Photo of the Day – Hanoi Portrait

Hanoi was one of my favourite places for street photography, largely because everyone is always in the street. Many businesses that would normally carry out their day-to-day operations inside are frequently found occupying the sidewalks of the motorcycle-choked, labyrinthine streets of the old city. Shoemakers, carpenters, metal workers and other trades and craftspeople are on full display and with a little rudimentary Vietnamese and a friendly smile, you can find some great subjects for your shots.

One of my personal favourite shots from the time I spent there is the one below. Again, this is another one from my brand new portfolio site, this time from the people section. Click on the thumbnail to see the full size:

This guy just looked badass. He was hanging out on the corner, not getting up to much of anything – just checking out the scene and listening to Hanoi’s ever-present motorcycle-horn symphony.

As tough and mean as he looked, I couldn’t bear passing by him without at least trying to get his consent for a photo. I could have walked across the street, slapped a long lens on my camera and covertly snapped a candid, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t be altogether pleased with the result. His appearance was so engaging, I felt I would lose some of that by putting a huge distance between us. Not to mention, I generally think it’s polite to ask when the opportunity’s available.

Armed with one of the few Vietnamese phrases I was capable of speaking, I approached him and the local words for “Can I take your photo?” managed to stumble out of my foreign mouth. The worst he could do was say no and I would have lost nothing except an opportunity for what would have been a somewhat unsatisfying candid shot.

But instead of saying no, he looked at me silently, nodded and then proceeded to take this pose while I got my shot. My Vietnamese was, by no means, good enough to tell him to “act natural” or “cross your arms and look tough.” I got a bit lucky with that, but, to a degree, you make your own luck and this shot wouldn’t have happened without performing the simple act of asking to take the photo.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not always easy to overcome the intimidation factor, but you just have to keep telling yourself, “the worst they can do is say no.”

I’m hoping I can follow up this brief visit of my time in Vietnam with a slightly more lengthy stay there – I would like to gather up some of my favoured shots from there into a “best of” gallery on this site. It’s a fantastic, beautiful country that deserves a longer look than this little blog post here. Stay tuned.

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