Asia is a vast and diverse continent. It’s the biggest continent on the planet – in terms of both land area and population – and it’s home to all manner of extremes.
The tallest mountains in the world? They, the Himalaya, are in Asia. The longest river through one country? That’s the Yangtze, in China. Countries with the highest populations? China again, followed by India.
All these things make it perhaps one of the most interesting continents we have. And the range of landforms from rainforests to snowy peaks, deserts to plains, island jungles to canyons and rivers, makes it the landscape photographer’s dream.
If you are interested in the variety of landscapes, places, sceneries, and people, no continent boasts such diversity.
And, obviously, for anyone who has ever seen any photos of the mountains of Nepal, the rivers of Vietnam, the snows of Siberia, or the deserts of Pakistan, you’ll know it to be exceptionally, exceptionally beautiful.
Given its size and diversity, we cannot for a moment cover all that Asia has to offer. But here we are offering some suggestions for the most budding landscape photographers among you. So, pick up your digital camera and your tripod, and let’s explore Asia.
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Try taking landscapes at night.
First, it was worth covering what exactly we mean by landscape photography. And this, given its own breadth and its lack of definition, is a bit of a question in itself.
You might think that the category of landscape photography is fairly self-explanatory: photos of a beautiful landscape, an interesting landscape, or a somehow inspiring landscape is sufficient. You’d be right, to an extent, but this isn’t really sufficient, no.
Because landscape photography overlaps quite significantly with nature photography. It involves wildlife photography and may include a human element. It overlaps with all different types of photography – from photos of the urban landscape to those of the natural landscape (however natural in can be), from a seascape to a cityscape. Street photography is even landscape photography.
We could say that landscape photography takes as its subject places, spaces, people, and things. And you can see that this is not necessarily the most helpful definition – including as it does portrait photography and studio photography.
Perhaps, in fact, that the only defining feature of landscape photography is that it needs to be outdoor photography. Again, this is not super helpful.
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This all-encompassing nature of landscape photography is due to the flabby notion of the term landscape – a word which doesn’t necessarily mean what we think it means.
From our knowledge of landscape photographs, we imagine beautiful landscapes as spaces usually without human mark. We imagine it as some sort of wild, unspoilt, and unknown natural space.
Yet, this isn’t really what landscape is. This pure ‘mother nature’ is rather a particular construction that will be remembered as defining, idiosyncratically, our particular moment in history. The man-made stuff is here, we say, whilst ‘nature’ – mountain peaks and wildflowers, etc – is over there, separate.
This is not, and it has never been, how it actually is. And whilst pictures of landscape reinforce this, ‘landscape’ as a term actually pays heed to the blurriness between man and nature.
‘Landscape’ comes from two Germanic words. ‘Land’ we think we know, yet originally it meant specifically a place to which people belong. Ireland being where the Irish belong. Meanwhile ‘scape’, deriving from a word meaning ‘to shape’, connotes a sense of our ability to work, transform, and sculpt the land. In neither of these terms is there a pure nature outside of our touch.
This point, really, is what makes landscape photography both so undefinably broad and so interesting. Because it attests to the imbrication of nature and man.
The beautiful Himalaya mountains
Given this, how can we say what makes a photograph good or not? When we look at a photo, what makes us think, ‘ah, this is beautiful’?
We’ll tell you something straight up – something you probably know already. It’s clearly not just the beauty of the landscape. We’ve been around the world with people taking photos and, for some people, even the most gorgeous thing can look terrible through their camera lens.
The thing about good photography is that it is a skill as much as drawing or painting. There are photography techniques, photography skills, and photography equipment that are fairly indispensable for a good photo. Because photography is not just pointing a camera at something and taking pictures.
Rather, you need a real understanding of depth of field, shutter speed, of natural light and white balance. You need a good compositional eye and an ability to use things like a wide angle lens and understand how to get the right long exposure. And a dexterity with image editing software helps.
Finally, beyond all the camera gear, one of the most important things you need is patience. You need to be able and willing to wait for exactly the right moment to get the shot you want. You need to be willing to stay in the same place, or return there, for the right conditions.
This perhaps is what turns a good photo into a great one.
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As we said, it is tricky to pick through the scenic highlights of Asia and whittle them down to a selection. Asia is just too big – and there are far too many stunning landscapes for that to even be a helpful task.
So, our advice really is to get scouting your own locations. As we said, landscape photography is not about the remoteness of the site, or the emptiness of the frame. Rather, it can be anything that you want it to be.
And the more unexpected, the more surprising, the better.
We find that some of the most enchanting, the most intoxicatingly beautiful images ever taken have come from Mongolia. It’s a mind-bogglingly barren place of expansive vastness, with snow-covered hills rising from endless plains.
Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, but we’re not sure anyone would argue with this one. Your camera will love it too.
The thing about Siberia is that it is yet to be fully explored. Two obvious reasons why this might be: it’s absolutely massive and it is freezing cold. And considering that it is very sparsely populated, it’s really quite hard to get around.
But this is to say nothing of its beauty, which is simply astonishing. Most people head to Lake Baikal but try something like the Altai Mountains and you’ll be blown away.
Back to civilisation. And the tea plantations of the world are testament to the artificiality, the human intervention, in natural landscapes.
These landforms are absolutely gorgeous, with their neat lines of vivid greenness on endlessly rolling hillsides. The most famous ones are in Hangzhou and Sichuan. Yet, you’ll find them all over the place.
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Tea plantations make for wonderful photos
Indonesia’s islands of Raja Ampat are a seriously special place. It’s part of the area with the highest biodiversity on the planet, but these fifteen hundred little islands are visually spectacular too.
It’s an exceptional panorama, with forested hillocks seeming to burst out of the sea.
The world’s largest mountain range doesn’t need any introduction really, does it? And we’ve all seen images of this spectacular, terrifying place.
From the green valleys of Kashmir through the rockiness of Ladakh, through the Uttarakhand to the lofty peaks of Nepal and southern China, these mountains break Asia in two.
And if you want truly unique mountain views, this is the only place to come.
The Andaman Islands are an absurdly beautiful archipelago that make up part of India. Known by wildlife photographers for the elephants that populate the beaches, these are an exceptional place for nature, forest terrain, and coastal views.
Central Asia has long been overlooked by western tourists. And, if anything, this only tells us how silly we can be.
Kazakhstan has some of the most marvellous landscapes in the world – from the Utah-esque Charyn Canyon to the strange colours of the Big Almaty Lake. You and your camera will find something really special there.
For a landscape that you’ll have never seen before, try China’s Wulingyuan Scenic Area, close to the city of Zhanjiajie.
Here, there are valleys populated by massive sandstone pillars that emerge from clouds of mist. There’s also the Tianqiashengkong, the world’s highest natural bridge, which hangs vertiginously over a four hundred metre drop.