Photographer Pham Huy Trung Talks Capturing Vietnam’s Beauty From Above

“A photographer must eat and sleep their work, especially landscape photographers like me,” Pham Huy Trung tells us with a broad smile. His impressive body of work presents Vietnam in a captivating and often unusual light. “Staying up all night to shoot that one magic moment has become normal…” the award-winning photographer whose work has been featured by National Geographic begins.

Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt

The first surprise is that Pham Huy Trung comes from a telecommunications background. He graduated from the Department of Electronics and Telecommunications of Hanoi University of Science and Technology in 2002. But fourteen years later he discovered his passion for photography

Since 2016 the “glamorous” world of photography has been taking over his downtime. First with a Nikon D7200 in hand, and more recently a drone “and lots of spare batteries”, he’s built a compelling body of work travelling throughout Vietnam that celebrates the country’s natural diversity. He’s also managed to capture scenes in unusual ways, from unexpected angles, often from high above (thanks to that drone).

“A photographer must eat and sleep their work, especially landscape photographers like me.” – Pham Huy Trung

“Never before would I have thought I’d be regularly waking up before dawn, climbing mountains, having these adventures…” he continues. Like the time he spent a week staying up all night in Thu Thiem just to capture the first drop of morning dew across the river from Saigon’s CBD. He laughs at the memory: “But it’s worth it! It’s my passion that’s taken me many places and, in doing so, I’ve discovered that Vietnam is more beautiful than I imagined. And there are still many undiscovered treasures out there.”

Natural beauty is everywhere, he reminds us. But five areas stand out: Ha Giang, Hue, Quang Nam, Da Lat and the Mekong Delta. “Ha Giang with challenging passages and villages of ethnic minorities reached by climbing up cliffs. It’s especially beautiful during peach blossom season right after Tet…so is the season when the rice is almost ready to harvest in Hoang Su Phi.”

“And Quang Nam is a land of heritage that’s focussed on the dreamy Old Town of Hoi An. It’s perfect for photographers,” he smiles, “and then Hue is so elegant and calm, and the lives of the people on Tam Giang lagoon is really another treasure of photography that any camera enthusiastically can explore.”

Pham Huy Trung first used a Nikon D7200 but now takes a drone on his travels “and lots of batteries”.

“Dalat is a city of dew and cold. Hunting the mist in Da Lat is really arduous, but in return you can catch the moment in the evening when the whole city is engulfed in mist as you look down from Lang Biang Mountain. It’s extremely satisfying.”

“And then there’s the river life lived by the people in the Mekong Delta. It’s another really interesting side of Vietnam. Although beautiful all year round, the new flood season is a great time to see the richness of life there. Just ordinary things such as fishing, ducks paddling by, and cattle adapting to the flooding. All those images are somehow familiar, but they’re also unique. I know this because they’ve attracted positive comments from friends from five continents.” 

“Staying up all night to shoot that one magic moment has become normal…”

Using his drone helps to capture these scenes from unexpected angles, revealing new details. “In my gear now, I only need to have my drone…and lots of spare battery charger.” He’s also developed strategies to help capture those magic moments. “For example, the weather is very important before each trip,” he asserts. “It will determine whether your project is successful or not. Factors like the sun, the wind, the dew are always things that need to be taken into account to get the best image.” 

Already with such a strong body of work, we wondered which of his own images Pham Huy Trung loves the most. He selected three for our new series on photographers capturing Vietnam from unique angles. 

#1 In The Middle Of The Melaleuca Forest

First up, Pham Huy Trung chooses this image of a saline forest in Dong Thap as the trees began to turn dry and white. “I drove from Saigon in the middle of the night and arrived near dawn, waited for the sun to come up, and took the picture of this woman rowing through the wild grass in this forest. After shooting, he returned to Saigon straight after completing “a lightning trip”.

“In The Middle Of The Melaleuca Forest” the image that earned him his first awards.

The effort paid off. At the Sony Photography Awards 2018 Pham Huy Trung won first prize in the national category. For winning, he got to attend the awards ceremony in London, as well as participating in a photo expedition organised by Sony. “That trip was very interesting and memorable,” he nods proudly. Added to that the photo went on to claim an Honorable Mention Award at the Siena Photography Awards 2018. And he showed it at the Vietnam Artistic Photo Exhibition that same year.

#2 Flowers On The Sea

The next image might be Pham Huy Trung’s most visually arresting photograph. “Flowers on the sea” depicts a fisherman fishing for anchovies in the waters of Hon Yen in Phu Yen province at dusk. It took a week of searching “every afternoon and morning, going to Hon Yen to wait for the boat to go out while I prepared myself to take photos…”

“Using the drone to shoot from above, the net transforms into a swirling, blossoming flower.”

“And the green net is set against the vastness of the sea…” he smiles. “Flowers on the sea” again won Trung attention when it was named on the list of 15 best photos in the Travel category at the Sony Awards 2019. It also won a second national prize in Vietnam. 

#3 The Village Of The Lobster Farmers

The final image Pham Huy Trung has chosen is like an abstract painting. “There are these cages used for the lobster hatchery that have this abstract quality,” the photographer explains. 

Lobster farmers in Tuy Hoa rendered like an abstract painting.

“This picture is special because it marks the first time I participated in a major international award in 2017, the DJI Skypixel Award for drone photographers. The photo that won the first prize in the landscape category for amateur photographers.”

It was another image that took lots of effort to create. “The process of taking this photo is also a pretty memorable. I took a very early flight, at 5am, from Saigon to Tuy Hoa, and I had only 30 minutes to get the shot before going back to Saigon for an appointment with a customer. A lot can happen in 30 minutes…”

Photos of Pham Huy Trung by Khooa Nguyen.

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