Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell



I’m a British photographer living in Hanoi.

I first came to Vietnam for a holiday in 2004, and fell in love with the place.  In 2008, I quit my office job in London and moved to Hanoi to teach English, and to improve my photography.

The following posts have been featured on the WordPress Freshly Pressed  page, and make a good introduction to my pictures:

If you’d like to read more about my approach to photographing people on the street, then take a look at this article from the Daily Post, featuring the views of seven WordPress photographers:

You can follow me on Instagram here.

130 Responses to “About”

  1. rshmedialimited

    Hi John
    Thanks for the ‘like’ on my blog..
    Can’t say I’m not jealous of where you’re living..
    I’ll be checking your blog regularly for a HCM fix.

    • dan devine

      By the way it’s 9:08 AM
      As I noticed the time code
      Said it was something like
      3 AM….
      I was an insomnia sufferer
      But no longer……….
      DAN DEVINE / HAWAII / 9:09 AM

  2. dan devine

    Greetings Jon Without,
    Like me you may not
    Have a middle name Neither …….
    Well Jon I just stumbled across
    Your blog so I will randomly
    Check in to see what there is
    2 learn from it…… Aloha

  3. lenglen4all

    it is very great time to know you here. I am Journalism student in Phnom Penh Cambodia. This year , I am second year student of my B.A and this year I have a course about photo skills with American photographer. It is my first start of blogging. Hope to share and learn from you more,

  4. Tom

    Like all the picture, would like to know what kind of camera you are using? 🙂


  5. bpicnic

    Could we chat? I am interested in your experience as an English teacher in Vietnam as that is where my heart is pulling me.

    • Jon Sanwell

      I would definitely recommend coming here to teach. Vietnam can be challenging, infuriating even, but I’ve met some wonderful people and had some great experiences. There’s such a variety of places to visit and things to see that I feel like I’ve still only scratched the surface, even after a few years. You can live quite comfortably on a teacher’s pay, and Vietnam is a great base from which to travel to other places in South East Asia.

  6. postdigitalblog

    Jon, fantastic blog and gallery. I”ve added the blog to my list of recommended blogs and your gallery to the :inspirations”section of my blog.
    All the best.

  7. Aqilah Moshmore

    Hi I’m a fan of your photos. Great eye and colour.

  8. sandradjanq

    hello, I’m glad to find your blog, it’s accidentally 🙂

    btw, may i know..why do you name your blog ‘without an H’??? ^^

    • Jon Sanwell

      Thanks. Whenever I spell my name, I have to say that it’s “Jon without an H” as it’s short for Jonathan. That’s where the blog’s name comes from.

  9. todayinchile

    I’m guessing it’s because of the spelling of his name (Jon, not John). Just a guess though.

    Love the photos, by the way.

  10. kris

    Absolutely Love the Photography. The colours are stunning- makes you want to jump a flight from grey cold London! Keep it up 🙂

  11. Dribblycomic

    Hi. I love your photography, as friend to two particularly good photographers I’ve started to really appreciate photographs, and can I just say my friend was glad to read that you use a Canon and not a Nikon (she’s a bit of a camera snob).

  12. elsethenomad

    Beautiful photos! I also started a photo blog, though I’m nothing close to ‘professional’. Just a girl studying linguistics with a hope to travel and teach English (like you, I see!) who also loves taking photos. Thank you for sharing, I wish you the best of times!

    • David Spadora

      That’s awesome ^

      That was my first thought viewing the photos, but I had no idea where Jon was shooting. We often take our hometown for granted and forget to appreciate the beauty of what we’re surrounded by.

      Thanks for sharing Jon

  13. skippingbubbles

    Your blog is full of awesomeness!! I’m really looking forward to see more of your lovely photographs. Stay awesome! ♥

  14. AmasianV

    Really enjoyed these portraits. Makes me want to come back to Vietnam for a visit. What are you shooting with?

  15. Zen and Genki

    I too was an English teacher (in Japan, mind, not Vietnam), and my husband and I’s trip to Vietnam was, hands down, the most memorable, and life changing one we’ve ever had. I am constantly looking for portraits that effectively capture the magic that we left behind when we moved from Japan, and all of our travels in Southeast Asia….thank you so much for making me smile ear to ear. I cannot wait to see more 🙂

  16. balistylelife

    I always think that you would have to be a ‘certain type of person’ to be a portrait photographer, you can approach strangers and get them to agree to letting you photograph them !
    I can see by how open they ( the subjects) are to you … that you must be a really nice, easy going guy. The photos wouldn’t be so beautiful if they didn’t soften to you …
    Really enjoying your blog/ photos / the slide show on home page ( no clicking required ..) , thanks a lot, Tanya

    • Jon Sanwell

      I try to be nice and easy-going, but I don’t always succeed. I sometimes think that the camera brings out the best in me though. Thanks for visiting.

  17. itslifekid

    As a person who is seriously considering quitting his office job and teaching English (albeit in South Korea), you’ve inspired me Jon. Glad I found your work from the WP front page. Keep it up, mate.


    • Jon Sanwell

      Go for it! Life isn’t always easy here, but I can honestly say that I’ve never once wished I was back in my old job.

  18. Ronnie Mosley

    I love your pictures, very nice. Being new to blogging, I am curious. I noticed the way that you display your tags with font sizes that vary, how do you do that? Thanks.

    • Jon Sanwell

      I use the ‘tag cloud’ widget. It might not be available for every theme, but you can find widgets under Appearance in your dashboard menu. Hope that helps, and thanks for visiting.

  19. Paul McVitty

    G’day Jon
    I somehow stumbled upon your site a few days before I went to Vietnam, and you made me even more excited of the photographic journey that lay ahead of me. Wow, what an amazingly beautiful place (and people) to visit. I’m already thinking about returning.
    Great people portraits, Jon. I wish I’d had the time to get some of the intimate and relaxed portraits you’ve shown. What’s your favourite lens?
    I have some of my results online, many of which were taken using my 70-200 f4 . Please have a look at http://www.mcvitty.net/travel
    Making a big assumption here, but do you have a favourite Lightroom preset, and/or would you be willing to share?

    • Jon Sanwell

      Hi Paul, looks like you had a great trip. I used to live in Hanoi before I came south, and your pictures of the north made me quite nostalgic, even though I was only up there last weekend for a quick visit.

      I use a 50mm and a 24-105mm lens (on a Canon 5D). Today, my 50mm is my favourite, but I’m very fickle, so that could all change. I find it’s great for street portraits – I can get in close for a tight head and shoulders shot, or step back a bit and include some context. It helps to create that intimacy you mentioned, because it forces me to get in close and interact with people.

      I don’t really use the Lightroom presets, except for sharpening. But I do have a simple preset of my own, which I tend to use as a starting point – this just increases the contrast with the tone curve, and lowers the saturation.

      Thanks for the support,


  20. vezinak

    I nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award! Check it out here: http://omnomnombakedgoods.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/liebster-blog-award/
    By accepting the award, it would be nice for the blogger to:
    1. Acknowledge the person that gave the award and link back to their blog.
    2, Copy and paste the award to your own site.
    3. Share the award with 5 blogs of your choice and let them know by commenting on their blog.

    • Jon Sanwell

      Thanks Mark, I appreciate the kind words. Really like your images from China, especially the black and white ones, as I’m in a bit of a black and white mood myself at the moment. Looking forward to your pictures from India too.

  21. xjgirl

    Hi Jon, I just wanted to let you know that I have nominated you for the Sunshine Award. I love your photography…beautiful images! You can check out my blog post about the award for more info. Congratulations!

  22. David Hall

    I have come across your blog via a nomination from ‘mycoignofvantage’. I like your style of photography and the wonderful colour in your photos. You have a great blog and I will be dropping by often.

  23. fotograffer

    Hi Jon, I just came across your blog and am enjoying it. Great photography from one of my favorite places. I particularly like your b&w.

  24. linh

    Những bức hình rất đẹp. Thật vui vì cảm nhận được rằng anh rất yêu Việt Nam, cảm ơn vì điều đó.
    Thích bức hình người nông dân ở Hội An, rất ấn tượng.

  25. Chattyowl

    Stumbled upon your website, in total awe! Stunning pictures and the overall feeling… Was amazing to flick through pictures of a faraway Saigon, when stuck in London.

  26. s1ngal

    What caught my eyes was your Gravatar… cause i’ve got a similar one LOL [P.U.R.E. COINCIDENCE ?!?]

  27. Brother Jon

    It’s so great to finally meet someone in the blog-sphere that knows how to spell ‘Jon’ the right way. We don’t need no stinking H’s. Good job with the blog too. Keep up the good work.

  28. rafaelaimee

    You really have amazing pictures!! Super inspiring..! We went to Vietnam last year..amazing environment. Greets from Holland!

  29. eisyc

    Great photos! Love how you have captured the people, the culture, the colors …a feast for the eyes.

  30. E.

    i really like your lovely pictures of my people and my country and would like to follow your blog, if you don’t mind. (:

  31. laurilau

    Hello! Just saw your blog, and love it already 🙂 you have lovely pics and your career change is very inspiring!
    Cheers from London

  32. Mark Young

    Hi Jon,

    I’ll be in Vietnam for the first time in 2 weeks. Can’t wait! 2 weeks of nothing but photography for me. I’ll keep your blog in mind while I’m there.

    Mark (with a K)

  33. Chatty Owl

    Surely it takes guts to just stand up and leave one country for the other. I have done that once in my life, but I’m not so brave now. Admire people who do so though! Great blog, keep it up, best wishes from London.

  34. dawnow

    Hi there Jon. I really enjoy your people photographs. Will be waiting for more.
    Regards. Dawid

  35. abitjuakali

    Your work is absolutely astounding. Makes me miss southeast asia so much!! Blessings on your journey of creation and beauty!

  36. dalo2013

    Really beautiful work. Also, I like the fact that you quit your job to chase life. Not an easy decision to make, so congratulations on something that seems to have turned out very well for you.

  37. buitramy

    Greetings from London from a Vietnamese in returns to your pictures that touch my nostalgia. Thanks Jon!

  38. bhavani

    thats a great story… amazing that you chose to quit to follow a dream. thats brave… 🙂

    lovely pictures. all the best!

  39. fonnadda

    Your photographs are so inspiring. They make me feel like booking plane tickets now! Thanks for sharing the good work 🙂

  40. scipworld

    Pritty amazing work! 🙂 I think I would like to go to Vietnam soon, too 😉
    Are you using a flash sometimes?
    Greetings from Germany

  41. palmtreelifestyle

    Hi Jon, please can I pick your knowledge about processing your portrait images. How do you get the black background look? Do you use photoshop or lightroom? Have you got any presets, or know where I can get one? I have been trying to find youtube videos on how to get that look for my portrait pictures, but failed in my search. Any help will be greatly welcomed. Thanks for your time 🙂 http://www.allanrufustravelogue.com

    • Jon Sanwell

      Hi Allan, you’re welcome to pick my knowledge, such as it is. I use Lightroom for all my processing, but I don’t use its presets, except for sharpening.

      As far as that black background look is concerned, it’s all (or nearly all) down to the light, and the shadows, rather than the processing. There’s probably a technical term for it, but I think of these as “inside outside” shots. This kind of picture happens on bright, sunny days when sensible people take shelter from the sun, rather than wander around with a camera. When someone stands in an open doorway or window on a sunny day, the interior behind them naturally falls into shadow. As they are out of direct sunlight, you get a nice soft light on the face, without any of the glare that you would get out in the open. That’s really all there is to it – doorways and windows. I usually use exposure compensation to under-expose by half a stop or a stop, to keep the background dark and stop the face being being too bright. Sometimes, I’ll use Lightroom to make sure the black is really black, rather than dark grey (by raising the blacks slider and/or lowering the darks/shadows in the tone curve) but that’s just a finishing touch.

      In this picture, you can see that she is standing in a doorway, while in this one, I composed it so that you just see the monk against a black background – but in both cases, the technique was the same.

      I hope that helps, and apologies for the delay in replying.

      • palmtreelifestyle

        Hi Jon, thanks for your time explaining your process! 🙂 I will try a few things you have spoken about!

        I will let you know the result.

        Have a great week!

        Kind regards

  42. Vasun

    I love your portraits. Especially the ones taken in Sapa. They remind me of our trip a few months ago. You should go to Phong Nga, where the caves are and try the cave trekking. The villages around Phong Nga are beautiful and serene. Thank you for your beautiful phototgraphy 🙂

  43. maireadkahn

    I only just found your blog, and I already love your work! These photos are incredible.
    I am a high school student who loves photography and I would really appreciate if you would check out my blog! http://maireadkahn.wordpress.com/

  44. angiebuyong

    Hi, Jon. I love your work! Thank you very much for your wonderful photography 🙂 Looking forward to more photos of SE Asia from you 🙂

  45. chuckkuhn

    I somewhat understand your feeling about living in Hanoi. Although my visits were brief 2005, 2006, Hanoi and it’s people just blew me away. I was the first American (2005) to join the Hanoi Photo club and believe me change my life. My first visit they drove and met me almost daily to take me on their scooters to places I would never have seen. Second visit more that 50 met me for lunch, local TV station video taped A day in my Life in Hanoi. I’ll stop now, but what mean about the People is true. I feel like part of their family. When a group of people you really don’t know tell YOu. I love You Mr. Chuck, your soul and heart is taken. I’m now retired and my Vietnam blogs and pictures have been seen by many. I want now live in Hanoi and 2014 will be my year. Let’s have Vietnamese coffee together when I setlle. http://www.chuckkuhnvietnam.blogspot.com PS 5D was my first camera in 2005 2006 visits to Vietnam. It’s really the lenses for me. I’ve followed your over 2 yrs. Cheers to your new home…Hanoi

  46. LauriLau

    Hello! I nominated you for the “ABC Awesome Blog content” award. You can find the details about this on my blog.
    Wish you a happy new year & safe travels – I really enjoy your blog!

  47. Kayleigh

    Beautiful portraits! Do you ask permission for all of your shots? What camera/lens are you using for these? Thanks.

    • Jon Sanwell

      Thank you. Yes, I ask for permission for my portraits, often just through nodding and smiling. I use a Canon 5D.

      • Kayleigh

        I’m still in the process of learning how to ask people. It’s a bit intimidating…

  48. dingtelaga

    hai firend,it awesome at your blog.i like the pics much..and too the localities.keep going friend..thanks for sharing.

  49. J Galhoz

    The man might not have an H in the name…but he knows how to take a shot and really has a very special insight to the Viet Land and People…!

  50. Pennyro

    pleased I’ve chanced upon your blog, I”m going to enjoy seeing all your wonderful photos!

  51. Angela M. Adams

    Your photography and subject choices are stunning! I will carry that photo of the child peeking around the doorframe in my memory all day. I look forward to seeing more…

  52. Derek miyamoto

    Hey Jon, glad to stumble across your blog. I’m still at Rmit, and remember when I was starting and you were leaving. It looks like we’ve both kept up on our photography, and I love how your work has progressed. Great portraits!

  53. What ever it is.

    Hi! I loved photography just like you. But yours, was great! Im not a professional on this but I really really love taking pictures from different places, people and all. We do have something in common, the way you’re asking permission on taking photos, like nodding and smiling, I’m doing that as well! I’ll be following your blog to get more advises and be able to see a lot of photos from you. I loved your work. Photography is really making me happy and I know you’re feeling the same. I can feel mixed emotions in every photo you posted. I know someday, I could travel from one places to another, person to another person and show their beauty to the World! Keep clicking!


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