Steffi and Theo. Hoi An. 2018

My first time in Central Vietnam was in October 2017 – visiting my friend Marli and her family in Hoi An – the Disneyland of Southeast Asia. Minutes after my arrival I was whisked off to a village called An Bang – 10 minutes away back up towards Da Nang.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this trip would change my experience in Vietnam more than any other. My relationship with An Bang has been a profound one for several reasons which I’ll get into in a more appropriate post.

I had my camera with me at the time but frankly, my proximity to a habitable beach after two years in Dublin then Saigon, rendered all activities other than lying in and next to saltwater non-options. I don’t think I took more than two usable shots that week – one which became my first to get 150 likes on Instagram! See below.

Right, I’m reaching too far back for this story… more on An Bang another time.

My second visit to An Bang was a solo one. Mid March, 2018. I pored over the decision where to stay. I was determined to live in the village itself rather than Hoi An, which was simply too crowded with tourists, or Da Nang, which was an impractical distance away.

My research paid off. I found a spot called The Happy Bird. It’s close to the beach, beautifully furnished, got big air-conditioned rooms, and is really affordable. I still go there every time I visit An Bang, even if it’s just to say hi to Micha and Kim.

So yeah… in the courtyard of the Happy Bird, underneath two overworked, old-school oscillating fans, I met Steffi and Theo – a recently married couple on the final leg of their extended honeymoon.

We connected instantly over some pretty intense topics – mostly related to love, relationships and marriage, topics that still fascinate and confound me in equal measure.

We spoke for hours. Days. They told me how they met (not as much a “meet-cute” as a “meet-please help me I’m lost in the jungle and will die shortly”), their families, careers, and their wedding itself.

Turns out, the two of them did the sensible thing of opting for a modest affair – deciding not to have a professional photographer record the event.

Given confidence by both my affection for them and several alcohols, I suggested we go on a photoshoot in Hoi An – a famously photogenic location.

They agreed and the following day, just as I was finalizing a strategy to get myself out of something I suddenly felt extreme impostor-syndrome over, the two of them found me and announced that they were ready for the shoot.

At that point I had twice attempted to shoot portraits using only natural light. Both were disastrous. I had no idea what I was doing. But, like most traumatic experiences that don’t end in the loss of an eye, they got me onto the path of learning about and using artificial light.

That day I found out that six months of shooting with a rudimentary off-camera lighting setup (tripod, speedlight, umbrella) is also the ideal way to prepare yourself for shooting WITHOUT a rudimentary camera lighting setup.

I also learned another valuable lesson that day. When offering to take people’s photos, ask people who actually WANT to be photographed. I’ve never really experienced the alternative, but Steffi and Theo were something else. They LOVED being in front of the camera an felt super comfortable with my directions (I mostly asked them to please smile less).

It’s been over a year since that day and I still think about it with a lot of affection every time I stumble across one of these shots in Lightroom, or walk past one of the spots where we shot in Hoi An.

I’m still in contact with Steffi and Theo and fully intend to take them up on their offer to visit them in Paris.

Hope you guys are doing well 🙂

If you’re visiting Vietnam and want to collaborate on some location portraits, get in touch with me via Instagram or drop me an email.

Just keep an eye on my current location and we can discuss making art!


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