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Tour enables visitors to explore Vietnamese life through a lens

A trip can definitely be much less fulfilling if one cannot keep photographs of places visited, beautiful scenery, happy locals or even just miscellaneous things that catch one’s eye.

Sprawling market: An overview of Long Bien market at dawn in a "contact"
Sprawling market: An overview of Long Bien market at dawn in a “contact”

Habitually, I take photos instantly with my iPhone. That means, no matter how magnificent the landscape, the picture quality is limited to my untrained capabilities. If only I had a little more skill in photography!

The last day of 2015, and Ha Noi is deep in its winter chill. Not knowing how to make the last day of the year more memorable, I accidentally found the Facebook page of Vietnam in Focus – an emerging tourism package in Ha Noi that enables tourists to take the best photos of streets and scenery throughout the whole tour. This was my chance to complete my mission of improving my photographic skills, right on the last day of 2015.

Founders of the Vietnam in Focus Tourism Company, photographers Colm Pierce and Nguyen Duc Linh, were my tour guides. As for the itinerary, I would spend four hours exploring the area around Long Bien Bridge and the Long Bien Market, from 4-8am. Yes, things started getting interesting. I had never taken street photography. I had never hung out around this area this early. Not to mention that we were talking about a time in winter on the last day of 2015. This was quite special and I was so excited!

My first surprise, also a challenge, was the weather. The low temperature made me shiver and I did not know what to do with the Canon G12 I had borrowed from my friend. Fortunately, two handsome tour guides of mine with their smiles calmed me down. I reminded myself that I was here to complete the mission I had set out on.

“I will show you how to adjust the aperture and shutter speed for the camera. You will see how different these photos are from the ones you normally take with your iPhone,” Linh said.

“Oh, look, the long shot photo I just took is quite interesting with both moving and non-moving objects. I did not know how to do this earlier,” Jennifer Noah, 30, a tourist excitedly shared.

This was when we were standing on Long Bien Bridge, testing the first angles.

Balancing act: Street vendors crossing the road in a “relationship” photo.

“Normally on every tour, we help our tourists to create an album with at least four to five photos of ‘contact’, ‘relationship’, and ‘detail’ themes, which mean longs shot photos or showing the whole scenery in relation to the surrounding; medium shot, which means focussing on the relationship among objects in the photo; and close-up, which details the object,” Colm explained.

We had four stops: Long Bien Bridge, at the gate of Long Bien Market, inside the market, and Long Bien Bridge again as dawn broke.

Colm and Linh enthusiastically instructed each tourist on how to operate their personal cameras, both consumer kind and DSLR, no matter how complex they were. This was the first time in my life I had seen Long Bien Bridge looking so beautiful through a camera lens.

Without editing apps and filters on smartphones, people have to actively think and envision the photo they want to take in order to adjust the camera settings accordingly.

There were photos in which there was not enough light, the composition was not perfect, but Colm and Linh always analysed these cases thoroughly to help everyone improve their work quickly.

“Remember the Rule of Thirds that I mentioned. It will give your photo a balanced composition and a richer depth,” Linh said.

After each trial and error, I felt I was getting closer to what I wanted.

Honestly, at first I did not expect a photoshoot around the Long Bien Bridge area to make my legs so tired. Only half the time had passed, but I wanted to sit right away.

Every time while sitting down and reviewing the photos I had just taken, there was more inspiration, and it urged me to shoot more photos. Thanks to the detailed instructions from my two tour guides, my photos now looked a whole lot better.

The fruit stalls, sellers and buyers busy selling and bargaining, huge tanks full of live seafood, etc. all made up the hustle and bustle of the old market.

I mingled with the scenery tirelessly for more beautiful photos. Standing for long behind the camera, I saw so much beauty in this wonderful life. This photo tour was really beyond my expectations.

“The instructions given by Vietnam in Focus is really beyond the technical aspect. I was shown the way to find out the right angle to see the beauty in everything now. Truly an unforgettable experience,” Meg Gibson, 18, said.

“You have other tours besides Long Bien, don’t you?” I asked.

“Of course, don’t you see the beauty of the Old Quarter, and the resilient life along the railway? Other provinces in Viet Nam have their own beauty. Different places give you different inspirations, and the photos will surely look different,” Linh explained.

My last day of 2015 turned out to be quite exciting for a person who adores new experiences. The camera lens gave me a brand new perspective on the old city I have lived in for 30 years and the age-old market I passed by every day.

A quote by the famous photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson summed up my thoughts: “In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little, human detail can become a Leitmotiv.”