I came across this reserve while scouting for new locations in Vietnam earlier this year. I was between tours. I had about five days in Hanoi when I finished co-leading the Digital Photo Mentor Vietnam tour before heading to Casablanca in Morocco.
Ninh Binh was an area in central Vietnam where I’d never been before. I knew there were some beautiful landscapes there. The idea of a day trip to explore resonated more and more when I was planning what to do during the downtime. I could’ve just rested and waited for Morocco, but that’s not me. Then a local operator offered me to take me there with one of their local guides, and I couldn’t resist.
It was a long day, but worth it despite the weather conditions. We departed Hanoi very early. The weather was not cooperating as it was raining from very early, but we pushed forward. You never know what conditions you’ll get, and sometimes adverse weather can also yield fantastic photos.
The Van Long Reserve in Ninh Binh was our first planned stop. We arrived there about two hours after we left Hanoi. The rain was easing up but still persistent. You know, those steadfast little drops that bother enough to complicate things. But there we were. The jetty is not far from the parking, so we walked there. The wooden boats are used by locals but also for tourists to wander around the reserve. At that time of the day and with these weather conditions, the place was empty.
The scene was astounding: a mountain range, water, old classic boats … what else can you ask for, right? I tried several compositions, but none of them worked for me. The rain made it worse, and it was frustrating. But walking around to find a shot that worked, just a few hundred meters away, I found some form of shelter. There it was—a small, covered structure close to the edge of the water where I was able to put away the gear, set up the tripod, and concentrate on the photo. I swapped the lens, mounted a wide-angle, and a couple of minutes later I made this photo.
The light was almost flat, but the clouds in the sky were moving fast, so I wanted to capture the movement. Because of the rain, there was a lot of reflection bouncing from the boats but the colors were popping.
The photo was made with the Fujifilm GFX50s mounted on a tripod, and the lens was the Fujinon GF 23mm F/4 R LM WR. On this format, the focal length of this lens is equivalent to 18mm in terms of full-frame cameras. I also used a set of NiSi filters. First I added a NiSi 2 Stop Medium Graduated ND to darken the sky. I also added a 3 Stop ND to get a long enough exposure to get some movement on the clouds and smooth the water. Lastly, I also added the circular polarizer to help eliminate reflections and get more contrast. Post-processing was entirely done in Lightroom.
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