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I have a good digital SLR, I’ve been doing courses, reading and taking notes, and practicing lots, so I was determined that I would return after three weeks in Vietnam with hundreds of photographic triumphs. Dozens at least. After all, there’d be market scenes, and rice paddies, and mystic mountains, Halong Bay at sunset, and night-lantern magic. Ba bong – fail!

What I did return with was thousands (yes, sadly – literally) of shots ranging from bad to catastrophic and maybe a few dozen good enough to warrant display or sharing for the viewing pleasure/scrutiny of others.

I also come back with a couple of major photographic lessons, with some quick tips to tuck away for next time. Here’s what I learnt.

Be discerning about what you take
I take way too many photos. My usual modus operandi is to click away in a frantic firing frenzy hoping with the law of averages that something will be okay – in focus, well framed, well lit. Bit like a lottery. I did a short course earlier in the year with National Photo Training College and Terry kept saying ‘find the shot, take the shot.’ Well, I forgot that rule. Yes, you can delete all that rubbish when you get home, but best to be more discerning in the first place. Far less time consuming.

In fact, delete clear rubbish as you go as well. Unless you want to check out the properties carefully when you get home and work out what went wrong.

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hardly compelling

Check your shots as you go
I took multitudes of shots that were slightly out of focus but didn’t realise as bodgey eyesight meant checking the camera’s screen wasn’t reliable. They looked so good on that tiny little thing, even zoomed in. Checking them on a larger screen en route would have identified the problem and allowed me to adjust shutter speed, or whatever, rather than keep shooting merrily away in blissful ignorance. All those missed opportunities that were so close to being great shots. Ah – what could have been!

I was travelling with an older IPad and haven’t managed to solve the conundrum of the transition of camera files to a travelling viewing platform. Any suggestions on that score warmly welcome.

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Aghh focus ! What could have been…

Don’t rely on ‘program’ to find the best setting
In my determination to not use the fully auto setting, I turned to ‘P’ to pick appropriate settings for me. It’s a good start, but you might well have to adjust for your conditions. I trusted it way too much. Note to self: trust yourself more.

Admit defeat when it just ain’t working
I have a habit of persisting with lots of bad shots when the situation just won’t allow it – eg, there’s not enough light, I’m just too far away, there’s obstacles in front of me I can’t get rid off, etc. Why does my brain think if I take another 10 doing the same thing that’s not working, it will somehow be better? A dozen shots of microscopic blurred monkeys is no better than two. In fact, it’s six times worse. Stop doing that thing, and do something different.


See those little blobs? They’re monkeys!

Keep learning
Take the opportunity to learn as you go. Talk to other photographers as you travel (what they’re using, what they’re taking), and experiment with different things.

I took a photo tour with Pieter at Hoi An Photo Walks which was great, picking up a few handy tips to tuck away, including how to burst unexpectedly into other people’s lives. Write what you learn down straight after – so easy to forget and great to go back and check later on. Here’s what I wrote on TripAdvisor:

Really worthwhile tour with professional photographer Pieter who has been taking tours here for two years, now working on his own. Great balance of theory and practice. Group size will vary with bookings but ours was only two people and so very personal. Picked up new knowledge and some excellent tips, reinforced some old theory, and was introduced to a new and, to western standards, a brazen way to approach ‘people photography’ in Vietnam which was fascinating. Highly recommended and good value. Favourite thing I did in Hoi An.

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On the tour

Take a different angle
On the photo tour the other student was nearly a foot taller than me and I was amazed at the different perspective this allowed him. Totally different shot. Unfair height advantage. I can’t grow taller at this stage, but I can climb on something, or get down really low. Use those thigh muscles.

Look for lines
Horizontal, vertical, ways to frame or incorporate in your image. Try straight on sometimes instead of always from the side (I love always from the side too much). So much inspiration.

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One final tip. If you’re planning to go to Sapa in the mountainous north of Vietnam wanting to capture those verdant cascading rice paddy tiers on film, check the season. We travelled in October, about 4 weeks after the rice harvest had taken place. So those picturesque green hills were now a dirty yellow. Still lovely, but not green. I did consider snapping off photos of stunning posters around the place to pretend they were mine, but where’s the fun in that.


Not quite like those postcards!

I’ve got a couple of good’uns from this trip, but next time I’m sure I’ll be better.

Have a look at the Vietnamese restaurant reviews if you’re into food.

Here are just a couple of the ‘fails’.