Off the Beaten Path: Hoi An

by Colby Holiday

Colby (from World of a Wanderer) loves to capture the essence of her travels through photography. Read on to hear Colby uncover the fears and challenges that accompany capturing the perfect shot and how she overcomes her fears, leading to triumph in Hoi An, Vietnam. Getting out of your comfort zone is definitely savvi and we commend Colby for sharing that that with us. Thanks Colby!

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Street photography is probably my favorite style of photography. I love the candidness and authenticity of it. It allows me to become a visual storyteller. However, I will be the first to admit I am the biggest coward when it comes to making these types of photos. I feel like it’s such an awkward intrusion, for both myself and the subject. So I’m usually THAT person who stands off in the distance snapping photos, then scurrying off before the subject has a chance to object lol. But, I’m challenging myself more and more to step out of my comfort zone and being confident in my approach instead of hiding behind trees, spraying a praying.

So, on this particular morning I wandered off the beaten tourist path, as I always do on my travels. I believe that in order to fully understand the depth of a place you have to look beyond the “glitter and gold”, and get to the grit. Find the places that has not yet been tainted by tourism, and you find the heart of a city/town. At any rate, as I meandered through a maze of alleyways this lady caught my eye. For a moment I just stood there watching her carry on about her morning chores. When I realized I was kinda being a complete creeper, standing in a tiny, desolate alleyway watching this woman scrub laundry, I figured I’d snap a quick photo and move on before I was busted.

Everything about this moment made for a great photo…the candidness, my positioning in the alleyway, the window shutters that perfectly framed the woman, the open and airy light where the woman sat. It was all perfect. However, I didn’t have a zoom lens with me and my nerves wouldn’t allow me to move any closer so I snapped the photo from where I stood.

But I wasn’t satisfied. This photo did no justice for the moment. So I stood there battling with myself “Do, I move closer, or just go with what I’ve got?”

Determination propelled my feet forward. Fear made me do an about face after only a few steps.

“No, no, no. I can’t do this!” I told myself. “This is this lady’s backyard. I can’t just waltz into her space and say ‘Hey! Can I take your photo?!’ It’s too weird.” By this time I’m having an all out conversation with self, trying to convince self that I can do it. Once more, I attempted to walk towards the light and again, my feet failed me. If someone were watching me they’d probably assume I was crazy…talking to myself, pacing back and forth…admittedly, not a good look.

So, after a few moments and a few deep breaths, my Billie Bad Ass self convinced my less than confident self that we can do this. We ARE going to do this.  We are going to step out of our comfort zone, step out of the shadows and do this. So we did.

I slowly, at a snail’s pace, walked towards the lady. I didn’t want to alarm her. After all, I was a random black woman wandering into her very secluded backyard courtyard. Awkward much? After inching closer and she still hadn’t looked up, I offered a small, sweet “Hiiii…”

She still didn’t hear me. Great. So then, a little louder I said “Helloooo.” Finally, I’d gotten her attention. She didn’t jump or reach under her seat and whip out a machete (which in my back and forth debate I’d almost convinced myself that she would), so I took that as a good sign. I bowed, as a sign of respect, and flashed the biggest (and I’m sure goofiest) smile I could muster. I motioned my hand to her and said “Đẹp” (the Vietnamese word for beautiful) and held up my camera seeking permission to make her photo.

She didn’t understand.

We went back and forth for a few moments; neither of us understanding the other. Finally, I’d decided to just bow out gracefully and spare us both anymore awkwardness. I graciously thanked her and told her it was ok, not to worry, and apologized. I was proud of myself for even getting that far. So, in my mind…mission accomplished. I’d tried.

But before I could turn to leave the lady stopped me. She went into her home and brought out another young woman, her daughter perhaps. I thought “Oh God! Please get me outta here! I don’t even want the photo anymore. My pits are sweating. This is too much!” But, nonetheless, I tried explaining to the young woman what I wanted and I guess at some point it clicked because the older woman sat back down and posed for the picture. I motioned for her to just keep doing what she was doing but again, language barriers. So I didn’t push it. I took what I could get.

In my haste to get the shot and get out of there, I didn’t think to change my camera settings. First photo, way overexposed. Crap! I absentmindedly adjusted a few settings. Second photo, still overexposed. Ugh! Everything in me wanted to just get out of there. I stood to bid my farewells and thank yous, but I decided just one more. So, I apologized, again for the inconvenience, and asked her for just one more. She obliged. With fidgety fingers I adjusted my settings again and prayed for the best. It worked! And even more, the lady was more relaxed and less, awkwardly, posy in this photo.

Of all the million photos I’ve taken in Vietnam, this is hands down my favorite. Technically, could it have been a little better? Yes. But whatevs. It took a lot of self convincing and comfort zone crushing to capture this shot. I’m happy.

It was as if that one little feat gave me an heir of confidence that carried me throughout the day. I found myself not hiding so much in the midst of tour groups (that I wasn’t even a part of) in an effort to be discreet. Instead I allowed myself to get as close as I needed to in order to get the shot I wanted.

Here are a few more photos from off the beaten path. Hope you enjoy!
***Some of these photos were taken on a walking tour. 

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