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Chasing Phenomena

Soft, amber rays peak over the horizon and an ethereal glow illuminates the sky. As golden light splashes across the water, turquoise icebergs glisten as the darkness of the night surrenders to the dawn of a new day.

This is sunrise over Lake Baikal; an ancient lake located in the mountainous regions of southern Siberia. For landscape photographer Nutthavood Punpeng, moments like this are the reasons why he wakes up in the morning.  Capturing breath-taking scenery across the globe, Punpeng’s expeditions to the world’s most awe-inspiring locations is what made him fall in love with photography.

Punpeng’s fascination with photography was first sparked by his studying of other photographers’ work and feeling motivated to recreate similar pictures. “It’s not that I wanted to copy their style… but I pictured myself being in their position and how I would have pulled it off.”

The secret to “pulling it off”, he reveals, is having the end-product in mind before picking up the camera. Although programs like Photoshop and Lightroom can improve an image, Punpeng insists that the most important skill is being able to visualise a photograph before it is taken.

Punpeng also resists the urge to place definitions around his work, preferring to keep his style fluid. By utilizing a range of composition techniques, he ensures his images stay interesting and offer a unique perspective.

Finding a compelling foreground subject is one such technique. By using a wide-angle lens, Punpeng is able to add depth and dimension to landscapes, making them more appealing. “The foreground is actually what is going to make a difference”, he states. “I try to look for a foreground that can promote the subject in both dimension and colour”.

Shooting in far-removed destinations like Siberia and the Lofoten Islands in Norway involves careful planning. In particular, the snow and ice landscapes showcased in Punpeng’s work require navigating unpredictable weather conditions and terrain; however, such obstacles rarely deter the photographer's enthusiasm. On the contrary, Punpeng is passionate about travelling to unusual locations.

“I am excited every time I get a chance to take photos in new places… if you talk about snow and ice landscapes, well, I am Thai, and Thailand is a tropical country, so it’s very different for me”.

That is not to say that shooting in these conditions is easy. Punpeng notes the importance of choosing the correct gear when working in unfamiliar, outlying regions. His must-have piece of equipment is a Nikon D800E and two lenses - the AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED and AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED. Before an expedition, Punpeng also suggests that photographers conduct thorough research, and carry multiple sets of SD cards and batteries, especially in colder climates. “Carry spare batteries, more than usual… because the temperature is very low, it will cause them to drain faster”.

Despite having a strong portfolio, Punpeng discloses that he rarely feels satisfied with his images. “I always have a moment when I think that a picture I just took is a very good image… but as time passes by, I start to like it less and less. I see it has some flaws and I want to make it better”.

Indeed, Punpeng challenges himself to think differently each day and cultivate his skills. A true student, he claims that there is no end-point to photography, just a continuous effort to learn and improve. To differentiate his work from others, his intention is to produce photos that fall outside the normal conventions of scenic photography.

“To tell the truth, I think that every time photographers take pictures of landscapes, the pictures turn out to have the same angle. These images are beautiful, but that’s all there is - nothing different or outstanding. I want people to notice that my pictures are different from the rest”.

Perhaps the greatest gift that photography has afforded Punpeng is wanderlust. Originating from the urban jungle of Bangkok, he confesses that prior to becoming a photographer, he rarely ventured beyond his hometown.

“The sea close to the province where I lived was the only place I ever visited. As I started taking pictures, I travelled further and further. I never thought I would be able to travel this far”.

Venturing far and wide while capturing natural phenomena is what allowed Punpeng to appreciate the world’s diversity. During a photography expedition in 2013, Punpeng drove via campervan for seven months through Thailand, Laos, China, Russia, Kazakhstan and Burma, observing a multitude of cultures and rural environments.

“The more places I visited, the more I felt there was some kind of difference between all of them… they were all unique in their own way. The best thing about photography is being able to explore and witness the beauty of this world”.

About Nutthavood

Nutthavood Punpeng is a freelance photographer from Bangkok, Thailand. His work centres around scenic landscapes, with some of his best photos being featured by National Geographic. He plans to continue working and travelling abroad, with hopes to visit Cuba, Brazil and Columbia in the future.