Photographer Reuben Wu on Creating Mesmerizing Landscape Photos

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All images by Reuben Wu. Used with permission.

Photographer Reuben Wu lives the dream of the artist in many ways. He first got into photography after touring with his band–yes, that’s absolutely true. For a creative person to transfer creative talents so easily is absolutely incredible. What’s even better is that Reuben doesn’t at all seem to be a gear head.

“It is simply all about where and when I point the camera and what catches my eye and triggers my imagination,” he said about his creative vision. “Not sure how to explain, it’s just an instinctive reaction to being in a place and gauging what it is which makes an interesting picture.”

His photography is driven by the spirit of adventure and a desire to explore. So when he published images of a trip to East Java on Behance recently, we just had to ask about his creative process.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

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Reuben: Between 2002 and 2011, I was traveling quite extensively with my band Ladytron. As well as being a DJ and musician, I was also very much into drawing, but the schedule and distraction of life on the road caused it to take a back seat, and instead I picked up my grandfather’s Leica M3 and used it to document my travels.

What started as a casual travelogue transformed into something much more committed, and became much more of a creative outlet. I began to book out extra time to explore places like the Atacama Desert in Chile and New Zealand’s South Island, before joining the rest of my group to play shows. So photography came out off the back of career in music, and now I do photography and video as well as music production, as a full assembly of my overall creative work.

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Phoblographer: What got you into landscape photography?

Reuben: I developed my affinity for landscapes from a young age when my family used to take trips out to the mountains of North Wales and the Lake District in north-west England, so I’ve always been an outdoors person. Later on, I did a lot of hiking and scrambling – which was all about the experience of being in these dramatic and rugged places rather than a physical exercise thing. I was also lucky to have a dad who subscribed to National Geographic since the day I was born, so my interest in landscape and nature is also shared by a love for travel, technology and science.

Phoblographer: Tell us about East Java, what attracted you to the area?

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Reuben: Fundamentally, it was my love for volcanoes which brought me to East Java. (I think this childhood obsession was rivalled only by space travel and dinosaurs.) I had been to Jakarta a few times as a musician and DJ but never had the time to explore the region, so it was definitely on my list of places to see in the future.

I was specifically interested in visiting Kawah Ijen to see the molten sulphur streams at night. I had discovered this phenomenon a number of years back on a website belonging to the volcano photographer Martin Rietze and have wanted to go since then. I like the idea of volcanoes being an unstable and volatile part of a landscape, existing as nexuses of both creation and destruction.

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Phoblographer: Landscape photography can be extremely time-consuming, so how did you go about picking and scouting locations to shoot the images that you created?

Reuben: It is normally quite easy for me to scout locations online in the era of Google Earth and the millions of images and information uploaded to the internet, but this time it was done in a bit of a rush, because I had only just finished a very involved music project and the trip was a bit last-minute. I compensated for this by allowing myself more time to actually be there to assess the place and learn the lay of the land. One of the things I made sure of was the timing of the full moon and where it would be at certain times of the night. I also researched into alternative vantage points and alternative hours of the day to visit, in order to avoid crowds of tourists (these places are getting more and more popular). I much prefer to have solo access to places, and all it takes is a bit of research and some sleepless nights.

Phoblographer: Lots of the images have a very ethereal look to them. What made you want to create images that looked like this?

Reuben: It is simply all about where and when I point the camera and what catches my eye and triggers my imagination. Not sure how to explain, it’s just an instinctive reaction to being in a place and gauging what it is which makes an interesting picture. Sometimes I use long exposures, either at night, or using filters during the day, so that it’s not really about a moment in time anymore, but more a progression of changes (or a lack thereof) in a scene.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you used.

Reuben: I used an SLR for compactness (I’ve used larger formats in the past but a heavier camera can be a real ball and chain on long hiking missions), a travel-sized carbon fibre tripod with a ball head, a 50mm and a telephoto lens, some ND filters and a backpack to carry it all in.

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