NYT | Guardians of Nature

0214 AJS NYT Dalat Farmers PES-765

A few months back I worked on a story with Mike Ives, a writer for The New York Times, about a Payments for Ecosystems program in the central Vietnam province of Lam Dong. It was a fun few days, and a great story as well. Who doesn’t like riding a motorbike through mountain passes and hills in the cool highlands of Southeast Asia? Read what is absolutely 100% more interesting than anything I could possibly say about the subject here: PES Vietnam.

0214 AJS NYT Dalat Farmers PES-810
0214 AJS NYT Dalat Farmers PES-197
0214 AJS NYT Dalat Farmers PES-413
0214 AJS NYT Dalat Farmers PES-980

Golfing at 1200m | Dalat, Vietnam

Dalat at 1200

I’ve been in Dalat, in the mountains of central Vietnam, working at an amazing new golf resort these past few days. I don’t play golf, but it’s been pretty amazing hanging out and taking photographs in such a beautiful locale. Makes me want to try and take up the sport. Or just ride around with the caddies and a few bottles of cold beer, gently passing through and enjoying the meticulously landscaped landscapes. We’ve been fighting against a typhoon trying to get the photos we need, which has been a challenge, but the weather’s cleared up often enough to get some images I’m really happy with. Here’s a small little selection. I love the saturation of colors after a heavy storm.

On Assignment | Vespa Shoot in Vietnam

Dalat is a beautiful town. It’s the City of Eternal Spring. Vietnam’s Little Paris. The Honeymoon Capital of the country. At times, its streets are literally spilling over with flowers. The air smells piney and fresh. Old French villas dot the landscape like so many crumbling sentinels. So it was no surprise that Piaggio chose the quaint mountain paradise for its new Vespa ad campaign. More surprising was that I was chosen as the photographer.

The Anatomy of an Ad Campaign

I’m lucky enough to work with a great agency and production house here in Vietnam, NOI Pictures, and they were instrumental in putting the shoot together and getting the campaign off the ground. We also worked closely with Phibious, a “creative-led communications company” based in Southeast Asia. They managed the project and were the major creative force for the entire campaign. All told, there were dozens of people from Piaggio, Phibious, and NOI Pictures working together for this ad shoot. I was but a small cog. You can see the final image above. But here’s a little bit about how we got there.

The initial concept called for a beautiful pier leading out into a large lake with mountains in the backdrop, the sun setting in the distance. On the pier, a motorbike (Vespa!) is parked next to a dancing couple. Her shoes are off. Simple enough. So I went to Dalat about a week before the shoot to scout locations. I found several lakes, and lots of mountains. But one thing I never found was a suitable pier. There was nothing that could even liberally be called a pier. And certainly never one that would have supported a motorbike and two dancing models. Not to mention lighting and camera equipment and Yours Truly.

I did find the perfect lake, with the perfect landscape. The only problem was that it didn’t have a pier. The sun even set perfectly behind it. Which was extra frustrating. Here’s a fisherman rowing his boat right across the perfect lake with the perfect landscape and the perfect sunset.

And now here is just one of the many reasons why I love Vietnam: with less than 36 hours before the shoot, we were able to decide that we should just go ahead and build a pier ourselves. Well, not ourselves. But hire people to do it for us. It was a Hail Mary. And yeah, fair enough, there were some questions as to how well our Hail Mary would pan out. Would the pier fall apart as soon as our models stepped onto it? Would I watch my camera sink to its shallow grave halfway through the shoot? Would the girl get splinters dancing with her shoes off? Would the bike make a comical creaking sound before breaking clean through the wooden boards into the water? Was it safe to run the electrical cords through the water for the lights? But in the end, it was still the best chance we had. So we got to building it.

And in the end, it worked. Really well, actually. The models–Brando and Chanel–were great, and the motorbike didn’t complain much either. No creaking boards. No falling photographer. No [big] splinters. No surprising electrical shocks from errant cords dipping into the water, either. But it did rain. So our beautiful sunset disappeared and our models had to huddle beneath tarps and umbrellas and pretend like they weren’t dancing in the middle of a monsoon. The final image still needed a lot of post-production, and it ended up being a very good thing that I had gone out to photograph some sunset landscapes in the same location a few nights prior to the shoot. I’d lose my Documentary Photographer membership card if they ever found out how many changes were made to get to the final image. So don’t tell.

Or do. I don’t care. I’m super proud of the final product, and I think NOI Pictures and Phibious smashed it out of the park. The campaign has already started to roll out on billboards and magazines across Vietnam. I’ve driven past several in Hanoi so far. So that’s what I’ll leave you with. I’m going to go enjoy the outdoors for a while. Maybe drive around on my Honda Super Cub.

Scenes from Dalat, Vietnam 01

I just spent the better half of two weeks in Dalat, in south-central Vietnam, working on a shoot for a big ad campaign. I can’t talk much about that until the images go live, but for now, here are some outtakes from one of the scouting trips. The top two photographs are from Tuyen Lam Lake, and the last is from some strange goldfish pond where everything was in a kind of constant feeding frenzy. Like goldfish are want to do.