• © Drew Hopper
    © Drew Hopper

Behind the Lens: Conically centred

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Image title: Conically Centred
Location: Hoi An, Vietnam

© Drew Hopper
© Drew Hopper

I’ve always been drawn to different shapes, colours and contrasty light, which is how I became inspired to pursue this ongoing series of documenting a traditional symbol of Vietnamese life.

The symbol is the conical hat, or most formerly known as the Non la. These hats are usually made out of simple and available materials such as palm leaves; bark from the Moc tree, as well as bamboo and string/ribbon. I’ve photographed hundreds of portraits of people wearing these hats, however it didn’t exactly highlight or showcase them the same way that compelled me to shoot them.

I wanted to photograph them in a more artistic, almost organic and unusual way that made the viewer pause and appreciate the simplicity of it’s triangular shape against a clean and subtle background.

I love photographing daily life moments and transforming them into something special. I first start off with something that attracts me, which is the Non la in this case. Next, I scan the scene forensically and emotionally to see what kind of narrative or relationship can be built with the other close by elements.

Once I’ve figured it out, I’ll work on my framing often to exclude any unwanted elements that may distract or clutter the final image arrangement. I’m not typically fond of centrally composed compositions with the subject dead in the centre, however I thought this frame worked particularly well with the shape of the tarp draped above the woman.

The tarp is what first caught my eye whilst looking for a simple backdrop, especially after spotting the triangle cutout in it, which instantly sparked my imagination of waiting to have the Non la fit into the ‘puzzle’.

I spent the next 10-15 minutes hanging around this area of the market, anticipating and pre-visualizing the shot I had in my mind. Fortunately, this was one of the main walkways into the market so the foot traffic was consistent meaning that I was able to practice timing my subjects until I was satisfied.

Once I took this shot, I decided that was enough and moved on buzzing with excitement. I was so excited that I called out to a few of the workshop participants, to show them the image on the back of my LCD.

It worked out perfectly because the technique I was coaching the group about that morning was the simple and effective method of exposing for the highlights in order to get those deep sunken blacks.

I personally prefer a darker contrasty image, which may not be everyone’s taste, but it’s great being able to throw around different techniques to inspire other people to see things differently.

Photo was taken with the Fujifilm XT2 and Fujifilm 23mm f/2 lens. I usually just shoot JPEG on the XT2 because the colours are so good. My favourite film simulation would easily be classic chrome, although I used standard profile here as classic
chrome took away the rich green saturation from the tarp.

Drew Hopper is an Australian based professional photographer specialising in travel, documentary and editorial photography throughout Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. See more of his work at drewhopperphotography.com

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