Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Going slow in Laos


I wrote before about how the Xishuangbanna region in southernmost China felt a lot like Laos, but crossing the border into the actual Laos, you really notice a difference. On the Chinese side of the border, in Mohan, there’s austere concrete architecture and businesslike, though not unfriendly, customs officials. On the Lao side, in Boten, there’s a small shed, probably built as a temporary measure five years ago, occupied by portly, vaguely-uniformed middle-aged men, whose long lunch break is occasionally interrupted by the stamping of passports. It’s a nice introduction to the country; nothing is rushed here, and there’s no standing on ceremony.

From the border, the bus took me south to Luang Namtha, capital of the province of the same name. The town had a sleepy, off-season feel to it, but was none the worse for that. ย I spent about a week in the town and surrounding area, walking, cycling, napping, taking photographs. ย No rushing.

This post is especially for my sister Kate, whose birthday it is today. Happy birthday, Kate.










15 Responses to “Going slow in Laos”

  1. Howie Cobb

    Another lovely set of shots Jon. Can I ask – what camera do you prefer to use for taking your portraits? What do you carry around as your ‘failsafe’ snap camera – if you do of course!

    • Jon Sanwell

      Thanks Howie. I only have the one camera, an old Canon 5D. It’s not exactly pocket-sized, even with a 50mm lens attached, so I don’t take it everywhere during normal life. At the moment though, while I’m travelling, it’s always with me.

      • Howie Cobb

        Thanks Jon that’s encouraging – I hate to carry lots of equipment around and prefer to use one camera and lens if I can. I had a whole kit that got mislaid in Vietnam when I first started travelling (I wrote about it in my book ‘Two Minute Noodle’) and since then I like to stay light on the equipment side! Carry on the great work Jon.

  2. Ramona

    Please share. How did you get permission to take these portraits? They are wonderful. Your skill is obvious, but so is your ability to capture emotion and personality. I also want to know your camera settings if you don’t mind.

    • Jon Sanwell

      Thanks Ramona. My approach for taking portrait pictures is to smile, be open and be patient. I try to spend a bit of time with people if I can, and will hang around in a street or area that’s interesting so that people get used to me being there. One of these days, I’ll get round to writing a post about taking portrait pictures. Camera settings are obviously different for each picture, but I don’t do anything particularly complicated – for portrait pictures, it’s just a case of setting a wide aperture (most of these were taken at f/2.8, I think) and focusing on the eyes. I often under-expose by half a stop to avoid the highlights getting too bright. I hope that helps, and apologies for the delay in replying.

      • Ramona

        Oh this is very helpful. I’m currently working in a small city in China and get out on the streets as much as I can in my free time. I have found that by smiling I can usually get the shot. I like your advice about wide aperture and underexposing.

        I have vowed to learn a little more Chinese if I come back here again, but I have gotten along pretty well with smiling, pointing to my camera, me & then them.

      • Ramona

        I also see that you incorporate leading lines in every portrait. Each on is a work of art.

  3. Kenneth

    Those are great portraits – I really love the warm light.

  4. themodernidiot

    i’m amused at how all the apples are individually wrapped


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