Best Photo Tours in Guilin and Southern China – Mercier Zeng (Tips and Interview)

We love photo tours, not simply because we love photography and traveling, we want more.

We want to know more than other tourists, we want to take the perfect photo of the area we visited, at the best time, from the best location and angle. Or perhaps, some may want to learn from a pro so they can improve their skills.

And this is how we choose our recommended photo tours. Depending on customers’ reviews and the photographer’s portfolio.

When it comes to China Photo Tours, there’s more!

Why We Recommend China Photo Tours

Most photo tours in Asia are running by ex-pats photographers, but the founder of China Photo Tours is a local Chinese photographer, Mercier Zeng. This means you will get to know much more about the local cultures and their stories!

And don’t worry, Mercier understand what the foreigners need very well, so you are in great hands.

Besides, China is a place you will enjoy a lot more with a local Chinese, just because of the language barrier and cultural difference, sometimes, having a Chinese face in your group would help a lot already.

Today, we are honored that we get to interview the founder of China Photo Tour, Mercier Zeng!

Longji Rice Terraces in October: I took this two days before it was harvested, the minority village was very quiet in the early morning.
Trapped Buffalo Farmer: The village was flooded, the buffalo didn’t want to go out from the flood more water was coming. The farmer moved to his buffalo from the dry road and tried to lead his buffalo out, I captured the dangerous and nice moment.

China Photo Tours – The Founder

Mercier Zeng is a travel photographer, a father of a son, and the owner of China Photo Tours, he was born in the northwest, but now based in Guilin, China.

(Have no idea why Guilin? If you happened to have a twenty dollars RMB notes with you, take it out and you will be able to see the landscape of Guilin. It’s just that nice)

His business, China Photo Tours involving providing 1-1 private photo guiding services in Guilin, Yangshuo, Huangshan, Zhangjiajie, Yunnan, and photography workshops to Xiapu and North China.

Since the launching of this tour and workshop services a few years ago, Mercier has served over 1000 photography pros and enthusiasts from 50+ countries.

Today, we are honored that we get to interview the founder of China Photo Tour, Mercier Zeng!

Want to learn more from great photographers in the world? Check out our interviews with the best photographers in Hong Kong, Boston, New York, Las Vegas, Canada, Bangladesh, and Portugal!

Interview with China Photo Tours – Mercier Zeng

Hi Mercier, please could you give us the following information:

Q: Can you describe a typical day in your life running China Photo Tours?

Mercier: Sure, here is a typical day of photography guiding in September.

I got up at 3 am with my customers, drove to a mountain for sunrise, we got there almost 2 hours before sunrise to take the best spots because there would be one or two hundreds photographers coming. Helped my customers to find the best composition and right settings for sunrise shooting.

After enjoyed coffee and simple snacks, we were heading to a small village, shoot the countryside life of buffalos farming, ducks morning feeding by locals, and mountains surroundings.

Back to the hotel, took a short break, and checked out or edited photos were taken in the morning.

Moved to the Li River in the later afternoon, met photographers’ favorite photo session – cormorant fishermen at dusk. Would spend 2-3 hours there, taught my customers how to take great photos in low light condition, how to capture the net casting moment…

Finished the day’s photography around 9 pm. Long day, finally.

Q: Why did you start the photo tours in China? and why Guilin?

For landscape photography, no doubt, Guilin is one of the best destinations in the world. Guilin is also easy to reach from many gateway cities like Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, even Bangkok, and KL. Very few photographers here speak English, that’s why I started my business from Guilin.

Pano Li River Bend: I climbed one hour over 1200 steps to reach the spot in dark, but the photo is saying “all worth it”.
Old couple cooking: I knew this old couple for 10 years, they are Miao minority people, live in a wooden house, they still used the traditional way to cook. I captured the lovely moment of my husband blowing fire.

Q: What makes China Photo Tours and workshop so special and so popular?

I offer tailor-making photography tours, I can easily design a photo tour unless my customers tell me their interests, experiences, dates, photography levels, and goals.

In Guilin, I only run 1-1 private photo guiding, so the itinerary is completely flexible.

I worked in an inbound travel company which is top 3 big websites in China for over 10 years, I understand westerners’ needs and thoughts very well. So I could understand my customers’ worries and know how to release their concerns.

Besides, there are a few professional photographers on our team.

Q: What would be your favorite part and biggest challenges of running China Photo Tours?

Favorite part, I think it would be the moment that my customers told me their photographs who taken with me won a contest, lol.

Honestly, there were not so many challenges. If there is one, it should be the lack of English speaking photographer guides in other destinations. Some of my previous customers are thinking of back to China for photography in different destinations, unfortunately, I don’t have good guides there.

Another problem is, there are too many tourists and photographers are too crowded in some good spots. Besides, many good places are becoming more and more touristy and commercial. Hard to get authentic works.

Xianggong Hill: It is not easy to see sunrise and mist in between mountains at the same time. I hiked up the mountain at 4 am.
Wuzhi Hill: It is a pano photography, combined with 10 single photos. Now it is not easy to shoot such pano photos because local villagers built a big platform on top, it blocked the pano view a little bit.

Q: What photograph equipment would be recommended for your clients joining the tours?

I would recommend my clients to equip with:

  • a full-frame cameras
  • a long zoom (70-200mm) lens
  • a wide-angle lens(24-70mm or 14-24mm),
  • a tripod (We always prepare 2 tripods in the car for back up)
  • GND filters

Sounds professional, right? Don’t worry, clients will be benefited from my tours even all they have was just a phone or a small compact camera. I guided a couple of customers who used a phone to take photos, even there was one from 20 Century Fox.

I tried my best to help them to take great Ins photos, for composition, posing stuff. They were happy.

Q: How should people dress for China photo tours?

Lights and comfortable as possible. Guilin is very humid and has a long rainy season, so waterproof bags will be good for camera gears.

From May to October, short sleeves and long pants (because there are many mosquitoes in the wild) could be the best choice. Not much hiking so need heavy hiking shoes.

Q: What are your “must-have” cameras, lens, and equipment for traveling? And why them?

For traveling, I recommend light camera gears, like the Sony A7 series, Fuji, although I’m a Nikon man, I use Nikon D810 and D500 with 4 lenses including a 200-500mm which is 3.5 kg.

I traveled to Myanmar and New Zealand with these gear, crazy heavy. So light gears will let you have more energy to think of composition stuff. It’s good for you.

Longji Rice Terraces in Summer: It was taken in early September, rice just started to change the color to yellow.
A bird having breakfast: Not so many birds here, birds are afraid of people as some villagers may eat birds, shame on them. Generally, I don’t bring my 200-500mm lens with me when I guide photo tours because it is too heavy, I was lucky I had it that day.

Q: Do you think mirrorless cameras are better than DSLRs for traveling? Or perhaps, street photography?

I think so. For traveling and videography, a mirrorless camera is a better choice for sure. Now there are several choices of full-frame mirrorless even middle format, the photo details are good enough compared to DSLR cameras.

Q: Do you own a mirrorless camera? What do you think about “mirrorless would be the future of camera development”?

I don’t have mirrorless cameras, I was thinking of buying Sony A7R4 but it was delayed because of COVID, lol. More and more photographers and beginners choose mirrorless.

However, I don’t think it will take up the DSLR’s market in the near future. Now less than 10% of my customers use mirrorless, they still think DSLR is more ‘feeling’ for a serious photographer.

Q: Any tips for taking amazing travel photos and street photography?

Most good photos were taken at sunrise and sunset because the light is soft in the morning and late afternoon. The light in the middle of the day is just like the light from a flash.

Besides, photo editing is another class. All photographers will edit their photos, no one show people a RAW photo.

Some people may ask I went to the same places, why the scenery isn’t good like your photographs.

For landscape photography, weather is very important, as well as good luck. Go there at the right timing and season, you will see.

Broken Mirror Fields: The reflected fields look like a broken mirror, it was stunning at sunrise

Q: Can you suggest the “must go” Guilin photo spots or scenes?

Here are some “must go” phot spots in Guilin:

  • Xianggong Hill – for sunrise
  • Wuzhi Hill – for sunset
  • Xingping – for cormorant fishermen
  • Tianxin Village – photo with a local buffalo farmer
  • Longji rice terraces – best visit time is March to June and September to October.

Q: Any special tips regarding Travelling in Guilin?

For time planning, staying one night in Guilin, at least 2 nights in Yangshuo.

Yangshuo is a good place for self-driving, cycling, and hiking. Just bring a map and enjoy the countryside life along the Yulong River. Don’t go to those small attractions – boring. The scenery is just on the way.

Travelers can easily rent a light motorcycle or e-scooter in Yangshuo. The food is great in most local restaurants, beer fish, stir chicken, green vegetables are always fresh here.
Personal questions

Q: What do you like best about living in Guilin?

Slow pace. That’s the main reason for most people like me, including some westerners. Many westerners live in Guilin or Yangshuo. Unlike Beijing Shanghai Shenzhen, we don’t have much pressure here, we enjoy life here.

My favorite places are all in villages, such as Tianxin Village (one of my photos of a buffalo farmer on an ancient stone bridge was taken there).

Best Photo Tours in Guilin and Southern China – Final Words

Other than Guilin, Mercier also takes people to different destinations, one of them is Zhangjiajie. I’ve been planning of going there for years, and after this interview, I’ve just booked my tickets because I want to take that photo!

Lol this is probably how a successful photo tours should be, right?

I hope you enjoyed the interview like I did!

If you wish to join one of the tours organized by Mercier, here is his contact details: