We first met Etienne Bossot on a riverboat in Northwestern Myanmar way back in 2014. We were the only three foreigners on a boat that was so crowded that you had to bring your own chair onboard if you wanted to sit down during the 8-hour boat ride.
Etienne told us that he was from France, had married a Vietnamese woman, started a photography business in Hoi An, and had a new baby on the way. Etienne was scouting new locations in Myanmar before heading to Yangon to lead one of his Pics of Asia photography tours.
Fast forward to 2019, we were spending a few weeks in Hoi An and decided to look Etienne up. A quick Google search and a few email exchanges later, we found ourselves at a quaint coffee shop with Etienne and his two young children. We shared travel stories, learned about ex-pat life in Hoi An, and told him all about our travel blog.
Etienne invited us along on one of his Hoi An photography tours. A couple of days later, we were standing in front of our hotel at 4:30 am, Nick with a DSLR camera and Val with her iPhone – ready to capture local Vietnamese life on film (well, digital “film”).
It turned out to be one of the best tours in Hoi An. We would highly recommend Etienne’s tours to anyone visiting Hoi An. Read on to learn all about our experience with Hoi An Photo Tour and what to expect during your photography tour!
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About Hoi An Photo Tours and Pics of Asia
Etienne has been living in Hoi An for over 11 years and has been running both Hoi An Photo Tours and Pics of Asia for over 10 years. Though Hoi An Photo Tours has expanded to include several guides over the years, Etienne still leads many of the tours.
Not only does Etienne speak Vietnamese, but he also has an impressive amount of knowledge of the local countryside and small villages surrounding Hoi An. He is well known and liked by the local communities. People constantly stopped to chat as we passed along our route.
Photo Tour Options
The tours are dependent upon having enough participants. They also can be canceled due to weather as Hoi An gets quite a bit of rain during the winter. If you want to join a tour, make sure to contact Hoi An Photo Tours in advance. They can inform you what tours will be available during your stay.
The following tours are offered by Hoi An Photo Tours regularly throughout the year:
- Sunrise with the fisherman
- Sunset with the farmers
- Morning Hoi An photo walk
- Night photo walk
- Advanced sunrise photography
Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced
You can be at any experience level in your photography skills to join a Hoi An Photo Tour. And you can bring any camera. During our sunrise tour, Nick took photos with his Nikon DSLR, while Val simply used her iPhone 8 Plus. Etienne was able to help both of us capture great photos.
You’ll learn photography tips on lighting and composition that don’t require a fancy camera setup. And if you are looking to learn more about your new high-end camera, Etienne is also knowledgeable about the various camera brands. He can help you master your settings.
The Sunrise Tour Experience
Etienne believes in capturing actual experiences in Vietnam. So none of his tours are staged in any way. If you opt for the “Sunrise with the Fishermen tour” as we did, you will visit a local village outside of Hoi An to see the boats pulling in from a night of fishing. You’ll be surrounded by boats unloading their goods, women buying and selling fish out of baskets on the pier, and men playing cards and smoking cigarettes in the nearby coffee shops.
And Etienne will be there to help you along the way. He will point out good natural lighting and layering opportunities. He will help you with your photo composition and camera settings. He’ll always be around to give you tips or tricks to improve your abilities.
Taking Photos of People
You will be encouraged to take photos of the locals during your photography tour. Rather than paying people to take their photos, Hoi An Photo Tours encourages you to engage with the locals. The idea is to show interest in what they are doing, not to make your camera the focal point of your interaction.
Etienne has developed friendly relationships with many locals in the village. As such, no one seems to mind if you take their photo. In fact, many people seem to be entertained by it. You should actually avoid giving people money in exchange for their photographs. It risks spoiling the genuine encounters of future tours.
How to Book a Tour
Keep in mind that Etienne would like you to have the best experience possible. So the tour may get canceled if bad weather is on the horizon. We would strongly recommend schedule flexibility during the winter months in case the tour needs to be postponed.
If you’re interested in something on a larger scale, then you should check out Pics of Asia. They offer immersive, multi-day photo tours in Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, and Iran.
A Sunrise Photography Tour of Hoi An
You’ll be picked up at your hotel in Hoi An bright and early between 4:30 and 5:00 am depending on where your hotel is located. You’ll have an opportunity to meet the other people on your tour and have a quick chat while you’re driven out to the countryside.
Local Coffee and a Camera Overview
We arrived at the fish market at around 5:15 am and things were already in full swing. Boats were being unloaded along the piers, and Vietnamese women were furiously arguing over crates full of fish.
It was still quite dark outside. Our first stop was a small shop to discuss camera settings and photo composition over a cup of coffee. We chatted about our cameras and our individual levels of photography experience. Etienne answered questions and provided tips for shooting in the early morning light, approaching locals, and how to find moments of inspiration in the chaotic fish market.
Sunrise at the Fish Market
We spent about an hour on the wharf, wandering around and taking photos of the madness that was happening around us. The bright uncovered light bulbs hanging on the boats illuminated faces and pockets of action. And as the sun rose, the entire scene gradually came into view.
Those who were pretty comfortable with their photography skills wandered off down one of the busy docks to start shooting photos of the fishermen unloading their catch. And those that required more hand-holding followed Etienne around in an attempt to glean some of his photography knowledge. He was happy to help in finding good photo opportunities, reviewing compositions, and giving feedback.
A Quick Stop for Breakfast
When the madness of the fish market began to die down, we headed into town to grab a quick breakfast. Along the way, we found ourselves chatting with ladies selling vegetables or butchering meat, all the while snapping away with our cameras as the opportunity arose.
We ended up at another small coffee shop where we got a caffeine refill, a bathroom break, and enjoyed Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches for breakfast.
Note: Be sure to let Hoi An Photo Tours know ahead of time if you have any food allergies or if you don’t eat meat.
The Local Fish Sauce Factory
Our next stop was a local fish sauce factory where a family was busy churning out countless gallons of this smelly but delicious Vietnamese staple. Giant barrels of fish paste is transferred to smaller bowls for straining and then to bottles to be sold in the markets around Hoi An. The cramped space was filled with rows of strainers, colorful buckets of fish sauce waiting to be transferred into bottles, and several massive wooden barrels.
We learned a bit about the manufacturing process and roamed around the small factory, getting the chance to utilize our new knowledge of leading lines, lighting, and composition.
A Banana Fritter Snack at the Bakery
We continued through town to a tiny local bakery down a random alleyway. This is where a woman was selling banana fritters out of a window in her house. We watched as she cooked fritters over an open flame in a small dark kitchen with a perfect beam of sunlight streaming in to illuminate her face.
She happily continued about her cooking, stopping occasionally to chat with Etienne, as we all furiously photographed the scene. Once the fritters were done, we had the opportunity to sample the delicious treats. She laughed as we snapped a few final shots.
Finally, Etienne settled up on our bill and we continued on to our final stop of the tour.
A Walk through the Shipyard
We emerged from the backroads of the village back at the river, but now further down the wharf. We found ourselves in a shipyard where large boats were being dismantled, cleaned, and repaired. The area was littered with various parts and men were hard at work welding, hauling, painting, sanding, and hammering.
We wandered around the wreckage, on the hunt for the perfect angle and framing. Everyone was busy at work. However, they gave us huge smiles and friendly waves before getting back on task, seemingly oblivious to our photo-taking.
A Return to the Fish Market
Finally, as the morning light was changing, we left the shipyard to head back through the fish market to our pick-up point. Things had settled down in the market so it allowed for more one-on-one interactions with locals and an opportunity to photograph the familiar scene in a new light.
We grabbed a bottle of water, loaded it up in the van, and drove back to Hoi An. We were back at our hotel by 9:30 am, ready for a second breakfast and a nap.
Our Impression of Hoi An Photo Tours
Etienne combines his in-depth photography knowledge with a friendly, easygoing style that is loved by guests and locals alike.
While it’s certainly possible to shoot the same locations on your own, Etienne’s knowledge of the small surrounding villages and the local people is invaluable. There is no way we would have discovered the fish sauce factory or local bakery on our own. And we certainly would not have felt as comfortable taking photos without him by our side.
This photography tour will ensure that you visit the most interesting locations when the light is best, so you’ll have amazing photos to show your friends and family back home. Plus, the tour is a really cool way to experience local life in Vietnam. So no matter your interest level in photography, you’re bound to have a great time!
We hope you enjoy your photography tour of Hoi An!
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