Wanderlust: Shooting the world

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When I asked photographer Russel Wong about the challenges of crisscrossing the globe to shoot Peninsula Moments, the new advertising campaign for The Peninsula Hotels, the Singaporean, who has been called 'The Avedon of Asia' for his celebrity shots, replied: "I missed my local food." Of the Peninsula's 10 properties, including the new Paris outpost (scheduled to open at the end of this year), only Bangkok offered cuisine which was just spicy enough to appease this king of the Singapore food court. I sat down with him to talk about the unique challenges of luxury travel photography…

Other than your taste buds being denied their Southeast Asian spices, this road trip sounds pretty swanky. What really happened behind the scenes?
During the whole 63-day shoot, there was hardly any down time, other than the half day we took off to watch a baseball game at Chicago's Wrigley Field. I had always dreamt of this: eating hot dogs and ribs was a classic Chicago experience. Otherwise, we ate a lot of room service because we worked strange hours. To shoot our model wearing her kimono in The Peninsula Tokyo lobby, we started at 4am. But we also shot inside Japan's Imperial Palace, something people do not usually get to see.

How do you find shooting hotels?
Shooting hotels is really challenging. How do you make even a pretty swimming pool look different? I spent a lot of time in the Peninsula pools, to shoot a man doing tai qi overlooking Victoria Harbour for example. So I always travelled with swimming trunks. I also took along two camera bodies and five lenses. Technically we shot 35mm SLR because I wanted a more reportage, documentary-type feeling instead of slick Mad Men advertising. Then I had two assistants, with their cameras and lenses, plus one other crewmember shooting and videotaping us at work.

When taking a show like this on the road, what are your travel secrets?
Never check in your equipment. Flying from Los Angeles to Chicago, we had no choice – US travel restrictions being what they are these days. Luckily we packed in hard cases. We travelled everywhere with hard drives full of the images we had just shot. These we guarded with our lives.

Tell us some of your personal 'Peninsula moments'...
The Peninsula Beverly Hills' truffle mac and cheese. I had to have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I always felt really at home chatting in Cantonese with the Asian staff even halfway around the world. The Pen's staff everywhere are really hands-on. I saw how hard they work to make truly fantastic guest experiences. I travelled with this really worn out T-shirt and one day I sent it to The Peninsula Tokyo laundry. That evening, a package wrapped in traditional furoshiki paper arrived. I thought it was a turndown gift until I read the hand written note that said: "We took the liberty of mending your shirt."

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