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.