Vietnam is considered to be a paradise for photographers. You don’t have to be a professional shooter to spot out many good chances for incredibly exotic photos when in Vietnam. The stunning landscapes, unique culture, friendly people, interesting everyday life…are the continuous opportunities for taking photo in Vietnam. They say your eyes are the best cameras and your brain is the best memory card. But when travel Vietnam you cannot help falling in love with every single photo shoot, because of the countless chances occurring during your visit. So is it as simple as pulling out your camera and shoot? Or are the rules that you should know when taking photo in Vietnam?
Vietnam is a paradise for photographers
Taking photo in Vietnam: what to note
Generally Vietnamese people are friendly and they like foreigners. Most of them will greet you with a smile even they don’t speak the language. And I bet you don’t speak theirs too. Sometimes in the countryside they will even invite you to visit the house for some tea. But when it comes to taking photo of them, being respectful is always good to practice. We should always ask for permit before taking photo of people. And it is not as difficult as you thought when asking to take photo. Just hold the camera up and nod your head. Their smile will be the sign for a “Yes go ahead”. And when they shake the head or wave their hands, please take it as a no and respect their wishes.
Many people in the countryside or remote areas never see foreigners before. To them foreigners are like hairy giants that come from a strange world and they don’t know what you there for. They are curious about westerners while a little bit shy when being pointed at by cameras. And once being shy they either cover their faces or act in an abnormal way. That causes unnatural photos and awkward moments for both sides. This happens a lot when we visit a hill tribe village or a monthly market in the northern part of Vietnam. In this case consider to use the “paparazzi method” by using tele lenses at take photo of people from a distance. Doing this way will avoid them being shy and guarantee the best of their natural acts.
Helping many photographers taking photo in Vietnam, I’ve experienced a good practice. Before we a group of foreign photographers and a Vietnamese tour guide start pointing camera at everything we see, we sit down and make friends to the villagers first. Talk to the people, buy some drinks or fruits from them, and show them that you are here for peace! Well it doesn’t to be that serious! But let them know that you are their trusted friends. Once you gain their trust you can make the best out of their culture and everyday life, in their most natural actions. This is when your guide will be very much helpful by connecting the group with people in the village. That gives you freedom to photograph. As obviously few people would feel comfortable with a phalanx of camera toting travelers suddenly appearing on their doorstep whilst they were bathing the kids!
Always check with your guide about rules
Every now and then you may catch some good moments of government guards changing their shift, or traffic cops doing their duty on the street. For your best safety don’t try to take photo of police, military people, and government officers or anyone else in uniforms. This rule is also applied to most of government building, army bases and police stations. Always check with you guide about where you are allowed to take photos, and where taking photo is forbidden. Vietnam is a communist country and that means anything related to the government, army and police is very much off limits for photography. That’s a very important note to remember when taking photo in Vietnam.
And sometimes we have to calm the urge of taking photo in Vietnam. Like when we are visiting a school in a remote area and there are beautiful kids and the scene is so good for photo. Often we will be invited to have a look and take some photos of the kids. But sometimes we become a distraction to the kids and it will take hours for the teachers to get them back to normal. Remember many kids in remote areas never see foreigners before. They would be jumping up and down when they see some huge westerners with cameras in hand. Think about it when taking photo in Vietnam. Frankly you wouldn’t be that happy when a bunch of strangers taking a look in your kids’ classroom. Always check with your tour guide for the best behaviors needed.And when possible, show them their photos you have just taken. They would love to see it and will laugh out loud thinking how “ugly” they look. Which is a common saying when being shy.
Show the minority people photos of them you’ve just taken
In some hill tribes in the northern part of Vietnam and in the central highlands, taking photo of children is considered to take their souls away. The parents will hide their children when being pointed with cameras. In this case don’t try to do it. No matter how good the photos could be. Respect the culture is the most important rule when taking photo in Vietnam.
Camera snatching has continuously been reported in big cities of Vietnam, especially in Hanoi and Saigon. I think it is the same in all big cities in the world that we should pay more attention to our valuables when approaching the streets. Vietnam is still a very poor country and any careless showing of wealth encourages snatching and pocket picking. And there is no question about it. A set of professional cameras with lenses and gears can be someone’s few years’ salary here in Vietnam. Trust me you would not leave your one-year-salary-worth of something unattended in public even back home. Always pay good attention to your camera set. Hold your camera firmly or tie it to your wrist using the camera straps. That should be learnt by heart when taking photo in Vietnam, especially in Hanoi, Saigon and other big cities.
The last note may be a little bit unnecessary to professional photographers. But I myself always have a good photo back up plan. I upload my photos to the clouds, store them in hard disks or SSD, or burn them to CDs. During a long trip taking photo in Vietnam bad things may happen. In that case at least the photos- which are the most meaningful of the trip- remain safe somewhere.
Have fun hunting!
Here are few of our photo shoots of Vietnam.
By Pham Tuyen