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My favourite portraits from Vietnam

I’m a little scared of street photography. Timid actually. In fact, I think a lot about taking pictures of people. (Unless, it’s for a assignment, which is a totally different matter).

I’ve seen street and candid photographers at work and I’m really impressed. I’ve seen those who go up right upto a person and start clicking immediately. I’ve seen others who have no fear and just shoot anyone and anything.

For me, I always try and ensure my “subject” doesn’t mind. Or is not offended. However, the problem in this case is that in the process, the “moment” is often lost. Or the shot is not right anymore since I’ve been doing too much thinking.

On my recent trip to Vietnam, I decided that I was going to do more portraits. At least attempt to.

The lenses I used were: 70-300 mm (courtesy Bookmylens.com) and the 24-70 mm, a great lens from my own collection. These were the only two lenses I relied on. The 24-70 mm is definitely one of my favourites. The 70-300 mm helps when you want to shoot from a distance. The only disadvantage is that it doesn’t do well in low light situations. But otherwise, quite useful for street photography.

Here are some of my favourites.

1. Black Hmong tribal lady with a baby

She walked with us the entire duration of the Sapa trek with her baby on her back. Not once did the baby complain (nor did she). This was during a trek we did from Sapa town, down into the valley to a home stay.

Mother and baby

2. Lady with the fan

When we visited the Ethnology Museum in Hanoi, we were walking around with our guide looking around at the different dwellings of the indigenous tribals of the country when we met a big group of visitors. They were all from a neighbouring village and it seems like their day out in town!

Lady with the fan

3. Cat at the temple

This rather cool cat was lounging around at the Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi. With my special affinity for the feline species, I get easily distracted when I see a gorgeous specimen like this one. And he (she?) was happy with all the attention. Soon, some kids also noticed the cat and we had a bit of a cat appreciation party right there.

The cat at the temple

4. Lady making rice paper

It’s a fine and delicate art, this one. Imagine making paper thin wisps (so thin, you can barely see it) over a hot griddle and then taking them out carefully and drying them. If it was me, I’d have lumps of rice all over and no paper, that’s for sure. This was taken during our trip to the Mekong Delta, where as a part of the package you get to see a coconut (sweet) production facility, buy some candies and also watch the making of rice paper.

The lady making the rice paper

5. Lady on the motorbike with the hat

Everyone wears it. Especially in the smaller villages and towns. It’s made out of bamboo or palm and is incredibly light. Which was surprising since I actually perceived it to be much heavier. It’s not only a style statement, it also keep out the sun, which the Vietnamese are extremely sensitive to (as I discovered; they wear face masks all the time).

The lady on the motorbike

6. Friends on the river

During our trip on the Mekong Delta, at some point of time our boat stopped. Stalled. In the middle of the water. So while our captain (or driver?) made arrangements for another boat to bring in a replacement engine, everyone relaxed and sat around waiting. I noticed this bunch of 3 friends, obviously enjoying themselves at one end of the boat.

Hanging out: Friends enjoying themselves

7. The lady who rowed our boat

While on the Mekong, after lunch we were transferred to those smaller row boats with around 2-3 passengers each, so we could negotiate the narrower streams that flow into the delta. This was an enjoyable part of the trip and we were in the capable hands of this quite frail looking lady. However, she managed the 3 of us large (compared to Vietnamese standards) Indian women rather well!

The lady who rowed our boat

8. The lady who didn’t

This was a lady who rowed another group. She was extremely thrilled since she seemed to have been tipped in dollars. So afterwards, she sat on the shore, smiling broadly at her tips for the day and showing it off.

The lady who didn't!

9. The girl on the unusual ride

Well, definitely not your usual ride to school. Or to the supermarket. But this little girl seemed really comfortable on the back of this rather large bullock. Probably something she does everyday.

A nice ride, wouldn't you agree?

10. The girl playing with water

After a rather tough and long trek through some mushy parts and ups and down, in Sapa, we stopped at this rather gorgeous waterfalls. Where everyone relaxed, enjoyed the view and took a long break. One of the girls accompanying us was happily playing in the water with her friend.

The girl playing with water

11. The lady who embroiders

At the same point, higher up on one of the rocks was this lady who was seemingly quite focused on her work for the day. Embroidery. It’s something tribal women do even while walking, sitting and possibly even in their sleep – they are so good at it!

The lady who embroidered

12. The baby with the cute hat

Now isn’t that the loveliest cap? Spotted these few kids playing around at our lunch stop while on our Sapa trek. This little kid was one amongst them. He was happily playing and looked up for a while. And then his hand went into a sign. Was he sending his blessings? :-)

The boy with the lovely cap

13. The lady who sews

Yes, did I mention it already? The women love to sew and do it all the time. It’s rarely that they sit idle. Most of their attire is all sewn by themselves and the work is gorgeous. I mean, I can’t sew to save my life so I think it’s really beautiful. This lady is wearing a really nice shirt (overcoat?) and even the bag on her side is extremely pretty. And of course, she’s still busy sewing – her next new coat perhaps?

The lady intent on sewing

These portraits are from a June 2014 trip to Vietnam where I covered Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon), Mekong Delta, Hanoi, Sapa Valley and Halong Bay.

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