Hoi An Photo Class

Ever since I bought my new Nikon I hve been yearning to learn how to use it better than I do. If you know what the acronym RTFM means, it barely applies in this case. The camera has more features than I can find time to use while travelling. I always find myself trailing my wife and our guide by 50 steps while I try to frame a decent shot. She gets the low down on where we are and then I try to catch up. Consequently I leave the camera on the auto setting most of the time, which defeats the artistic capability of this fantastic gizmo.

This camera is so incredible it can even take a picture of itself!

What I needed was to spend time with a professional travel photographer. I found one based in Hoi An. His name is Etienne Bossot and you should check out his web site, http://www.hoianphototour.com. If you ever find yourself in Hoi An, take his photo tour even if you do not need to learn more about your camera or have little interest in indulging yourself by improving your skills. Etienne has lived in Hoi An a number of years. Not only does he know where everything of interest to photograph is, he knows the people there. His Vietnames is fluent, (he has a long-haired dictionary at home). He has gotten the local tradesmen to trust him and they let him into their lives. Monthly he takes sets of prints to them, which of course they love.

Our day started at 5 a.m. That’s five in the friggen morning. “It’s about the light” said Etienne. We set off on his motor scooter through back roads on Hoi An until we came to the river, where he had a boat waiting for us. Usually this boat serves as a ferry across the Thu Ban river for locals and their scooters. It was all ours this morning.

It was a cloudy morning, so the light from the sunrise was “very diffused”. I guess that means the sky was grey.  We headed down river, in an easterly direction. Our objective was a fishing village and the morning arrival of the fleet in from a night of hard work.

Before we got to the village we passed many of these fresh water fishermen. They use these huge nets that they control up/down with a peddle type of machine. I have never seen this before,it was fascinating. Entienne was encouraging me to use different settings on my camera, primarily my ISO settings to take advantage of this early morning light. I think I did alright, but what I really needed was an early morning cup of coffee! This was the start of Etienne's constant reminder that I do not want to take snap shots. I want to be a photographer.

As we pulled into the dock area where all the fishing boats were returning from a night at sea, I had the opportunity to take dozens of pics of the boats. However, I only got about one dozen because I kept hearing "no snapshots, watch your exposure, pay attention to your aperture for a better depth of field". I was happy he was doing this,because this is why I was paying the big bucks. In the end, I knowI am happier with the photos than I would have been with 5 times as many snapshots.

With Entienne as your guide, you can walk right into the midst of the people at work, and they do not mind. I am not so sure if a "normal tourist" would have been accepted. He has built up a trust and friendship over the years. This is a photo of 3 generations of fishermen on their boat. Entienne was working with me on composition here. He, and I, are happy with the end result because I got good character features combined with the little nets and the wheelhouse of the boat. How do YOU like it?

Once the fish get put in the boxes to unload them, the women take over. They do all the rest of the work including sales. If they let the men handle the money, they woud drink and gamble it all away. In this shot, Entienne was influencing me to stop squaring off all my pictures. He says that (what I call) cockeyed shots can be more interesting. Heh, that works for me!

This might be a little too cockeyed, but I like it. Entienne said that westerners like shots tilted form left to right, while Chinese like them from right to left, because that is the direction we read. Whatever, just plan on seeing a lot more shots at angles from now on.

There was just no way to get creative, artistic or cockeyed with this shot. I just wanted to show you what they spent the night catching.

The women set the minnows out to dry. when they are dry they package them up and they get sold to China where they get eaten as snacks. In this shot I was aiming at getting the entire shot in focus (proper aperture) exposed properly with just the right ISO setting, very worried about the composition (the fish and the hat) but most importantly trying to do all this while staying out of the ladies way. Entienne said that people in the east do not have the same sense of "this is my space" as us Americans do, so "get right in there". All I know for sure is if I tried this on a dock in Gloucester,it would be I who was dried,packed and sold to the Chinese as a snack. I guess that is why we travel!

Sitting at the end of the dock like the queen of it all (for all I know she might own a few of the boats) was this ancient woman. Entienne has her featured on his web site. She lit right up when we arrived. He started taking shots of her up close and personal, and so did I. She was used to it. I worked on exposure with this shot. All I was interested in was her magnificent face and eyes. The challenge was to not have a background confuse the issue, and to get a proper exposure of the face and eyes underneath the hat. I Iove this shot. It may be the best photograph of the entire trip for me.

Now Entienne wanted me to place her in context. The idea was the fishing scene in the background, I think I succeeded pretty well. Those bamboo hats are so damn iconic and photogenic. I love the way I set off the corner of this shot with her hat.


This is a picture taken inside a dark shack where a man lives who makes and repairs the little bamboo boats that the fishermen use to get to shore. He also makes bamboo furniture. I took great pain to get the exposure right. Also I sought an expression his face which reflected his rather serious demeanor. I think I got it right.


wjile we finally having our first cup of coffee, a very strong blend the fishermen drink, Entienne took my camera and said "look, you can do this." He took the next two shots, but I have no idea what he did. He called it panning. it is NOT covered in my manual. This shot shows a scooter rider in motion with a blurred background.

In this one the background is clear while you can barely make out the bicycle rider going by. See her? Or is it a him?


When we stopped for breakfast in ancient town, I took this shot because I could include in it the bicycle, and a woman in her conical hat. All very Vietnamese.


Then we stopped in a fish sauce factory. I almost gave up fish sauce on the spot. The smell was incredible. After months in bigger tanks, the sauce is transferred into these little containers where it sits for a while longer, then they filter it. What is left behind is fed to pigs because it makes better bacon.


From here we went out of town and found people harvesting rice. We waded (literally) out into a rice paddy. It was hot and humid and I could not imagine carrying 80 pounds of gear and a rifle with the fear of getting shot while trying to get through this muck. Anyway, the rice farmers were glad to see Entienne and took some good shots. As usual, the women worked hardest.


The man fed the rice through a peddle powered shredder.


Then a woman sifted the rice from the sticks. Entienne praised this shot for all the elements he had spent the day trying to get through my thick skull. Light, composition and focus.


Entienne took my camera and tried to make me look like George Clooney modeling my new knock-off Rolex watch. Actually he was demonstrating that with a small aperture he could keep everything in focus. Do you think I look like Clooney???


My last shot of the day is a cock-eyed sot of my wonderful wife in a typical hat!


That’s it for Hoi An. I hope you see here and in the future a marked improvement in my photography.

Thanks for reading (and looking). Tell a friend, make a comment. Next post is from Saigon, oops Ho Chi Minh City.


About forrestwalker

An expat living overseas, traveling with my wife extensively and sharing the experiences with you!.

Posted on September 18, 2011, in Uncategorized, Vietnam and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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