6 Tips on Photographing Vietnam

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Vietnam has certainly had its ups and downs through history. But having opened its doors to tourists many years ago, it’s a country that is perfect to photograph. From the bustling chaos of the cities to the picturesque and rural northern regions, its an ideal place to add to your photography portfolio.

1. Get off the Beaten Track

Photographing Vietnam

Unfortunately the days of Vietnam being a mystery are over. Go to any image library and type in Halong Bay or Saigon and see how many images come up. To capture stand out images you need to seek out new places.

For example, I wasn’t expecting to find a scene as iconic as the one above when I was exploring a monastery on the outskirts of Dalat. As I walked up I noticed that the trees on either side were providing a natural frame for the giant Buddha, but I also wanted a human element in the shot. A few minutes later a group of Vietnamese women began walking up the steps so I started shooting until they reached the top and chose the best composition later in post production.

2. Choose your Hotel Carefully

Photographing Vietnam 2

When possible, book a hotel with a roof terrace or balcony as this is one of the best ways of getting great shots of your surroundings. And as hotels in Vietnam are so affordable you should have a whole host of places to choose from. I stayed in this hotel in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) next to the Ben Than market because of it’s high, vast roof which provided me with a 360 degree view of the city. So during my stay I tried shooting at different times of the day until I was happy with the results.

3. Be Ready

Photographing Vietnam 3

One of the things that really struck me about Vietnam was the pace of everyday life, and as a photographer you always need to be on the lookout and ready for opportunities. Your camera should be out of its case or bag, switched on and with the lens cap off.

The last thing you want is to miss a great opportunity because you weren’t prepared and always beware of thieves. For the shot above I was standing in a market when I noticed a young local girl opposite looking at me.

I knew I only had a few seconds to get the shot before she moved or my view was obstructed so I quickly lifted my camera, pointed to it so that she knew I was going to take her picture and managed to capture two shots before she shied away. One was blurred the other was this.

4. Head to the Markets

Photographing Vietnam 4

Vietnamese markets are a great way of getting close to the buzz of everyday life, and should absolutely be on every photographer’s shot list. Try to capture people, whether it be shoppers or market vendors going about their day to give your images a sense of realism without looking posed or contrived.

5. Get up Close

Photographing Vietnam 5Robert Capa, a famous war photographer, once said “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough”. Sometimes, even though the wider shot can make a good photo, finding something within it for a close up could make a fantastic photo.

The image above is of some money left at a shrine in a small, local temple. A photo of the temple would have been one of thousands and the shrine wasn’t visually appealing so I chose to take a unique, close up shot of the money offering instead.

6. Capture the Essence of the Place

Photographing Vietnam 6

One of the most fascinating things about Vietnam is the difference between it’s cities and towns from one another. From the ordered chaos of Hanoi to the serenity and beauty of Hoi An, it’s our job as photographers to capture that in a picture. For me the image above defines Hoi An and captures its beauty and calmness. So when exploring a city, a town or a village think about how you could show that place in just one picture.

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Kav Dadfar is a professional travel and landscape photographer based in London. He spent his formative years working as an art director in the world of advertising but loved nothing more than photography and traveling. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images, Robert Harding World Imagery, Getty, Axiom Photographic, and Alamy and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Wanderlust travel magazine, Lonely Planet, American Express, and many others.

  • Beautiful pictures of a country I have not been to!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • Scottc

    An incredible place, one I’d love to see but it certainly isn’t “in the cards”. Thanks for sharing these.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/sets/72157623085569521/

  • raghavendra

    I think it is a little crowded place, have a tons of places to visit in Vietnam i suppose.

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/

  • Beautiful photos! Vietnam is a amazing place to take picture, there are infinity opportunity to take interesting photos and your third tip (be ready) is absolutely the right one…

    Here some photos of my trip in the north of Vietnam.

    http://pdf34.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/contest-02/

    http://pdf34.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/weekly-photo-challenge-arranged/

    http://pdf34.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/equilibri-balance/

    http://pdf34.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/fotografia/

    http://pdf34.wordpress.com/2012/05/19/weekly-photo-challenge-hands/

  • Vietnam is very cool *O*

  • C T Chan

    We had been to Viet Nam several times on photo tours.. Your photos even just a few and comments are truly outstanding. and enjoyable.

    Please send me a link to your other Viet Nam porfolio if available.

    Thanks.

    C T Chan.

  • Elizabeth

    Thanks Kay. I am a newbie photog who’s leaving for India on Sunday.

    Your tips will be very useful on my trip!

  • I was in Vietnam on 2088 and take more than 6000 photos!
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/luca-aka-zicco/sets/72157610557766533/

  • Jose Noe

    Great photos!!
    For a beginner like me, will be very helpful if the description of the pictures also include the camera settings for the photo.
    Again, thanks for sharing these beautiful pictures.
    Jose

  • Just beautiful. I’m a beginner too and just completed a course on using at DSLR. Going to China soon and really looking forward to the trip and taking pics.

  • Hello everyone

    Thank you for your comments, I’m glad you have enjoyed and found the article useful.

    If you would like to see more of my photos of Vietnam please visit http://www.dadfarphotography.com

    To find out when new articles are online please follow me on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/DadfarPhoto

    I’ve been checking out your photos. Some great work out there, so keep it up!

    Best wishes

    Kav

  • lh

    Stunning country would love to get out there again. People are very friendly, the food is incredibe and getting around is very easy. I would avoid those tourist night buses. They are incredibly cheap, but also ram pack jammed with tourist, and you won’t see anything or experience much at all. A slightly more exmpensive manner to move is the train, but also a lot more comfortable, scenic and you get to meet locals. Also if you need to get out to more remote areas local buses work great. Something well worth learning is chinese chess prior to heading out there. The locals love the game and having a game with some guru with ice coffee would of been a great way to enjoy the hot middays.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/larrycabin/sets/72157626618381401/

  • Michael Minick

    In photo #3 I like the ‘mother’ dressed in a combination of traditional dress and faux leather jacket and furry headband. Cute!

  • Excellent advice on all counts. My visit to Vienam was a while ago and lasted a bit longer, but the people of Vietnam were just as wonderful photographic subjects then as I’m sure they are today.

    http://imagesbyjlowell.com/p231960753

    Jim Lowell

  • JacksonG

    Hi Kav, I checked out your website,great colors. I shot in Vietnam in 1971, wish I had a camera.

  • As a Vietnamese myself, I think the hardest thing when it comes to photographing is that you will often get unwanted crowds ruining your shots. And it’s not easy to travel by feet as the public transports are pretty poor. However, in Vietnam we have many great scenes for photographers and photography enthusiasts to capture. And if you guys love summer time, hot weather then Vietnam is definitely one of the places you won’t be disappointed to visit. But just be a smart tourist and stay away from those who try to get you buying something from them, especially in Hanoi.

  • zoya

    Great ideas, i think there are minute things in photography which should be remember to get a clear and sharp shot.

    Temple Tours in Vietnam

  • Yuli Ellis

    Thank you for sharing! My husband and i are going to Vietnam in August this year. I hope i will have more knowledge about photography and know my camera by then as i always enjoy going places ,capture the moments and the scenery.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Hi Yuli

    Practice, practice, practice. Have your camera with you all the time and just experiment and before you know it you will know your camera inside out. Try to master one function of your camera every week, it’s a great way to divide everything so that you are not overwhelmed. Oh, and read the instruction manual cover to cover a few times.

    Vietnam is a photographers paradise! You will have an amazing time and come back with great photos. Just remember to take lots of memory cards.

    Kav

  • Picture Perfect

    Hi, thanks for the information! I was wondering if there are any photographyschools in Vietnam? I am going there for a studytrip next week and would like to visit one. Nearby Danang?

  • Kav Dadfar

    Hi

    I think you might struggle to find one in Danang as it isn’t a big city (but I could be wrong). Your best bet might be Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi but I’m afraid I don’t know of any myself but I’m sure there are some. There might also be photographers who are based there which run workshops. The other thing you can look at is if there are going to be workshops from other countries that are going to be heading there while you are there.

    Hope this helps. Good luck

    Kav

  • trocphunc

    Hi
    You can join Nikon school at Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh city and Da Nang : https://school.nikon.com.vn/nikonschool/overview.php

  • trocphunc

    @kavdadfar:disqus as a Vietnamese, thank you for article

  • Gobbolino

    Thanks for the post. Having just moved to Vietnam, I hope to take some good photos! But I find it difficult to combine baby+photography.

  • Jonas Thorsell

    Thanks for a nice article. I have lived and worked in Vietnam for several years, back and forth since 2003. Both in Hanoi and HCMC. The country has so much to offer when it comes to tourism and culture in general and photography in particular. One thing I’d like to recommend is to get out during rice harvest season, it’s the most beautiful spectacle. Get out early in the morning and stay out all day through sunset. One particular memory I have is driving through Nam Dinh province in October, in Nam Dinh you will find plenty of old stone churches in the small villages. With the burning of the straws, the drying of the rice and all the people out working it is one of the most beatiful sceneries ever. Mekong Delta is also a very special place when you get off the main roads.

  • Jonas Thorsell

    Hi, i know there is a French guy who lives in Hoi An that arranges photo walks, I am sure he gives lessons also. I think he writes articles here on DPS also. Or just google search. /J

  • Jonas Thorsell

    Da Nang is the third or fourth largest city in Vietnam and the commercial centre of central Vietnam. By any standard it is a big city.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Sounds great!! I might have to go back!!

  • Kav Dadfar

    Yes, that can be tough, have your camera with you. You never now when an opportunity may arise.

  • Kav Dadfar

    No problem. It was a pleasure visiting your country. I hope that my travels take me back there again some day.

Some Older Comments

  • Lexterie September 8, 2012 12:27 am

    As a Vietnamese myself, I think the hardest thing when it comes to photographing is that you will often get unwanted crowds ruining your shots. And it's not easy to travel by feet as the public transports are pretty poor. However, in Vietnam we have many great scenes for photographers and photography enthusiasts to capture. And if you guys love summer time, hot weather then Vietnam is definitely one of the places you won't be disappointed to visit. But just be a smart tourist and stay away from those who try to get you buying something from them, especially in Hanoi.

  • JacksonG September 6, 2012 09:39 am

    Hi Kav, I checked out your website,great colors. I shot in Vietnam in 1971, wish I had a camera.

  • Joey Rico September 4, 2012 04:37 am

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/alienscream/4157588038/in/set-72157622642155589/lightbox/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/alienscream/4345132138/in/set-72157622642155589/lightbox/

  • Jim Lowell September 2, 2012 06:07 am

    Excellent advice on all counts. My visit to Vienam was a while ago and lasted a bit longer, but the people of Vietnam were just as wonderful photographic subjects then as I'm sure they are today.

    http://imagesbyjlowell.com/p231960753

    Jim Lowell

  • Michael Minick August 31, 2012 10:43 pm

    In photo #3 I like the 'mother' dressed in a combination of traditional dress and faux leather jacket and furry headband. Cute!

  • lh August 31, 2012 08:36 pm

    Stunning country would love to get out there again. People are very friendly, the food is incredibe and getting around is very easy. I would avoid those tourist night buses. They are incredibly cheap, but also ram pack jammed with tourist, and you won't see anything or experience much at all. A slightly more exmpensive manner to move is the train, but also a lot more comfortable, scenic and you get to meet locals. Also if you need to get out to more remote areas local buses work great. Something well worth learning is chinese chess prior to heading out there. The locals love the game and having a game with some guru with ice coffee would of been a great way to enjoy the hot middays.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/larrycabin/sets/72157626618381401/

  • Kav Dadfar August 31, 2012 08:09 pm

    Hello everyone

    Thank you for your comments, I'm glad you have enjoyed and found the article useful.

    If you would like to see more of my photos of Vietnam please visit www.dadfarphotography.com

    To find out when new articles are online please follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/DadfarPhoto

    I've been checking out your photos. Some great work out there, so keep it up!

    Best wishes

    Kav

  • Leonie August 31, 2012 07:49 pm

    Just beautiful. I'm a beginner too and just completed a course on using at DSLR. Going to China soon and really looking forward to the trip and taking pics.

  • Jose Noe August 31, 2012 10:33 am

    Great photos!!
    For a beginner like me, will be very helpful if the description of the pictures also include the camera settings for the photo.
    Again, thanks for sharing these beautiful pictures.
    Jose

  • Luca August 31, 2012 09:48 am

    I was in Vietnam on 2088 and take more than 6000 photos!
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/luca-aka-zicco/sets/72157610557766533/

  • Elizabeth August 31, 2012 03:25 am

    Thanks Kay. I am a newbie photog who's leaving for India on Sunday.

    Your tips will be very useful on my trip!

  • C T Chan August 31, 2012 02:01 am

    We had been to Viet Nam several times on photo tours.. Your photos even just a few and comments are truly outstanding. and enjoyable.

    Please send me a link to your other Viet Nam porfolio if available.

    Thanks.

    C T Chan.

  • Stefano Martini August 28, 2012 08:03 pm

    Vietnam is very cool *O*

  • Badflea August 28, 2012 04:23 pm

    Beautiful photos! Vietnam is a amazing place to take picture, there are infinity opportunity to take interesting photos and your third tip (be ready) is absolutely the right one...

    Here some photos of my trip in the north of Vietnam.

    http://pdf34.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/contest-02/

    http://pdf34.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/weekly-photo-challenge-arranged/

    http://pdf34.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/equilibri-balance/

    http://pdf34.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/fotografia/

    http://pdf34.wordpress.com/2012/05/19/weekly-photo-challenge-hands/

  • raghavendra August 28, 2012 12:46 pm

    I think it is a little crowded place, have a tons of places to visit in Vietnam i suppose.

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/

  • Scottc August 28, 2012 09:50 am

    An incredible place, one I'd love to see but it certainly isn't "in the cards". Thanks for sharing these.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/sets/72157623085569521/

  • Mridula August 28, 2012 01:45 am

    Beautiful pictures of a country I have not been to!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

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