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Contact Sheet #17

Mekong Delta coconut sellers at Long Xuyen floating market in Vietnam

Contact Sheet #17

During my recent exploration trip to the Mekong Delta, I had to go and visit a floating market. I heard mix reviews about them and I needed to see with my own eyes how busy and photogenic they really are. As y time was limited I opted for the one in Long Xuyen.

In this contact sheet, we will be talking about dealing with the morning light, adding layers to create more visual elements and creating a better flow in your composition using the moment, curves and lines.

Capturing the morning colours over the Mekong

I couldn’t resist for a classic sunrise shot over the Mekong river in Velvia! The colours were already fading away so I used the Velvia film simulation mode on my Xt-2 to saturate them more.


a boat on the Mekong River in Long Xuyen in South Vietnam

From that point, it took our boat about 10 minutes to reach the entrance of the floating market, and the colours had disappeared.

Keeping the sunrise behind did not create any flattering light as the sun wasn’t up on the horizon yet. Everything looked a bit flat and the sky on this side had no interesting colours nor clouds.

couple selling coconuts on their boat in the Mekong delta

I am not trying to find any excuses for it, but yes, I HAD to start shooting silhouettes again!

Placing layers for add visual elements and interest to the picture

A minute or so later we came near this boat where four men were unloading coconuts. I mean, one of them was, and the others were watching. I guess two of the men were the sellers and the two others the buyers.

Seeing the four of them away from each other, I had a chance to add all these layers avoiding juxtaposition. I also started shooting at f/8 to have all my elements in focus.

silhouette photo of men unloading coconuts onto boats in the floating market of Long Xuyen in South Vietnam

Adding more layers, meaning more elements to your picture helps telling more interesting stories. We are not only looking at one thing, but our eyes take the time to travel through the image, making the composition interesting from one side of the frame to the other.

The challenge is to place all these elements in a coherent composition which will lead the eyes of the viewer the way we want. It will help enhance our main subject if all lines lead to it for example. It could also help create a more rigid or a softer composition that flows from a corner of the frame to the other.

In this case, the composition was a little bit flat due to the four men being on the same level, and I wasn’t satisfied with it. It is almost like two parallel horizontal lines through the frame. Straight lines are known to bring more stability to an image and less dynamism. I like my images with more pulse, like an electrocardiogram, right and left and up and down if I can.

Waiting for the moment to add that splash of dynamism

My boat driver had parked his boat at this spot and couldn’t really move, so I started studying my new environment a little more. My boat was not tight to theirs and I could easily step around some coconuts to get a bit closer. I wanted to see how my previous frame would develop, as I did like the fact that the four men were very well placed, all away from each other.

The men started working a little faster as if another client had arrived. And then a moment unfolded.

a group of men unloading coconuts at sunrise in the market of Long Xuyen in South Vietnam

The gesture of the hand against the sky ads a strong visual element that catches the viewers’ eye. Things were definitely getting more interesting, but I knew that I couldn’t just make it easy and shoot silhouettes again. I have been shooting way too many of them in the recent months and as much as I love them, they start to all look the same to me.

It was time to start thinking and try something else.


Try something else

After the men finished loading the coconuts they exchanged money. They stayed there for a while and it was my chance to move around. One more man joined them, probably the new buyer. I had already exchanged some words with them and asked them if I could step into their boats. Walking on coconuts is pretty challenging, mostly before coffee.

As I got into their boat I could see the wide empty space where I could go in. I still wanted to shoot them against the sky as there were some distracting houses and phone antennas right behind them. Adding more layers requires a more simple background to keep the image striking.

men standing on top of coconuts in Lonh Xuyen floating market in South Vietnam

I ended up with the same problem I previously had: these two (almost) horizontal lines going through the image. This time there was more of a curve thanks to the coconuts and the fact that the men were not at the same level but it wasn’t enough.

On top of that, four men standing against a blue sky is very much a boring story.


Make your image flow using curves and lines

That’s when, on the opposite side of where I was crawling, this coconut branch popping out. Also as this pile of coconuts was higher it caught more of the rising sun and so had a stronger visual weight.

I placed the beginning of the branch close to the corner of my frame, creating a more dynamic diagonal line. And then I waited for something to happen. The two men were just counting money and not moving a lot. After half a minute or so both of them moved away to the other side of the boat, and I took a frame before it happened.

Showing the golden ration in composition with an image of men selling coconuts in Long Xuyen floating market in Vietnam


There is no great story element in this image but I only realized later how the lines and curves play very well to lead the eyes. As I was squatting on the coconuts I was using my tilt screen, and having a strong light behind me I couldn’t clearly see the darker areas at the bottom of the frame.

Once on the laptop, I brightened the shadows a little bit and all this great texture of coconut appeared. One of my favourite images from that morning.


Founder of Pics of Asia, Etienne is a teacher with a photography habit.

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