Street Photography Vietnam Pt2 - Hanoi.

In April I went for a two week trip to South East Asia taking in Singapore and Vietnam.   This is an edit of  blog posts I wrote for the photograd blog during the trip.   I have come back to them and added some detail and retrospective thoughts.  

I felt at home in the city and enjoyed wandering the streets and capturing life going on around me. Hanoi is a busy and exciting place. The old quarter is a warren of narrow streets lined with shops, restaurants and cafes. So much of daily life takes place on the streets and that makes it great for street photography.

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Vietnam is the third largest exporter of coffee in the world and there are cafes everywhere. Iced coffee with condensed milk is their specialty, perfect for hot days when you've been pounding the pavements. Hanoi also has some excellent street food. Bun Cha was my favourite; it’s a tasty combo of grilled pork slices and meatballs, broth, herbs and noodles.

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I spent a little time doing touristy things, but I was really there to enjoy and capture the atmosphere of the city. The city has a great vibe, it feels hectic and relaxed at the same time. Even just crossing the street through streams of scooters feels like a challenge and you feel happy to be alive when you reach the other side.

The Train Street was interesting to see. People going about their lives right beside the tracks. The train comes through about twice a day and when it's due everyone clears off the tracks and disappears into their homes. Unfortunately the arrival of the train brings a lot of tourists which does slightly ruin the magic of the moment, but hey I was one of them.

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Hoan Kiem Lake is a great area for people watching and street photography. This is the main hub for people to get together. In the mornings people jog, do Tai Chi and dance in big groups. On Friday and Saturday evenings all the roads around the lake are closed and the place fills with thousands of people, playing games, watching street entertainers, singing ad hoc karaoke, and walking their fancy dogs.

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Apart from all the interesting sights and scenes, the main thing that made shooting in Vietnam a pleasure was how friendly and accommodating the people are. As long as I was respectful and flashed a smile most people were happy to be photographed. I would definitely have liked a bit more time to get to know Hanoi and dig a bit deeper. I was there for 3 full days but a month would be ideal to really get beneath the surface. I’d also like to spend more time in the newer parts of the city.

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Overall the trip was an excellent experience and I have some solid work to go towards my MA portfolio. Now I just have to go through the thousands of images, edit them down and relive the memories.

Street photography in Hanoi was great fun, there is so much to capture. Getting out and wandering the streets with the Ricoh GRII was the best way to drink in the atmosphere.   Many of the streets are quite narrow, particularly in the old town so the 28mm of the Ricoh was  useful, plus using a wideangle lens gives the images a bit more intimacy. 

I would recommend Vietnam, particularly Hanoi, for any photographer. The mix of dramatic landscapes and buzzing street scenes will test all aspects of your practice. 

Street Photography in Vietnam pt1

In April I went for a two week trip to South East Asia taking in Singapore and Vietnam.   This is an edit of  blog posts I wrote for the photograd blog during the trip.   I have come back to them and added some detail and retrospective thoughts.  

The Road from Lao Cai to Sapa winds its way steeply through the mountains. The hairpin corners are tight and the traffic is chaotic.  Huge trucks trek up the mountains delivering supplies to the villages and resources for the construction boom currently overtaking Sapa. On more than one occasion our driver attempted to overtake a lorry that was overtaking another lorry, whilst dodging vehicles and/or buffalo coming the other way.

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After 5 hours in the minibus we arrived in Sapa.  On first impressions the town itself appears a strange mix of Vietnamese town and a European alpine resort. There is even an old alpine-style church in the main square. We didn't hang about as we grabbed a taxi to take us 10km to the village of Ta Van.

Roads, distances and timings are a loose concept in this part of Vietnam, especially when you are using google maps to find your home stay. Some of the roads marked on the map are little more than paths wide enough for a motorbike (definitely the best way to get around). As such our taxi driver kindly drove around in circles trying to find our accommodation before realising that the road shown on the map was a footpath. After a couple of phone calls to our host we were dropped off and they came to meet us and showed us the rest of the way.

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If traveling in this area I would recommend staying at least one night in a home stay in one of the villages. There are quite a few in Ta Van village. The principle is that you stay with a local family in their home, although some of them operate more like b&bs. They are a good additional source of income alongside growing rice, rearing livestock and making handicrafts. Our home stay, Lazy Crazy Homestay, run by John and his friends, was a quirky place, with great views over Ta Van, rice fields and bamboo forests. It was a great place to begin exploring the local villages and countryside.

In Ta Van there are plenty of local guides that will take you on a hike, and most homestays and hotels will organise them too. We decided to walk without a guide to the next village and explore the small paths that led through the rice fields and village outskirts. The H’Mong tribes that live in this area are really friendly and as long as you are respectful, no area is off limits. Some of the tracks we followed led directly to people's homes but nobody bothered that we were there and there would always be a friendly face to point us in the right direction.

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Whilst in Ta Van I worked on a project exploring the Vietnamese legend “Why Ducks Sleep Standing on One Leg”.  The legend goes that in the beginning there were four ducks who only had one leg. They were jealous of the other animals with two legs so reasoned with the creator to give them a precious extra leg. To prevent their new legs from being stolen they hid them from view at night and all the other ducks followed this believing it to be the way it should be. The legend speaks of the Vietnamese attitudes to the land and agriculture, which I am hoping the project will also reflect.

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After Ta Van we spent a couple of days in and around Sapa town. The town is often covered in cloud and mist which makes for some interesting images. At night the fog, the building work and the neon lit signage lends the town an eerie feel.

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Again I shot almost exclusively with the Ricoh GRII. The small form factor meant that I could carry it all day whilst trekking.  The camera also held up well even with the moist atmosphere.  I wanted to keep consistancy with my images so shooting with the Ricoh allowed me to do this with its fixed 28mm lens. 

Street Photography in Singapore with the Ricoh GR II

In April I went for a two week trip to South East Asia taking in Singapore and Vietnam.   This is an edit of  blog posts I wrote for the photograd blog during the trip.   I have come back to them and added some detail and retrospective thoughts.  

We stopped in Singapore because my partner Sian lived there for 6 years when she was younger and it was her first time back in 20 years. It was my first time visiting the country so it was interesting to see the sights and share the memories.  

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Driving in from the airport the first thing I noticed was how clean and orderly the city is. Everything has its place and is signposted. We later realised, while watching people clean the river with a boat that scoops up trash, that there is a massive workforce employed to keep Singapore looking pristine. Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world and it needs to keep up appearances.

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After the 15 hour flight and crossing time zones my main aim was not to succumb to jet lag. So after dumping the bags at the hotel it was straight out to explore. Despite being in South East Asia, some areas of Singapore feel like a European city. Drinking a (very expensive) beer by the river at Clarke Quay, surrounded by an international crowd, I could have been in Amsterdam.

In the evening I headed to the Gardens by the Bay complex. This awe-inspiring feat of architecture, sculpture and nature consists of garden domes (similar to the Eden Project biomes) and the Supertree Grove, a group of massive tree-like sculptures that are studded with plants and light up spectacularly at dusk.

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Nearly everything in Singapore is geared up for either entertainment, shopping or eating.  Every block has at least one shopping mall, in some areas there were two malls opposite each other.  Food plays a big part in Singapore culture and there are many restaurants and cafes, but the best food I ate was at the many food courts. There are some purpose built ones around and most malls have one too. I enjoyed well priced food from all across South East Asia and China. Chicken Rice is one of the local specialties and Sian’s favourite dish, although I am personally not convinced, she ate four plates in 3 days.

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Whilst in Singapore I was shooting work for my Masters project and found the city a very easy place to shoot in. Though it lacks the bustle and energy of some cities, the architecture and cityscapes are excellent. The people are friendly and you can work in close proximity to people and they are generally happy to be photographed. On the second day we headed to Little India and Chinatown and these were my two favourite places to photograph as there was a little more going on on the streets. The food courts were also good value for photo opportunities.  Surprisingly the MRT trains were also quite fun to work on, again people paid no notice of the camera and if I was noticed people often responded with a smile and a nod of the head, a refreshing change from the UK streets. 

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Although I took my Fuji cameras with me I shot the whole trip on my Ricoh GRII. The camera is a pleasure to use for Street Photography and worked really well on the streets of Singapore.  Its pretty much Silent and the snap focus is a great feature for street photographers. I have also enjoyed using the 28mm lens for street photography. 

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Amsterdam with the Fuji X100F

Back in September I had the chance to visit Amsterdam and the unseen photo festival. When deciding what to take on the trip I decided it would be a good chance to try out my new Fujifilm X100F. I knew that I would be doing a bit of street photography and the X100F is well suited to this. Having previously owned the X100S I was familiar with the layout and design of the camera and knew that the form factor and image quality would be fine for this sort of trip. 

I'm not really one for writing technical reviews, so if you want to get the low down on the specs of the X100F I'm sure a quick internet search will give you what you need. Briefly it's a cropped sensor camera with a fixed 23mm f2 lens which equates to a 35mm in traditional terms. The camera has the same 24.3mp sensor that is in the X-pro2. 

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Because I was doing street photography with the X100F I decided to try out the manual focus feature and shot the whole trip in Manual Focus and using the classic chrome film simulation. I did shoot RAW + JPEG but all of the images here are the out of camera jpegs with a little tweaking in Lightroom. 

I like to use manual focus when shooting street photography as it allows you to zone focus which I find quicker than the AF once you are used to it. On the Fuji X system there are a couple of tools that make it easy to manual focus. Firstly there is the focus peeking which allows you to have a coloured overlay that shows you what is in focus. The second useful tool is the distance scale, this shows you what distance the focus is set at, say 1.5m, and also gives you a rough zone focus calculator which gives you an indication of the zone that will be in focus. 

As in all big cities you can find great pools of light reflecting off of glass or metal. As the sun was setting it was being reflected into this shopping street by a glass building at the end of the road.
As in all big cities you can find great pools of light reflecting off of glass or metal. As the sun was setting it was being reflected into this shopping street by a glass building at the end of the road.

One issue I found whilst using the Manual focus is the system of the fly by wire focusing. Instead of a traditional mechanical focusing mechanism the X100F has an internal electrical focusing system which is adjusted by the focusing ring on the lens. This is ok, but it has some quirks and limits the accuracy compared to the traditional focus systems. 

The focusing works by turning the focus ring, but with it being electronic it does not have a fixed position or hard stops, meaning you can keep rotating the focus ring even once you have reached the end of the focus range, it also makes pre judging focus positions impossible because there is no physical indication on the lens. This means that you have to look at the distance indicator, either in the view finder or the screen, to check where your focus is.  The electronic focusing also is a bit of a pain because it is reactive to how the focus ring is turned. If turned slowly the focus will adjust in micro steps, if turned quickly by the same amount the focus will skip by a greater range.  This sometimes makes it difficult to react quickly to something, because my focus would be on 2m and I would quickly try to change to 1.5m and the focus would over shoot. It just means I have to keep an eye on the distance scale in the viewfinder. With a mechanical focus set up, in a Leica, for example, I can set the focus at 2m and remember the position for 1.5m and can quickly flick between them without having to pay attention to the scale. 

I would be interested to see an X100 style camera with a mechanical focus mechanism with a distance scale a bit like what Fuji did with the 23mm f1.4. It would make the camera a bit bigger, but a bit more useable in this situation. By the end of the trip I was beginning to get the hang of it and was getting faster with changing the focus accurately. 

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I enjoyed getting to know the X100F, the image quality is a major step up especially from the X100S. General performance is boosted, it just feels that little bit faster to respond particularly on startup and flicking through the menus. It has already found some use on assignments especially when I need to be a little less intrusive. The leaf shutter also helps with this as it is silent. 

Amsterdam itself was a fascinating city full of life and an eclectic mix of people. It was a great place to wander the streets and hundreds of canals and rivers help to give it a different vibe to some big cities. I would definitely like to go back and explore the city in more detail. 

More Images

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Mount Teide, 2017

 Mount Teide, Tenerife, 2017

Teide is an active volcano on the island of Tenerife. An eruption hasn't occurred for a number of years,  but sulphur is often emitted and tremors have been felt a number of times in recent years. 

Didsbury mosque, Manchester, 2017

last Friday I was lucky enough to photograph at Didsbury Mosque on assignment for the Financial Times. We were given access to shoot during prayer time which is a very rare experience for non muslims. After everything that happened last week in Manchester there was a strong sense of community, with everybody standing together in such hard times. 

 

Gear Note: 

I shot all of these on my Fuji Xpro2 and Fuji X-T1. These cameras are great in these situations, they are quiet and unobtrusive. Plus on such a warm day the Fuji X System is much lighter than the Nikon kit. 

Manchester, 2017

 23rd May 2017, Manchester, UK. A strong show of unity at the vigil at Albert square. On assignment for Schweizer Illustrierte.

An emotional day on Tuesday covering the aftermath of the Manchester bombing.  As a photojournalist there are times when you are forced into action in the most demanding of circumstances. In such situations you have to really concentrate on capturing the scenes in front of you otherwise your emotions can get the better of you. Witnessing the actions of the emergency services and the unity of the people of Manchester was very humbling. 

 

Street entertainer, Prague, 2017

 Prague, 2017

I took plenty of pictures of this entertainer in Prague. He was spraying bubbles around, making them in all different shapes and sizes. I really wanted to shoot through a giant bubble and eventually he obliged. I wasn't sure how it would turn out, but that's no the point of the excercise. The point is to experience and record what's there.  

Photo Essay: Ski 101

At the beginning of April I went to Austria for a weeks snowboarding, unfortunately a problem with my knees meant I spent more time photographing than boarding.

It was my first time at a ski resort and I was amazed by the levels man has gone to enabling us to go down the snow on sticks and boards. The infrastructure was quite something. Taking a cable car to a remote mountain plateaux only to find a plush restaurant at the top. I decided to explore this a bit and spent the week exploring, on foot, the slopes above and around Mayrhofen. 

As I had planned on doing snowboarding for most of the trip I had only brought my new Ricoh GRII which I had picked up at the photography show in Birmingham. The camera is small and compact with a fixed 28mm equivalent lens. I might do a review further down the line once I have used it a bit more, but this first experience was very positive. The camera has great image quality, but is very pocketable and unassuming, drawing less attention than a DSLR. 

Ski 101

Thanks for reading.