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Canon EOS 5D Mark II EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM (365mm) 1/200 sec; f/16; ISO 200
I did it! A new blog post. A promise actualized. It is a beautiful thing. I hope you enjoy it. Happy 2013.
I’m off to Nagaland, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh, N.E. India. Sitting in the Newark airport waiting for my flight to Mumbai and then Kolkata. I’m a happy gal.
I know all the reasons we often use not to photograph. “The light is terrible”. “Nobody wants to be photographed”. “I don’t have the right lens”. “I’m tired”. As a professional you HAVE to overcome all these fake excuses. Especially recognizing that it is my projection that someone doesn’t want to be photographed when I haven’t even approached him or her.
When I am not on assignment it is easy to let that devil in my head take over.
I call this “inertia”. Trust me, there is always a good reason not to photograph. I know all the excuses; I know them intimately and they haunt me.
And, then after I have swum past all those blockades, I still have to make an interesting image out of an interesting subject. I have to make extraordinary ordinary images. Photography takes mental and physical effort, as well as exercising creative muscles.
I’m am on my way to India, so it is appropriate to reflect on an image I made last year at this time. I was in the lovely western state of Gujarat. It doesn’t require much effort to make a striking photograph in India; it is so darn colorful, vibrant, and exciting. It is too easy to photograph an interesting face in front of a azure doorway, and, voila, the interesting subject carries the image. But that is just another form of inertia. My mission is to look beyond the obvious and find the gem within the gem. My challenge is to make an interesting image of an interesting subject. I think that is the difference between a good travel photographer and a great one.
It is late afternoon in a small village in the Little Rann of Kutch. The light was lovely, soft, and inviting. I was at the river while women were gathering water. It was a feast of color and activity. My first inclination was to gravitate to the women washing the clothes. However, I don’t trust my first inclinations, they are usually based on images that I (or someone else) have already made. I want something different. I’m internally muttering “Where is the unique image? Where is the unique image?”
I decided to photograph into the sun with the river in the background to turn the water bearers into silhouettes. A silhouette needs to be crisp, clear and have a special clarity of its own; people can’t merge into each other or other objects. That is a challenge when people are milling about. If I do manage to isolate someone from others, then it is also important that the arms and legs are separated and not look like sticks. I also realized that the riverbank was cutting the frame horizontally in half, definitely a compositional problem. I needed to get higher. I had to eliminate the ground and only have the river in the background. (Where’s that ladder?).
I saw an abandoned well just behind me with a raised rim four feet high and about 6 inches wide. I climbed up on the rim to the horror of Manoj, my Indian friend, (some of you might remember that I broke my C2 in a car accident a few years ago) and he pleaded with me to get down. I am sure he was visualizing my paralyzing plummet into the well behind me. However I have great balance and knew it wasn’t a problem, but to avoid Manoj having a nervous breakdown and assure longevity in life as well as on the rim, I asked someone to brace my legs.
Excellent, now I was high enough so I could frame people in front of the backlit river without the ground interfering in the frame. I needed my 100-400mm lens from this distance and now I had to think about my exposure. I learned from my film days to get the exposure right and not depend upon software. I appreciate that training, but I also appreciate the relief of the versatility of RAW processing. The background river acted as a giant mirror; it was bright, very bright. I had to open up my exposure compensation +2 stops and then I waited for “a moment”. I was ready but the water-gathering ladies were diminishing in number. The few that arrived merged into each other and looked like two-headed blobs in the frame. I am not averse to setting up a photograph but I much prefer a natural moment. So I waited.
My legs became exceedingly tired of balancing on the narrow ledge, so I got down a couple of times and shook them out for a while. But, I knew I didn’t have a usable image yet, so I clambered back up. I was aware that the reflected setting sun was so bright that it would refract at the edges of the silhouette, but I didn’t realize that it would rim the body with a multitude of mini “sun stars”. The image above is one of the last frames of the day. My legs were turning to Silly Putty, my spotter was distracted, and it was clear it was time to leave. “One more, one more!” And, that “one more” is the image. It is the only image that had a clear profile of person, a reasonable separation of the arms, and a provocative expression with the legs, and complete rimming of diffractive light. It was worth the time balancing on that rim for 45 minutes. I knew I was in the right place. I was just praying for the right person and gesture. Most often perseverance pays out.
I could have easily photographed the women washing clothes in the lovely direct evening light. It sure would have been easier on my body and Manoj’s heart rate. However, I have a zillion of these kind of lovely images and the world has a zillion squared of them. The trick is to find one that is singular and impulsively unique to that moment in time.
So off I go again, in search of a personal, evocative moment and interpretation. Let’s hope that I don’t succumb to the myriad of to avoid the effort it takes.
India. Nagaland. Aoleang Monyu festival. Wakching Village. Naga tribe. Young boys in front of Murong. 2008
- Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II Canon IS 24-105 mm (58mm)
- Camera Setting: 1/125 sec. f/10 ISO 400
I have the good fortune of traveling to a myriad of remarkable places in the world. And, India certainly has its share of remarkable places and cultures!.
I have been to Nagaland in the far northeast, near the Myanmar border, a number of times. In 2008 I visited the northern area of the Mon Nagas during their festival period. In addition to visiting the communal tribal festival gathering in town of Mon, of course, I traveled to the villages.
At Wakching I spied two boys in their traditional festival garb wearing Spiderman masks. I beckoned to them to stand up near the traditional Naga murong (meeting place for the men of the tribe) that is decorated with carved wooden creatures.
I always ask myself before clicking the shutter. “What is the problem?” There is always a problem that might require removing a piece of trash, or adjusting my position to eliminate a disruptive element in the background, or … oh there are so many possibilities. In this case, the light was even because of a subtle fog but that meant the sky was bright white. Since the eye is attracted to the lightest thing in an image it was important to incorporate the white sky as an effective design element.
I motioned for the two boys to move slightly over so that the left most boy was fully in the white sky helping to tone down its predominance. I wanted the right boy to maintain a presence in the murong so that they were bodily connected.
I was acutely aware of the pattern that the wood and sky were creating. It was clear to me that the composition had to be impeccable. Obviously the boy’s facial expressions were not important, it was their total body language that had to convey impact. I noted that their legs were separated and arm positions were natural. They were definitely confident and willing to be photographed. But one always has to work fast with young boys; they can bolt at any moment! So all of this happened very quickly in my mind.
But it had to right in the frame because I do not crop or change any content in my images!
This photograph became part of an exhibit/book work-in-progress called Outer India. I had a showing of its first phrase at the Verve Gallery in Santa Fe NM in 2010 (I have another show coming up at the Zia Gallery in Chicago this coming September 7 – October 13, 2012.) I decided when I began printing for the show that some of the Northeast images would be selectively de-saturated. This is a gritty, tribal area and a more muted look suited the area. I did a mockup in Lightroom as a guideline then started from scratch in Photoshop—layer by adjustment layer (sometimes over 40 layers), to sculpt the image. It was a painstaking process but I am very pleased with the prints for the series. And, I especially love this one.
Printed in my studio with the HP Z3200 printer on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Baryta paper.
Good idea Candance!
Here’s the color image with a minimal of work in Lightroom.
© nevada wier 2009 Rajasthan, India
I just received an email asking me about the above image that was in my recent show Outer India at the Verve Gallery in Santa Fe, NM. I was leading a National Geographic Expedition to Rajasthan last year (great fun!) and we were photographing on the Sam sand dunes outside of Jaisalmer. It was a beautiful evening and had the good fortune of meeting a caravan of travelers who were willing to spend some time with us on the sand dunes. I photographed wide, long, standing, lying down and then.. said “Lensbaby“! So I pulled out my Lensbaby Composer and starting photographing. I decided to try an panoramic. So I shot a series of images with the idea of merging them. I knew it would be tricky but I did find two images that were clicked seconds apart that worked perfectly when stitched together (I used the miraculous Photomerge in Photoshop CS5). As I have written before, I choose not to crop or change any content in my images, so these are two intact images stitched together. Pretty cool! Otherwise there is no way to create this kind of double selective focus. I could have achieved this with a tilt-shift lens but I find the Lensbaby works best in motion situations. I love it when what I see is a catalyst for a creative image.
I’m leading another National Geographic Expedition to Rajasthan this fall. If your interested in this year or next you can get more information at NationalGeographic.com
I’m mid-flight from New Delhi to Bangkok, and then tomorrow I’m on my way to Myanmar. I have just enough time to reflect a smidgeon on the photography tour I just led for National Geographic to Rajasthan. One of many things I love about National Geographic tours is that they are so international in nature; there were avid photographers from the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Thailand, and France. It was a group of singular synchronicity and fun.
We had many lively discussions. They had very thought provoking questions for me as we went bumping along in our magical bus through the desert of Rajasthan, such as “What is the element that is most important for a photograph?” What makes a photograph great? I’m sure all of you will have your own answer but here is mine, quite simplied.
Those of you who have taken workshops with me know that I talk about how photographs have the possibility of great Color, Light, Action (large in your face action or just a twinkle in the eye), or Pattern (or you could say Composition). CLAP, if you need an acronym.
You need two of these elements to create a photograph but to make a memorial one, one that SINGS… you need an added factor. It could be a punctuation of another element (as I discussed in an earlier blog post). However, I think it is more than that…it is when there is a harmonic convergence of the emotion of the photographer with the emotion of the moment (even if it is inanimate). In a way it is a photographic epiphany. These are rare, but it what all virtuosos of light aim for in their art.
And, because they are rare, this is why I continue to photograph. I don’t expect to reach my photographic Everest; I just love the journey through the ups and downs and many plateaus.
© nevada wier India, Jodphur. Evening Street Scene.
© nevada wier India, Rajasthan. Early morning Pushkar Fair.
© nevada wier India, Agra. Taj Mahal.
I suspect that 98% of the travel images in the world are taken straight on with one subject in the frame. That is fine if there is a compelling reason to do so–the expression is remarkable, the action compelling, the light god-like radiant, or it just had to be composed that way.
I have done my share of straight-on shooting. Most of the time I was just being lazy or bereft of vision. Or, maybe I was just having a good time walking down the streets of India, Vietnam, New York or anywhere with my camera. An interesting person, or a pretty door, or a splash of color does not insure a great photograph of these subjects. So, I better have an inarguable reason when I choose one of these images as a select!
Fortunately, when I get to a situation that beckons to me as a photographer I can often pull myself together, back away from the straight-on shot, and elevate my creativity.
Here’s an example of an extremely interesting person that first I photographed as a straight on head shot. It is okay, not terrible, but certainly not exciting.
I rethought the situation and MOVED and looked for more texture, depth and expression. It is still straight-on but now there is a reason.
© nevada wier Myanmar, Chin State
It meant changing my perspective (the physical distance and angle from myself to the subject). Moving is one of the best ways to become a better photographer (especially if you are using a mid-range lens).
Last year I was in Mongolia photographing the Kazakh eagle hunters. I often take this kind of image so that the person gets used to having me photograph them, or so I can send back a print I think they might like. But then, at the end of the edit they usually end up in the trash.
In this composition there is a clump of horses in the background, the horizon is in the middle of the frame, and there is empty space that has no purpose. It is just another boring shot of an interesting person.
Since everything has to matter in a frame, I moved right under the eagle, and laid down on the ground, in order to shoot up at the sky. It almost looks like the eagle wants to swoop down and eat me (maybe it did!).
© nevada wier Mongolia. Far west.
I am always looking for an interesting angle. Not long ago I was in Southern India. It is so easy to photograph in India that I feel I have to work extra hard to create a compelling image! I had a wonderful encounter with some pilgrims at the lovely Meenakshi Sundareswarar Thirukoil Temple.
© nevada wier India. Madurai.
I knelt down with my wide angle lens, exposed for the sky (I often work on manual mode), and added a touch of flash. (I will discuss my use of wide angles and fill flash in future posts). I think you can now image that a straight-on shot would be rather mundane in comparison.
So take your straight-on “insurance” shot — then think, feel, and move!
Even though I travel to so-called exotic locations it doesn’t mean that great images will automatically appear. There are the same creative challenges as photographing in your hometown (although there are very different social challenges). The main difference is that we are usually very jazzed and ready to photograph whenever we travel into our own terra incognito. Yet, this is often when the joy of travel overcomes artistic insight. Exoticism should not carry an image; it should stand by its own photographic gravity.
I have often said that there are four possibilities in a color image – the possibility of intense color, great light, strong action or gesture, and compelling pattern or composition (CLAP). There has to be at least two of these if an image is to have impact. And, sometimes one of these elements adds strong punch, zing, woo-hoo, or punctuation. Like putting an exclamation at the end of a sentence. One takes notice. The punctuation is the zing to an already commendable image.
Recently I was in Nagaland of northeastern India right on the India/Myanmar border. Literally, I was standing on the border; it ran through the middle of the headman’s house. There was serious opium imbibing in extremely dark rooms. I blessed the high ISO capabilities of my Canon 5D Mark II since using a tripod was not an option. However, I didn’t want to photograph the usual “person in front of a fire” tribal image. BTDT. Then I noticed the serrated light falling on the face of one of men. I balanced my camera on my knees, framed him on the right side, waited for the right moment, took a deep breath and let it out, then ripped off five frames. (Even at ISO 1600 with a 28mm f/1.8 lens I was down to 1/5 sec at f/1.8). As I hoped, the middle frame was sharp. And the punctuation of the light makes the image. Zing!!
© nevada wier 2009 India. Nagaland State. Longwa Village.
DETAIL OF FACE
Here is another example from an older image taken in Ladakh, India. I don’t know how long the shutter speed was (film days) but it was long enough to “ghost” out the image of the head monk crossing the room (no, it is not a curtain). I was on a tripod (no way to hand hold an image like this one) using Kodachrome 200. The punctuation is in the face peering through the ghosting, it is the only frame that worked.
© nevada wier Ladakh, India. Rizong Monastery.
DETAIL, IN GHOSTING, OF A PILGRIM’S FACE