If you give a kid a camera…: Photos by Lantan kids in Laos

Two hilltribe children pose in Luang Namtha, Laos

I thought I’d let someone else get behind the viewfinder, this time.

Recently, I spent some time in Nam Ha National Protected Area, up in Laos’ far northwestern corner, to go trekking. Though we stayed mostly in secondary, we got to visit some primary jungle and spend time at small villages along the way. One afternoon, we came to a village of the Lantan / Lantaen tribe which is participating in the region’s community based tourism (CBT) initiative by hosting trekkers for a night.

A village seen during trekking in Nam Ha NPA, Laos

It was difficult to bond. Though the residents of the village weren’t unfriendly, they also weren’t exactly interested in making the first move to meet us. And honestly, who can blame them? Hikers come through at least once a week, breezing by the next day never to be seen again.

It wasn’t until I went swimming in the river and met a group of young girls there that the village began to open up. They found they could rope me into underwater breath-holding contests, and we took turns combing our wet hair over our faces and chasing each other around as creepy Ring-like ghosts.

Then I noticed them looking at my camera, sitting on a rock, probably wondering what shots I’d already taken of the village.

So I showed them how to use it. And let them take off.

A girl of the Lantan tribe, Laos

At first, they took pictures of the younger kids…

Bananas growing in a village in Luang Namtha, Laos

Flowers in a village in Laos

…and of what was growing in the village…

Traveller in Luang Namtha, Laos

Backpacker jewellery in Laos ;)

…of me and my bracelets (the shells were of particular interest)…

People of the Lantan tribe in Laos, Lantaen people in Laos

…but it wasn’t until they turned the camera on others in the village that it really got interesting.

A Lan Taen child and tourist in Laos

A Lan Taen woman and grandchild in Luang Namtha, Laos

Their aim wasn’t always on…

A young hilltribe girl from the Lantan tribe in Laos

A young hilltribe woman from the Lantan tribe in Laos

…but they started framing their shots quite well.

Traveller in Laos

A girl of the Lantan people tribe in Laos plays with a balloon

A girl of the Lanten people tribe in Laos plays with a balloon

They caught a visitor in his own tribal clothing, and their friend playing with a balloon he’d brought.

A tourist and Lantaen child in Laos

(and even got a shot of someone getting a shot of them)

A young Lantaen girl with a hibiscus flower, Luang Namtha, Laos A Lantaen or Lantan family in Laos

Eventually they let me have the camera back.

A girl from the Lantan minority tribe in Laos grabs a flower from her village

But not before getting some props…

Backpackers with flowers in their hair, Laos

…and making sure we looked just as cute for a photoshoot.

Getting there
Nam Ha NPA can be explored most easily from the town Luang Namtha, which you can reach on a 4 hour minibus journey from Huay Xai when crossing from Thailand. Trek prices range based on the length of the trek and the number of participants, so try and go with a group. I showed up one night, walked along the main strip where operators put up white boards saying which treks are leaving the next day with how many people, and signed up for one the next morning. Most tours leave at 9AM, so if you want to find a group to go with, check out the whiteboards at 8-ish.

You really gave your camera to kids?
Yep! I kept enough of an eye on them to make sure they were holding tight and putting the camera strap around their neck, which they were very diligent about. They took care of the camera and shared better than kids I’ve babysat for ;) As for the settings, I chose the ISO, but changed everything else to auto, later post-processed, and off they went.

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37 Responses to If you give a kid a camera…: Photos by Lantan kids in Laos

  1. Jill 11 May, 2013 at 12:12 #

    I love this. They are such skilled photographers.

    • Naomi Alyssa 13 May, 2013 at 16:04 #

      It was so cool to see what they wanted to take pictures of!

      • noora 6 June, 2013 at 02:36 #

        i did the exact same when i was trekking near luang prapang this february. also got awesome pictures! lao kids are the cutest i know

  2. RIka | Cubicle Throwdown 11 May, 2013 at 12:59 #

    I’m pretty sure those little Laotian kids are better photographers than me :)

  3. Thomas Dembie 11 May, 2013 at 13:14 #

    Love the photos! What a great idea! Of all the countries I’ve ever visited, the people in Laos are some of the happiest I’ve ever met. Can’t wait to go back!

    • Naomi Alyssa 13 May, 2013 at 16:08 #

      I’m really looking forward to getting to know this country more and hopefully discovering the same thing :)

  4. Casey-A Cruising Couple 12 May, 2013 at 13:42 #

    Wonderful idea, and of course wonderful photos too! It can be hard to connect with people sometimes, but photography is always a great way to bridge communication barriers :)

    • Naomi Alyssa 13 May, 2013 at 16:08 #

      Very true! It definitely did help. Their families opened up a lot more in front of the camera when their kids were behind it, instead of a visitor. Cute to see ;)

  5. Jessica J. Hill 12 May, 2013 at 18:48 #

    What an amazing experience for those kids! You’re very trusting to loan them your camera, but it made for some wonderful shots and a great story. Thanks for sharing!

    • Naomi Alyssa 13 May, 2013 at 16:09 #

      I had a pretty small lens on it, so it was light enough for them to hold without dropping, haha ;)

  6. Jennifer 12 May, 2013 at 20:35 #

    Great photos – I would never have guessed they were taken by children!

    • Naomi Alyssa 13 May, 2013 at 16:10 #

      They really knew what they wanted to take pictures of, too!

  7. Ryan 17 May, 2013 at 23:18 #

    I once let some kids in a Jakarta slum use my Canon 5D Mark II. Although I was a little nervous at first to let them handle it, I was quite impressed with how quickly they figured out how to use it. It was a lot of fun watching them take photos of each other.

  8. Amanda 22 May, 2013 at 02:55 #

    How cute! And what a great way to bond with people in the village. And damn… those kids took some good shots!

  9. Angela 2 June, 2013 at 17:32 #

    What a great thing to do and such great shots!

    • Naomi Alyssa 4 June, 2013 at 15:23 #

      They seemed pretty stoked to have a chance to practice what they’ve surely seen so many visitors do :) Was fun for everyone, I think!

  10. Gypsy Traveller 4 June, 2013 at 07:15 #

    I was doing the same in India and Nepal, so amusing to see them in action!

  11. Jaryd @ Aus Globetrotter 16 June, 2013 at 11:47 #

    That is great! I did the same thing in Amritsar India in one of the slums despite being completely worried for my DSLR. They blasted off to their family with it and started snapping away. They were completely overjoyed which brought a huge smile to my face. It is an amazing way to engage with the locals and i believe we should all do this more often. Great post, cheers

    • Naomi Alyssa 22 June, 2013 at 14:33 #

      Very cool!! Did you put the images up online anywhere?

  12. Tyrhone 27 June, 2013 at 07:52 #

    Great idea, kids would also have less inhibitions about taking pictures of people, I wonder if I could get one to come with me and be my photographer?

  13. Ashlie 24 July, 2013 at 18:01 #

    Did you ever see the documentary ‘Born Into Brothels’? Such a great story about an organization this woman developed in Calcutta called Kids With Cameras. It was a way to empower the young children growing up in the red light district. It’s since branched off to small projects all over the world. Really amazing the shots that the kids would take!

    • Naomi Alyssa 26 July, 2013 at 13:53 #

      I haven’t, but I’d love to – photography can be such an empowering form of art, because you can convey not just what you see but the emotions around it. Love the idea of incorporating it into community projects, and I’m even trying to volunteer here at an art project org for kids…will try and find the movie for inspiration!

  14. Nguyen Helen 6 August, 2013 at 18:31 #

    Nice photos. I love photos very much, especially the 2 last pictures. So interesting !:))

  15. Andrew Davison 21 August, 2013 at 19:21 #

    This is really cool!! In fact I’m see a whole new idea for a travel blog now… go all around the world into different remote tribes, towns and cities and give kids (and even adults) a camera… see what they produce… see how they view where they live.

    The results could be amazing! :-)

    • Naomi Alyssa 3 September, 2013 at 12:00 #

      Well, I don’t know about blogs, but there are quite a few organisations that do that – an idea I love!! :)

  16. Christina 13 August, 2014 at 02:36 #

    Love these pictures! So cool and they have such beautiful faces wow.

  17. Miles of Happiness 16 September, 2014 at 10:25 #

    Was a nice moment it must be! They did some nice shot indeed. The colors are amazing. I’m always too shy to take pictures of people. Those ones are beautiful.

  18. Christina H. 31 December, 2014 at 23:02 #

    This post is so endearing! Seriously beautiful captures!

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