Hoi An is one of the best places in the world for travel photography because of the incredible backgrounds that are rich in color and history. I’ve been a photographer working in Vietnam for more than 8 years now and I use a photography technique called “fishing photography”. Read on to find out more tips about my favorite places to capture the beauty of the yellow city of Vietnam.
I find a spot on the Cua Dai bridge just as the light starts to spread its rays across the water. Below the fishermen have already started to toss their nets to pull in their catch of the day. Captured at just the right instant, the nets spark gold in the sun, an echo of the yellow tones that wash over the whole city of Hoi An.
Mornings, like today, I wake up early to find the ideal spot and frame my background. Then, all I have to do is to wait for the right subject to enter my lens. This is called “fishing photography”, and sometimes, not always, but sometimes, it results in the perfect shot.
For example, in the photograph below, the ochre walls with layers of peeling paint and distressed edges brighten the landscape, and the reflection on the water, to create a gorgeous backdrop for this woman who happened to ride by on her bicycle.
Open Air Photography
in the Yellow City of Vietnam
I think of Hoi An as my open-air studio. I can wander from the Cua Dai bridge to a narrow plant-filled hem alley to an aerial rooftop view, and catch a different angle each time by simply allowing the subject to come as it may. From the hazy morning sun on the harbor to the bright yellow walls that make the perfect back drop for any subject, the city continually surprises and inspires me.
As a travel and portrait photographer, I am always seeking light. Here, in my adopted home, sunshine surrounds me.
During the day, there is the natural light that reflects off the buildings showcasing their bright lemon paint. At night, there is the glow on the river from the dozens of candle-filled Hoi An lanterns that tourists purchase and release. This is when the color of the city shifts to a soft golden hue. The light and tone are always changing in the yellow city of Hoi An. I love to shoot the same background at different times of day to see how the mood changes as the shadows and colors deepen.
There’s something happening on every corner. Depending on my location, I might catch a few students walking by in their perfect, white Ao Dai or a woman might enter my frame carrying an overflowing basket of spiky dragon fruit that she’s purchased at Tra Que organic village.
Even on a rainy day, there can be a play of color between the yellow painted walls and the women wearing brightly colored raincoats.
Some of the best Photography Spots in Hoi An
The city is full of craftsmen, tailors, artists, and shoemakers, to name but a few talents.
The beauty of being a photographer in Hoi An is that the Ancient Town is like a ballet of non la conical hats as vendors and customers move between stalls to sample the wares.
A few of my favorite photography locations consist of tourist areas before the rush, and off-the-beaten-path locations that I’ve discovered over the years.
The Central Market
The Hoi An Central market is a wonderful place for an authentically Vietnamese photographic expedition.
The key is to wake up early, between 5 am and 7 am, and catch the sunrise on the market stalls when only locals are around.
At this early hour, you will see street grills starting to smoke as skewers of meat are placed on top of the coals, women carrying fruit and vegetables in baskets, while men fill up the local cafes to smoke and drink coffee before they open their workshops to the world.
Secret Places to Look
for Great Photos
One of my favorite angles to shoot from is by bird’s eye view. I scout out the roof top of a building that is just a little higher than the others, and find the entrance through the market or a coffee shop; it’s just a question of finding the hidden stairs.
From above, there is just something about the light in Hoi An that is truly unlike anywhere else. Hoi
Hoi An’s hidden alleyways are another location I frequently return to. I find the hems between Bach Dang and Tran Phu particularly photogenic with the narrow, paved paths winding between mossy, yellow walls. The other advantage of alleyways is that they create a natural frame for subjects
Hoi An Ancient Town
UNESCO World Heritage Site
It only takes a bit of exploring to understand why UNESCO chose to include Hoi An Ancient Town as a World Heritage Site. From the ancient trading port to the French colonial influence of many of the buildings, the town reflects both indigenous and foreign artistry, all while maintaining its signature cheerful charm.
The streets are too narrow for cars, and motorbikes are only allowed in the ancient town during certain hours. The luxury of being able to walk freely through the town makes it an ideal location for exploring, especially for those who love the idea of visiting remnants from the past.
844 of nearly 1000 ancient buildings in Hoi An are written down on the UNESCO list for their historical value. Many of the old houses have been turned into museums or artist’s workshops. Their unique design includes a streetside entrance that is convenient for customers, while the back of the building opens to the river, making it easy for loading and off-loading goods transported by boat.
A Travel Photographer’s Dream
The colors will take you to another era, and naturally lift your spirits. With so many hidden hems and local treasures, it’s easy to wander for hours. Most local people speak a fair amount of English, and are very friendly to visitors, so it’s easy to find your way.
My work often takes me to remote areas, some inaccessible even by motorbike, so having a place that’s so enchanting to come home to grounds my traveler’s soul.
Despite being a major tourist attraction in Vietnam, Hoi An’s Ancient Town still represents a place where there is an appreciation, and even reverence, for culture and heritage. The golden hues that one experiences by day or by night make this one of the most magical places on earth.
My goal is to take photographs that make people want to travel to Vietnam just by seeing images of the country. Hoi An is the perfect location for amazing travel photography that transports the viewer to this land of beauty and diversity.
It is an enchanting experience that never gets old, no matter how many years I’ve lived here. I often feel as if I’m at home in another era, living amid a rich cultural heritage that time has preserved.