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Street Photography in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Updated on February 29, 2012
While photographing people I try to limit at least 3-4 (in focus) people to reduce a busy look in my pictures.
While photographing people I try to limit at least 3-4 (in focus) people to reduce a busy look in my pictures. | Source

Tips On Taking Pictures In Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, is another photographers' dream location for shooting photographs of one of the fastest growing cities' in Southeast Asia.

And I had a chance to capture just a glimpse of the colorful sights and experience through the lens of my camera for an unforgettable week in Ho Chi Minh City.

There are just so many things to photograph in HCMC that you're going to need a lot of memory cards to satisfy your camera's appetite. And you may have a hard time keeping track of all your potential photographic subjects moving all around at a frenetic pace. With so many motorbikes buzzing all around on the streets and sidewalks, making street photography in Ho Chi Minh City can be a hazard. It's a fast evolving city and sometimes you have to be prepared to take memorable photographs.

My biggest tip on taking street photography is to use a smaller camera. There are many sophisticated portable cameras available today. While photographing people I find that they are much more relaxed if you snap a shot at them with a smaller camera. Bulky professional looking DSLRs with massive lens can be intimidating from the other end.

Besides, a smaller camera means less bulk and makes walking around the streets more relaxed and comfortable. So you can focus on taking better pictures.

Usually the Vietnamese locals living and working around tourists attractions are not shy and have no problems at all being photographed. But it's always good manners to ask for permission anyway. No need to speak Vietnamese at all. With a cheerful smile, point to your camera and then to your subject. While pointing to your subject, do so with your hand palms up. It's just more polite. It is also good form to show the picture to your subject afterwards through your camera's view screen. I guarantee it will bring a smile to their faces.

One tip that I must emphasis while shooting street photography in Ho Chi Minh City or anywhere else matter of fact is to have a very good wide angle lens. A minimum of at least 20mm for a mirror-less camera body and a 50mm lens for a DSLR body. Wide angle lens are the closest to what the human eyes sees. So in effect you are letting those who see your photographs have a glimpse of what you were seeing that day.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A quick snapshot. I meant to focus on the woman and child. This photo is interesting to me.Grooming on the streets.Roosters on the streets. Quite common throughout HCMC.I was right in the middle of a lot of traffic. For a slightly more dramatic photo, tilt your camera.I think the girl in the foreground likes me =).If you've ever been to HCMC you might think that there are as many motorbikes as there are people.Chilling out on the streets of HCMC. These pictures were taken in February 2012 and the weather was very comfortable. And to a point cool with a nice breeze.
Source
A quick snapshot. I meant to focus on the woman and child. This photo is interesting to me.
A quick snapshot. I meant to focus on the woman and child. This photo is interesting to me. | Source
Grooming on the streets.
Grooming on the streets. | Source
Roosters on the streets. Quite common throughout HCMC.
Roosters on the streets. Quite common throughout HCMC. | Source
I was right in the middle of a lot of traffic. For a slightly more dramatic photo, tilt your camera.
I was right in the middle of a lot of traffic. For a slightly more dramatic photo, tilt your camera. | Source
Source
I think the girl in the foreground likes me =).
I think the girl in the foreground likes me =). | Source
Source
If you've ever been to HCMC you might think that there are as many motorbikes as there are people.
If you've ever been to HCMC you might think that there are as many motorbikes as there are people. | Source
Chilling out on the streets of HCMC. These pictures were taken in February 2012 and the weather was very comfortable. And to a point cool with a nice breeze.
Chilling out on the streets of HCMC. These pictures were taken in February 2012 and the weather was very comfortable. And to a point cool with a nice breeze. | Source

While roaming the streets of Ho Chi Minh you should preset your camera so that you're ready to snap your photo. This means you should really get to know your camera inside and out. And a study of basic photography such as composition and lighting will come in handy too.

However, if you don't have a care in the world about aperture settings, shutters, ISO and so on, make sure you set your camera to automatic mode. On some cameras automatic is called the 'P' mode or program mode. Today's cameras are very smart and can help you take better photographs by optimizing the correct settings for the lighting and situation.

Don't be afraid to have photographs that are slightly blurry. Ho Chi Minh is a fast moving city. A lot of my pictures have a bit of blur in them. But that's all right. To me, the blur in the photos mimics the fast paced motions that occur around all over the city.

Don't be afraid of the blur. It just shows movement.
Don't be afraid of the blur. It just shows movement. | Source
Source
A lens with a wide aperture such as the Lumix 1.7 20mm lens I use makes your subject sharp and the background soft.
A lens with a wide aperture such as the Lumix 1.7 20mm lens I use makes your subject sharp and the background soft. | Source
My favorite Banh Mi sandwich shop in HCMC. This place always has a line.
My favorite Banh Mi sandwich shop in HCMC. This place always has a line. | Source
A workshop for the handicap in HCMC.
A workshop for the handicap in HCMC. | Source

My Camera Gear

Whenever I travel, wherever I go, I love to pack light. Thanks to today's newer cameras I am able to pack portable camera gear with very good functions and specifications.

Personally I use mirror-less cameras because they are a lot less bulkier than a DSLR. Another must have photo equipment is a pancake lens. Preferably a fixed wide angled lens for wide shots. You can always crop your photos afterwards to contain the action within your photographs.

And as I always say it pays to have good glass. Your lens is more important than the actual camera body itself. You should invest in the best lens that you can afford.

During my trips I carry around a Panasonic Lumix GF2 12MP equipped with a Lumix 1.7 20mm pancake lens. The GF2 is not the best in its class in today's camera market because it is a few years and a few models too old. However, the quality and function of the GF2 is sufficient for my purpose. Plus it's affordable too. The lens though makes the difference between low quality and high quality shots. My Lumix 1.7 20mm is tact sharp, fast and awesome for low light shots without flash.

Besides extra batteries, a back-up camera is a necessity too. And it should be a camera lighter than your primary. For that I chose to use the Panasonic Lumix LX-5, another mirror-less camera. This camera will fit into a loose pocket. The LX5 is equipped with a 24mm lens and can zoom up to 90mm. With a 2.0 wide aperture you'll get great photographs with a soft focus background while your subject is sharp.

An optional piece of equipment for both cameras is Panasonic's external live view finder DMW-LVF1. I find it helps a lot whenever the sun is too harsh and I can't see the camera's view screen so well. The viewfinder works for both the GF2 and LX5.

All of the pictures you've seen so far on my hubs, including the ones here were taken with the GF2 and LX5 cameras.

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    • Edwin Clark profile imageAUTHOR

      Edwin Clark 

      6 years ago from Thailand by way of New York

      @travelespresso, I'm jealous ;) right now I'm back in NYC and wish I was in Vietnam, it would've been nice to trade notes with you over bowl of pho and iced coffee!

    • travelespresso profile image

      travelespresso 

      6 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Hi EC. I'm in Vietnam now. Have you seen my hub on the Old Quarter in Hanoi along with lots of street photography. Hope you've had time to go up there - it's amazing.

    • Edwin Clark profile imageAUTHOR

      Edwin Clark 

      6 years ago from Thailand by way of New York

      Hi travelespresso, thank you for visiting! Vietnam is beautiful and I can't wait to go back!

    • travelespresso profile image

      travelespresso 

      6 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      You are right EC - there are so many sights to photograph. It's a great country to capture memories of a lifetime and the city is changing rapidly. Nice hub.

    • Edwin Clark profile imageAUTHOR

      Edwin Clark 

      6 years ago from Thailand by way of New York

      Hello punacoast and thank you for the good words. It's been a week since I left Vietnam and the noises and sounds haven't left me to this day! The horns from the cars and motorbikes were always honking for each other to watch out or get out of the way. It was a real rush!

    • punacoast profile image

      Viet Doan 

      6 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Thanks for the great tips on photographing Saigon's street scenes! I could hear all the noises (motorbikes, vendors, etc.) and feel the bustling energy of this city just from looking at your photos! Excellent hub.

    • Edwin Clark profile imageAUTHOR

      Edwin Clark 

      6 years ago from Thailand by way of New York

      Hello ladies! Thank you very much for the kind comments. HCMC was unforgettable. @Claudia Tello, I'll be sure to check out your hub on Hanoi!

    • savanahl profile image

      savanahl 

      6 years ago

      Great addition to your hub on the hotels. Voted up. Thanks for sharing.

    • Claudia Tello profile image

      Claudia Tello 

      6 years ago from Mexico

      I haven’t been to Ho Chi Minh City but I visited Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, which is a similar buzzing city, full with charming images, lots of motorcycles and unusual images which compelled me to use my camera frequently and do street photography as well. I actually wrote a Hub of my trip, using those photos, called "Visiting Hanoi Vietnam: a visual tour through the city".

      Very high quality Hub with nice pictures and photographic tip. Voted up and interesting.

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