People mostly know me as a Wildlife Photographer/Filmmaker, and I am, but the title completely over shadows a large part of my work – that of being a People Photographer. That probably doesn’t sound as cool as being a wildlife photographer to some, but to me, in the end it’s about capturing images that tell a story and images of people make for great stories. Earlier this year I was out on several shoots for ‘Incredible India’ and this made me reconnect with telling stories of people through portraits. Some of the most powerful images in history are of simple portraits, like the Afghan Girl – Sharbat Gula that Steve McCurry immortalized on the cover of National Geographic and that others use widely without credit. It’s an image that stays with you, and that’s the power of photography in general, and portraits in particular.
Here are a series of my favourite people portraits captured over the last few years ending with images from Nagaland, an ethnologist’s paradise – a place where I’m headed to in exactly a month’s time!
Kuruba – Brahmagiri, Kerala – This is one of my favourite early portraits made on a Canon A2 Film Camera. I used a Sigma 105mm f/2.8 macro to blur out the background and make him and his head gear of Cassia fistula flowers stand out.
Peruvian Lady – Cordillera del Condor, on the border of Ecuador in Peru – My first visit to South America. What I love about this image is not only a deeply wrinkled face that speaks of hardships in higher elevations, but also the earthen wall in the background. Camera: Canon5D Lens: 24-105mm @ f/4 ss:1/200
Fisherman in Tompotika – Sulawesi – Indonesia. Using artificial light. I love making images with natural light, but sometimes it just won’t work. Here I rushed back to camp fitted on my wireless transmitter and off-camera flash a Canon 580EX with diffuser and walked waist-deep into the water to get the right angle – holding the flash high to the left with one-hand and keeping the camera low to the water angled up to get the incredible sky and sunrise happening in the background. The dangerous part was the waves that came in a certain cycle and every thirty seconds rose up to chest level! DO NOT LET YOUR CAMERA SOAK IN WATER – especially not salt water! Canon 5D Mark2 with 16-35mm lens @ f/11 1/8th with off-camera Canon 580EX flash ST-E2 transmitter.
Photographer – Kevin Schafer Portrait – Tompotika Peninsula – Sulawesi. Again, great sky, wide-angle portrait – but no flash. Here I used my head lamp on a diffused setting to light up only Kevin’s face to create this image. Always pay attention to the background, and if you’ve got a dramatic sky – please do include it! Canon 5Dmark2 with 16-355mm lens ISO320 f/3.5 1/5th sec. with light from a Petzl headlamp.
Tompotika – Man smoking. Using natural light. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a country with as many people who smoke as Sulawesi. It was quite shocking actually. Here a man was taking his last puff of the day, just before going to sleep. Canon 1DMark4 with 16-35mm @ f/2.8 1/8th of sec ISO4000.
Create silhouettes – Velas, Maharashtra. This old man is the turtle crusader of Velas. Poacher turned conservationist he was full of stories. I loved the hat he wore and the cane he walked with. So after getting the images that the magazine editor would be happy with, I turned to shooting towards the light – not to create a back-lit image, but to create a silhouette. Shape and form dictates good silhouettes. Canon 1D Mark4 lens- 70-200mm f/2.8 @ ISO 160 f/2.8 1/2500th
Girl with mask by fishing nets. Act quick, the moment doesn’t last. This little girl popped out of the fishing net only very briefly playing peek-a-boo with the photographer. Walking through old fishing villages and interacting with the local people is a good way to get candid images. But always remember to ask permissions. Digital is great because you can show the people the pictures after you make them, and then get further co-operation for more images. It works – most of the time…
A lady walking into a shop – Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Anticipate, pre-compose, wait. Here all I saw were the hanging colourful fabrics of a saree shop and knew that it would get some customers walking in. So I stood across the shop and pre-composed my image, exposure etc and waited for the moment. The only thing I didn’t like here was the white bag on the left, but I suppose it too adds colour – white. Canon 1D Mark4 with Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens ISO 100 ss 1/320th sec.
Man with umbrella – Assam, just before the monsoon. I have a pet project – subject – Umbrellas. So yes, I’ve photographed people under umbrellas all over and I must say, they make for great photo-subjects. Here though, the umbrella is not the main element, but the strong light and double rainbow, yes there is a faint rainbow above the main one. Again, something that didn’t last too long and it was still pouring rain, you’ll notice a big blob of water on the bottom right, but remember, you’ve got to keep your lens clean at all times. Canon 5Dmark2 with 24-105mm lens ISO 320 f/8
A Sikh religious elder – Nihang resting. Hola Mohalla, Punjab. Nihang (means Crocodile in Persian) were the men at the forefront of battle and they were known for their bravery and skill in weaponry. During peacetime they are mostly ceremonial and lead the parade, armed with swords and sporting huge head-dresses. Carrying one for long periods can be heavily strenuous on the neck; with head-dresses weighing upwards of 10 kilos a Nihang rests in a building. During this huge event hundreds of thousands of people gather in the town of Anantpur sahibnagar in Punjab. Another great place for portrait photography. Canon 1Dmark4 16-35mm lens f/4 SS 1/125
Don’t have a DSLR, don’t worry – Here above are two of my favourite images made with, guess what – a Camera phone, in this case an iPhone 4. With a little help from Instagram, they’ve turned into my instant favourites. Literally, point,shoot, tweak…
This image of a Bodo boy from Assam recently got kicked out of my book – Himalaya: mountains of Life, so here it is: Compose your image. I tend to off-center an image a lot, because when you use it as a double-spread your main area doesn’t get buried in the center, especially a problem when you are editing images to use in a book. Although the image didn’t make the book, I still love the image for its composition and use of light, shadow and sleeping dog. Cameras these days can do all the technical specs for you to a large extent, so focusing on getting your ‘focus’ right and composition are critical to making strong portraits.
Naga Feet – Blur the action – While photographing people especially events such as dances, you want to be able to convey the feeling of action and energy. A high-shutter shot would essentially make the image quite boring. And yes using a slow shutter will make you blur 98% of the images in an un-useable way, but once you start getting the hang of it, you will really enjoy creating the 2% of striking imagery with energy. Here’s one of my favourites from last year’s Hornbill Festival. Canon 5D Mark2 with 24-105mm lens ISO: 50 Aperture: 20 Shutter: 1/8
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