Vietnam part 2: Mui Ne, Train Adventure, Why do We Play Flip Cup?

Hello everyone,

Part two of Vietnamese adventures follows. After we had enough of Saigon, it was time for us to go explore more of Vietnam goodness. As we had absolutely no plans or reservations, we decided to join a few guys that my husband met online. They were having a good time on the beach of Mui Ne, so this became our next destination. Living in a relatively small country, we were forgetting again that Vietnam can’t be crossed in one day and even going to this beach destination would take us a few hours. Precisely from 5 to 7 by bus, as the bus company announced. Nothing is too sure in terms of timing in this country.We decided to splash and buy the “comfortable” version of the bus, that had beds instead of seats.Ilford HP5_Vietnam (35).jpg

I can’t say that this was more comfortable option, but what is important that we made it in one piece to our destination.

Mui Ne is as it turns out quite a popular destination for backpackers.A few individuals of that type were getting quite hyped at the end of the bus, shouting at every sign of a new urban dwelling “Mui Ne?!” until the bus driver got mad and started shouting NO NO NO NO NO. I can’t say that he was a very well-tempered man before they started annoying him either. He had a habit of overtaking large chunks of traffic at the traffic light, and one time got overexcited and got the side mirror smashed by a truck. Whoa, bit scary.

So we are finally in Mui Ne, it is raining and the bus just left us somewhere sort of in the vicinity of the hostel we were staying. Thankfully, we had the sim card and could find the location easily. It was just up the hill. And when you think that it is already quite up the hill, there was some more up the hill. Checked in, read the rules and regulations, that mentioned absolutely no sea food in the room or you will be punished financially by paying 1 million dongs. As harsh as it sounds, 1 million dongs is not such a big amount of money. And there was no cooking appliances, so I am not sure how one can even cook sea food. Anyhow, we refrained from doing that.

Found our new friends at the bar, they have had consumed a few buckets of alcoholic beverages and were ready to take part in all the numerous entertainment opportunities provided by the establishment, namely playing flip cup (the motto of this game is “why do we play flip cup? to get fucked up”), the ever popular beer pong and a few others. We preferred to be on the observing part that night, and I clicked pretty of crazy photos of that night which should not be shown to any of the mentioned personas’ mothers.

_DSF8371
The next day we woke up kind of early. It is pretty hard to sleep in Vietnam anyway, because Vietnamese for some reason get up super early, and start actively build stuff and hammer stuff at 6 am, they also need to call everyone and talk loudly. By 9 am all these kind of activities slow down. Anyway, we took a pretty decent breakfast in the hostel for 2 dollars. The coffee in Vietnam is dope. It is very tasty and quite strong. Just the way I like.

_DSF8406
After breakfast we went to explore the beach which was quite much deserted and we enjoyed a fantastic beach by ourselves. Also at the same time the sun was enjoying roasting us, so we all got a premium sunburn in just a few hours despite applying the cream to our white skins.

Ilford Delta 100_Vietnam (11)
In the afternoon, the boys were somehow involved in pillow fight competition. Not just a pillow fight, but on a metal pipe over a swimming pool with wet pillows.That was a sight to behold. The guy who won the epic battle was doing detox that month so the beer tower he won, he decided to share with us. Good questionis why did he take part in this competition at all. His name is Nick and he is a 19 years old backpacker from Germany.

Ilford Delta 100_Vietnam (13)The guys that we made friends with were from Germany too, but they didn’t much like Nick. I had a good time talking to him. He was travelling at that time with Pete, who is a British guy changing jobs every couple of years and taking backpacking trips in between. They both had so many great stories to tell, we spent as much time talking as we could. One good thing about hostels is finding interesting people. When you stay at a fancy hotel,  everyone is on their own. Backpackers are much more open community, and usually it doesn’t take long to befriend somebody.

IMG_20180820_122229.jpg
So after spending two nights in Mui Ne, it was time to move somewhere else. We bought tickets on a night train to go to a place called Danang. 14 hours in a train.

Ana Shtraus - Fujicolor 200 - AA000A.jpg

For an average Russian this doesn’t sound like a lot of time in a train, but ze germans and zi french were impressed. The train really reminds a lot a Russian train, but everything is made for smaller people and instead of 2 sleeping rows of shelves, there are 3.

IMG_20180822_072330.jpg
We were like the only people of European origins in this train and the Vietnamese were looking with suspicion at us. At 6 AM everyone got up, started calling other people on the phone… there was even a chicken in the train, I didn’t see it but I heard it. 14 hours were feeling quite long… but eventually we made it to Danang. The beautiful city of Danang with its Dragon Bridge and the Marble Mountain. That is however a story for the next time.

Ilford Delta 100_Vietnam (24)
Much love,
Anna

Hustle and Bustle of Saigon, Vietnam.

This year hasn’t been filled with travels yet, so we decided to change that and booked tickets to go to Vietnam for a week. There was no plan and no list of things to do, for the first time we decided to take it as it goes and just hopped on a plane with the whole country in mind but nothing in particular.

_DSF8215

Firstly, our plane was delayed 4 hours, which made our arrival pretty much “arrive to the hotel and go to sleep” but there definitely are worse things in life.

We decided to pack light and take only backpacks, therefore I decided to take only my Fuji X100T and a film camera PentaxK1000. I took a tripod as well just in case, but the opportunity to use it didn’t really present itself. I knew, that we are not going there to do my favourite type of photography – landscapes and city scapes, but rather to do a bit of streets and perhaps a few portraits.

_DSF8227

One good advise that you can easily find on the Internet but still we managed to fall into the trap – count your money always! The exchange office of the airport managed to forget to give us a few thousand dongs, which is really easy and confusing because there are a lot of thousands and millions that fall into your hands and it feels very overwhelming. Then, don’t take the taxi unless it is the official Vinasun or Mailinh, install Grab application and always use that one. We were naive white people to take a taxi suggested by the guy at the taxi stand of the airport and paid 6 times more than we should have.

_DSF8300

It is somewhat annoying that in the South the Vietnamese people will try to rip you off with every chance they have, but for them we are white people with cash… as soon as they hear you speaking English, they will do anything to get your money out of you. It’s not much money most of the time, but still kinda spoils your mood.

_DSF8244

So after arriving and taking a good bunch of sleep, we went to explore the streets of Saigon//Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a pretty loud and always buzzing place with tons of people everywhere all the time. When we got out of the hotel, the weather was somewhat nice and sunny.

_DSF8295

Instead of breakfast, we decided to plug into the culture right away, and a had a big tasty Pho for a meal… when it started raining. It was raining, and rainng lots.

_DSF8252

We found a refuge in the botanical garden and spent 3 hours looking at streams of water pouring down, running around rats and soaking Vietnamese people on their bikes.

_DSF8254

Eventually we got tired of waiting for the rain to stop and decided to go spend the next hour in the War Museum. The museum should rather be called “Shame On You Americans” museum, as it is portraying everything in that way. A lot of interesting and horrible photographs and war pieces to see… a lot of lives lost in vain like in every war.

Ilford Delta 100_Vietnam (2)

I saw this passport photo of someone outside of the war museum on the grass… wearing a pajama with “I love you” writings on it… really wonder what is the story of this photo.

_DSF8235

On the famous bar street of District one, you will find a lot of dirty places full of questionable entertainments that we didn’t partake. Decided to just walk around and choose somewhere to rest our restless bums, we chose a restaurant poorly. The waiters kept telling us that what we want on the menu is not available, but then we kept seeing other people having it… the question remains – if they didn’t want us there, why did they let us in in the first place?

Executive Vice Chairman-1

It is curious to see that Vietnamese people for real wearing the famous hats, and tourists buy them in bulk as well (probably to be never worn again). But they seem quite useful against the rain and the sun, and look very nice as well. Definitely add a lot to the snaps for all the tireless street photographers.

Ilford Delta 100_Vietnam (3)

Crossing the streets in Vietnam is an interesting sport. Nobody ever stops, even when the light is red so you have to manoeuvre around the traffic, trying to get to the other side of the road. It feels very intimidating at first, but you kind of get a hang of it in a few days. The busses and trucks seem to never stop at the intersections and instead of even checking the surroundings, they beep. Everybody actually beeps. All the time. And you get used to this after a while. The rule of crossing the road in Vietnam seems to be – do not try to cross in front of cars and bigger vehicles, and just confidently walk when the bikes are there, they will go around you.

_DSF8314

That seemed to have worked just all right for us.

_DSF8281

Saigon can get pretty tiring after a few days of being there, so we booked two tickets on the sleeping bus to take us to the beach side of the country. The next stop is Mui Ne.

But that is a story for another day.

Much love,

Anna_DSF8301

What Happens if You Develop Colour Film as Black and White?

Hello there,

I just came back from my holidays to the land of ice and fire (yes, again), yes, I know. In addition to shooting my traditional long exposures with the beloved Fujifilm XT-2, I brought a film camera with me, and shot a bunch of images on film. Just because I love how the memories look on film, and it is always fun to shoot with my friendly snappy Pentax.

Meanwhite, my husband got inspired by my film experiments and got himself a second-hand Olympus M-10. He seems to be particularly enjoying shooting in black and white, which we then carefully (or not so) develop at home. So, when we got to Iceland, he still had half a roll of Kodak TriX400 black and white film left in his camera. Snapping left and right, it didn’t take him long to finish it on his first day there. As we returned home, we decided to develop this roll to see some photos from our holidays to feed our holiday blues.

So we did the whole shabang of opening the canister of the film in the black bag, rolling it on a spool, putting it in the development tank and pouring a crapload of chemicals on it, washing it with water, unrolling and hanging it in the bathroom only to realize… hey, the emulsion colour is supposed to be gray, not orange… and hey, these are not the pictures that my husband took.

Turn out that I accidentally took the roll of Kodak Portra 160 from the shelf instead of Kodak Trix400… and now my beautifully (supposedly) coloured film turned into a black and white one, and oh, joy, we have to start from scratch, because the actual black and white roll was still undeveloped.

I didn’t think that you can actually develop colour film in the same chemicals as black and white, but I must say that the pictures turned out beautiful. Better than I ever had on any actual black and white films.

But I let you be my judge. Shot on PentaxK1000 with the expectations to be Kodak Portra 160… but well, better black and white than no photos at all.

131-00037935-Edit
Exploring West Fjords.
132-00037936-Edit
Fascinated by the Super Powerful Waves.
DSCF5818-Edit
Always Love a Good Rearview Mirror Reflection.
DSCF5821
What is Iceland without Ice?
134-00037938-Edit.jpg
Tried to Do a Bit of Long Exposure (You Can See A Flying By Seagull on the Cliffs).

Thanks for having a look and feel free to ask any questions, if something crosses your mind.

Ciao,
Anna

Taking It To The Next Level with Level 43 Dubai.

Good evening, my good friend and thank you for tuning in.

Today I had an amazing opportunity to go do what I love to (shoot cityscapes, sunsets and blue hours) with a bunch of like-minded individuals. Thanks goes to mr. Mohammad Azizi aka Alphaspotting for organizing, and to Nikon ME who were kind enough to lend gear to people who wanted to try different things to shoot.

Yes, I’ve been to this location before. I’ve seen shots from this location before. Many, many, many times. But I still love the glitter of the big city lights and the unbeatable futuristic vistas this terrace provides.

While in the beginning the weather looked promising for the sunset and there were even a few clouds there was not good enough material for long exposure shots that I love so much. And the sunset was dead, it was so dead, that I had to colour it all myself and I wish it was looking like it does in my shot, but in reality it didn’t. But hey, I am a visual artist and that’s how I see the world.

What I loved most about this meet-up was the unity of like-minded photo geeks. Some are old friends, always pleasure meeting someone new. Some of us are more geeks than the others, we all have different cameras and different techniques, but we all love fiddling with those buttons, pointing our lenses in different directions and most importantly sharing our love of photography with the world.

Thanks for the inspirational evening!

Also, big thanks goes to Four Points Sheraton and Level 43 for the yummy sushis and warm welcome from their team.

One love,

Anna

 

What You Should Consider Before Going on a Photo Mission to the Desert.

Hello dear curious friend, tell me, are you fascinated by the desert?

IMG_0602

It is a place full of wonders, and obviously sand. But people who think that there is nothing in the desert couldn’t be more wrong. Recently my wonderful relationship with Gulf Photo Plus brought me to an opportunity to teach a class in landscape photography to someone who is not from here and haven’t ever really been to the desert. Of course I was super excited to be able to share my knowledge with someone who is genuinely interested in the subject, plus making a bit of money on the side is always a great idea.

IMG_0537.jpg

My student, Brian, was visitng his brother in Abu Dhabi, and was given a gift voucher for anything in GPP, so he decided to exchange it to a private class in landscape photography. Thank you for giving me a chance, Brian, you are a very talented photographer and I am sure you didn’t need half of my directions, but it was fun shooting together with you.

IMG_0543-Edit.jpg

However, when I woke up the day of the class, there was a bad sand storm even in the city. Bad to the point that when I went out of my building, I had troubles keeping my eyes open, and the outside temperature was at least 8 degrees hotter than it was the day before. Well, that’s gonna be fun, I thought to myself, but you never know how the weather would change in a few hours. I packed flip flops, a cap, water bottle and took a camera that I didn’t care so much to be sanded because that would happen no matter what you do.

IMG_0613.jpg

GPP booked us a proper 4×4 desert safari driver, who was very much insisting on selling us any kind of tourist entertainment (camel riding, dune bashing and so on) and couldn’t believe that all we wanted was to take beautiful pictures of the desert. But I have to give him credit, once I asked him to stop the car next to a tree or a bush, he figured that it was indeed what we had interest in and started proposing to take us to other landmarks (rocks).

IMG_0598-Edit.jpg

IMG_0588-Edit.jpg

When we stepped out of the car first time, the desert was amazingly calm. It was quiet and no piece of sand was moving, but those of you who have been to the desert before can imagine how fast this situation can change. And indeed, in just 10 minutes we saw a big dark cloud coming out of the dunes, and the never-ending shower of sand started pouring on our heads. One other thing is, when you are out there, you don’t notice how hot it is (especially with a bit of wind), and all that sand ends up covering you completely in a thin layer that blends you in with desert even more.

IMG_0608-Edit.jpg

In terms of photography, desert is a tricky place to shoot. Being an ultra-wide angle shooter, it is especially tricky for me since one needs to find some point of interest in both the foreground and the background to make it work. If you manage to find cool patterned dunes, plus the mountains in the background and the clouds as a bonus – then you are in the money. But… in the UAE you have to be incredibly lucky to have all those elements lining up in front of you. So, if you are shooting the local desert, I would advise to go for mid-range lens, or even try a telephoto and really look for those patterns and geometric alignments. Most of the time you are in the desert, there will be sun (so don’t forget your hat), but in our case the light was actually quite flat because of that cloud. And though it added some interest in the skies that we didn’t even hope for, the sunset was completely non-existent.

IMG_0576-Edit.jpg

If you are out shooting the sunset in the desert, here is one piece of advice for you – find your angle, set up the tripod and wait for the moment when it is about 20 minutes before the sunset. Take 3 shots focusing on:

  1. front (foreground),
  2. half-way (middleground),
  3. and infinity or close (background).

then wait for the sunset to happen.

I will tell you why you should do it this way: when the sun is still high, the sand looks nice and textured, but it is quite washed out in colour because of the bright sun (that it reflects).  When the sun is not far from setting down, the sky starts turning red and orange, and these colours reflect in the sand making it the most colourful you ever going to have. However, when the sun is setting already, it is now too low to cast any light on the dunes and they turn grayish already (and stay like that throughout the blue hour). So be wise, and plan to blend your image if that’s what you would normally do.

IMG_0538.jpg

Being in the desert with Brian, I felt like a scout – running up and down the dunes, hunting for angles for him, telling him to shoot lower, to isolate, to follow the lines… and it was a challenge for myself too. I have never been to this particular location, and the weather was bad, the light was not amazing… but I think we nailed it. I am happy of the fact that I was able to shift my focus and look for patterns and textures instead of endless wide-angled compositions.

IMG_0617.jpg

IMG_0619-Edit.jpg

What wasn’t so much fun though, trying to get that sand out of my bag, my hair and my zoom lens… but hey, you can’t have it all!

Thank you for reading and see you soon.

Much love,
Anna

IMG_0606.jpg

Are You Going on Adventure or Ticking off the Checklist?

Hello friend,

I was wondering what kind of travel photographer are you? Are you visiting a country with a checklist of places to photograph or are you going with the flow and shooting what happens to appear in front of your lens?

_DSF3651
Patrick and Alexandra discussing the importance of cracks for composition.

I suppose there is no right or wrong answer, but I noticed that there are two trends:

1. If you go and photograph places that are famous and well-known, you have to fight for your right to place your fat ass tripod to be able to take that shot because apparently you are not the most ingenuous person in the world, and a the check shot is on the list of many people. But if you get it right and in the interesting light/way/composition, you will definitely be rewarded with social media love.

2. If you go into the wild, you might as well find something absolutely amazing, or be left with nothing, but at least you won’t be frustrated with the fact that there were 459 people from the Eastern Parts of the Eurasian Continent with multiple selfie sticks trying to get the shot for themselves. If you are travelling more for the peace of mind, then maybe you should stay away from the well-flattened down by multiple hiking boots paths of your travel destination.

So in my case, this was a completely random stop in a completely unknown to me place (and those who have been to Iceland will know that there are many places that look like that), but somehow it was one of the most memorable and cool spots we did in our trip. Just the texture of that ice is amazing.

_DSF7373-Edit
Nature created ice chips. Fujifilm XT2 and Fujinon 10-24.

But as the weather wasn’t amazing, and the place was random, these pictures don’t stand out from the total never-ending flow of “northern lights”, “fiery sunrises in glacier lagoons” and “massive super-silky waterfalls” in Iceland and the goal for likes collected in treasure hunt wasn’t completed.

_DSF3646
Fujifilm X100T.

However, these hold a special place in my heart. This is Iceland, beautiful and special from any angle you look at it.

Have a great Easter Holidays, and stay safe!

Much love,
Anna

I See Beauty Where Others See Ugliness.

Hello everyone,

today I wanted to tell you a story of fishermen picture that I took last weekend and it seems to have caused a lot of controversial feelings among my followers.

Three girls, two friends of mine and I, decided to go on a Saturday morning photowalk with a challenge to shoot with our film cameras. I had black and white film loaded in mine, so I was looking for punchy contrasts and interesting scenes that would look good devoid of colour. For my choice of film, the weather wasn’t great cause it was overcast, but we didn’t get completely cooked thanks to the cloud coverage.

We saw a few interesting scenes, but nothing really exciting until one point, we were passing by a shack where the fishermen just returned from their fishing trip of the day, and they were cleaning the nets and listening to some cool music.

I asked them if it was okay for us to take a few shots of them, and they seemed to be cool with that, so we started shooting them with our three film cameras.

IMG_2685.JPG

The guys seemed to be quite happy to have a company of 3 girls (and some taxi drivers also stopped on the way to salute them and us). I took a few iPhone pictures among which was this image:

IMG_4376.JPG

I took my last shot on the roll of film, rewinded it and I already packed my camera when this guy in the “adidas” pants stood up to hug his friend as that one was quite shy for posing in front of us. It felt like it was quite a cute moment, and when you live in the Middle East for long enough, you always see these guys hugging or holding hands, so it is completely a normal thing in their culture. But as I posted this image on my Instagram story I received a few replies from guys saying that it’s wrong, it’s weird and it even looks like rape…

The story that I saw with my own eyes looked like something else in the eyes of my followers… and I am not going to judge anyone, and say that they were wrong to perceive it the way they saw it… but it made me stop and think for a second, how many times people saw something on my social media and they didn’t say a word, but this time it actually made them stop and write something? In the end, even this kind of reaction is better than silence, right?

Is it wrong for man to hug another man from behind? Is it wrong to take pictures of that? Is it cute or is it disgusting? Everyone sees it differently and nobody is right or wrong, I suppose.

I’d rather have more love than hate in my life, so I am sharing a story of brotherhood, friendship, support and love. And you are free to see it any way you prefer.