Ive recently returned from the street photographers paradise that is Hanoi with five students who came on my course covering street Photography in Hanoi.
We stayed at the ideally situated Tu Linh Legend Hotel located in the Hoan Kiem District of Hanoi which is ideal for walking to all the best locations for great street photography.
Flying into Hanoi airport you can get virtually all your essentials sorted out as you walk through customs such as your local currency, mobile phone card and book a local taxi to take you your hotel.
Some of the Best Locations for Hanoi Street Photography
Id recommend the following locations all within walking distance of the Tu Linh Hotel
Hoan Kiem Lake
Hanoi Street Train
Quan Thanh Temple
Yen Phu market
Quoc Tu Giam Park
Long Bien market
Vietnam Military Museum
The Old Quater
Temple of Literature
Dong Xuan Market
Chau Long market
Temple of the Jade Mountain
Tran Quac Pagoda
Ly Thai To Park
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum area
Quang Ba Flower Market
The French Quarter
Ba Da Pagoda
My Personal Favourites to visit for Street photography in Hanoi
Hoan Kiem Lake
You can pretty much walk around the lake 24 hours a day and you’ll always find great activity. The Vietnamese people love to socialise and exercise and you will stumble across these at various times. There is one area early evening around the lake that many people gather to exercise which make great photographs. Try and make some unusual compositions and layered images as they go about their daily routines.
At weekends you will also see many couples having their wedding photographs taken around the lake with the temple of the jade mountain in the background. Ive photographed this many times but always try and make them a little unusual rather than just taking another pic of a stationary bride and groom.
You’ll also see people just walking and talking , having their portrait painted, playing games and taking mini exercise classes which all make for great photographs taken from varying different angles.
As dusk arrives the bridge across the river is lit in a traditional bright red.
Ba Da Pagoda
Tran Quac Pagoda
Its a little walk from the Lake but well worth it as Ive always seemed to strike lucky here but its a waiting game. A beautiful temple that you must take of your shoes to enter with amazing light streaming in , its a regular place formany both locals and visitors to go to and say their prayers. Put the camera on silent with a wide angle lens and wait for those perfect moments to open up in front of you.
Chang Long market
A great favourite, arrive mid morning to find all the market traders setting up, the small shops opening and people sitting around eating on mini seat. Just wander around with your 35mm lens and be ready to take pictures in all directions. I personally like to find little areas where there is a pool of people and then wait around until I see formations occuring that are pleasing to the eye. Quite often Ill find a street coffe shop nad buy a coffe and just sit and observe and thus becoming a part of the scene I want to photograph.
The Old Quarter
Another favourite is the Old Quarter with small old traditional shops with great characters going about their daily business, its a dream for street photographers .Just wander around and see hwere it takes you as every street and every corner there is something there to be photographed
Quac Tu Giam Park
In Quac Tu Giam Park you’ll find people just sitting on benches playing draughts, chess and othe local games. Ive found the best way to photograph these people is to smile say hello and then just watch for a while whilst they become comfortable with you before you start taking photographs. Ive found if you go straight in you will be hit with please go away and no photographs please as they gamble on the throw of the dice. So be friendly and wait and you will be rewarded.
Just a short walk from the park is the Vietnam Military Museum thats well worth wandering around .
Beer Corner is well worth a visit in the evening, It gets real busy and is a hub of beer stations and small restaurants. It can also be a great place for some twighlight photography.
Vietnamese coffee is strong and powerful . French colonists introduced coffee to Vietnam, and nowthe morning cup of ca phe has become a local habit. With many variations Vietnamese coffee has developed a style of its own. Some of the local favoutrites are Egg coffee, Yoghurt coffee and Coffee smoothie, Try as much as you can on your trip to Hanoi
Don McCullin Exhibition at The Tate Modern, London
QUOTE from Don McCullin
“I started out in photography accidentally. A policeman came to a stop at the end of my street and a guy knifed him. Thats how I became a photographer. I photographed the gangs that I went to school with. I didnt choose photography, it seemed to choose me, but I’ve been loyal by risking my life for fifty years “
I’d been desperate to get to this exhibition to see McCullins great, iconic and gritty black & white images from his time as one of our best war, documentary and humanitarian photographers.
The exhibition exceeded all my expectations with 250 beautifully presented images in several halls, all printed by himself along with a short video presentation it covers his full career. I’d definitley recommend going.
Although I loved the whole exhibition I just wanted to talk about a handful of images that stand out for me personally and why they resonate with me and the style of photography that I so enjoy
Print 1 Vietnam
Without doubt one of my favourite images and I totally understand why this is the headline image for the exhibition.
It’s a great storytelling documentary image, it may even be set up but who cares as it totally tells a story of a young soldier looking out of an apartment window perhaps thinking of his own family and homeland. What makes the picture great and takes it to the higest level is the vietnamese couple framed on the floor probably in their own appartment looking into the place they once hapilly lived.
I love the simplicity of the image, the powerful storytelling and the framing.
Print 2 The soldiers Foot
A great three layered photographers picture, probably taken on his rollicord camera due to the square crop. This type of camera has allowed the photograher to hold the camera low to get a great perspective with forground interest, a secondary layer of the soldier and the third layer showing daily life still going on.
Print 3 Northern Ireland
This is without doubt my favourite image and one that Id buy for myself. I love the composition and the fact that he’s in close with the action. I love it because its storytlling, , all the spaces are filled and all the heads are in their own spaces . I think what elevates the picture is the young lad hanging and just about to jump filling the sapce between the two groups of three boys.
Images from around the exhibition
QUOTE from Don McCullin
“When I realised I had been given the go-ahead to photograph, I started composing my picturesin a very dignified way. It was the first time I had pictured somethingof this immense signigicance and I felt as if I had a canvas in front of me and I was, stroke by stroke, applying the compositionto a story that was telling itself. I was I realised later, trying to photograph in a way that Goya painted or did his war sketches”.
QUOTE from Don McCullin
“I dont believe you can see whats beyond the edge unless you put your head over it; I’ve many times been right up to the precipice, not even a foot or an inch away. Thats the only place to be if your going to see and show what sufffering really means “
QUOTE from Don McCullin
” The photograpic equipment I take on an assignmentis my head and my eyes and my heart. I could take the poorest equipment and I would still take the same photographs. They might not be as sharp, but they would certainly say the same thing “
I am very proud of my work with Hope, and every year return to Kolkata to lead a Hope Foundation photography workshop. Included in the course fee is a donation to The Hope Foundation, and as part of the course we visit some of the inspirational work that Hope do as well as visiting some of the areas of deprivation in the city where Hope target their support; like the railway community.
We explore the city documenting life in Kolkata, and visit the Flower Market along the Hooghly River, the book markets of College Street and the bustling markets that are the life centre of one of India’s most populated cities.
Although the focus of the Hope Foundation photography workshop, is to develop your skills as a documentary street photographer, recognising the work that Hope do is an important element to the photographers that join me on this particular course. In the evening two photographers go out with the Hope team to take support and help out to those living on the streets. We visit the Hope hospital and meet some of the staff who work so hard there. As part of my yearly visit I photograph the children for their special Hope Christmas card and this means we have chance to visit the girls home and nursery school. We go to the Hope café for lunch which is always a feast, and visit the workshops upstairs where Hope provide vocational courses such as hair and beauty, IT and dress making.
November marks the anniversary of The Hope Foundation in Kolkata and we are lucky enough to be invited to the special fund raising event at the Tolly Golf Club. If we are really lucky our trip coincides with the wonderful Maureen Forrest, founder of Hope and we have chance to meet up with her too.
Hope welcome donations and encourage you to become a sponsor of one of their children if you are interested follow the link and help Hope changed another child’s life, thank you. https://www.thehopefoundation.org.uk/
Travel Photography Tips
These are all of the things that I do prior and once travelling, but Id say the most important is preparation before you go
1 Thorough preparation do your homework and lots of detailed research is the first step and vitally important to ensure you get the most from your planned trip
2 Speak to locals, it gets you in places you wouldn’t have dreamt of and opens up many doors
3 Travel light, all my images were taken on a single camera with just a 35mm lens. Probably the greatest lens for the street and with a prime you just get to know the lens and its capabilities inside out. The only other stuff I take out is a small bottle of water and a spare battery, load up the camera with 128g cards and you’ll be great for the day, oh and get yourself a comfy pair of shoes or sandals if your visiting lots of temples. My fav trainers are made by Merrill and probably the comfiest sandals are a pair of Birkenstock Arizona’s
4 Stay with the moment and shoot through capturing the reactions, not just the action. My biggest lesson came a few years ago when travelling with a guy that could barely walk. He stayed in one chosen location for several hours at a time but boy at the end of the day did he have some cracking images.
TOP Travel Photography tips
5 Learn to use Google maps and build up a history of where you’ve been, what look like great places when you’re engaging with others and from your research
6 Learn a few basic words in the native language. A simple Hello or thank you with a smile both buys you many brownie points and opens up new doors with locals.
7 Shoot had and Edit hard and then just show your best
8 Vary your shots. Everything gets boring if all your images are taken from the same viewpoint, take your safety shot then ask yourself how I can take this better
9 Get up early, the light is beautiful, rest in the middle of the day if you need and then shoot thru sunset and the golden hour for the best pictures
10 Go with a group and critique each other’s work daily we all love a pat on the back and lots of likes but the best way to improve is constructive feedback amongst each other.
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Click on the video link below to hear and see my thought process as the scene develops and I get this four layered shot
People often ask what my thought process is when I see an opportunity or when Im working a scene or even how you see a layered shot. Here I share my thoughts as I photograph down on the railway track and take you through my thoughts as I photograph a scene and adapt to get a great multi-layered image.
I took inspiration from the Magnum photography book called Contac Sheets
Just a few memories, a nice new portfolio or some wow photos to put on Instagram or win your next photo competition?
I’ love you to come away from one of my courses with a small body of work that really captures all the places you’ve been , documents your experiences and the people you’ve encountered on your photo trip. We’ll be going out daily to different of the beaten track locations , finding interesting people and immersing ourselves in their way of life so we can capture their faces as they go about their daily lives. I’ll be challenging you to break down barriers and have the confidence to approach strangers and go into new locations and feel comfortable doing this so your subjects relax and let you take the photographs you want. I’ll be with you every step of the way to help you in any way I can to achieve your goals and get the travel pictures of interesting people that you want to take.
Layering is creating interest in your street photography and travel photos by placing people on different planes whilst telling a story across the whole image
Layering is probably the single most effective way to bring interest into your images with multiple points of interest. Quite often images can be quite complex but tell a story within a single frame. Layering in itself doesn’t make a great photograph but it can enhance an image and when done well it’s a triumph. Layering within street photography can become quite difficult when no direction is given from the photographer and people within a scene are constantly moving causing the image to constantly change. More often I’ll see an opportunity of a layered image occurring whilst Im walking around and then I’ll stay in that location for some time waiting for all the elements to come together.
Elements that you looking or are
People on different planes
Heads in spaces
You can quite clearly identify the subject
Good interaction between subjects
No bright highlights
Subjects in harmony with each other
Good use of light
A great moment ( a decisive moment )
Elements you don’t want in a layered image
Heads crossing over each other
No backs of heads especially as a main subject
No interaction or people or people not engaging with each other
Elements fighting with each other within a frame
Try not to cut off feet or hands
Lots of layers with no interest
Here are a few photographs that are both great layered images and tell a story with a short explanation of why I believe the image works
Kolkata The Temple
Taken on a 28mm lens I was attracted to the scene with all its colour and Id spotted it a a naturally three layered image.
I stayed with the scene about 10 mins and took a few images but this was the best of the bunch for a couple of reasons
1 The main subject is beautifully lit and the newspaper is acting as a natural reflector helping to lighten the shadows on his face.
2 All the subjects are in their own spaces again beautifully lit and you can see all of their faces with no backs of heads.,
KOLKATA ..The Vegetable Market
It’s always interesting going with people to these busy markets because when we walk in we go wow, its so busy and so much is going on and there lies the danger in that we become like kids in a sweetshop buzzing around trying to capture everything or rabbits frozen by headlights where we become overwhelmed by the situation. The trick here is to slow down, observe and find a couple of good locations with solid backgrounds and then stay so they all feel comfortable with you around it allows them to get back on with what they are doing and so allowing you to observe and work the scene to get a great image. This is one such example. I was first attracted to the colours in the background and the potential for layers as there were both people in the foreground and background immediately giving me a two layered image and with the guy in the foreground being an interesting subject I got as close as possible whilst also keeping my background subjects within the frame. Then I got lucky when a fourth guy walked into the scene and the guy reading looked up to engage with him and all I had to do was move a little higher to ensure the subject in the background then had his head in its own space. I really like random hands in images as it adds an air of mystery to the image but also adds context.
Top tips to help get those layered image
1 Although often in street photography the mantra is to get close quite often with a multi layered image you will find you have to step back to get all of the scene in
2 Foreground is so important and although you may be trying to capture all the scene it often elevates a picture if you have an interesting fore ground subject
3 Layering is not a formula you can apply but something you will learn to see the more you practice. You won’t just find layering street photography but in almost every genre with the almost classic landscape shot with a large rock in the foreground and the interest further into the image.
4 When you come across a scene you may need to work it a little by changing your angle or position a little to give you that perfect shot where no heads a crossing each other or heads are in their own spaces or perfectly framed with natural elements within the image.
5 Generally layered images are shot with a high f.stop giving a large depth of field so that all the foreground middle and background is in focus. Shallow DOF rarely works.
6 Try and look around the whole frame and ensure there are no distracting elements in the corners of the frame
7 Try and keep all the subject in the frame or cut them at an appropriate point. In other words just don’t cut of someones fingers or the bottoms of their feet.
8 Be prepared to stay with a scene for a little while and when you’ve found a scene worth working shoot hard and then edit hard to show just the best single image
Firstly you don’t have to be a Nikon user to come on one of my courses.
Gear, please just bring whatever camera you feel comfortable using, it really doesnt matter. We can all make any gear we have work wether it be a medium format camera or a small fixed lens camera. Its more about creativity and adapting yourself to take great photographs with the gear you have.
The main reason we buy more stuff or bring everything with us is that we fear we must cover every eventuality but the fact is that we will always miss great photographs, we just need to get over it and take the best photographs we can with the gear we have.
Generally you will miss more photos messing around with gear or being undecisive about what lens you should have for this given situation. The more gear you have the more decisions you have to make that’s why most of the time Im travelling I will just have one camera and one fixed lens so I can concentrate on making the best shot I can with the gear I have.
Gear I go out shooting with
35mm 1.8 lens
85 1.8 lens in bag
Small shoulder bag
95% of my photos are with just a simple 35mm fixed lens. The best tip I can give you is go light and get a really comfy pair of walking shoes
‘This is Burma,……it will be quite unlike any land you know about’ Rudyard Kipling, and was the inspiration for Kipling’s poem Mandalay. Myanmar is still pretty new to the tourist trail so it is an untouched gem for documentary photographers. Starting in the capital Yangon and venturing further into the country, Myanmar’s markets, Buddhist temples, coast and people welcome you in and are prime subjects to photograph.
Kolkata, capital of West Bengal, is the third most populated city in India, with an urban population 14.3 million, and believe me you absolutely feel it! A city of diverse lifestyles, being the principal commercial city with modern tower-blocks, hotels and businesses, alongside some of the oldest and most extensive areas of homelessness and communities that have built their homes in temporary shacks alongside the city’s canals and railway lines. Kolkata takes documentary street photography to another level, and some of it’s grittier, more challenging aspects are best captured in high contrast black and white photography.
Jodhpur, the famous blue walled city of Rajasthan, captures the romantic traditional image of India, with its intense colour and scents, and is an incredible source for dramatic and dynamic documentary street and travel photography. Driving out of the city to the recognisable red turbaned Reika tribes, step back in time, breath in the fresh air and enjoy the quiet of the surrounding farmland and rural villages. Jodhpur and its people need to be celebrated in full vibrant colour photography.
Unlike anywhere else in India let alone the world, Varanasi is the holiest of the seven most sacred cities for Hindus and Jains. In Northern India. On the banks of the Ganges, it is believed that death in the city will bring salvation. Completely overwhelming all the senses, but totally compelling, life and death share this space side by side, washing, bathing, praying and cremating the dead in Ghats along the river. Bodies are carried through the street to the cremation Ghats passed chai sellers and roaming cows, but rather than being a place of great sadness, there is a peace and joy that to us with more reserved emotions towards death is truly enlightening. Varanasi is an experience never to be forgotten.
Held every November to coincide with the full moon, the Pushkar Camel Festival is heralded as the biggest tribal gathering in Rajasthan, India, attracting thousands of tribesman and their camels, horses and cattle, and around 400,000 visitors over the fourteen day mela. Watch the horse riding and camel racing, wander through the colourful stalls and the red spired Brahma temple. Pushkar located on the shore of Pushkar Lake, there are many Ghats where pilgrims come to bathe. Pushkar is also important for Sikhs and has Gurdwaras dedicated to Guru Nanak.
Silchar is an important business district of Assam and within driving distance of some of India’s extensive tea plantations. Silchar has a very different feel from its neighbouring city of Kolkata with its green lush tea plants stretching out towards the blue silhouetted mountains in the distance.
Istanbul, historically known as Constantinople and Byzantium, is one of the most photogenic cities I’ve ever visited. Given its astonishing history there is no shortage of subjects to photograph. The places, people and dimly lit passages are a rich source of inspiration for reportage street photography. Istanbul’s numerous bazaars are the perfect backdrop for documentary street photography and although geared more to the tourist than local trade, the markets are nevertheless full of things to see and record with your camera. Although Turkey’s ethnic minorities are concentrated in Istanbul, the influence of Islam is at the heart of this city.
The Processione dei Misteri di Trapani has been performed for over 300 years and retells the passion plays through the most elaborate floats being paraded from the church through the streets of Trapani for 16 hours. We joined them as they prepared and gathered in the church early in the morning and followed them throughout the day until nightfall. The immense effort under which the men carry the floats of Christ and Mary is clear in their faces, and the whole experience is incredibly powerful for even the non-religious visitor. Trapani has become a source of inspiration for many street photographers, returning over a number of years to record this extraordinary procession, including myself.
Good morning Vietnam! I must confess Robin Williams legendary line whirled around my head arriving in the capital city Hanoi. A city where East meets West, and has been rapidly developing since 1990 when it opened its doors to the outside world. The memories of the Vietnam war are not far beneath the surface and there is still evidence of more simple, traditional life against the hi-tech modern consumerism of its young population.
From the cool and trendy young guys of Shoreditch barbers and Soho music shops, through the bustling multicultural markets of Brick Lane, to the historical Speakers Corner of Hyde Park, London is perfect for documentary street photo walks. As daily life rushes past graffiti walls and advertising boards, there are lots of opportunities to catch the unusual in the usual. I return to these locations again and again to develop particular photographic themes or stories.
There’s an affinity between the storytelling style of documentary photography and the founding principle at the heart of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe; which is to be an open-access arts event that accommodates anyone with a story to tell. The freedom with which I shoot my street photography reflects the freedom the EFFS allows the performers to shape the program through their own creative visions of performance. The Edinburgh festival is the largest arts festival in the world, held annually for three weeks in the Scottish capital bringing global performers and visitors together for an experience you need to try at least once in your lifetime!