…up on an incredibly picturesque town called Sapa at 1650m above sea level in Vietnam‘s remote northwest, the Hoang Lien Son mountain range near the Chinese border in northwestern Vietnam, known as the Tonkinese Alps*.
Sapa and its surrounding region is host to many hill tribes, as well as rice terraces, lush vegetation, and Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam. It is famous for both its fine, rugged scenery and also its rich cultural diversity**.
From Hanoi, le Nik and I took a 9-hour-ish over-night train journey which arrived in Lao Cai where I rented a motorbike to ride to Sapa instead of taking a (less awesome way of arrival ) shuttle bus.
Excited? yes, it was my very first photography-oreinted trip, and also the first time in Sapa. Once there, I checked myself in at the Baguette and Chocolate hotel, a French-style villa on the road from the town square and craft market. The place has its own bakery downstairs so never once I wasn’t woken up by the deliciously mouth-watering smell of butter, fresh croissants and coffee. Great way to start the day indeed.
In Sapa, anywhere in the main village could be reached on foot but not the surrounded villages. I looked at the map, planned and started visiting villages (all were a few kilometers from Sapa) one-by-one on my awesome rented Kawasaki motorbike started from Cat Cat, Ban Ho, Lao Chai and Ta Phin villages. Itinerary – all set.
It was like le first date, trying to get to know a guy and check the chemistry between us. A first hand-on a D-SLR was a bit tricky, not to mention a manual setting for different shots.
If you use a D-LSR and don’t rely on an auto-mode function, then you will understand the fun, the challenge and the pain that come with a manual setting that allows you to get a photo with spectacular outcomes – if succeed.
And then there is light.
Playing with the right light at the exact moment is like – dude, one shot, one opportunity – be ready and get it. Or miss it and be doomed.
At CatCat village, I saw two girls walked down from their village a bit more than a kilometre away, and I knew that I wanted a shot of them, good light, great background except the fact that they didn’t want me to get that shot. Never mind. I sat on the road waited patiently with le Nik ready in my hand for the moment to come. I knew that I only had one shot when they appeared up the hilly road on their way toward me. Click. One girl knew what I was doing she covered her face right before she was up the road but that one click was fast enough to capture another girl’s face before she too covered it with the pillow cases in her hands. Damn – I (or le Nik?) was good.
To get one good shot, I often sat and waited at one spot like a numb-nuts for hours for the right light for one photo (once was a three-hour session in Marseille)(and even after that three bloody hours, I got none)(miscalculation)(doomed).
But sometimes you just have to be quick and go for it, try your luck and hope for the best.
That was the case of a photo of my new found friend, Ma, her brother and her granny in their small and dark hut. I could hardly see anything (including whatever buttons on le Nik) except for whatever was near the only small square window. Her granny was boiling water in a kettle for her afternoon tea so there was a small camping-type fire in the middle of the hut.
Low light – checked, smoke – checked and three incredible models – checked, all of which were right in front of me – checked – – how could I not capture this?
I asked Ma, a wee chap and her granny to sit on a bamboo bench next to the window and look out toward the light.
I did what I thought was the best setting for the white balance, aperture, and shutter speed in low light environment according to what I remembered from my google search.
Within that given few minutes, I had absolutely no clue whether I got one good shot or none.
Time and patience come hand in hand in photography. But sometimes, you can screw them both and just have to go for it. Outcome? absolutely no guarantee. If fail, yes it sucks but you learn and you try again.
I got a lot of good shots from le Nik but nothing comparing to a number of the bad ones. Am I confident that I will always get a good photo when I want one? No. Do I care if those good ones I got might have been just one time luck? a fluke? No.
Like what Ansel Adams once said – there are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.