Travel Photography versus Street Photography

I love discussing photography in various forums on the web. It is such a wonderful opportunity to learn, although som of the discussions can tend to get heated. I try to phrase my comment so that it comes across as a personal opinion and not as I own any truth. I feel I learn the most from when people don’t see in my image what I felt I saw. Perhaps there was something outside the frame that I didn’t capture, and thus cannot contribute in telling my story.

One of the subjects that keep coming up is whether an image qualifies as “street photography”.

I have two ways of looking at it. I either look at street photography as a process. When I walk around a city looking for moments I am performing street photography.

The other angle is that – okay – I am on the street but I also capture travel images, architecture, portraits and still life.

What makes a photograph stand out as “street” to me is when there is an ironic moment of some kind. I worked around this man trying to find a twist. And to me the image I was working on changed from “travel” to “street” when he was looking down on a bookshelf, and I found an angle that made his head disappear.

Street Photograph

In search of good light

I have just spent a whole week in New York with some of my photography friends. I have never been there before. In fact I have only been to the US once , in a wedding in Minnesota close to fifteen years ago.

Travelling west from Europe brings one advantage – you wake up early. The mornings in New York were spent alone on the streets with the camera. I was surprised by the instant feeling of being at home. That I had been there before. Which probably is caused by the innumerous American movies watched over the years :-)

I thought it would be very dark in the city because of the high skyscrapers, but it felt the opposite. Perhaps because there was so much glass reflecting light back down on the wide avenues.

I found one location that I would like to share with you – and explain how I used the natural light.

New York

New York

New York

New York

Even if there is light on the faces of these people, I am photographing against the sun. This is easy to see in the second image, when you look at how the shadows fall on the ground. The shadows fall towards the camera.

In the third image you can see that the shadow is falling in the complete opposite direction, away from the camera, but it is weaker than the shadows in the previous image.

The fourth and final image gives the secreat away. There are shadows going in both directions, however one is significantly weaker than the other.

The trick is to find a location where the sun hits a tall glass window behind you, and reflects light back on your subjects. For the final image I am sitting on the ground in front of the window. The weaker shadow is the one from the reflected light. The stronger shadow is the one caused by the sun.

The reflection works as if you used a weaker flash as a fill light.

If you like street photography but think it is a bit scary, sitting still in a good location is a good technique for you. People are more likely to say sorry for being in your way, than being annoyed. Sometimes they even stop and wait for you to finish your image before they pass. But they will never shout at you for taking a photo without asking. It is them who are stepping into your personal zone, not the other way around.

If you want to try this specific location one morning in New York, it is on the corner of Fifth Avenue and West 53rd street. Don’t forget to bring a lens hood!


The Family Photos

Ottar Jakobsen 1900 Norway

Ottar Jakobsen emigrated to the US and is said to have been killed there. His belongings were shipped home to Norway without any explanation. He died under mysterious circumstances and the story I was told is that he probably was murdered during gold digging.  The original type of gold digging :-)

This photo is one of my favorites from my family photos shoebox.

Ottar was my grandmother’s youngest brother. He was born in the year 1900 in the north of Norway. My grandmother said my dad looked like the spitting image of Ottar. That he both looked the same and had the same type of personality. The first time I saw the photo I thought it was my dad in the photo.

So Ottar was my dad’s uncle. It sort of  feels like it is my dad in this photograph. It both is and it isn’t.

In 1923 Ottar Jakobsen travelled with the ship Stavangerfjord to the US, arriving at Ellis Island in June. Life was tough in Norway at the time and Ottar was the hope they sent out in the world to save the family finacially. Instead he died.

For the last week I have tried to search geneaology records but I have found no trace of Ottar beyond the Ellis Island passenger records.

On the passenger record for Stavangerfjord I found that he had listed a Simon Andersen in Wisconsin as his uncle whom he would stay with. I managed to trace Simon Anderson (1868-1955) and his wife Ingeborg Olina Anderson (1874-1952) in Wisconsin and later Minnesota. Google earth even provided me with photos of the house Ottar said they lived in, and the house they were listed as living in in 1940. It was really strange to see a photo of an unknown house and try to imagine that Ottar had lived there.

Do you have a shoebox of old family photos stowed away on a shelf somewhere?

I wonder what will happen to the family photos after I am gone. When no-one knows who are in the photos anymore.

I hope the public digital archives will allow for uploading images along with details of who are in the photos. I sometimes visit vintage shops and look through boxes of old photos. And I find it sad that there was nobody around to save those photos for the future family members who would then get the opportunity to know more about their own history. Before the house was emptied.

So this is my suggestion to you as a photographer. Scan them. Professionaly. High resolution. Name the people in the photos. And keep them somewhere searchable for the next generation. If you are not so interested, there may be someone further down the line who is.

– – – – – –
I later found Ottars grave and he had changed his name to Otto Jacobson. The death certificate confirmed that it was him, stating the name of his parents along with the same death date imprinted on the grave stone. It also listed the cause of death, a cause which came as a surprise. He died of tuberculosis, and the doctor had confirmed that he was diagnosed with it only two years after he arrived on Ellis Island. I then started digging a bit further. Two years after Ottars death in 1928, his two year older sister died of tuberculosis home in Norway, in 1930. Two years after that his father died of tuberculosis in 1932. His mother died in 1933, but her records are still blocked for privacy reasons. In 1933 my grandmother only had one of her four siblings left, and both her parents were dead as well. She was fourty years old.


Movember at work

At the office one bright mind suggested in November that we – or that is – the men – should join in the campaign for growing moustaches to support the prostate cancer campaign. Approximately NOK 3000 was collected. At the end of the month the official project photographer – me – were called in to collect proof! Here are a few of the photos.


I know Jay

When you travel alone you are forced to interact with strangers. I wasn’t REALLY travelling alone when I went to Kathmandu in 2010, but I left Norway alone to meet unknown travellers with the same passion as mine – Photography.

Jay Desind

Jay was one of them.

I felt pretty miserable at the time, and so did Jay after having lost his partner of 17 years. I guess we were all people with our own stories. People from different parts of the world now thrown into a pot like ingredients forming a stew. People who found the purpose of the journey exiting enough to head out into the unknown alone.

Jay made video blogs from his encounters, and preferred to be out alone when he was photographing. We were joking that he would become really famous some day. And then we all would be able to say “I know Jay”. We still joke about this in the Facebook group from the trip.

A year later I was on a workshop in Laos, and Jay stopped by in Luang Prabang to catch up with us. He had started on his round-the-world trip. And was starting to lighten up. After spinning a globe and placing his finger on it -Berlin was where the globe told him to go next.  Come spring Jay had landed in Italy for a longer time – and I went to visit.

This time Jay had started on writing a book of poems. Poems that were happy, and poems that were sad. Poems from his life, but also poems of invented stories. A photograph became a story. A story of how the lives of the people in the poems were. Inside Jay’s head that is. Poems of how their lives could have been. He had this stack of paper – like printer paper you buy in a shop – and they all had a photo and a poem on them. I remember my jaw dropping.

After Jay made a visit back to The States… the book is actually printed. And even available on Amazon.

I got to see it – well I acutally got my own copy – when Jay came to visit me in Oslo last month.

The photo above is from the Vigeland Sculpture park here in Oslo.

Jay also spoke in my camera club and sold out all the copies of the book. He didn’t have time to speak with me during the break. I was so proud. My friend. Perhaps I know Jay now. A little :-)


“Today would have been Donald’s 56th birthday”

Where is home
Where do I belong
Donald, where are you …
I’m on the streets of Copenhagen
I’ve been to Singapore
I’m searching for something
I don’t know what


Where is home
What happens to those that are gone
Donald, it’s your birthday
I’m in Denmark
They have 7-Elevens but no Big Gulp
I went into one to see if I would catch a glimpse
I didn’t see you, are you


Where is home
More countries than fingers
Donald, you for a long time my universe
I’ve traveled inside myself millions of miles
Everywhere I go
Signs of new possibilities
Reminders of you, close to my heart


Jay Desind
Jay’s Fan Page:  The Unobrusive Eye on Facebook

the Hotel Vidal by Jay Desind