Magical Canyons of Kyrgyzstan & Kazakhstan

I was recently lucky enough to visit Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, two beautiful countries in the heart of Central Asia. Both are filled with endless photography opportunities, incredible culture and stories everywhere you look.

I could write for hours about mountains, lakes and beautiful horses running through golden fields. However, today, I will be talking about the canyons which are spread across these two counties. We will cover five in total, and many are entirely unknown to the world of social media. Yes, that’s right… there are still places which don’t have 50,000 images posted online from one location.

Ok, let’s get the action started.

Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan

This is probably the most well known of the five. Located just three hours away from Almaty. Potentially two, if you have the Kazakh Lewis Hamilton driving. It’s an easy day trip and quite a popular place for locals from Almaty to visit.

Views from the top of the canyon.

Views from the top of the canyon.

Sharyn River runs through the canyon, which is roughly 90 kilometres in length. It is part of the Charyn National Park and is located within the territory of the Uygur District.

Random fact: The whole area of the canyon makes it second-largest in the world after the Grand Canyon. Quite special!

I recently opened Instagram, and an advert popped up. I couldn’t believe my eyes… Land Rover was launching the new Defender from this location. See the video below (this is not paid to advertise).

Photography tip: Ensure you don’t arrive too close to sunset for this one. The light disappears very quickly. You’ll need to do a little scouting of the area to find your favourite spot.

Below are a few of my favourite images from Charyn Canyon.

Details of Charyn Canyon.

Details of Charyn Canyon.

Rami  enjoying the incredible views over the canyon.

Rami enjoying the incredible views over the canyon.

Can you spot  Iliyas  during blue hour?

Can you spot Iliyas during blue hour?


Aktau Mountains, Kazakhstan

During summer 2018, I was invited to travel around some of Kazakhstan, one of the locations mentioned was the Aktau Mountains. I hadn’t heard anything about this area, and to be honest, my expectations were low.

I instantly fell in love with the area, unique rock formations and colours to die for. During the day, the landscape can look reasonably white. Once sunset arrives, the rock formations quickly change in tone.

Crazy textures from above. Shot on DJI Mavic 2 Pro.

Crazy textures from above. Shot on DJI Mavic 2 Pro.

"Aktau" is translated into Russian as "white mountains" because here there are mountains of various shades, but in most cases white. It is said that these unique mountains were formed millions of years ago, and their appearance was affected by the ocean. In this area, around 400 million years ago was the ocean of Tethys. The age of the deposits that make up the mountain range is estimated at 60-70 million years.

Spot the layers which have formed over millions of years.

Spot the layers which have formed over millions of years.

According to various sources, this was a dinosaur populated area. In more recent years, crocodiles, turtles, and rhinos are not uncommon. Not bad!

Bianca  making her way up to one of the highest points during sunset.

Bianca making her way up to one of the highest points during sunset.

Views from the sky, high above this beautiful canyon.

Views from the sky, high above this beautiful canyon.

In the Aktau area you will need to hike for between 30 and 60 minutes to get to different viewpoints. It’s an area I would definitely recommend to visit for a few days. I’ve explored the area twice and would return in a flash. There are many canyons and different angles to shoot. Also, don’t forget your drone!

Details of crazy structures within the National Park. Shot with telephoto.

Details of crazy structures within the National Park. Shot with telephoto.

To get to the Aktau Mountains, it will take around five to seven hours. It’s not a smooth drive, but definitely worth it. This is my favourite location in Kazakhstan, by far!

Photography shooting tip: Ensure to bring your drone and telephoto lens. Hike the local areas during the day as this isn’t the most straightforward place to shoot. Also, use the app PhotoPills to plan golden hours.

Donald making his way up the canyon ridge. These views are endless.

Donald making his way up the canyon ridge. These views are endless.

Drone details, way above the crazy formations of Aktau.

Drone details, way above the crazy formations of Aktau.

It’s me! Enjoying the sensational views of Kazakhstan.

It’s me! Enjoying the sensational views of Kazakhstan.

Skazka/ Fairytale Canyon, Kyrgyzstan

The first of three canyons covered in the Karakol region of Kyrgyzstan. These three are all within an hour radius, making it a fantastic area to explore a number of places in a short time.

If you’ve visiting any of the three canyons it’ll probably be from either Bishkek (the capital of Kyrgyzstan) or from Karakol town, the home of VisitKarakol. It’s around a 90 minute journey from Karakol and four hours from Bishkek. You can take a shared taxi from Bishkek to the beautiful area of Karakol for around seven dollars. More info can be found on this page.

Random fact: Legends have it that, at one time, the Issyk Kul basin wasn’t filled with a lake, but was home to a number of rich and powerful cities. There is probably some truth in this because under the lake archaeologists have discovered the ruins of several settlements.

The striking peaks of Fairytale canyon.

The striking peaks of Fairytale canyon.

Emily  hiking around Fairytale canyon.

Emily hiking around Fairytale canyon.

Fairytale canyon is based on the south side of Lake Issyk-Kul, hidden in the hills and is a pretty magical place. You’ll pay an entrance fee of around a dollar, and I’d would recommend to drive right into the centre of the canyon rather than walk up. It can get scorching, and you’ll be tired before you’ve even explored the canyon! Save your energy and enjoy finding some unique angles.

You can also find some fantastic places to swim very close to the canyon. With crystal clear waters the perfect place to relax after a hike. For food, I’d recommend to take a packed lunch or visit a nearby town for some snacks.

Although this is the most famous canyon in Kyrgyzstan, I found it the hardest to shoot and least rewarding of the three options in the area. Fortunately, there’s information on Mars Canyon and Canyon of Forgotten Rivers coming up next!

Mars Canyon

Let’s move on to one of my favourite place in Kyrgyzstan, Mars Canyon. A small yurt camp surrounded by beautiful canyons and peaks.

Random fact: Karakol was the place which had the first library in Kyrgyzstan, way back in 1901.

During our evening at this canyon, we experienced incredible weather. From torrential rain and heavy winds to beautiful sunshine and double rainbows. We witnessed it all!

Views over the yurt camp during blue hour.

Views over the yurt camp during blue hour.

The canyon is based around two hours from Karakol town and can easily be accessed by car. No 4x4 is needed for this canyon. There is also a lovely yurt camp which is part of the canyon, the people in Kyrgyzstan are very thoughtful, and our experience in this area was no different.

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DroneCanyonKyrgyzstan.jpg

Mars Canyon consists of crazy rock formations, eroded river valleys and sandstone walls to create a very unusual place. The red and orange rocks eroded by the power of water and wind, create narrow gorges and naturally shaped forms.

A sunset I’ll never forget, the sun kissed the peaks during an incredible day of weather.

A sunset I’ll never forget, the sun kissed the peaks during an incredible day of weather.

The area is known for its beautiful flowers and wild nature. With reptiles and eagles often know to pass by. Due to the warm climate of this area, the canyon can be visited all year round.

Mars Canyon from the sky. Shot on MavicPro 2

Mars Canyon from the sky. Shot on MavicPro 2

Can you spot Jack on Mars Canyon?

Can you spot Jack on Mars Canyon?

Photography shooting tip: Bring your drone and arrive early to scout the area. Get an idea of the shots you’d like to achieve as the light won’t last long.

Canyon of forgotten rivers,Kyrgyzstan

Where do I start with this place? Potentially my favourite place in Kyrgyzstan. Canyons with huge mountains behind?

This canyon is exceptionally new to tourism, with a good friend Albert Dros exploring this area first. During my three visits to this place, I haven’t seen one other person. It’s quite a secret!!

The area was not that simple to find. Fortunately, we were lucky to have a local driver with us who took us to this secret location. We threw the drone up and realised we had hit the jackpot! This area is mind-blowing, and I can’t wait to return again in 2020.

Lost for words.

Lost for words.

Travel tip: To drive to this canyon you will need a 4x4 or help from VisitKarakol to plan your trip. The road is sandy and can become quite messy! I would recommend being guided as the location is quite tricky, and your time in this country should be used wisely.

Can you spot our two cars? This is around 1% of the canyon, it’s huge! Bonus point if you can spot  Jack  and  Rami  on the rock near the cars

Can you spot our two cars? This is around 1% of the canyon, it’s huge! Bonus point if you can spot Jack and Rami on the rock near the cars

Hands on with the Sony G Master 135 1.8

As many of you probably know, I’m a sucker for a prime lens. I’ll often carry up to seven on a shoot. When Sony announced the new 135 GM, this was probably the most exciting release for me so far this year. I do love my GM 70-200 2.8 but often I miss shooting at an even wider aperture.

Product image, shot on Sony A7Riii.

Product image, shot on Sony A7Riii.

Over the past six weeks with the lens, I have travelled to South Africa, Namibia, Indonesia and Scotland. Upon checking my image selection, this has surprisingly been the most used from my kit bag with the 85 GM coming in shortly behind.

This lens provides me with the opportunity to capture objects in the distance, while still maintaining that perfect bokeh that I’ve grown familiar with from a shorter lens. You could say this lens is a commercial photographers dream.

Sumba, Indonesia. Shot on Sony A7Riii @ F1.8 - 1/2000 second - 50 ISO.

Sumba, Indonesia. Shot on Sony A7Riii @ F1.8 - 1/2000 second - 50 ISO.

Indonesia. Shot on Sony A7Riii @ F2.0 - 1/3200 second - 50 ISO.

Indonesia. Shot on Sony A7Riii @ F2.0 - 1/3200 second - 50 ISO.

I’ve used the lens mainly for landscape/ wildlife images and also a selection of commercial shoots. With it being part of the G Master range, you get everything you’d usually expect. Exceptional quality, creamy bokeh, ridiculous sharpness and proper weather sealing. I can vouch for the weather sealing as Scotland has some of the best rain out there!

Puffin shot on Staff Island, Scotland: Sony A7Riii @ F1.8 - 1/4000 second - 100 ISO.

Puffin shot on Staff Island, Scotland: Sony A7Riii @ F1.8 - 1/4000 second - 100 ISO.

We tested the autofocus on penguins and puffins, neither of which is the fasting moving creature! The focus was smooth, fast and silent. With some of the creamiest bokeh, I’ve seen. The 70-200 is fantastic, but this is another type of beast.

Sossusvlei, Namibia. Jack using the Sony A7Riii with 135 GM.

Sossusvlei, Namibia. Jack using the Sony A7Riii with 135 GM.

Deadvlei, Namibia. Sony A7Riii @ F1.8 - 1/4000 second - 50 ISO.

Deadvlei, Namibia. Sony A7Riii @ F1.8 - 1/4000 second - 50 ISO.

The body is a magnesium alloy that feels just like it should. There's not too much to say about this.

Image showing the 135 GM, Shot on Sony A7Riii.

Image showing the 135 GM, Shot on Sony A7Riii.

It feels sturdy on the A7Riii, and I expected the lens to weigh more due to the performance, focal length and aperture. I was pleasantly surprised by the feel of it on the body. It does not feel too overpowering and is only 130g heavier than the 85 GM. A little more than a chocolate bar indifference.

If you enjoy capturing objects close to you, then you can use this with a minimum focusing distance of .70 meters, the results can be quite impressive!

Rattray Head, Scotland. Sony A7Riii @ F1.8 - 1/800 second - 50 ISO.

Rattray Head, Scotland. Sony A7Riii @ F1.8 - 1/800 second - 50 ISO.

Cape Town, South Africa. Sony A7Riii @ F1.8 - 1/4000 second - 100 ISO.

Cape Town, South Africa. Sony A7Riii @ F1.8 - 1/4000 second - 100 ISO.

I spent a lot of the time shooting at 1.8 which you’ll see in the ARW selection which I’ve added a link to at the bottom. The lens is sharp as hell, I was blown away every time using it, which is why it stayed on the camera for most of the last six weeks.

Going forward, I’ll be using this lens for a variety of projects, which will be anything from shooting landscapes, portraits to lifestyle and commercial shoots with brands. The lens offers me so much for any photoshoot I'm doing and will be staying in my camera bag for every trip.

Don’t forget to check out the upcoming Sony Scotland autumn photography workshop. You’ll get the opportunity to get your hands on this lens along with a selection of the very best Sony equipment. More information here.

*This is not any form of affiliate marketing.

Seven days of adventure across Florida.

I was recently lucky enough to travel to the beautiful east coast with VisitFlorida. I had mentioned Florida to friends and they had only talked of places like Disney Land and other tourist attractions. Oh how they were wrong!

Our journey was going to be around a week, covering areas within Ocala, Martin County and Fort Lauderdale. The perfect mix of forrest, natural springs, wildlife and the beach.

We started with an action packed few days in the Ocala area, covering the stunning Rainbow Springs State Park, a wild canyon adventure and a horse ride through the forest.

At Rainbow Spring State Park we paddled on glass bottom kayaks, explored local waterfalls and spotted a few animals on the move.

The amazing activities were completed with @rainbowspringadventures, @makin_tracks_trail_rides and @zipthecanyons.

Check out a few Ocala moments below!

Our mission moved onto the next area, with Martin County our target. Paddle boarding, surfing (my first time) and water bikes were just a few of the highlights. As well as the activities, we also found a few local gems to photograph. We had unforgettable sunsets beaming down whilst we were paddle boarding, which lead to some fantastic images.

For those didn’t already know, Martin Country is located in the Treasure Coast region. Which of course means plenty of opportunity on the water. We spent a little time with a local company @theohanabus, who were fantastic.

For our last evening we set sail on a beautiful ship, experiencing those soft pastel colours in the sky from the water was an experience I’ll certainly take home with me. Towards the end of the sail the moon started to rise and we all got way too excited!

Activities in Martin County provided by: @theohanabus, @schoonerlily and @ridingthewavestc.

After a thrilling time in Martin County we made a short nighty minute drive to Fort Lauderdale. We had an adrenaline packed few days planned with lots happening.

We had the opportunity to get a little wild on the water, with the SeaBob, Seabreacher and FlyBoard available with our fantastic hosts @aqua_flight. Once we had completed this we had a lovely afternoon within the Everglades National Park. . The park is the largest tropical wilderness in the United States. Famous for its alligators and abundance of wildlife. Here’s a few images below from our time at Fort Lauderdale and the surrounding area.

Activities: @aqua_flight and @evergladesholidaypark.

This blog post was in collaboration with VisitFlorida.

Video: Sony Scotland Workshop Roundup

As part of my Sony Ambassador role, I was lucky enough for the brand to support a recent workshop that I ran in Scotland. We had an unforgettable voyage across the country with eight passionate adventurers and five Sony specialists within the group. Our goal was to improve the photography of everyone involved both out in the field and on the processing stage.

During the five day workshop, we visited historical castles, hiked dangerous ridges and experienced all four seasons in a matter of minutes.

We drove from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye in three Land Rovers, with stops around Kilchurn Castle and Glencoe en route. During the five days we were lucky enough to shoot everything from small cottages to dramatic mountain scenes.

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We had the opportunity to test the Sony A9, A7Riii and A7iii in the wildest of conditions. With strong winds, heavy rain and hail all part of our daily challenge. As expected, everything held up well despite the typical Scottish weather.

We were lucky enough to get our hands on the all-new Sony GM 24mm 1.4 and 135mm 1.8 on our five days. The results were very tasty and I will be releasing a review on the latter soon from a project in Namibia.

Check out the video below for a roundup of our adventure!

Thank you to the staff and guests who made it to Scotland, you’ve been amazing!

Video credits: Oscar MInyo