shoot into it without causing too much lens flare. Since getting hold of the Nikon D800E I’ve been amazed by its inherent dynamic range, its now possible to easilly shoot into the brightest light and still recover shadow detail, when I was cutting my teeth on Fuji Velvia 10 years ago this sort of shot was unthinkable and it meant a different way of shooting. This is a single raw file which I’ve exposed for the highlights and subsequently used Adobe lightroom to pull back the shadow areas of the landscape. You’ll see a lot more shots like this from this trip, I think I’m getting a bit obsessed with shooting into the light!
After my extensive explorations i finally got something I was happy with, on the final morning of our stay there, I’d seen these remote farm huts as rode through the countryside and returned before dawn to the area. I’d love to say I’d arrived here previously and used GPS to calculate the suns position the following morning, sunrise time, and been setup with a tripod ready, but that wasn’t the case. This was one of the shoots where I rode out without a specific shot in mind but knew the area was good, saw the sun starting to come up above the horizon and ran into the nearest field, seeing the hut and composing the shot as I moved. It was shot handheld, partly because there wasn’t time to setup but also with these type of shots with the sun moving into a specific part of the frame I usually find it easier handheld. It is always worth heading out early in the morning, even if you don’t know where you’re going or what you’ll shoot, I find it easier when I’m away on a trip because I’ve invested to come to the other side of the world, and when will I be here again? I should get out more when I’m back home in London or Dorset.
Hope you enjoyed seeing what I go up to earlier this month in laos, it s a first for me to be posting work as I travel but I’ll be making an effort to do more of this in the future, let me know what you think (and if you read this far) in the comments below.
PS If you click on the image you should be able to find the shot information..