Photoessay: Hanoi, part two

Here’s an opportunity to compare the difference between a set shot in color, and one shot in black and white – same subjects, same location, same equipment, same time. Which do you prefer? Which do you think works better? There are no right or wrong answers (nor should there be if both sets are executed well enough). MT

This set shot with a Nikon D700, 85/1.4G and 28-300/3.5-5.6 VR.

_7016762bw copy

_7016864bw copy

_7017139bw copy

_7016917bw copy

_7017070bw copy

_7016989bw copy

_7017479bw copy

_7017164bw copy

_7017234bw copy

_7017327bw copy


  1. I’m just a photo enthusiast, and my major is totally different from Photography. I am now a student. It is very nice to talk to you. If you plan to go to Saigon, contact me, I will take you around the city ^^. And It will be more interesting if you would have been to Saigon when there is a Saigon Flea Market. It’ll very funny, people hangout together, shopping hand-made stuff like necklace, wristlace, Once a month, A brand new social activity in Saigon with passion. ^^

    • If it makes you feel any better, I was trained as a physicist and an accountant. Photography has been an obsession for the last ten years, but only now am I seriously doing anything about it.

      Thanks for the offer – I might well take you up on it, and will definitely get in touch if and when I’m there!

      • Wow, amazing, I am now studying Petroleum Engineering. I find you photo impressing but from today I know that you have been to my country, I’m very proud.
        by the way, If my English is not correct, I’m very sorry ^^. Have a peaceful Sunday πŸ™‚ See you later.

  2. I am Vietnamese and I foundnd Hanoi interesting for the first time I visited. It’ll be very meaningful if you will have been to HoChiMinh City. Hanoi has some ancient house but in HCMC it is totally different. HCMC might be the best place for cultural exchange, especially in Street Cuisine, Special Cafe like L’usine (which is referred the top 10 Cafe to visit), and also Japanese Area, Chinese downtown. ^^ Thanks for all photos that feel so right

    • Sounds like another place I’ll have to add to my to-visit list! Some parts of Hanoi aren’t that great for street photography; I find you’ve got to get lost in the old quarter. However, every corner kinda starts to feel the same after a while.

      I’m a foodie too – what kind of food does L’usine serve?

      • L’usine placed in a famous road in Saigon (HCMC but the citizens like the name “Saigon” for all the time ^^) It called Dong Khoi Street (Freedom Street is a former name) and form the main street you have to take turn to a very small road, along the road is a staircase.

        You walk up stair and L’usine is a ancient house built in the French’s dependence. You can find many foreign customers, especially in noon. They talk to each other and feels like they were friends for a long time.

        And the most important part is about the food. They service a lot of local dishes and international dishes. You should try Vietnamese traditional bread, and Lemon juice in L’usine is totally different. here is the link of this Cafe. I must find the short video about Saigon for you, really impressed. hold on

    • here you are. My friend and I plan to do a project called “Street Cuisine” in a form like this. This is not whole about Saigon, It still feel so regrettable because they don’t walk down the Chinese downtown and some labor which was very famous in Saigon ^^

  3. Pete Saunders says:

    B&W! Color distracts from the expressions, the feel of the characters. Now one can see faces in the raw. More gritty–especially the night scenes.

    • I had a feeling you might say that. But then again…don’t you think perhaps color humanizes the scene a bit? It makes me feel more like a participant than an observer, if that makes sense.

  4. Chris Cupit says:

    I dont think you can compare two different sets of pictures and say which is better, any individual picture may benefit from being in black and white or colour depending on a large number of factors (background, feel for the picture, colours distracting from the image or contributing to it). Of the B&W set I loved 2 & 8, I would like to have seen 3 & 6 in colour to compare.

    • Oh, it’s always personal preference – that’s what art is all about. The B&W images are B&W because they work best that way, and vice versa; I wouldn’t use a scene with low luminance variety (but intense color) for a B&W conversion; conversely something with huge contrasts may well look too chaotic in color.

  5. Robert Stark says:

    As with most urban scenes, I prefer the black and white because, for me, the raw, often nihilistic cacophony of colour distracts from the form and the emotion that you so often beautifully capture in your photographs. I can more easily zero in on your subjects when the photograph is in black and white. The pictures are more contemplative. I want to linger in front of them longer. Thank you, very much, Ming. Robert

    • Interesting – do you think that perhaps B&W pulls you out of reality somewhat? There’s always a slightly surreal feeling for me, especially when there’s heavy bokeh involved.

      • Robert Stark says:

        Quite to the contrary of pulling me out of reality, I think it gives me the feeling of going into the subject’s world in a more real way. A photograph does not show reality because the photograph is static in a way that life never is. Even when in life we are observing a landscape, it is far from static — the light changes, the wind changes, the focus of our eyes change, little movements catch our attention and at least some of us don’t “see” things that might be glaring in a photograph taken at that very moment — like an ugly utility pole or hideous automobile (and that we might be tempted to edit out with Photoshop — something the painter readily does in choosing what to paint or draw).

        Most of us certainly don’t see things as vividly as the new Nikon D800e will show in a photograph. That’s why I think many paintings, even impressionist paintings (as opposed to early Netherlandish paintings), actually seem more real than a polished photograph. The colour in a photograph is unchanging. In life, colours, as we perceive them, change with the light. So, I believe that a photograph that requires the viewer to use the viewer’s imagination to make sense of the scene actually gets the viewer closer to life than a highly detailed photograph. When we look at a black and white photograph, we have to imagine much more than we do in viewing a vivid colour photograph and perhaps in so doing we also draw upon our own experiences — which connects us to what is universal in the image. (This in addition to my earlier thought that colour can be distracting.) This takes us to the realm of art.

        But perhaps I have misunderstood your question and what you quite simply meant to suggest is that black and white pulls one out of the reality of looking at a photograph in the room where one happens to be and into the “reality” represented by the photograph.

        I would be very interested in knowing which better memorializes your own sense of the scene that you have photographed — your black and white image or your colour image ?

        • Interesting comparison. Absolutely agree that the painter chooses what goes in and what stays out; and what makes the final image is always distorted by the relative lens of his or her own vision. We don’t have that kind of control with a photograph (well except perhaps controlled studio work) and so we’re limited to changing the perspective or position of the camera, and whatever we can do in post.

          Color seems more ‘real’ to me, but that isn’t always the objective of a photograph; sometimes we want to capture the image we visualize in our mind’s eye rather than what we see in front of us – in which case, either B&W or color can work, but almost certainly neither will be accurate to the reality of the scene.

          Your point about color is something I want to write about in a future series of articles: how color affects perception, and how you can control the impact of the final image by controlling the color – not huge shifts like a duotone, for instance, but more subtle things with lighting and processing that can still create the desired effect.

          In this particular case, I’d have to go with color – because of the point above. What you see isn’t that accurate to reality, but it IS accurate to the way I remembered/ perceived it at the time – and that was my objective in this case.

      • Robert Stark says:

        With regard to my above comment, I didn’t meant to say that an early Netherlandish painting, with all its meticulous detail, is even close to looking like a photograph. It’s just to say that impressionist paintings also can seem very real to the viewer. The same can be said of even more abstract figurative paintings.

  6. parameteres says:

    Color or B/W, each have its own merits. I love the color set, it portraits a realistic dimension. The B/Ws are more abstract and powerful, esp no 5. IMHO

  7. B/W…..

%d bloggers like this: