January 2011

Monochromatic Halong Bay, Vietnam

January 2011

Free-wheeling in Vietnam.

Two wheels are better than four in Vietnam.

The main form of transport in Vietnam is the motor bike and there are a lot of them. When you cross the road the rules are simple. Don’t wait for a break in the traffic because there won’t be one. Just step onto the road, walk slowly and the bikes will avoid you. Well, in theory.

On a drizzly day in Hué,  in the Centre of Vietnam,  I set out to try and capture the madness on the roads. For 2 hours I stood at a busy junction and took hundreds of shots of overloaded mopeds and bikes. People must have thought I was mad and they had a point, but it turned out to be quite fun.

It is amazing how many people they can fit on a motorbike. Five was not unusual, with the toddler at the front, then dad, another child, mum and then granny at the back. No wonder 20 people die on the roads every day in Vietnam. Due to the pollution and dust  most of them now wear masks.

At first, I took shots of everything but gradually became more selective. By the end of my time at the cross roads I had developed a taste for street photography and had learned a lot. Here are some pearls of wisdom.

As it was grey and raining I set the camera at F4 and 400 ISO. I selected the continuous shooting setting and AI servo. With the point of focus constantly shifting, this increases the chances of getting a sharp image. By shooting in the continuous setting you can choose the best image from a selection of 4 or 5. This means that you need a lot of memory but it’s not every day you’re in Hué!

Don’t be tempted to view your shots as you go along because you can be sure that while you’re hitting the erase button a moped loaded with pigs will go by. I think this is a very bad habit that we are all guilty of. Reviewing shots while shooting or walking along the pavement is a definite no-no when photographing action. Wait until you’re in the coffee shop.

Choose a good background. Even with limited depth of field this is essential. Any distraction from the main subject will spoil the effect. The bank of traffic waiting at the lights proved to be good in this case.

Try tracking the bikes. This can be very hit and miss, so you need to experiment. The subject needs to be relatively sharp with motion blur behind. In dark conditions this was pretty difficult. I tried 1/30sec,1/60sec and 1/125sec with varying results.

This experience bought me closer to the people through a surprising amount of interaction. Many smiled at me,  peering out from under their kagoules, people waved, people laughed and some even stopped to ask what I was doing. I thought it was pretty obvious given the cameras round my neck but they were just being friendly.

So next time you find yourself in a busy city in the rain, don’t just go and a have a coffee. There is always something to photograph, it’s just a matter of looking for it and making the effort.

One piggy went to market.