Hoi An, Vietnam | Portrait Photo Tour with Etienne Bossot in Duy Hai Fishing Village

photo tour vietnam hoi an fisherman


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Taking Photos and Portraits

Photography has been long standing past time for me over the last 20 years. There is no point denying that taking photos is much easier since the introduction of digital cameras. On average I am known to take about three hundred photos a day during a trip, to the annoyance of my boys, sometimes even more. I mainly taught myself the in and outs of photography, including some of the technical knowledge, but I am aware that I am far from being an expert on the subject and have never aspired to be a pro. My aim is just to capture the most interesting subjects and some say I have a knack of seeing the world around me with a “good” eye, spotting items and scenes that others might miss.

Photo Tour with Etienne Bossot in Hoi An

When I read about a photo tour with Etienne Bossot in Hoi An, I thought it might be a great experience to be shown a different side to Vietnam by someone who has lived there for a few years, and knows the area quite well. Etienne’s portraits are mesmerising and I really admire his work, I was sure to also learn something new from him, besides meeting locals and get an insight into their life from a different angle. I had emailed Etienne a few weeks before leaving for Vietnam and he had offered me a spot in a photo tour to Duy Hai fishing village in the early morning for sunrise (he also offers evening tours to rural farms). At 45 USD it seemed reasonably priced for special photo tour taking six hours in total. Getting up at 4 in the morning for 4:45 pick up at the hotel was less encouraging. Nevertheless I got up without waking the boys and sneaked downstairs into the lobby, where I found the night staff half dozing on the benches and the men kindly opened the door to let me out. Soon enough the mini bus with the other tour participants arrived to collect me.

Photographic Equipment

It was still dark outside on our drive to the Duy Hai fishing village near the river mouth, downstream from Hoi An. We stopped at a traditional café on the outskirts of the village for a coffee and tea. Etienne introduced himself and asked us about our photographic experience, plus he wanted to see our camera equipment. There were two women in the group, besides myself, but they had just tagged along with their husbands out of curiosity and were not planning to take any photographs beside a few shots on their phones. The quality of cameras around the table varied massively, one guy basically had his whole camera set with different lenses in his backpack, while others made do with a standard digital camera that most tourists carry around on holidays. My setup is probably in the middle, I prefer to have an all in kit and use a Nikon D700 with a 40 to 105mm lens but I have my eye on an upgrade to the new D7500 with a better zoom. We then discussed some basic photographic tips, like proportions, framing and background.

photo tour vietnam hoi an fisherman

photo tour vietnam hoi an silhouettes

photo tour vietnam hoi an sunrise

photo tour vietnam hoi an waiting

Potrait Photography of the Local Fishermen and Women

The main aim of the photo tour was to take portraits of the local fishermen and women. This for me has always been a difficult subject as I have huge reservations of taking photos of single strangers mainly due to the fact that I would not want to have any random stranger take a photo of my family or myself. This is the main reason why my pictures mainly feature landscapes or everyday objects, however I do not refrain from taking photos of crowds and do I occasionally ask individuals before taking their photos, if I really feel they would not mind. Etienne however assured us that there was no issue with taking portraits and close ups of the fishing community, his main argument was that the Asians generally do not oppose to having their photos taken, but I have a feeling it is always best to ask before taking a portrait.

photo tour vietnam hoi an fishermen

photo tour vietnam hoi an captain

photo tour vietnam hoi an smiles

photo tour vietnam hoi an old lady

People’s Silhouettes

Once we had finished our drinks we wandered towards the small port of Duy Hai. A narrow strip of light on the horizon announced the imminent sunrise. The small, rural port was still peaceful with just a few faces waiting for the fishermen to return from a night at sea. Etienne had suggested that the early daylight would be great for shots of the people’s silhouettes, the prime position for this was on the slopes of the embankment, just above the waterline. From there we would be able to see the fishermen and women walk along the boardwalks, with the lighting sky as a background.

Rubbish in the Water

It was shocking to see the amount of rubbish floating in the nearby water’s edge and on the riverside. When I asked Etienne about the problem he plainly lifted his shoulders as if he did not care… He received some greetings from the locals, it was obvious he must spend many mornings in the village taking tourists around on the tour. However, there were a surprisingly large number of fishermen and women that appeared to be a little annoyed and displeased by our presence.  I think perhaps that he is there a little too often.

photo tour vietnam hoi an rubbish

photo tour vietnam hoi an child

photo tour vietnam hoi an work

photo tour vietnam hoi an smoker

Taking Photos of Strangers

Thinking back about it now, I would be just as unhappy about strangers constantly stepping in my way while trying to get my job finished so I could finally go home and on top these people would also be taking photos of myself… I would lie if I did not admit that I felt uncomfortable during parts of our photo session and received more than one angry look when pointing my camera in their direction. For sure there were others that almost posed for the group and there some of the older ladies with their cone hats even requested a little money if they caught us hot handed.

photo tour vietnam hoi an fisherman

photo tour vietnam hoi an rower

photo tour vietnam hoi an silver fish

photo tour vietnam hoi an action

Return of the Fishermen

The air around us was getting brighter and the fishing boats returned to port. The women rushed down the embankment and excitedly waited for the men to bring the day’s catch in on a traditional round boat. Large numbers of the fish were kept in boxes, with only the largest catches carried on land in hand. One fish caught the first sun’s rays on its shining skin, shimmering like a silver treasure in the woman’s hands.

photo tour vietnam hoi an catch of the day

photo tour vietnam hoi an cigartette

photo tour vietnam hoi an barter

photo tour vietnam hoi an shout

Selling the Catch

The catch was then sold and the commotion and bartering was an interesting and unusual sight for us. It somewhat reminded me of the tuna auction in Tsukiji in Tokyo, although on a more primitive and old-fashioned way. Cash was exchanged and I could see the batches of bills in the hands of the men and women.

photo tour vietnam hoi an meeting

photo tour vietnam hoi an inspection

photo tour vietnam hoi an cash

photo tour vietnam hoi an mobile

A Small Boy Among the Crowd

In between the crowd of fishermen and women was a small boy, no older than four or five that was around the entire time. Surely one of the women must have been his mother? – But he happily kept himself busy and watched us with suspicious eyes. Etienne was not happy with the turn out of the fishing boats, he said there usually were more boats arriving in the mornings with their catch. We later found out that this was due to the new moon when many of the fishermen refrain from fishing. This was also apparent when we headed for breakfast after the shooting session, as the only dishes available were vegetarian – another superstition.

photo tour vietnam hoi an child

photo tour vietnam hoi an big catch

photo tour vietnam hoi an sardines

photo tour vietnam hoi an smiles

Read On…

Read more about my photo tour with Etienne Bossot in Duy Hai fishing village in my next post.

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5 thoughts on “Hoi An, Vietnam | Portrait Photo Tour with Etienne Bossot in Duy Hai Fishing Village

  1. I too have misgivings taking photos of compete strangers. As I only have my iPhone and Canon SX120 IS my zoom ability is limited. I finally managed to get around my unwillingness to interfere with the lives of others by recalling how often people would be shooting pictures of my children when we lived in China without permission. If my daughters became frustrated I would turn around the common cry of locals, ‘gei wo qian’, (give me money) except with a big smile, If they would not stop. This taught me, and my girls, to have tougher skins and how to diffuse a potential problem. As a solo traveller I now try to flash a big smile with a shrug – it nearly always works. Or it could be I am frightening everyone. Snap on!

    1. We used to travel a lot through remote areas in Japan when Jerome was little and he was a huge attraction to the locals with his blond curls and big eyes. They however were always polite to ask in their reserved manner if they could have a photo with us. Generally we didn’t mind but as Jerome got older he got annoyed by it! At least with the Japanese they would accept a no!
      I will try to be braver, thanks for the encouragement!

    2. This also reflects well on my reservations. I’ve always thought I should take “better” pictures, but most of my people pictures are of crowds, groups or further away.
      I’ve just accepted that I’m too shy to be the portrait photographer I could have been!

      Chinese are certainly far more direct than Japanese. I sort of like that. Vietnamese are in between.

      1. I am glad you share my troubles, on the other hand we should just stick with what we can take and enjoy the people close up and keep their faces in our minds and not on photos.

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