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Hanoi photography tour

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What’s worth getting up for at 04:00 on a chilly Sunday morning in Hanoi? A sunrise photography tour of Long Bien market with Vietnam In Focus, that’s what.

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Establishing shot: capturing the activity.

Establishing shot: capturing the activity.

A combined desire to improve my photography skills, visit Long Bien market at the crack of dawn and write about it gave me the motivation to hold off the drink on Saturday night and set my alarm for 04:00. The streets were empty and dark as I drove to Long Bien bridge to meet my guide and instructor, Colm Pierce, a professional photographer of 20 years’ standing, and fellow participant Steve.

Establishing shot: a little less active.

Establishing shot: a little less active.

The tour is divided into four main sections. The first three are based around the fundamental principles of creating a picture story (establishing, relationship and detail shots) combined with different technical points. After an initial introduction to the day we headed up to the bridge for the establishing shot.

Our vantage point on the bridge presented an excellent view of market activity, perfect for setting the scene. Colm talked us through use of both the P/AE (program) and S/Tv (shutter) modes on our cameras and advised on composition. Within this we were able to experiment with different settings to achieve our desired colours and sense of movement. A hundred or so shots in and we moved down into the market ready for our relationship shot.

Relationship shot: good composition, need to work on the lighting.

Relationship shot: good composition, need to work on the lighting.

The brief for the relationship shot was to capture two people interacting in some way. Colm showed us some examples of relationship shots and helped us adapt settings — we were now under cover, with fluorescent and tungsten lighting. He then let us loose to explore the market in search of opportunities. I’ve always been nervous of taking photos of people, but in the market it was quite easy: attitudes ranged from interest and “take a photo of me”, to a subtle hiding of face, to not even noticing me. I slowed down, looked at what was going on around me — rather than looking through the camera — and focused on the relationship brief.

Next we moved onto the detail shot, accompanied by an explanation of the AP/A mode (aperture). By now the market was emptying out, the paths were being swept and trucks were rumbling around — we’d seen the market in all its glory and had the shots to prove it.

Detail shot: photos don't need to be pretty.

Detail shot: photos don’t need to be pretty.

The tour was wrapped up with breakfast (pho) followed by coffee and an editing feedback session. Alex Sheal, who set up Vietnam in Focus in 2012 with friend and fellow explorer Colm, joined us as our photos were loaded onto a laptop. We discussed and agreed the good, the bad and the ugly. Colm then showed us some basic editing techniques in Photoshop and off we went, armed with 600 photos — yes, really — better knowledge of our cameras and memories of an amazing experience. The tour cost $40 per person.

Detail shot: a classic dragon fruit close-up to finish.

Detail shot: a classic dragon fruit close-up to finish.

As well as the Long Bien Sunrise tour, Colm and Alex also run Hanoi Encounter, in Old Quarter, longer trips out to surrounding areas such as Ha Giang and Pu Long Nature Reserve, and regular weekend workshops. The out of Hanoi tours are usually by motorbike, although alternative transportation can be arranged. Tours are suitable for all levels — I’m a novice — and although most participants have a DSLR you can show up with any type of digital camera.

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