Portal – Capturing Xingping, the Guilin Mountains that Reach Up to the Sky

As they say, there are three types of lies in this world: Lies, damned lies and… weather reports. If I’d actually paid attention to the forecast, I would never have witnessed (let alone photographed) this scene in Xingping, near Guilin in Southern china.

portal guilin xingping mountains Laozhai river li sunrise clouds storm rock formations paul reiffer professional landscape photographer china guangxi

Titled “portal”, this image represents a painful 3 days with almost no sleep – so maybe I’m too attached to it – but still, I do love that view.

While my inability to speak Mandarin can cause problems, luckily I have a few good friends here in Shanghai who are more than willing to help out in terms of getting to locations that I’m trying to capture. This would be one of those trips – my friend “ST” helped so much with all the arrangements and local guides/cars, it basically left me to just click away as we headed from viewpoint to viewpoint! :-)

Now of course, when you check the weather report on the morning of your flight to take photos, the last thing you want to see is what we got that day – 100% rain, all day, every day.

Do we cancel? No – as sometimes the forecasts are wrong. Checking with a few locals, it appears that during the early summer period Guilin (and Xingping, in Guangxi province) is always forecast rain simply due to the amount of moisture that sits permanently in the air. We boarded our flight and went for it.

rice fields guangxi guilin army military base farm houses green mountains paul reiffer china

Arriving in town, it seemed the weather was a little better than expected – with blue patches of sky every now and then too. That afternoon we headed south with our guide and his driver to get to the outskirts of the natural scenic area. I say “natural”, in fact the shot above is of a farm located inside a military base. Yes – we had to hide down low in the car as our guide (who knew them) persuaded them to grant us access. Cool though these mountains were, they weren’t quite what I had in mind when it came to sunrise or sunset shots over the huge monolithic rocks – we needed a different plan. What we didn’t realise until that point was that the “comfort” of the Shangri-La hotel in Guilin where we had booked was actually useless in terms of location when it comes to getting to the mountains in Xingping for sunrise. We would be checking out at 3:00am the next day and finding a new hotel. Ouch.

Guilin Xingping Laozhai Mountains Guanxi China Li River Sunrise iphone weather report paul reiffer photographer

Looking at the weather once again (well, why not?), it felt like this could be a complete waste of time as we set out in the car. Driving through wind, rain, fog, mist, the works – it didn’t get better. That is, until we started the mountain climb. What had been a view of nothing for the hour before had just delivered a small point of light in the sky: the moon. Well, if we can see the moon, that means there’s a clearing – things had started to look up :-)

Sadly, my days of standing in front of the camera are long gone, and so has my fitness level. I can tell you, when you stop at a car park in the middle of the night and your guide points up to the highest mountain you can just make out in the distance, the last words you want to hear are “we climb here”. Great. We started, we were alone, I figured at least the effort of carrying nearly 20kg of gear with me up that mountain would be worth it when we got to the top – surely we’d have the place to ourselves?

No.

Photographers Nine Horse Fresco Hill Scenic Spot Landscape Guilin Xingping Laozhai Mountains Guanxi China Li River Sunrise iphone mist dawn paul reiffer photographer

It seems the Guilin mountains are a magnet for photographers, year round. We were there before the sunrise, but these were people who had been there before sunset! Trying to find a space on this three-tier platform was beyond impossible, until one very kind man offered to squash his tripod a little smaller to make some room for me. It was still before sunrise, giving me time to get set up, and that one guy made a failed trip into a success with that single action – For that, I’ll always be grateful.

guilin xingping before dawn frosty mist fog china guangxi south mountains li river blue layers paul reiffer photographer landscape

Before dawn, the colours across the river are all washed out in blue. Off in the distance you could see layer after layer of huge mountain formations as they stand tall next to one another. The mist adding to the atmosphere, but also adding to the tension around as every photographer started to fear the worst: After all that effort, maybe the sun wouldn’t actually make an appearance.

portal guilin xingping mountains Laozhai river li sunrise clouds storm rock formations paul reiffer professional landscape photographer china guangxi

While it didn’t ever manage to make a full clearing, the shot I managed to get was good enough for me: “Portal”.

It was actually taken around 25-30 minutes after the official sunrise and a few photographers had already packed up and gone home disappointed. Given the fact we’d flown here, driven through the night, cancelled our hotel and climbed up the side of the mountain for (effectively) only this shot, I figured we may as well hang around – and I’m glad we did.

The colours of the valley change completely during the day – from cool blue, to brown misty air (I didn’t ask!) to warm oranges and reds in the evening as the sun breaks through on its way to the horizon – the whole time changing the look of the mountains. You need a neutral density grad filter to balance the brightness of the sky with the relative darkness down below, but wow, what a view to take in.

So with the morning shots done, it was time to hit the road – oh, and a little stop-off at a Chinese service station:

Chinese service station communal squat toilet channel

Lovely. Yes, that’s a huge channel running down the entire length of the (unisex) public squat-toilets. And if you’re at the end of the line, you guessed it, what a view you get beneath. Despite being assured that these were actually “good ones”, as (cough) “they have doors”, I decided to pass on this particular stop and wait until we got to our hotel. After all, it was a 3-star property in a scenic town.

hotel xingping guanxi china 3 star photographers river li guilin 3 star toilet shower tv iphoneBAD decision. If anyone thinks that travelling to take photos is glamorous, allow me to describe the three pictures above. 1) Our shared squat-toilet with shower facilities above it (ensuring that of course your feet could accidentally fall in as you washed). 2) Our TV from 1982, complete with the last guest’s bodily fluids splattered all over the screen. and 3) curtains which do nothing at night to block out the streetlight affixed to the side of the hotel. Great. Well (believe it or not), I’ve stayed in worse – at least there wasn’t blood on the sheets in this one – so we ventured into town.

Xingping is/was actually a small little fishing village – quaint, with transportation based around bamboo rafts and using traditional farming as a primary source of income. The problem is, that all changed when people realised the beauty of the scenery down here. Even the government loved it so much that they put a painting of the mountains on the 20 Yuan bank note.

So, what happens as a result? The place is over-run with tourists, plastic replica boats replace the traditional bamboo rafts, fishermen throw their nets over the water for RMB50 a go in front of groups of photographers (so when you see those “traditional” photos of the fisherman in a natural setting – remember, it’s not!) and hundreds of tour guides swarm around the place with annoying speakers piercing the quiet air for hours on end. We’d had enough after 10 minutes at the “scenic spot” and opted to explore the old down instead while looking for somewhere to eat.

xingping river li guilin guanxi restaurant town dog cat meat rabbit head donkey food chinese

Allow me to translate the above: That’s a menu for a restaurant that sells cat, dog, rabbit head and donkey meat – they’ll even put it on a pizza-type-thing if you want. Oh, how I missed the Shangri-La. Still, we were here for only two more shots: Sunset from the other bank of the river, and one more sunrise.

sunset guilin xingping mountains laozhai li river rocks formations paul reiffer photographer climb iphone

Back out to the countryside we headed – this time to trek through a damp forest on the way up to another vantage point. Thinking the morning hike was tough going, I was about to be taught a lesson: Daytime humidity (even when the sun is partially blocked by mist) is a killer. Yes, that’s my t-shirt in the picture above and it’s not rain that it’s covered in. :-( However, the view from up there was equally incredible:

sunset guilin xingping mountains Laozhai river li clouds storm rock formations paul reiffer professional landscape photographer china guangxi

In some ways, the persistence of the mist and cloud was disappointing – but as we were rapidly discovering, it’s a daily occurrence in Guilin; it’s very rare that you get a completely clear day. In fact, looking back at some of the images I took, many of them almost “need” the mist to portray the feeling of this region anyway.

Packed up for the night – the next day was going to be another 3:00am start, so back to our hotel room with the wooden beds and a useless curtain to sit up through the night before the car was ready again. I had a feeling we’d been too lucky with the weather already, but got a bit of a boost when the rain that had been going on all night started to clear on our way back up to the mountain. When we got there however, despite being clear enough to see the river below, something was wrong: a distinct lack of photographers.

xingping guilin mountains sunrise fog mist weather cloud no sun iphone early morning

I wonder if they use a different weather forecast (one that doesn’t lie!) to the one we had with us. Or whether the locals “just know”. Either way, they were right, we were wrong. Along with 4 other photographers up there, we each had plenty of space today – and even places to stay out of the rain that began as the sun finally rose. In fact, not one of us even bothered to put our cameras on the tripods we set up it was that certain we’d be seeing nothing. Spending a little time talking (through ST) with some of the other guys, it seems we’d been very lucky the day before – one of the photographers was there on their 4th week-long visit to try and capture the mountains with a break in the sky, each time returning home with nothing. :-(

Was it worth the visit? For my favourite shot of the trip – I’d say yes. “Portal” really is a cool picture when it’s printed big. So then I guess it just comes down to how you view good fortune when determining success. I’d stayed in a horrible hotel. I had been hiking up mountain sides in the middle of the night in 90% humidity in rain. I’d very nearly eaten a close relation to my family pet. All for just 2 or 3 shots that were “usable”.

But I’d still managed to leave Guilin with 2 or 3 more shots than others had managed. It seems I did better than most. ;-)

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Screaming from the rooftops – Shanghai at night

Polapan filter film Shanghai Elevated Freeways night cityscape light trails tomorrow square nine dragons intersection puxi from above paul reiffer professional landscape photographer china

Shanghai really is a city that needs to be seen from above to be appreciated. The problem is that getting up there in the more traditional way (in a helicopter) simply isn’t possible – so there is a growing movement of photographers who (ahem) “access” rooftops with key vantage points across the city. It’s not a risk-free process by any means, but when you get up there and can look down at the pace of things in the world down below, it’s one of the most peaceful situations I find myself in these days.

From this building, you can actually see the rooftop I was on for “Shanghai Calling” – an image I captured not long after moving to Shanghai at the Nine Dragons interchange. It’s also a good reminder, looking down on that building, that we’re 60 floors up on the roof with quite a bit of wind(!)

So what about the other views? Well, here’s a bit of a tour…

Shanghai Cityscape Nine Dragons Intersection Elevated Freeways Night City Paul Reiffer Professional Landscape Photographer

First we have that crazy intersection itself – the Nine Dragons Pillar interchange. This is where Shanghai’s elevated freeways meet in the heart of the city and at up to 18 stories high in certain sections. Not only does it look like, but it actually is, the central nervous system of the city’s road transportation network.

Looking more to the north, I could focus on Tomorrow Square and People’s Square Park with places like the Urban Planning Center still prominent in the scene. In the foreground, that elevated freeway as it heads from East to West and just above, residential compounds which have (so far) managed to keep the skyscraper-building-onslaught of developers at bay.

Tomorrow Square Shanghai Cityscape Night Lights Peoples Park Skyscrapers Paul Reiffer Photographer Landscape

Heading around to the other side of the rooftop, we got a fantastic view out to the East of the city and Pudong across the river. From here you can see the Oriental Pearl Tower, Jin Mao tower, SWFC and the Shanghai Tower in the shadows as it begins to look down over all other buildings – now the tallest structure on the skyline.

Shanghai Pudong City Skyline Cityscape Skyscrapers Jin Mao Tower SWFC Nanjing Road Peoples Square Park Paul Reiffer Landscape Photographer

You’ll notice from above, I’ve been experimenting with a new look for a select number of my new city shots. The originals of these images were obviously captured as normal with my iQ280, in colour.

The difference? I’ve added a Polapan blue filter to this photo which emulates the effect that you used to be able to cature using Polaroid’s instant slide film in the early 80′s. It’s monochromatic, rather than pure black and white, but the feel it gives to a city shot at night is really special.

Heartbeat Network Shanghai Elevated Freeways night cityscape light trails tomorrow square nine dragons intersection puxi from above paul reiffer professional landscape photographer china display

The shots above (left – “network” and right – “heartbeat”) show just how amazing the transport architecture is from up here in colour, but there’s something more “technical” about looking at the architecture in only one hue that I want to experiment more with in future. Granted, I absolutely love the colour versions of all of these images, and my focus will always be on producing colour photographs – but every now and then it’s good to see how different a night scene can look when you take away all the distraction of neon coloured signs and lighting hues.

To test the theory out, I took a shot “crown jewels” that was captured at night from the SWFC looking down over the Jin Mao and Oriental Pearl Towers, and applied the same feeling to it. While everything is about personal taste, I love how it’s come out :-)

SWFC Pudong Lujiazui View Oriental Pearl Tower Shanghai Cityscape Bund Night Lights Skyscrapers City Paul Reiffer Photographer Landscape

So, as the emails every week asking for specific location advice keep telling me, I guess I need to cover off the “rooftop” aspect in this post.

First thing’s first: Taking pictures from rooftops is not safe. Wind, water, trip hazards, getting locked up there (yes!) and efficient security guards all play a part in making the whole experience of finding a spot particularly difficult.

Second: There are very few “official” ways of getting to the top of some of the highest buildings in a city and so most photographs are taken with “unofficial access”.  That access may be in the form of “not getting caught”, “making a deal with a security guard” or “knowing someone who can help”, but at no time will any insurance ever cover you or your equipment if you choose to go down that route.

Third: Given the nature of that access, you’ll very rarely find a photographer who will publish an exact location online – so don’t be offended when they don’t offer it up! It’s not about preventing others from getting there, it’s about protecting the location from being locked-down. As a perfect example, the location of my “Over The Rainbow” shot looking out over the Nanpu Bridge has since had high fences and double-locks installed all around the upper levels of the building because of the number of people who later tried to get access without permission. This is what photographers are trying to avoid at all times – losing a location.

access rooftop shanghai building high iphone photography paul reiffer cityscape

So if you do manage to work out where an image is shot from, the best thing is to find a way to get there yourself and don’t shout too much about the specifics. And remember, when you’re up there, you’re on someone’s building with a responsibility not to break or damage anything to both the building owners as well as the poor people below should anything go wrong. Don’t interfere with lights (however frustrating they can be!) – they’re there to warn aircraft that may be flying too low and exist for a reason – and don’t, whatever you do, plan on taking a massive group up there!

giottos tripod hanging over edge 60th floor shanghai rooftop phase one iq280 645df+paul reiffer photographer iphone night cityscape

The location for the shots in this post was perfect and quiet until somebody decided to bring their entire extended family (with 3 small kids!) to come and see the view (and to the kids: play with the machinery).  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking a moral high ground on this one – but please, please, please people be sensible about the risks you take – for yourself and others.

One final thought: You’ve seen the results of the night shots – but we actually got up there for sunset. I still need to take a look at my memory card from earlier that evening before I choose the final shot, but let’s just say from my iPhone image below, it looked pretty spectacular from up there :-)

shanghai sunset iphone picture phase one giottos tripod camera panoramic behind the scenes high building rooftop paul reiffer photographer

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Huvafen Fushi’s 10th Birthday – Shooting the Team in the Maldives

Jetty Pier Water Front Welcome Team Thakaru Huvafen Fushi Maldives 10th Anniversary Staff Team Photos Shots Male Paul Reiffer Professional Commercial Photographer 2014

“Never work with children or animals”, they say.

Luckily, the discussion I had with Per Aquum about photographing a 10th birthday didn’t relate to either. Instead, we were shooting memories of the staff at their stunning Maldives resort – “Huvafen Fushi” ten years on from its original opening.

Jaleel Water Waiter Huvafen Fushi Maldives 10th Anniversary Staff Team Photos Shots Male Paul Reiffer Professional Commercial Photographer 2014

They have a lot to celebrate – 10 years ago when they opened, it was one of the most innovative resorts to be launched in the (now aspired to) Maldivian islands. Many of those concepts have been copied, but Huvafen Fushi still remains unique: In an traditionally high-turnover industry, I was photographing some of the original staff such as Jaleel, above, who have been there since before the doors even opened to the public.

Marc Gussing GM General Manager Warrior Water Half Portrait Huvafen Fushi Maldives 10th Anniversary Staff Team Photos Shots Male Paul Reiffer Professional Commercial Photographer 2014

Returning after a few years apart is also Marc Gussing – their new General Manager (above), who is overseeing the revamp of the island to make it even more special.

Now, thinking about hotel GMs, there are few that I know so willing to not only involve an entire team in a photographic memory of their resort 10 years on, but also to get directly involved themselves in a very public way. The problem with shooting in the island’s central infinity pool is, of course, that you attract a bit of an audience. Concentrating on keeping the water still, not breathing, not laughing and raising your head up onto the water line (while still maintaining a relaxed face) is no easy task – let alone when you’re performing for your guests who are watching all around! ;-)

So what else did we shoot? Well, pretty much every team on the island. Not all are shown here (there’s not enough room to put every one of the 40 shots up) but it’s safe to say they were all stars. From playing with pizza, to an army of angry chefs, to maintenance team wars to covering half the team in ice cold water – we did the lot.

Maintenance Team Chef Sous Jay Manager Salt Pool Water Tuna Fish Pizza Chef Huvafen Fushi Maldives 10th Anniversary Staff Team Photos Shots Male Paul Reiffer Professional Commercial Photographer 2014

Shoots like this really do make me happy. Remembering that not one of these guys has any modelling experience, to work with such a fantastic group of people who really wanted to get into it (and 10/10 to Yoosuf for managing to organise the guys so well!) was really an honour and we managed to produce something unique for every team.

Of course, shooting on a paradise island is another factor on the enjoyment level scale, but I can assure you that lugging my gear around all day plus lighting rigs, tripods, etc in 35 degrees and crazy humidity can be a challenge! That’s why it’s the people themselves that really do make “work” like this fun :-)

Transport Team Dhoni Boat Cruise Crew Huvafen Fushi Maldives 10th Anniversary Staff Team Photos Shots Male Paul Reiffer Professional Commercial Photographer 2014

What to do on a day when the weather isn’t so great? Storm clouds aren’t a good look for the Maldives - but weather, of course, happens – and we got some thrown into the mix on one of the days. I say “storm”, but in reality they tend to last an hour or two in the Maldives before clearing back to blue sky – so don’t worry! That said, we took the opportunity to take a shot of the transport team (which, in Huvafen Fushi, means boat crew) on top of one of the Dhoni cruise boats with a bit of atmosphere instead ;-)

Hamid Oceanpedia Water Wave Standing Crash Diver Huvafen Fushi Maldives 10th Anniversary Staff Team Photos Shots Male Paul Reiffer Professional Commercial Photographer 2014

Paul Reiffer Photographing Hamid Huvafen Fushi Water WavesAnother advantage of a weather system is that it brings waves – and Hamid, one of the divers and coral experts on the island, wanted a photograph with something different…

There is no editing “trick” to the photo above – he’s stood on a small retaining wall, with 2 large sand bags behind him. As the waves crashed in, the sand bags force them to the left and right and the wall then creates the massive splash on either side of him. Cool, eh? ;-)

I have to say, as the third time I’ve stepped foot on the island, managed by Per Aquum Resorts – each and every time I’ve been in awe at not just the way the team look after every single tiny thing you could imagine but also how genuinely beautiful Huvafen Fushi really is. It’s weird being somewhere so perfect but not “on vacation” (something I’m going to fix this summer!) but there’s no way in the world I could ever call a shoot like this “work”, it really was a pleasure capturing these guys as they celebrate the last 10 years and look forward to the next. :-)

Dream Beach Sunset Easel Art Huvafen Fushi Maldives 10th Anniversary Staff Team Photos Shots Male Paul Reiffer Professional Commercial Photographer 2014

Oh, and one final thing: Of course, there’s a golden rule in the Maldives – you should always try to end every day with a beautiful sunset ;-)

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New award winners – Px3 Paris, FIAP and RPC

Last week a few more shots got a little bit more recognition around the world as two competitions came to a close: The RPC – part of the Fédération International de l’Art Photographique (FIAP) 2014 and Prix De La Photographie Paris (Px3 2014). While not as well-known as other competitions, every now and then I submit a few images to “see how they do” around the world.

So it’s always a nice surprise when I get notification that a selection of them have won awards :-)

Across the two competitions, these three images managed to collect a total of 5 awards and one Honourable Mention (which is never quite as good, but hey… ;-) )

First up, “Horseshoe Bend”, shot in Page, Arizona – collecting a Silver award from Px3 and the FIAP Ribbon from the RPC:

Horseshoe Bend Px3 Silver Winner Paul Reiffer Photographer Prix De La Photographie Paris 2014 1st impression FIAP Ribbon Honourable Mention

“Horseshoe Bend” – print available to buy now

Next, “Over The Rainbow” collects the RPC Silver award in association with the FIAP:
Over The Rainbow 1st Impression FIAP Winner Federation Internationale de l art photographique 2014 Paul Reiffer Photographer RPC Silver

“Over The Rainbow” – print available to buy now

And finally, “Head Above Water”, shot in Palm Springs, California – collecting the Bronze award in Portraiture as well as the Silver award in Advertising and a Winner’s Honourable Mention from Px3:

Head Above Water Px3 Bronze Silver Winner Paul Reiffer Photographer Prix De La Photographie Paris 2014

Overall, I’d say I’m pretty happy with that bunch – now it’s time to reflect on why they didn’t quite make gold and what could be improved.

Coming up soon are the results from more well-known competitions – National Geographic Traveller, The Royal Photographic Society’s Print Competition, Kontinent Awards and the International Pano Awards – all delivering their results over the summer. Fingers crossed, and all that ;-)

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Auckland Revisited – From City to Coast

Auckland Hopetoun Road Spaghetti Junction Sky Tower Light Trails Traffic Freeway Night Cityscape Paul Reiffer Photographer Landscape Approaching the city of Auckland for the second time this year, I didn’t hold out much hope for a great set of images. Based on some of the weather “challenges” we’d encountered on the south island during this trip to New Zealand, despite being lucky with a few images it seemed that Auckland’s weather wasn’t set to be much better. Still, when you’ve travelled for 12 hours to get somewhere it would be rude to not even try and this would at least be an opportunity to get out and see more of the city than I did during my last visit in January. Auckland Night Skyline Cityscape Torpedo Bay Paul Reiffer Professional Landscape Photographer iQ280 Panoramic Lights Harbour Devonport As I discussed with the guys at Phase One for their cityscapes feature, sometimes the people you know in a city are as important as being in the city itself – and this would be no exception. Before setting out for the North Island, I got in touch with a great guy – Wayne Boardman, of 10-Stop Photography, who I’d been in contact with on-and-off on twitter for many months before. The photography community really is made up of genuinely helpful people (yes, there are obviously a few bad eggs, but in general it’s a great bunch!) – and getting tips from insiders in a city is something I now rely on.

iphone hopetoun street cars light trails photographing city auckland reifferSimple things such as the fact you need to go to Devonport in order to get a wide night-vista (as above) of the city skyline.

Or that Auckland has its very own “Spaghetti Junction” (of sorts!) as in the first picture – looking down from Hopetoun Street as you approach the city.

Or when the Sky Tower will light up in different colours at night (yes, there’s a schedule!) – and no, we didn’t manage to be there on one of those dates! :-(

And then, we come to the side of Auckland I had no idea about.

You see, I’m the first to admit that I wasn’t initially a fan of the place - we only spent 3 days there in January and despite heading across to Waiheke Island for a day and spending a lot of time looking around the quayside, the city itself just didn’t manage to “click” with me. This time was different: I knew my way around a lot better, had more time, and also access to Wayne. As a British ExPat, he had a few tips but also a hidden gem only a few miles from the city itself on the West Coast: Muriwai Beach.

Muriwai Beach Auckland Sunset Gannet Rock Colony Ocean Sea iPhone Camera 10stopphotography Reiffer

On the one hand, there was a slight disappointment – the huge Gannet colony that usually nests on the rocks below was missing (I guess it was a little cold!). On the other, the weather had given us a lucky break – the cloud which had swept in during the day now had breaks and the mist had gone, we were due a sunset that should be good. Wayne specialises in long-exposure shooting and actually runs workshops at Muriwai so we knew exactly where to go along with where and when the sun would drop over the horizon (remembering, in the Southern Hemisphere, it traces the opposite path across the sky!)

Muriwai Beach Sunset West Coast New Zealand Auckland Rocks Gannet Colony Red Blue Sky Ocean Water Sea Paul Reiffer Photographer Landscape Long Exposure Seascape

On this one, I got lucky. As you’ll see above in the shot from my iPhone, there was only a tiny break in the cloud that was long enough for a decent sun-flare and when doing long exposures (with a black frame following), there’s not much forgiving if you get the timing wrong. I also had to do a little improvisation as I forgot the blackout hood I use on my Cokin ND filters when attached to my 28mm lens (thanks to Phase One for the velcro soft-bags!). Still, as a coastal shot I’m pleased. It’s amazing to think that this stunning place and home to surfers was just a short drive from the bustling port city of Auckland.

And back to the city, and a very strange effect I discovered on my camera when shooting long exposures in the daytime. The next day, I headed back across to Devonport and more specifically, to Stanley Point Road where there is a view right out across the bay. Unfortunately, due to the traffic, I arrived about 20 minutes too late to get a pure city vista as Auckland had suddenly become its own tagline: “The City Of Sails”. What must have been over 100 sailing boats were passing through the harbour, causing an issue for the shot I had in mind.

So, in true “Plan B” style, it was time to experiment and an ND400 + ND8 stacked on my 75-150mm lens along with a 2 minute exposure at f/25 gave me this:

Auckland Skyline Cityscape Day Harbour Devonport City Paul Reiffer Photographer Landscape Professional Phase One iQ280 Stanley Bay Point

So why am I taken by this image? Well, for starters, it seems those sailing boats move fast enough to pass the whole frame in 2 minutes – leaving only light streaks as a blur of where they once were. More interestingly for me, however, was the effect the long exposure and small aperture had on the city in comparison to the flat water and moving sky. Click on the picture and take a look – it’s almost like I used a Tilt-Shift lens: I made Auckland look like a toy town!

Anyway… ;-) Moving on to Reiffer’s Final Thought. You’re in a city, wanting to explore, but also trying to get that different angle. Well, you could do worse than looking out of your hotel room window!

Sky Tower Auckland Night Moon Shot Angle Above City Paul Reiffer Photographer

Here’s a shot taken using a tripod, turning out all the lights and then standing there with dark jeans hanging behind the camera to knock out the reflections in the glass. All necessary things to pull off a shot from a hotel room window – but if ever there was an opportunity to get up-close to the Auckland Sky Tower without actually going up it, this would be it. This was also the second time I stayed at the Crowne Plaza in Auckland, and both times we’ve had a cool view of the tower itself. Of course, the moon coming out to say hi on the last night there was an added bonus, but that’s a shot I wasn’t planning to get. A bonus, I guess! ;-)

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The Whole Nine Yards – Cityscapes Case Study for Phase One

The homepage of Phase One looks a little different today, as their feature on my cityscape work appears as the headline story online. :-)

Phase One Homepage 9th July 2014 Paul Reiffer Professional Photographer Landscapes Cityscapes iQ280 645DF The Whole Nine Yards Hong Kong Shanghai London San Francisco

Backed by feeds on their Facebook page, galleries, email newsletters and more – this is quite some campaign to get the quality of cityscape images that can be achieved with the 645DF+ and iQ280 out there and known.

phase one cityscapes feature facebook page paul reiffer 9th july 2014 photographer landscape

A year on from my purchase of their top end Medium Format equipment, I’ve taken quite a collection of city shots – both day and night, as well as more traditional landscape scenes.

email newsletter phase one cityscapes whole nine yards paul reiffer

To say the quality is amazing really is an understatement, and the difference between what my Phase One camera and iQ280 DB can do compared to any DSLR out there on the market is beyond compare. With this in mind, I started working with the guys at Phase One a few months back to help provide some case studies – the first being on cityscapes. Not only to showcase what the camera can do, but also to demonstrate what it can sometimes take to get “the shot”. In the article, we go into detail about how a shoot in an unknown location can come about, the considerations before heading out with your equipment, along with some of the more unorthodox scenarios I’ve found myself in while capturing images of cities around the world.

Phase One Web Article July 9th 2014 Paul Reiffer Cityscapes The Whole Nine Yards iQ280 645DF_ Landscapes Photographer Professional

To be honest, while I knew it was being sent out as a newsletter and case study, I hadn’t quite expected the level of exposure the guys at Phase One provided. Across all media platforms, as well as featuring on their homepage – my hope is that more people get to see what this amazing equipment can do as well as (hopefully) enjoy some city images along the way! :-)

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That Tree – Shooting “Alone” at Lake Wanaka

Every now and then, I’m surprised by the reaction to a photograph which I didn’t think was that great when I actually took it. This image, “Alone”, taken at Lake Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island just outside of Queenstown, turned out to be one of those shots after I uploaded it onto a few social media platforms

Alone Lake Wanaka New Zealand Paul Reiffer Landscape That Tree Solo

Some trips just aren’t destined to go the way I had them planned in my head. Flying to New Zealand from Shanghai is pretty simple, a direct flight with Air New Zealand means you get to Auckland in time to watch the sunrise from the lounge, just before getting your quick flight down to Queenstown; all good so far! All good, that was, until we flew over the Southern Alps: They were missing something I needed for this trip - lots of snow.

Flying Over Southern Alps Air New Zealand Queenstown Auckland Paul Reiffer Photographer No Snow

Yes, there’s snow, but not lots of snow – and while we were maybe a little early on in the season – given the fact the ski resorts were due to open that weekend, I was surprised to see what appeared as the same amount of snow cover as we had seen in the summer when we visited in Janaury! The guys in Queenstown sadly informed us that while they’d had a big snow-storm 5-6 days prior, the past few days had pretty much wiped it all out and the temperature was set to be high for the duration of our trip.

This was a disaster; my plan had been to shoot around 5 snow scenes on the Southern Island. Helicopters had been booked; Milford Sound in the snow; Lake TeAnau with morning mist with snow-capped mountains in the background; Mt. Inspiring with a low sun creeping around from behind – they were all planned in, but I guess this was going to be one of those “Plan B weeks”…! :-(

So in true Plan B style, when we landed it was a case of “what DO we have to shoot instead?”. One place that I’d seen captured over and over again was nearby – Lake Wanaka, where a famous “lone tree” stands calmly on the edge.

Getting to Wanaka was rather ironically made easy by the lack of snow on the mountain pass. Arriving, it was clear that luck wasn’t on my side as usually the lake is at a level low enough for you to see the base of the tree and the mound of earth on which it sits. Further compounding my gloomy outlook was the fact that the lake was covered in a yellowish haze. (Not the yellowish haze that we get in Shanghai, thankfully!) but the moisture in the air was picking up on the yellow light of the sun as it began to set behind the mountains in the background. At first, I figured this was a lost cause – but moved around the shoreline to get different angles and clicked away regardless.

Photographing That Tree Lake Wanaka New Zealand Giottos Tripod Phase One 645DF iQ280 iPhone Picture

Getting a 60 second long exposure shot of a tree which is also a magnet for travelling birds is frustrating to say the least, but somehow I managed it on a couple of frames. Then, as the sun disappeared further the sky started to come alive, delivering deep pinks and blues across the few clouds that whistled past. On a normal day, this would have been a great shot in my mind, but given the disappointment I already had on day 1 of a week long trip, I have to admit I didn’t hold out much hope for the results. Still, I stayed to capture the scene from the beginning to the very last light…

…and I’m glad I did.

Lake Wanaka New Zealand Paul Reiffer Landscape That Tree Solo Moonlight Sunset

“Alone” may well be the only shot that I release as a limited edition from my trip to Wanaka. However, images like the one above where the moon appeared over that lone tree really were stunning to see with my own eyes as the light changed the entire scene minute by minute.

As is often the case, getting an image up on my screen after the shoot can show something different that I didn’t quite see before when looking purely at the back of the camera in the freezing cold. In the top image, the soft yellow tones caused by the early evening haze actually enhanced the photograph (in my view), creating a calm, serene, multi-layered scene, unlike anything I had planned to capture at this spot.

I guess you could call it my lucky break out of a seriously unlucky start to a photo trip…! ;-)

Posted in Equipment, Landscape, Photo Shoots Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Back at the W – Shooting the W Retreat Maldives

Arshad Welcome Jetty Seaplane W Logo Sign W Retreat Maldives Paul Reiffer Photographer Professional Commercial Hotels Resort

Welcome to the W Retreat Maldives – where one of the coolest hotel brands in the world meets paradise on earth. (As you can imagine, it’s a great combination!). Building on the shoots we did at the amazing W Retreat Koh Samui last year, I headed out to the Maldives to photograph the talent team there with the Starwood digital marketing team.

w Maldives Retreat Seaplane Arrival Journey Morning Lounge Island Private Jetty TMA Trans Maldivian iphone

w Maldives iphone panoramic island photographing paul reiffer professional photographerNow I’m not going to lie – paradise or not, the warning email I got about the 4am start to get the first seaplane down to the W Retreat wasn’t exactly welcome after 9 hours of flying to Malé the night before, but this really was a quick visit where every hour on the island counted. So, a mix of island shots and talent profiles were booked in – a quick shower and then straight out to work in 40 degrees and a billion % humidity (or so it felt!).

Still, when your “office” looks like this even on an iPhone, it’s hard for anyone to feel sorry for you…!

W Maldives Retreat rooms pool wow ocean haven iphone pool deck panoramic blue

Straight to work with some of the guys on the island, we get going on what would be a hell of a shot-list over 2.5 days. It’s weird, having an amazing room, private pool, beach access, outside bath and shower – and not once getting to see it in the daytime! Granted, I’ve not featured all of the guys on this post (just a really small selection) but it’s safe to say we didn’t have much time left after shooting each of their feature images!

The shot at the top of this post is of Arshad – one of the welcome team at the W Retreat Maldives. Many a guest has asked to have their photo taken by the huge iconic letter on the welcome jetty, so how to take something a little bit different? Simple – stand ON it ;-) (But please don’t try this at home. Or there, come to think of it!)

Away Spa Yoga Male Instructor W Retreat Maldives Paul Reiffer Photographer Professional Commercial Hotel Resort

Anyone for Yoga? Of course, if that’s not your forte and you’d rather just relax with a glass of wine – why not check out Audi, the sommelier on the island? When he’s not serving at the signature restaurant “Fire”, of course… (and no, this is not a photoshop trick!)

Somelier Audi Fire Flames W Retreat Maldives Paul Reiffer Photographer Professional Commercial Hotel Resort

This retreat is actually full of some amazing architecture and views – not least of which is the huge staircase above Wet, leading to the gym – where you’ll find Mark, the fitness instructor.

Mark Gym Fitness Sweat Instructor Boxing W Retreat Maldives Paul Reiffer Photographer Professional Commercial Hotel Resort

Or the sailboat-inspired “Sip” and “Fish” deck looking out over sunset, with the island’s own luxury yacht “Escape” in the background here – ready to take travellers to the retreat’s tiny private island further offshore:

Sip-Bar-Sunset-Escape-Boat-Deck-Yacht-W-Logo-Sign-W-Retreat-Maldives-Paul-Reiffer-Photographer-Professional-Commercial-Hotels-Resort

All too much? Well, just chill out at the stunning overwater spa instead ;-)

Away Spa Water Landscape Coral Reef W Retreat Maldives Paul Reiffer Photographer Professional Commercial Hotel Resort

Sunrise Yoga Deck Away Spa W Retreat Maldives Paul Reiffer Photographer Professional Commercial Hotel ResortWhile the place is incredible, it goes without saying that a 2.5 day shooting trip (after around 12 hours of flying each way) isn’t the best way to experience this paradise. Couple that with being up for two sunrises all they way through until late doing night shots, and you start to get the gist of how much hard work it can really be.

Can I complain? Of course not – I was shooting on a tropical island – and what an amazing island it is!

Any guest staying at the retreat is truly treated like royalty and it’s certainly one of the more “cool” islands (by style, not temperature!) in the area. Combine that with a great group of guys who run the place, and it really is a perfect setup for a vacation like no other.

While this isn’t a hotel review (by any stretch), hopefully you’ve got at least a flavour of how stunning the islands of the Maldives are and what a fantastic bunch of people the W Maldives staff are, as they make sure every part of your stay remains perfect…

(…or a little bit better than perfect if that’s at all possible ;-) )

Speaking of which – if you do ever need to know anything while on (or off) the island, this is the man to know: Chunky. W hotels and retreats have a special member of staff in certain destinations – and the Maldives is one of them. Chunky is the island’s “W Insider”; if you want to know anything, or for an inside take on what’s happening, just drop him a line – the guy’s a legend ;-)

W Retreat Maldives Chunky Insider Talent Staff Headshot Professional Paul Reiffer Photographer Commercial Hotel Photo

So on the basis of “every shoot is a learning opportunity” – what did I learn from this one?

Well… How about “while the Maldives is a stunning location to shoot, full of rich colours and crystal blue seas – it’s also a killer for an iQ280 camera sensor”? At 40 degrees C, that poor CCD struggles with long exposures to the point where I had to let it have a little rest one day. Still, there are worse places to have to take a break than on the top of a boat cruising around a tropical island… ;-)

w retreat maldives phase one photographing landscape talent photos profile boat sunset giottos tripod iphone Now for Reiffer’s final thought: three amazing inventions that ALL hotels should take onboard:

W Retreat Maldives water cooling feet tables lobster burger sweet spot diet coke iphone

  1. Dining tables in the water so your feet can cool off.
  2. Lobster burgers. YES, I said a lobster burger! (With avocado :-) )
  3. W’s signature retreat “sweet spots” full of ice-cream, water and diet coke – dotted all over the island :-)

Aaaaaand now back down to earth. :-(

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Oh my… Is that a Nikon 1 v3 camera sat on my table?!

Yup – that’s right, I’ve just spent some of my own money on a Nikon camera! Here is my latest toy: A Nikon 1 v3 compact system camera :-)

box nikon 1 v3 compact system camera paul reiffer photographer professional

Granted, it’s not quite the investment that my Canon 1D X or 5D III along with all the lenses were – and it’s certainly pocket change compared to the cost of all of my Phase One gear, but I felt the need to buy it anyway. So, why?

nikon 1 v3 comparison phase one iq280 645dfThe reasoning for owning a smaller camera is simple: My Phase One gear (with all lenses) weighs in at around 12kg on a good day. If I’m shooting for a commercial client, that’s no problem at all – and I happily carry it around all day on that basis. Then there’s my iPhone – my favourite camera in the world, simply because it’s always with me – but it’s going to be several more revisions before that tiny tiny tiny sensor gets good enough to blow images up to a decent size for display (or even on computer).

And there’s the gap: Sometimes, just sometimes, I want to have a camera with me that doesn’t weigh more than a small child, but does have the capability to take images which are at least possible to print at a reasonable size and also gives me manual control over the photograph that is eventually captured.

It’s a sad day, in some respects, where I now feel the need to confine both my Canon EOS M and PowerShot S120 to the storage boxes in the office – but this new toy filled a gap I’ve been dealing with for a while.

You see, the EOS M is a half-hearted attempt by Canon to get “in” on the mirrorless / compact DSLR market. By half-hearted, I mean the first edition had some challenges, and support for the system has been sporadic at best (it’s even been removed from sale in the US as of the time of writing). While I’m sure Canon will do great things in the future when it comes to their compact system offering, right now, the EOS M doesn’t cut it (and compared to the 100D etc. isn’t actually that much of a size saving either).

Then we have the Powershot S series – which I have been (and still am) a huge supporter of. I’ve owned the S90, S95, S100, S110 and now the S120 – ALL are great pocket cameras, with fantastic features. The problem is, their image quality isn’t quite good enough to properly compete with most compact systems. Its size is fantastic, but the 12MP sensor limits what you can do with the images and even though this would be (at best) an emergency option, it’s still nice to know you can do something with a shot you were lucky enough to take.

So when I saw the original Nikon 1 series a couple years back, I was interested – for two reasons: 1) Could this be the mini camera I’ve been looking for, and 2) Would the images be good enough?

On issue 1) – No. It was still (originally) quite bulky, and had more of a feel of a mini-DSLR than a handy “expert point-and-shoot”. And for 2) – maybe. But the first edition was not much better than my Canon Powershot S series. I saw friends buy into the system and in general it got good reviews. Then the v2 got released – marginally better, but still a little bulky. Then, a few months back, the v3 came onto the scene – so what changed?

nikon 1 v3 compact system camera paul reiffer photographer professional

Simple answer: Quite a lot, and for me, all in the right direction. It’s a small camera, so I wanted a real focus on that issue. Gone was the bulky viewfinder on the top of the v2 (yes, many people will miss it, but remember what this camera is for – it’s not a replacement for a full frame DSLR!) and instead they’ve introduced a touch-screen that can be flipped to any angle up or down. Gone, also, was the big hand grip on the side (which is now available as an add-on option). Updated is the kit 10-30mm PD lens (which at a 2.7x crop factor is a 27-81mm equivalent) with great results. New, was an 18.2MP sensor – and removed was the Anti-Aliasing filter, leading to crisp, sharp, detailed images at higher ISOs. Overall, I was sold.

So there it is – on my dining table, waiting to be played with. Good job I’m heading back to London next weekend to give it a quick try then I guess – and for the first time in years I won’t be carrying the weight of a small child around with me the entire time!

:-)

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Kuala Lumpur – Hospitality at the speed of light

I was asked last week, as part of a written interview, if I’d ever had to get out of my “comfort zone” in order to get the shot I wanted – the answer, of course, was “yes”, and many times over. The next question was, funnily enough, about how I approach a brand new city in terms of locations and what to shoot. So, what better than a live demonstration as answers to both questions on Friday night in Kuala Lumpur? ;-)

The output? This new release: “Velocity”:

Kuala Lumpur KLCC Petronas Towers Skyline Cityscape Night Light Trails City Roads Paul Reiffer Landscape Photography

A photograph I took while laying on the central reservation of a busy road with 5 lanes of traffic either side of me in a city I’d landed into less than 2.5 hours before.

So how did I get “here”?

This really is a story (and ultimately a photo) all about amazing hospitality and proof of how small the world really can be. A story that I’ll tell backwards, as I found myself at 1 o’clock in the morning in a roadside restaurant with Vic and 3 brand new friends from KL. One of the guys, Kamrul, had bought us dinner, and the five of us sat eating chicken & rice along with some fantastic Tom Yam soup. Together with Hafiz (who took the shots of me below) and Abd Halim Hadi, we sat discussing rooftops, cameras and travel; putting the world to rights as if we’d known each other for years. The truth is, I only knew them a little better than just an hour before…

Behind The Scenes Photographing Kuala Lumpur City At Night Skyline Cityscape Paul Reiffer

KL Towers Petronas Giottos Tripods Street Night Photography Behind The Scenes…when I was driven from this street by Kamrul.

I’ been lying down on the roadside to get the light-trail shot I wanted of the world famous Petronas Towers (the KLCC) for around 25 minutes.

The guys were also there taking photos, but more importantly they were keeping an eye out for any rogue cars likely to chop my head off – or the random taxi driver who kept wanting to be the start of the shot :-)

So, how did I get here?

Simple, they drove me from the top of the building we’d been stood on 45 minutes before to get the shot of the city skyline below.

All of us stood looking out over this Kuala Lumpur cityscape from the building as it displayed the perfect amount of light for me to capture the picture I wanted. It was a view that I’d been researching a few days beforehand, but had no idea where and how to get somewhere in order to shoot it.

Kuala Lumpur Skyline Cityscape Night Light Trails City Roads Paul Reiffer Landscape Photography

KL BTS rooftop shotOf course, we didn’t just teleport to this building, it’s well known to Kamrul and his friends, and therefore easy to get to from our hotel – where they had picked us up about 30 minutes beforehand…

…having dropped us there to check in and leave our bags. After all, they had just collected us from the airport at 9:30pm that evening.

And that, was the first time I met Kamrul and his friends. At 9:30pm outside Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Friday night.

So, why such disbelief on my part?

Well – the entire evening had been planned using Flickr and WhatsApp with Kamrul only a few days before I flew in. It all started with a simple “hi – cool sunset shot!” note on Flickr – it was from a location that I wanted to capture at night. Photographers tend to be really guarded with their locations, so I wasn’t expecting much of a response back – but he replied in hours with not only the location of the building, but alternatives and even an offer to take us there. Over the next few days, through back-and-forth discussions, we had a plan pulled together and Kamrul and his friends prepared for our arrival.

Now, side-note: Of course (note to everyone out there!), nobody should EVER meet a stranger without telling others where you’re going, who you’re meeting, their details and a time to “report in”, which I did.

That said, Kamrul (and from what I understand, as well as a large proportion of the Malaysian population) really is a superstar when it comes to looking after guests; I was truly speechless when we left them. Here we were at KL airport, and a guy I hardly knew had arrived to drive us for hours and hours out of his way, show me the spots I needed, treat us to dinner, and welcome us into his group of friends. I guess with all the bad stuff in the world, our cynicism forces us to forget that a lot of those in the world are happy, friendly, genuine people who simply want to help others.

Sadly I was in KL for less 24 hours this time – but even if I hadn’t got the shots I wanted, I’d come back here in a heartbeat just to explore the city along with the surrounding area with these guys again.

So – have I ever stepped out of my comfort zone to photograph a city that I really didn’t know that well? Yup – and I’d jump at the chance to do it again ;-)

Posted in Cityscape, Creative, Industry, Landscape, Life, Photo Shoots Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |