I (Judi) have always enjoyed photography and have taken most of our family pictures over the years. At home, I have a cool camera that has all the options of automatic and manual operations. Kate has always enjoyed taking pictures and has a great eye for scenery, background, etc. She has gone so far as to pester our photographer extraordinaire and good friend Tina Bolling to shadow her on assignments around Ashland, Oregon. We thought this trip would be a great time to take a photography class so we could each get better and learn tips to taking great photographs. Our only issue was we didn’t bring cool cameras on the trip. Because of our minimalist packing, we decided we would use our two iPhones to take all our trip photos.
When we got to Hoi Ah, we saw several photographers that specialized in taking photos of the landscape and people of Vietnam. The work was amazing. Kate really wanted to take a photography class here.
We signed up for a photo tour at Hoi An Photography (hoianphototour.com) offered by local artist Etienne Bossot, where we would take a boat to a village and photograph people in rural Vietnam daily life. The time frame would also give us the chance to play around with lighting ranging from full daylight to dusk to dark. We were excited to sign up. We asked Etienne if the class would be good with students who only had an iPhone. He honestly told us he could only give us a few tips on phone settings that we could use to enhance our photos but he said a lot of the class was devoted to composition so he thought we could benefit no matter what type of camera we used.
We met at Etienne’s gallery / workshop in old town Hoi An. The examples of his work were hung on the wall. Amazing photos of the sky, rice fields, and people. We were excited to get started. There were 8 other students—all tourists—all toting fancy cameras. Part of me missed the chance to have my Nikon to play with but Kate and I really tried to listen as he gave the other students tips on camera settings for certain photos. I also noticed that many of the students had much newer and fancier cameras than I had at home. It was fun to talk to them about what they liked and didn’t like about their cameras.
Our group left to go to the village in kind of an old-looking motorboat, driven by an older man. He had a rickety chair that he used when he was driving. As we got to the village, Etienne told us that as a surprise, he had a carpenter in the village make a new, beautiful wooden chair for the driver to give as a special gift. We would pick up the new chair as we were leaving the village.
From the boat, we walked into a small village that was about 15 minutes from where we docked. The village had very narrow roads that wouldn’t accomodate cars but only motorbikes and bicycles. As we started walking, Etienne told us that he comes to the village fairly often so the villagers all know him. He is French, with a Vietnamese wife so he speaks vietnamese and can communicate well. He brought his 6 year old son with us and all the village ladies loved him and would offer him food or candy. Etienne is always carrying his camera so people know when they see him that he will be taking photographs. He approaches people, and asks them what they are doing (we approached a man who was making a fishing net and another man doing wood work). He strikes up a conversation and makes them feel comfortable and then starts taking photos. While talking, he said he checks out the lighting. Where should you stand for ideal lighting? What do you want your background to look like? Where should you place the subject of the photo? (He explained you should break your photo into thirds and place the subject in one of the thirds of the picture—not in the center). He says you should focus on the background—all the things surrounding the photo and then be patient…wait…and then take the one shot you want to take.
After meeting people and taking pictures of them in the village shops and roads, we started walking to the fields. There were many corn and rice fields. He explained that we would probably only see older people working in the fields. Since farming is such hard labor, young people in Vietnam are moving away from farming and going into the cities to get better work and better paying jobs (so this is apparently not just an American issue). And there, just as he said, walking in the fields, we came across 4-5 people. We saw a man watering corn. We saw a woman, barefoot with a hoe, moving soil so the water would hit the correct plants. We saw a couple other people working in the rice fields. All of them looked like they were in their late 60s or 70s.
It was dusk as we were leaving the village and we got some great chances to photograph the sky. The beauty of the landscape was amazing. We got a drink of sugar cane. Kate dutifully drank all of hers even though it was very sweet. I just could not drink all of mine…it tasted like pure, flavorless sugar water.
As we headed back to the boat, Etienne picked up the finished chair he had brought for our boat driver. It was beautiful and was amazing quality work. I asked him how much it cost and he said it was equivalent to $40 (to compare out usual meal at dinner is $4). We all got on the boat and Etienne carefully carried the beautiful chair on board. A few minutes later, after an exchange with the driver in Vietnamese, he came over to talk to us. Although the chair was lovely, the seat was an inch or two too high. I looked over and the boat driver seemed just fine with the chair he has probably used for decades. He preferred his old chair. As we got to the shore, and we took the new chair with us back to the studio.
Kate says: I liked it. I like how Etienne would give us tips on how to take the photos and where to place the subjects. But, he couldn’t give us tips on what to do with our iPhones to make the pictures better. It also felt more like landscape and nature pictures since we didn’t see many people working in the field. I thought the people we met were really nice and didn’t mind that we were taking pictures of them. I was the youngest one in the class and he played special attention to me and helped me with my photo composition. He told me he started taking photos when he was really young and encouraged me to keep learning. I am excited to start saving for a camera so when we get home I can learn more about photography.