French photographer Thierry Bornier captures breathtaking landscape photos that highlight the rich splendor of China’s mountains, rivers, and rice field terraces. From the highest vantage point he can climb up to, he points his camera downwards and waits for weather and lighting conditions that are just right before he releases the shutter. His precise care and endless patience pay off, as evidenced by his stunning aerial shots that are filled with vibrant colors, incredible atmosphere, and intriguing hints of storytelling.
Looking at his dazzling images, it’s surprising to learn that Bornier is entirely self-taught when it comes to photography. With an MBA in finance, he spent most of his career working as the Chief Financial Officer for an international fashion company in New York. He ended up in China by chance when he was transferred there by his company eight years ago, but he soon found himself captivated by the land and the culture.
After a photo he had taken (just out of personal interest) was featured as National Geographic’s “Picture of the Day” in 2010, Bornier decided to leave his steady finance job and follow his passion for photography. He told us in an email, “I always felt that I wanted to do something more creative and artistic than finance and accounting, so I made up my mind, bought a new camera, and started to shoot anything in order to understand the concept of photography. Step by step, I improved my skills.” Since then, Bornier taught himself studio photography and has built a career shooting celebrities, fashion spreads, and advertising campaigns in China. These jobs allow him to continue doing what he loves best: venturing into the countryside to photograph spectacular nature scenes as well as local people.
The Yunnan-based photographer gave us some insight on how he captures images that are so gorgeously vivid, they’re almost surreal. Scroll down to read the key elements that go into his work.
All places I choose to capture must have a story to tell.
I love fog and cloudy weather for some of my pictures because they give the place the feeling of a painting. I go during the right season, and sometimes I need to wait until I can capture the mood that I want. I don’t like to take photos of landscapes with a pure blue sky; that’s not my style at all.
The most important element of my photography is lighting. The beautiful landscape is there in front of you—nature did that for you, you didn’t have to do anything. So the next step is how to capture this beautiful landscape. In your mind, you must think through all the possible lighting scenarios and imagine what will create the best fine art photo. It’s that mental image.
The photographer should never be satisfied if the complete image can’t be captured perfectly. Let’s say your image includes the sky and clouds. I won’t just pay attention to what’s in my foreground and background because they can’t be changed, but the sky will always change from day to day. I consider the sky just as important as the rest of my image, so I will wait for the perfect sky in terms of lighting and clouds. The quality of the clouds is also very important in order to create a real three-dimensional look, making my images appear more like surreal landscapes.
I believe each photographer should not only use what he sees, but he should also always use his heart and spirit to create something different. The picture is made with your heart, not your camera. Once you understand how to use your camera, I would advise you to focus more on learning how to use your eyes to read the beauty in front of you, and then using your heart to capture it.
To conclude, Bornier told us, “I guess the combination of all of these make my own style and my photos look very beautiful, almost surreal, or like Chinese paintings. But trust me, if you came to one of my workshops, you would see these amazing landscapes in real life because they actually exist and look so beautiful. China is a huge country and has many diverse landscapes. I always feel amazed by this beautiful country.”