In my humble opinion, Ales Vyslouzil is the king of photographing high-end desert resorts. He seems to have carved out quite the niche for himself and is no stranger to appearing on APALMANAC for these sorts of projects — like in his past project of the week at the Mysk Moon Retreat or in our interview together where Ales speaks on swapping careers from being an engineer to an architectural photographer in the UAE.
“I had a dream about camping in the wilderness,” Ales starts. “There were mountains surrounding my tent and the wind was flapping my roof left and right. I woke up and looked out the window. The sun was slowly coming up. I picked up my Leica and Canon cameras and rushed outside. The morning was cold, refreshing, and beautiful. I woke up in Banyan Tree AlUla Resort.
This dreamy place is located in the northwestern part of Saudi Arabia – far from any lights, noise, or pollution in our daily lives. Far from the madness of city life. Far from many things and thoughts. I always wanted to travel to Saudi and I have been fortunate to do so over the years. This place was something very special. It is something new and exciting.”
“[At first] I was not very fortunate with the blue sky, puffy clouds, and nice valley light,” he shares. “It was cloudy and not the light I would love to shoot with. The shoot was going smooth, but slow.”
Even under the clouds and faint mist, the landscape and context surrounding the resort creates a magical feeling.
“The whole commission was to create and deliver 50 images from this resort. I knew it will be a big challenge, but I knew it will not be only resort photography, but mix of landscape and details. I was excited. Plus this project was a big project in all publications, so I was immediately hooked,” Ales tells.
What I really appreciate about his work on projects such as these is the enormous scope of images he makes. Ales shows this sprawling resort and its many structures in the context of the sweeping deserts and massive mountainsides. We see scale. We see texture. We see weather. It is the full story.
Ales says “I had some ideas in mind on the first day after my recce. Since I can not use the drone due to the very sensitive area, I had to run around the mountains and look for some decent compositions. My daily schedule would look like this. Wake up at 5am, drink a coffee, and start heading out myself. I would climb the surrounding rocks to get some elevation. I even got into trouble with AlUla security for parking my golf cart where I was not allowed… but you know what? I did not care much. I only cared about making sure I got good photographs. I was literally chasing the light. Once I returned back home, I crashed completely exhausted with no energy left. I always try to put 110% into my work.”
Next up is my favorite photograph from this series. Look at the pool of light raking over the tented villas, illuminating them in the valley. It feels like we can see for miles and miles. There is an early morning feel about this image and the interplay of warm and cool colors mixed with light and dark makes for a dynamic scene.
Ales says, “The minute I arrived, I grabbed my cameras and started to get familiar with the place. It is huge and therefore I used a golf cart to move around faster. From the sunrise, I wanted to understand the direction of light, the orientation of the resort, and the whole valley. I needed to fully understand the resort ASAP.”
In that same vein, I asked him how he manages to stay organized while shooting a project of this scale. Not only is there a huge swath of physical ground to cover, but different rooms, common areas, amenities, and details. Not to mention that Ales is ripping around the desert in a golf cart and climbing rocky craigs to get better vantage points. That’s a lot to juggle!
He explains, “Planning is the key.
Even though I like to keep things simple and flexible, the shoot list is very important to have. This has been created by AW2 Architects and Banyan Tree Resort. They knew what was important and what has to be created. Prior to my travel to AlUla, we had a couple of Zoom meetings where the architect presented the whole project, design concept, and highlighted each area. It was very interesting to see how AW2 designed the resort.
All the details are absolutely mind-blowing.”
He continues, “The hotel & resort was fully operational and on top of that, it was the busy season. In these cases, an image that may normally take an hour to make can easily take be 3 hours. Areas that are on the list to shoot may get last-minute VIP bookings and so my planned shot may move to another day or get canceled altogether. There are many challenges you could face and you have to have many years of experience to not end up empty-handed on the way home.”
I love the way Ales’s perspective here shows the rock formations peeking up over the walls in the courtyard here. We feel immersed in the landscape.
Long, sharp shadows create depth and shape in the next two scenes. This chisels out the forms and showcases the function of the sun shades.
Ales shares, “For the interiors, there was a shot list with areas I had to cover. There were a couple of spaces like bathrooms that I did not have time for, but the Banyan Tree resort already had a couple of those images from their pre-opening, so we pushed them back, in case of some spare time.”
He continues, “Staged interior photographs: Those are hard! Those are time-consuming, especially shooting such a luxury project. The Banyan marketing team was absolutely amazing in organizing access, blocking out public areas, and helping to move fast from image to image.
All that being said, some interior images took 3 hours to create. Why? We are talking about one of the best and most luxurious resorts in the kingdom, therefore many times we had to accommodate some VVVIP guests.”
What a gorgeous photo. Look at the perfect orange/blue color contrast, and the contrast in texture between the rocky cliffs and smooth water. Notice how we can feel that we are elevated. Ales’s photos do a lot for the senses.
“On my last day, in the late afternoon, the clouds started to clear up and it was my very last chance to focus on landscapes,” Ales says. “I had to focus on this as a priority for the last two hours of great soft light. This light brings the beauty of this whole valley and resort.”
“The landscape was a part of this commission. I always start and finish my day with some landscape photographs. During my lunch break, I would have one buggy around the resort to see if there was something interesting created by the cast light,” he explains.
Here is an important tip from Ales. “Do you love shooting, or just paid invoices? This is an important one. If you truly love photography, you wake up way before your first image is scheduled to be made, and you do extra work.
Another important thing is to have the whole team on your side. If you play hard, they’ll hate you and make your shoot miserable. If you show respect to others and show your interest in them and their project, the shoot will go smoothly. Frankly speaking, I did not even see the shot list – I trusted their marketing team and left it with them. I just asked ‘what’s next,’ or told them I need extra time for a landscape photograph since the sun was coming out. If I feel I have fun on the shoot, the results are always good.”
Ales continues to tell that during the beautiful evening light, “I jumped on the golf cart and started to cruise around the whole area, walking up the hills to reach extra elevation. I had to rush, rush to get this done. Then it was dark. The job was over.
I got very lucky at the end of the day. My mum always told me I am a lucky kid, and yes I am. I hope luck keeps following me for many days to come.”
Ales wraps things up with some sage advice: “If you aim high in your photography career you’ll get to shoot beautiful and very photogenic projects. So keep shooting for the stars, and it will happen naturally if you really want it.”
If you have a project you’d like to be considered for Project of the Week, you can submit it here.