The Ao Dai Photoshoot In Hanoi
FIRST TIME VIETNAM MODELS | Darrin Henry
The moment I saw a young lady wearing the áo dài, the traditional Vietnamese dress in Hanoi I was captivated and wanted to do a photoshoot with this look right away.
The dress is actually a two piece outfit; a long flowing silk tunic worn over wide trousers, put together with such beautiful, elegant lines. It has a subtle, sexy look, designed to hug the slender figure of the Vietnamese ladies.
As luck would have it, we couldn’t have chosen a more friendly hotel to stay at, the Hanoi Chic in the Old Town. Among the staff we got to know were receptionists, Jane and Emily or Trang. Both ladies epitomised the beauty and grace of the Vietnamese women so it was a no brainer to ask them to model for a shoot.
At first they were a little hesitant; neither had done anything like this before, but after a little discussion the intrigue of a shoot convinced them to have a go.
In A City Of Beautiful Women
We hired matching áo dài dresses from a shop in the city and the girls chose to shoot at the beautiful Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake.
Walking through the streets on our way to the Lake I smiled as young men and women all turned to admire our glamorous models striding ahead of us. These two stood out, even in a city with more than its fair share of stunning women.
Funnily enough, the first photographs weren’t even taken by me! At the Lake, while I was getting the camera set up, a passing tourist asked the girls could he take their picture! The cheek! Actually, it was a lovely moment and I loved watching the girls agree and pose for him, giggling at the novelty of it all.
Lightening The Mood
Now shooting at the lake with novice models was a bold move, considering the location is a central focal point for locals and tourists alike. On this occasion, a week day, mid morning, it was busy.
Helping the girls to relax and building their confidence was the priority; they were understandably a little self conscious of the curious looks from passersby.
One of my photography ‘techniques’ is, I’m always happy to demonstrate the poses I want from the models. Not only does it make clear what the pose should be but it can also look a bit comical and lightens the mood. Let’s just say it also worked on this shoot!
I arranged the angles for a clear space behind the models.
We began with the two girls posing together and then alternated with single poses. At one spell I tried placing Trang on the narrow dividing pavement in the centre of the road in an attempt to get a ‘surrounded by traffic’ look. But it was so noisy we couldn’t communicate and I think she was more concerned with getting run over. That didn’t last long.
After shooting near the traffic we moved to the lakeside itself for the second part of the shoot. With the area being so popular it was all about finding angles that eliminated stray people from the background.
By now both models were enjoying themselves, playing to the camera and feeding off the attention they were generating. It would be interesting to know how many camera phones snapped pictures of them that day.
The Most Beautiful Dress
The purple and white traditional áo dài was stunning and photographing well. Apparently the colours are indicative of the wearer’s age and status. Pure white, fully-lined outfits are worn by younger girls symbolising their purity. Soft pastel shades are worn by older, unmarried girls. The bolder, deep colours are reserved for married women, usually worn over black trousers.
This graceful costume, one of the most stylish national dresses I’ve ever seen, has evolved in its design since the early versions, worn during the Nguyen Dynasty in 1744. The outfit similar to what we know today began to appear around 1930, created by Vietnamese fashion designer-cum-tailor, Cat Tuong. Then in the 1950s Saigon tailors, Tran Kim and Dung, tightened the fit, making it into the áo dài dress worn today.
Keeping My Globe Dry
The shoot was mostly all natural light in order for us to work quickly and keep mobile. We did shoot a set, however, with one off-camera strobe, softened with a stofen diffuser.
Of great amusement to both girls was how much my head was sweating and my constantly having to dry off with my towel. That towel had become a vital piece of equipment in my travel photography bag.
After a little over an hour we had covered a lot of ground and both girls had to get back to work. Their boss had kindly allowed them an extended break for the shoot.
Both Jane and Trang had been a joy to shoot, as I knew they would be. We nailed some great shots and my portfolio now boasts two stunning young Vietnamese models, shot in Hanoi. I am also now an expert (in my house at least) on the Vietnamese Ao dai dress.