Charley Zheng: Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

The Image

Charley Zheng

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Time / Date:
5:58 AM / January 8, 2014

The Technical

Camera Body: Nikon D3200
Lens: Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G

Camera Settings:

Shutter Speed: 1/250s
Aperture: f/11
ISO: 200
Focal Length: 144mm

The Story


Early on in December, there was talk from a few old co-workers that they were taking some time off to visit and play in Vietnam. I was truly lucky in that they called me up out of the blue to invite me—and realizing that this was one of those rare once in a lifetime opportunities, I decided to take a leap with 12 other fellow travelers and good friends, all of whom I had previously worked with. At the beginning of January, we boarded several planes to make the 22+ hour trip into Ho Chi Minh city, armed with a flexible itinerary. Ha Long Bay was a destination we all wanted to see.

The Scene: 

During the boat ride over, we were surrounded by hazy limestone karsts in the distance everywhere. The visual offerings were plentiful and delicious, and really my surroundings did all the work for me in creating this image. I saw two little ships in the distance positioned beautifully in the foreground with the limestone monoliths rising in the back. For some reason, it reminded me of something out of Mulan or something and the mood was both exotic and nostalgic. I was really drawn to the way the limestones were layered with the subtle differences in shadows and depth.


I captured this shot on a standard, entry-level Nikon D3200. It’s definitely one of my favorite things to wear around my neck. It’s not a particularly fancy camera, and though I see myself upgrading and investing in a pro-camera in the future, I’m not really in a rush. I read somewhere that the most important thing to accept as a photographer is that it’s more important to be spending your time chasing after the shot and not the gear. And it’s true—I’d so much rather be capturing experiences. I think good gear plays a role but the vision to tell a story is what’s more important.

Making the Shot:

I think I wanted to capture the simple beauty and light of the image, depict the gorgeous layering of the limestone, and the single indication of life and activity in the two boats. I zoomed in on the boats until I felt like they were both close and far away enough to make a small impact of the rest of the scene.

Editing & Processing:

My process can vary at times as I will edit some photos lightly and others more robustly. Really depends on the photo and the specific vision I have in reconstructing the “experience” I had at a particular scene. I often try to recreate what I “felt” in my photos over what I “saw.” Much of what i do feel tends on the nostalgic and cinematic side, so I pay a lot of attention to the shadows, contrast, and tone—then I adjust accordingly. The editing and processing are oftentimes also a reflection of my mood.

Looking Back:

Looking at the image now, I want it to be a scene out of a movie. I picture it as part of a series of images that are composing a film—and so I wonder about the rest of the story. That’s sort of what I want to achieve in my images, the feeling that it’s part of something bigger. I think this photo belongs to that.


Never stop shooting what interests you, whether or not someone else thinks it’s good. And again—spend more time chasing after the shot, not the gear.


Photography is my reason to get out into the world, discover people, experiences, places, and find stories to share. It satisfies my need to learn about everything, and it complements my wanderlust. I’m always in search for a golden moment or an amazing experience to document. Those possibilities of encountering something great, memorable, and life-defining are what drive me to keep shooting.



About the Photographer

I’m a self-taught editorial and outdoors photographer currently adventuring in the Pacific Northwest. I’m constantly on the lookout for that next great experience. I’m also a runner, Fred Meyer shopper, T-bird owner, and passionate about crème brulee.

Twitter: charleyzheng
Instagram: @charleyzheng

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