Quiet Contemplation. Mrs Song in Hoi An. Part of the Top 101 International Portrait Photographers of the Year 2023.

International Portrait Photographer of the Year 2023 – chosen to be part of the Top 101

I am extremely happy to have two images chosen as part of the Top 101 images in the International Portrait Photographer of the Year 2023. It has been an incredible week for me. To get recognition for the photography that I do and the kind comments people have been saying about my work has been extremely humbling.

Travel photography is my full-time job but also my life. I live and breathe the job that I do. It is something that I truly love and I thoroughly enjoy being out there in the world capturing what’s around.

A competition that I entered a few months ago recently informed me that I had been chosen to be part of the Top 101 Photographs for the International Portrait Photographer of the Year. Each of the images taken was in the town of Hoi An in central Vietnam.

According to the organizers of the International Portrait Photographer of the Year, the overall aim is to be part of the Top 101 although obviously getting into the top 3 is what we’re all aiming for.

Hoi An is a town that I visit a lot. Since first visiting the town in 2019 I have made a number of friends there and whenever I go back it just feels like home. 

During my first trip back there in August and September 2022 after the pandemic put travel on a grinding halt  I asked a young woman working in the old town if she would be interested in having her portrait taken. She had a look about her that I thought really represented the beauty of Vietnam.

Initially, she was reluctant but then the following day she came around to the idea. It’s understandable to be honest as she didn’t know me and she probably wondered what the goal was.

Sitting down and explaining what I do and what was going to be involved she agreed to have her portrait done and so we set about getting her the traditional ao dai dress to wear, a traditional non la conical hat, and some lotus flowers to finish the ensemble.

Although she isn’t a model at all, she was a dream to work with. I remember visiting the flower shop with her where she meticulously ensured the lotus flower arrangement was as good as it could be. That, for me, is excellent as it showed she had a genuine interest in ensuring things were right.

Walking around the old town we took a number of shots in different places before the final shot that you see here was “the one” where the stars aligned.

From what I remember I briefly looked at the back of my camera when I noticed her looking up and away at the sky. I asked her to hold it. To keep that look, which she did.

Looking at the resulting image on the back of the camera I smiled as I could see what I had.

Vietnam - Beautiful-Woman Ao Dai An - Julian Elliott
Vietnam – Beautiful-Woman Ao Dai An – Julian Elliott

Then to the older lady. A lady that, it’s fair to say, is very famous in Vietnam.

Mrs. Song is often said to be one of the most beautiful women in Vietnam and it’s not hard to see why. If you meet her it’s not just her looks but also her personality. She is lovely and very relaxed when it comes to being in front of the lens.

The image itself was taken in the front room of her small house. We had been sitting on the veranda of her house chatting about various things when I noticed the light falling into the room. The small window was covered and softened the harsh afternoon light.

Through my friend An who works in the local tourist office, I asked if we could sit Mrs. Song in her front room and take her portrait there to which she agreed.

No direction of her was needed. She would sit relaxed as I took a variety of images and poses. But it was the light that made everything and as soon as I could start seeing the beginnings of the Rembrandt shadow appearing on the left side of her face I started to focus intensely on getting “the shot”.

The image itself was taken with a Canon R5 and I utilized the eye detection auto-focus to lock everything into place as well as stopping down the aperture to f8 to ensure everything was in focus.

I was laying on my side on the floor of her room looking up at her when I got the image you see. The critical detail is her looking towards the window. This is where the title of Quiet Contemplation came from. It was that look that said everything to me. That she sat quietly and was just thinking as well as being relaxed.

Again, looking at the back of the camera and seeing what was there I just had a feeling that I had just taken something special. 

For more details on the International Portrait Photographer of the Year competition and to see the other winning entries then be sure to visit their website.

And if you want to visit Hoi An for yourselves then I run a variety of photography tours to Vietnam each year where each of them visits this beautiful town.

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