Photography Student Journals His Trip to Laos
Filed under: Film & Production
November 1, 2017
Preparing to travel to any country is always a challenge—planning for a country that is one of the last, small, communist countries remaining, in addition to trying to comprehend customs, transportation methods, financial requirements, religion, as well as language. And, of course, photography equipment needs is a much more dynamic challenge and requires serious planning.
Laos is a beautiful country with warm, respectful people and rich with character and beauty, however, it’s a “wanting” country with an average income of about $3,500 per year. The country has everything you need or want, however, the average Laotian lives simple and healthy with daily fruits and more. Many households are not equipped with refrigeration and some of the basics thus requiring them to shop, prepare, and cook daily.
Driving in Laos is another unique experience and will not be forgotten. Yes, they have traffic lights and signs on some roads, however, I'm not sure anyone follows any of it. The scooters and small motorcycle-like carts, called “Tu-Tu's,” are plentiful and they travel where and when they want. Frankly, it’s a sight to be seen to comprehend the true impact of traffic. Traveling with guides via vans, Tu-Tu’s are inexpensive, reliable, and overall safe, however, always be aware of your surroundings.
Bringing the right mix of photographic equipment took a while to determine and since this trip is part of a university course we took—Pro-Photo B-1—lighting, tripods, personal cameras and a variety of lenses. The first challenge upon entering the country was getting the Pro-Photo light kit into Laos and past customs—we had to pay a tax of $200. Not sure what the tax was about or whether it actually went to anyone official. We assumed it was a payment of some type that was received by an individual. So before packing your equipment determine the type of container to be utilized—the less official your equipment looks, the better. Arriving at night may also be helpful, since fewer official personnel are available.
I personally took two Canon bodies, a 5D Mark II, and a 5D DSR with four lenses—a 15-30mm Tamron, an 85 1.4mm, a 24-105mm and a 70-200mm Canon—a lightweight folding tripod, flash, and miscellaneous components. This provided a good balance to my needs, especially if I was shooting in dark locations with minimal light. It was a little much, however, I only carried two lenses at any one time. Finally, I had a camera bag, which allowed me to carry a camera body and three lenses or two lenses and a flash attachment. I also carried filters and a release cord for my night shooting. Finally, ensure you bring 220 electrical adapters to recharge your equipment. Many of the hotels have electrical receptacles that will take both 220 and 110 connectors, but it’s not always available.
Prior to my arrival, I reviewed several locations to photograph. Our trip included visiting the Capital of Laos—the City of Vientiane—Luang Probang, and a side trip to Thailand, including Bangkok and Krabi.
Weather and humidity played another factor in our decision process as to when, where, and what we took to support our shooting requirements. March to September is the rainy season so ensure you bring plastic poncho’s to act as coverage for equipment and select camera plastic bags as needed. Be mindful of condensation and humidity. Normally not an issue, however, too much humidity combined with an air-conditioned environment such as your hotel room or restaurant could create havoc with your equipment.
Laos has plenty of internet WIFI locations. It still goes without saying that proper planning will be very helpful. Phone plans and hotspot devices that you can purchase in Laos are all helpful. Our “GoTo” application was “WHATSAPP” to communicate with the folks back at home. T-Mobile and ATT had appropriate plans that included unlimited text, however, Verizon did not have anything except by-the-minute charges.
Finally, be aware of the do’s and don’ts about where you can and can’t photograph. For example, there are numerous Monks and Temples all over Laos. Many Temples and religious facilities may request that you do not photograph with any form of camera device. Although they note they are trying to preserve the antiquities, and digital photography has no impact, it does not matter. Be mindful that Laos is still a Communist country as such rules mean something and at any time provoked or unprovoked they can say or do something, although we did not experience any issues except an occasion request for funds. It’s still not Kansas.
Scenes to photograph—be imaginative. As you can see, we have a variety of photos that took time to prepare and some planning. For example, photographs of a Monk at the temple took coordination by our driver, donation to the senior Monk, and select prayers with the Monk for the food and water donated. It’s worth the time and, obviously, the results will follow. Ensure you photograph many of the wonderful sites such as temples, waterfalls, monuments, people, villages, craft areas, and many unique surroundings—all are breath-takingly beautiful. Laos has beautiful evening color and wonderful clouds. Your planning will definitely pay off if you are patient and prepared. We found many of the people loved to be photographed although, at times, $10,000 Kip—equivalent to $1.15—is well worth the gesture of photographing some of them.
Sites and locations to visit in the City of Vientiane, Laos—Morning Markets are absolutely worth the visit for people, food items, and select accessories. Arrive early, around 6:30 to -7:00. Many markets start to close around 8:30. Within minutes, they are packed up and gone. The Evening Market has many different items such as clothing, prepared-food items, and many other accessories, great for shopping and photography. The area is a low-light area, so you need to be photographically prepared. The Paryaket Park, Vientiane City, Laos—which is where the large Archway is located—is a must but, for the more dramatic photograph, showing up after 1830 (6:30pm) is probably best for the evening or night shot. A tripod is essential for the best results. The reflecting pond sprinklers shut off around 1800 (6pm).
Creating your own environmental shot (as seen in the image above) can always achieve great results. A group member planned for the fisherman shoot. Bringing Pro-Photo lighting equipment and the support of another team member is critical. The local people were more than willing to participate and the night colors and fishery reflection combined created a truly wonderful photo opportunity.
In the City of Luang Probang, you will have many wonderful opportunities for photography. Our group was especially fortunate to have native speakers and a great driver who frequently negotiated unique locations to photograph such as small mountain village people (as seen in one of the images above), children, rice fields with oxen, craft manufacturing centers, and so much more.
We also visited the Nahm Dong Park with breathing waterfalls, elephants and beautiful jungle environment. Kuang Si Waterfalls is a photographer’s dream come true, surrounded by a jungle of trees, multi-tiered pools and mini falls of glass and flowing water over into other pools of water. The falls were wonderful and visitors are permitted to swim in the falls. Additionally, you can pay a small fee to ride an elephant in the pool of water as it sub-merges with its trainer. You are present taking unforgettable photographs at every opportunity.
Walking the streets of the cities of Laos can result in unusual photographic beauty. You will see the unusual, the unexpected, and plain quiet beauty throughout your casual local walks. People selling goods, food venders are plentiful, as well as everyday people on the side of the road, including local people fishing, sleeping, playing games, and working, looking for their everyday fish catch of the day.
Finally, our trip to Laos was a rewarding and photographically bountiful selection of photographic opportunities seldom experienced in any country. Our thanks go to all the people that made this trip possible, especially the family in Laos that took us in and assisted in every way. I would love to some day return and enjoy the experience again. I would like to extend my appreciation to a fellow photographer, “Toan,” as well as our lead representative, Ms. Xang Ho, which provided superior support, instruction, guidance and friendship.
All photos were submitted and taken by Paul Ortiz.
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