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Photography

Fire! Glowing neon lights exploding into flames in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 3

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It’s almost the end of 2014 and our conversation comes to a holt. Only one boom. It was loud, but nothing more. A bit unusual, but no more booms. We break the silence and continue our conversation, only to stop once more. Power cut. We rarely have power cuts. “Come and see this! It’s a fire!” We all gather on the balcony and we can see the flames coming up from the local karaoke area. It’s a huge fire and the power is cut in all of District 3. Quickly heading back inside and fumbling in the darkness to find the camera and load the memory card. Iso 6400 and handheld exposure. It will do.

The images are uploaded to Demotix.com and we make the front page with out first uploaded story, you can see it here.

Demotix_Frontpage_December_2014

Unfortunately, a life was lost that evening and thieves were apprehended when they tried to take advantage of the tragedy. Tuoi Tre News reported on the event here and a video can be see here.

And this is how it looks a few days after.

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Family, Photography

A visit to the park

Sunday morning. The mere words install expectations. A day off. All your worries evaporating as water droplets soaked up by the rising sun. Sundays are to be enjoyed. To recoup. To get out, and out we did go, to the park that is.

The park is already packed before even setting a foot inside. The motorbike attendant closed the entrance two bikes behind us. “It’s full. You have to park elsewhere.” Bikes are being turned around, except for one. He’s not having it. Walking longer to the park is not acceptable. His pleas bear fruit once the others have left, he gets the last spot.

Impromptu chairs and tables emerge on the foot path as people want their morning coffees. Business is brisk. The violinists are practicing down to the left by the pond. The pond has all the photographers circling along, with all their gear out, using their longest tele lens to isolate the lotus flowers. Elsewhere, you see all the boyscout uniforms and the waiting parents. Across the road you find the fitness buffs, doing pull ups bare chested. Male only, so traffic passes by smoothly. Nothing to see.

It’s time to take out the camera. Only one lens, a macro, and I delve into yet another world.

In_the_Park_Copyright_MadsMonsen

Prints are now available for sale, either as our handmade lacquer prints or canvas prints. Inquiries can be made at our other site, OanhMadsVn.com

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Photography

The art of walking in high heels and the images to prove it

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It all started with an email. That’s why I was standing outside Hotel Continental, opposite the Opera House and waiting. A few minutes earlier I had parked my bike at the Park Hyatt. I was early. Unlike Vietnamese weddings, where it’s normal to arrive at least one hour after the official starting time, assignments tend to start on time. On time we started.

Kate had given a clear and simple brief, great shots around town. Simple. On foot we set off. I had my comfortable, flat Helly Hansen shoes and Kate marched on wearing high heels. For those who know the pavements in Ho Chi Minh City, you can all agree that the pavements are not meant to be used for walking.

It is cumbersome enough to walk in comfortable shoes and high heels are rated mission impossible once you add a bit of distance. Kate was impressive. We did a fair amount of walking and she did so in great style as you can see from the images below.

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Photography

“Be my Valentine” – 14th February 2013

"Be my Valentine"

“Be my Valentine”

 Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you who will be out celebrating today!

For those who wants to brush up on their history knowledge, here’s the Wikipedia definition.

"Be my Valentine"

“Be my Valentine”

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Photography

The Year of the Snake & The Flower market

The Year of the Snake it is indeed.

The Year of the Snake it is indeed.

It is the time of year Nguyen Hue street in downtown Ho Chi Minh City closes down and transforms into a flower decoration display. Time your arrival or get caught in the Tet pack. This year the guards allowed you to only walk in one direction to ensure a constant flow and not the typical everybody jostling for themselves as you observe rush hour time at various intersections and roundabouts.

For the pedestrians walking, the pace was quicker than the nearby traffic on Ton Duc Thang street as the before mentioned display of traffic violations increased with the amount of traffic. Going against the one way street in packs, the motorbikes managed to almost grind the traffic to a complete stop. Taking the correct route would be a bit longer in distance, however, the time would be the same, if not faster.

Strolling along in the city and enjoying the outdoor cafe spaces was a pure bliss. Cafe Kita expanded and had a brisk business as well as the impromptu refreshment sellers. The city felt different just by being able to walk without worrying of motorbikes whizzing by trying to snatch your camera or hand bag. More walkable streets would be welcomed indeed. Let’s see what the year can bring – Happy Lunar New Year! Chuc Mung Nam Moi!

The flowers.

The flowers.

The flower girls.

The flower girls.

The flower basket.

The flower basket.

The flower boat.

The flower boat.

 

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Photography

The Saigon Zoo shoot out

Photographer Yves and Model Maissa

Maissa contacted me some time ago. She hoped we could do a photo shoot together. I contacted a photographer friend of mine. I hoped we could do a shoot together. In the end, we managed to arrange both time and place.

A previous used location, the Saigon Zoo. The challenge is to come up with something new, something different to what I had done there before. To get the creative juices flowing, a friendly “competition” goes a long way. Yves and I swapped places and roles for each location, jumping back and forth from being assistant to being photographer and always keeping a friendly banter. Two photographers, same location, same model and two different sets of images produced. All done within a few morning hours. Plus some coffee time afterwards. It is always nice to be able to catch up over a cup of coffee.

Here is what I managed to shoot, enjoy:

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

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Photography

Walkabout with Ian – Part II

The amount of images we managed to capture within a few hours walk manifested themselves by the amount of hours spent editing the selection. Culling images and trying out various moods and tones and continue culling versions that did not work. A recent article I read and shared on Twitter, regarding why you can’t hack photography, couldn’t be clearer than this. There is no perfect image button to push. You have a wide option available in the digital darkroom and your personal taste.

Yes, it is easy to spend hours in front of the screen, but think about it this way. With analogue, film based photography, you had to plan your shots. You selected your film batch or went medium format so you could change film backs and shoot b/w, colour negative and slide film all at the same time. Based on your film choices, you chose your developing processes accordingly. Once you had negatives, you had further choices of paper stock and film developers as well as your arsenal of “secret trade tricks” picked up from other darkroom artists.

All of this amounted to immense amount of time and a fair amount of money as you worked with physical items. Fast forward to spending electricity and endless opportunities to experiment where failure indeed is never an option as you can always undo. Try undoing burning your negative to create a cool effect and realise that you burnt too much. Or Polaroid transfers that you could never really duplicate as each transfer was done by hand and never 100% the same. Digital has made experimentation easier, but as they teach when learning computer programming: “Input garbage=Output garbage.”

I ended up using a vintage tone and mood on many of the images and some of the images in the previous blog post have been reprocessed and toned accordingly. I also added more images from the pagodas that we visited. Pagodas are such an interesting place with endless photographic opportunities.

Enjoy!

Reprocessed version of the soon to be demolished flats.

"Dancing rats of paint"

The fish market stall reprocessed.

Entering the Pagoda.

Book guardian.

Book guardian.

Hanging incense.

Pagoda detail.

Pagoda detail.

Close up.

The thousand hands.

Prayers.

Detail of ornaments.

Incense detail.

Prayer time.

Detail of joss sticks/incense.

Burning incense.

Overview.

Light my fire.

Passing the joss stick.

Super hero me.

Detail.

Doorway.

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Photography

Walkabout with Ian


Ian leading the way through the market.

Ian is a photographer and I have had the pleasure of getting to know him as a friend. His work around Vietnam is stunning and worthwhile browsing as you can see here, and his blog here.

Previously, we had a gear talk and he suggested that I should come along for a quick walkabout and test the Nikon 24-70 lens to see how incredible it was. So I did. We met up and had a great time, so much that we have done another walkabout and probably many more to come in the future. I also bought the lens, traded in my old 17-55 dx for the new 24-70 fx and have been happy ever after as they say. The lens is incredible. (No, I am not endorsed by Nikon, however, I wouldn’t  mind if they ever approached.) Here are some samples from our trip. I will split it over several blog posts as there are quite a few images that I want to showcase.

Ian is a brilliant tour guide. We started off with a cup of coffee before heading for the streets, having a stop over at a pagoda, then the local street market, followed by a visit to a residential block that will soon be demolished, before entering the tiny alleyways where even two motorbikes cannot pass each other and finally walking back to where we started for another refreshing coffee. A great way to start the day. Enjoy the images!

Portable street stall.

Faded gym signage.

Logo.

Portable food stall.

Detail of food stall.

Some stalls come equipped with their own worship gods.

Paying respect at the pagoda.

The street market.

The street market.

The street market.

The street market.

The street market.

Adverts for new apartments at the soon to be demolished apartment block.

Residents cleaning out.

Shaving station.

Breakfast consumed and dishes waiting to be picked up by the local delivery service.

Clothes wash line.

Overview.

Cock fights are still popular.

Cock fights are still popular.

Even in afterlife, Euro's are needed.

The narrow alleyways.

The narrow alleyways.

Big thank you Mr Ian, it was truly a great day, yay!

 

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Photography

A random day in Saigon – A walkabout downtown

Sometimes a wander can create wonders. Enjoy the result of less than 2 hours walking about on a random day.

Notre Dame.

Statue in front of Notre Dame.

Post office.

Mobile bike repair centre.

Entangled.

Captured.

Key store.

Banh Bao store.

Poster.

Park.

The collector.

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Photography

Advertising billboard in Saigon

Client: San Miguel Pure Foods. Agency: Riverorchid. Photography: Studio MadsMonsen

It’s not the size that counts as Renault Clio’s advertising campaign used to tell us, but when it comes to seeing your work printed out big and put on display on a billboard, then yes, size do matters.

We did this ad for Dua Moc brand just in time for Tet and it is still up on the board in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. It had been a while since I had been in that area, but once spotted, then I returned to document it. One thing is to see the final artwork file, another is to see it on display, big size. Always a great feeling.

Client: San Miguel Pure Foods. Agency: Riverorchid. Photography: Studio MadsMonsen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photography

On location in Ho Chi Minh City, the outtakes

On the road.

Getting up early seems to be the norm these days. Previously, while doing an assignment for a five star hotel/resort, we got up early for the sunrise shots. Today was a different assignment all together, however, up early we got. Assembled at six am. Our first video project. Yes, video. Once the job is done and released, more details will follow. In the meantime, enjoy the shots I did in between location moves and set ups. Only a few as I got to do b-roll later on, yay!

I still believe it is the best way of learning, on the job, hands on. Very much like my apprenticeship way back in the early ’90’s in Norway. Stay curious, one of my favourite motto’s. Video is now officially my newly discovered curiosity project and I am happy to be part of a great team, big yay!

Saigon skyline.

Roadside stall.

Worker offloading cargo from river boat.

Worker offloading cargo from river boat.

On the road.

On the road.

Walking on the road.

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Photography

Yule tidings from the streets of Saigon

Merry Christmas from Saigon!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! The Christmas spirit is here, even in the tropics. Soon I will be back in Norway, celebrating a white Christmas with friends and family and I thought it would be fitting to show how Christmas is celebrated without the access to snow.

The reindeer has arrived.

Cute snow couple.

Sparkling stars.

Snow cocktails.

Minimalistic decor.

Red ribbon.

Happy New Year!

Getting ready for 2011!

There is still a long way to go from London’s Christmas displays, however, the local malls and businesses are still trying. Some better than others. The images above all succeed in bringing Christmas atmosphere to their premises, however, some fail in execution.

Maintaining quality at all stages is needed. #Fail.

This one fails in terms of finishing. No matter what you put up for public display, do it properly and make sure it lasts for the intended duration. Having a “Hap New Year” is not a good way to send a greeting. Quality control needed, even with Christmas decorations.

Not my taste at all. Oversell. #Fail.

However, this one is even worse in my eyes. It is simply oversell. Hitachi, you do not inspire me to purchase any of your products because you don’t sell me the Christmas spirit. You sell me your vacuum cleaner that you spent a small fortune having photographed with models, but you have spent next to nothing on the actual Christmas display.

You make your brand look like a cheap skate and you become a visual spammer. I want to see Christmas. I want to see beautiful displays. I want to see people actually putting a bit of love and care into their displays without giving me a hard sell of their products. You failed in my eyes. Big time.

In addition, putting two giant silver balls between Santa’s legs is not such a great idea if you ask me.

Santa with silver balls.

This guy is showing off a Christmas ball while posing for his friends.

Christmas tradition. Have your photograph taken in front of various Christmas decorations.

If ball size matters, then they better head over to Caravelle Hotel. They got the biggest balls in town.

Christmas decoration outside Caravelle Hotel.

Enjoy the holidays!

Christmas stars in the sky!

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Photography

“Every journey starts with a single step.” – Lao Tze

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy. Polaroid Transfer.

It is one of my favorite quotes. It sounds really simple, but sometimes taking the first step is the toughest thing you do. Once you made the decision, it is easier because you are already moving forward. The image above is from Florence or as the Italian says, Firenze. A beautiful city. I went there together with the first year students at KIAD a month before I transferred to Saint Martin’s. It was part of the program. A tour abroad, rich in culture and photo opportunities.

Hillside, Florence, Italy. Polaroid Transfer.

I remember we had at least two days to explore for ourselves. The first day I left all my gear at the hotel, and started walking. Walking and observing the whole day. Noticed how the sun moved during day and made mental notes on how I should do my shoot route. The following day I got up early, backpack with gear and tripod in hand and set off to capture. I spent the whole day photographing and came back with quite a few shots. By taking the time to prepare and pre-visualise I could be more efficient the following day. As the boy scouts say: “Always prepared.”

Walking, New York.

Sometimes, you don’t have time to pre-visualise, you act on instinct. While in New York I saw a man walking in front of me and I had my pocket Yashica T4 with me and got it out and captured the above and below shots.

Walking, New York.

“The harder I work, the luckier.” – Samuel Goldwyn

That is another quote I have taken to as well. I remember from my apprentice days that “Get it right in camera” and “Take pride in your craft”. Photography is part art and part craft.
I stick by the words and it pays off.

This week my assistant and I spent a whole day photographing furniture sets. A new client. They chose us because of the quality of our portfolio despite we were higher in cost. It is good to have clients that see and appreciate the difference.

Another new client called and confirmed that our test session had gone through. We passed the test.
They wanted quality and we delivered.

Have to keep up the hard work and have more luck, that’s for sure.

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Photography

The colorful ones – Saigon brightens up

Colourful Saigon, street style.

Talking about Vietnamese fashion, the Ao Dai comes to mind, however, the real deal is something practical and often quite outstanding, in terms of colour that is. How come? Are bright colours the equivalent to the reflective safety vests?

Colourful Saigon, street style.

Walking the streets of Saigon you will not easily become the next Sartorialist as the most fashionable dressed people simply do not walk the streets, especially not under the sun. Tourists are seen walking, office workers during lunch time can sometimes be spotted and street vendors plying the streets. The rest, they travel around by motorbikes or cars, stopping outside their destinations, spending as little time walking the streets as they have to.

People literally park their motorbikes at shop entrances. Valet parking service is common at more fashionable shopping establishments. Walking is simply done in the morning, 5.30am at the park, if you are into public exercising.

Colourful Saigon, street style.

Colourful Saigon, street style.

Colourful Saigon, street style.

Colourful Saigon, street style.

Public eye and public space. People are not so shy in public, from squeezing zits or picking noses to men unzipping behind electrical poles, marking it doggy style, so when wearing your pajamas, nobody raises their eyebrows as it is old school style.

Pajamas old school style.

“Fashion fades, only style remains the same” Coco Chanel.

It sums up the final image, Mr Style, walking the street.

"Fashion fades, only style remains the same."

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The masked riders of Saigon’s streets.

One of Saigon's masked riders stopped for texting, actually a rare, but welcomed sight, as the majority multi-tasks while riding.

Motorbikes are plentiful in Saigon. Over 4 millions according to travelers websites, and in 2000 alone, 1.4 million units were produced locally and sold. According to a survey from 2008, 26 million vehicles are registered in Vietnam, 95% of them are motorbikes. Over 9000 new motorbike registrations daily.

An Arizona cowboy. Digital ID: 1610053. New York Public Library

The numbers are just numbers until you meet the herd. Unlike the masked riders of the Old Wild West, riders of the East have less space and more riders and faster means of transportations. The Old West could be lawless and preach the “survival for the fittest” mantra and it has more or less not changed here.

Bikes have to give way for bigger vehicles and bus drivers are regularly referred to as “Devils on wheels” and don’t even start talking about lorry drivers. With horns that blow you off the road if you are lucky or under the wheels when you are not.

Late 2007, the Vietnamese government made the second attempt at introducing mandatory helmets for all motorbike riders. The first attempt failed within the cities as people rather paid the fine than to “destroy their fashionable look” by wearing helmets. The second attempt was better, however, the law had to later be amended to include reference to how the strap should be secured as many simply put the helmet on when they noticed the traffic police. Others were riding with the strap too loose, and it is still common to see riders stop to pick up their helmets as they flew off their heads while riding at higher speed on the highway.

Despite getting people to wear helmets and the efforts to get them to wear them correctly, too many have opted for sub-standard helmets that you can pick up for around US$2 and upwards. 80% of helmets in circulation are reported to fail standards.

Some still refuse to wear them at all as seen below.

Still refusing to wear a helmet while riding a motorbike.

All hooded up. Hoods are always in fashion amongst bike riders, especially female, as hoods help them to cover up from the sun. Hoods with text/lettering on can be of endless amusement due to numerous spelling mistakes and/or subject matter. Ignorance can be bliss sometimes and the topic is worthy of its own blog post.

Hooding up.

Wearing a hood with English text.

Despite the hot climate, gloves are being used to shield the sun rays. Even boys can be seen riding with their wrists turned upwards to “minimize” their exposure and sometimes people ride with umbrellas as shield. Colourful socks worn in flip-flops are also part of the sun protection kit.

Layered head wear, colorful socks and hand gloves, all set to combat sun rays.

The habit of stopping, sometimes on the pavement in order to text or call, is picking up, especially if you have an expensive phone. Yes, the majority of riders are still using their phone while riding, however, others can easily ride up alongside and snatch the phone. Once you have had one or a few phones stolen, you start thinking security and for optimal security, you park on the pavement.

Optimal security stance, texting on pavement.

An unwritten rule it seems, the following rider combinations are commonly used. Single riders, self explanatory. Dual riders, the obvious options: two females or two males. Then, when you start mixing, you will notice, male rider and female passenger, more or less all the time. The most typical exception to spot in District 1, female rider and expat male passenger, either newly arrived or too scared to ride.

Following the unwritten rule, male motorbike rider with female passenger.

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Photography

Arriving in Vietnam and facing the traffic

Facing the traffic.

Most people, when asked, would answer that the traffic mayhem that you experience on a daily basis leaves an impression, for better or worse. In the central business district, foreign pedestrians can be observed breaking out in panic and sprinting in hordes across the zebra crossings. Not for the faint hearted indeed.

There are a few simple rules to obey and you will live to cross the street and tell the tale.

First of all, do not panic and run. Make sure the oncoming riders are seeing you before moving forwards and when moving, move slowly and steadily and soon you will be on the other side in one piece.

I have got the height to be easily spotted, but for others, especially children, waving hands or umbrellas help too. I have seen blind beggars cross the street slowly by blowing a whistle every few seconds by themselves.

To sum up:

  • Make sure you are noticed.
  • Progress slowly.
  • Keep eyes on traffic at all times.
  • Move steadily and in a predictable route.

The motorbike riders will see you and avoid you. Sudden movements increases the chances of an accident.

Man crossing the street.

I went to one of Saigon’s bus stations and found a street side cafe, front row view to the mayhem as the buses arrived faster than the planes at Heathrow airport. Ordered a “ca phe sua da”, my favourite coffee, I find second to none when you get the right blend.

Back to the chaos. Patience and timing. Motorbikes are passing by and you will sometimes only get one shot at it before the moment has gone. Below is the result of a morning spent at front row view, bus station.

Woman with child talking on mobile phone.

Family about to cross the street.

Student crossing the road.

Woman just arrived to the city.

Carefully crossing the road, always watch the oncoming traffic.

Dad and son waiting.

Young boy watching.

Stretching after a long trip.

Family crossing.

Modern versus traditional clothes style.

Arriving in the city.

Roadside grooming. The real reason why motorbikes got mirrors.

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Photography

The streets of Saigon. What to see and what to expect. The street vendors.

The cyclo driver.

I spent two days watching people and capturing the some of Saigon flavours as I left my normal gear behind and went back to basic. One camera and one lens. First out of a small series of blog posts: The street vendors. Above, about to be extinct from the roads, unless in an organised group for tourists sightseeing the town, the cyclo driver.

The sunglass seller.

The sunglass seller. Will also carry lighters and other accessories.

The lottery ticket seller.

The lottery ticket seller. Daily draws and multiple providers. It is a big cash cow for the issuing authority as the chances of actually winning are slim, however, there are stories of people striking it rich.

VietNamNet Bridge – A poverty-stricken 97-year-old man won a lottery jackpot of more than US$400,000 during Tet, sparking an outbreak of chaos in his neighborhood as local residents mobbed his home asking a piece of the windfall.

The toy seller.

The magazine and newspaper seller.

The portable food stall seller.

The various nuts seller.

The mobile fruit seller.

The pushcart food seller.

The refreshment seller.

The coffee and tea stall. Liquids on an electricity box with warning display attached.

The parking attendant.

The parking attendant. 5,000 VND to park your car if you are lucky to find a spot. Until now, there is no dedicated parking centre in Ho Chi Minh City and more cars are registered and entering the road every day.

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Photography

“No expectations” is an expectation

We don’t know what to expect on our recent trips, however, we do expect to get something. The drive to perform better, to improve since last capture, is there. Expectations were set high, the bike underwent oil change the day before and the tank was filled. All set, except I had some dodgy sausages the day before. The local supermarket had a promotion and in a spur of the moment I decided to purchase a can of sausages to make hot dogs. I regretted it the whole weekend.

James and I had initially planned to do the Mekong. Getting up early and have a long day out to match our successful trip to Vung Tau. Instead at getting up at 4am, we got ready around 4pm to hit the road. Heavy rain showers had passed and a light drizzle remained. We got on the road to the Mekong without any expectations as the light was completely flat and fading steadily.

First stop was a typical view from the countryside.

View from the road side, outside Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Not really knowing what we could get in such a short time, we had to start looking closely at what we had in front of us in a different way.

Detail from the riverside.

Our little trip took us to an intersection where we found the truck weighing station.

Road sign by the truck weighing station.

After that, the light had gone, but we simply had to stop to capture the plastic can with a light bulb inside, signaling a petrol stop. A few frames were all we managed to get as they cut the power.

Illuminated plastic can signaling a road side petrol service.

Thinking that would be it, we headed back to Saigon, however, we figured out we could use the road side markers as a tripod and do some light trails.

Light trails captured from the road side.

Not only that, we could also do some more road side photography of houses with our newfound “tripods”.

House at night.

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