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© Nevada Wier 2012 Cuba. Havana. Dance Studio. Digital Infrared.
Canon EOS 5D EF 24-105 f/4 IS USM (80mm)
0.6 sec. f/6.3 ISO 1250
I’m on my way to Cuba tomorrow with another Santa Fe Workshops People-to-People sponsored tour of Havana and Trinidad. So I feel it is appropriate to discuss an image I made last year in Cuba.
I’m in the process of printing for my new exhibit featuring only digital infrared prints that will premier at the Verve Gallery in Santa Fe on September 24, 2013. So I have infrared on my mind and want to share this image with you. It will be featured in a summer show of Verve artists titled “Figures Studied” Friday, June 28, 2013 – Saturday, August 31, 2013
For those of you who are not familiar with the digital Infrared process. I sent a Canon 5D (I am now using a Canon 5DMark II) to www.lifepixel.com to remove the hot mirror filter in front of the sensor that blocks infrared light and replace it with a custom manufactured infrared or clear filter filter. To read more about this mystical process please go to their website. I have the Standard Conversion. I love that I am creating an image of a subject that I can see in visible light but I am really making a visible rendering with invisible light; mildly surreal and metaphysical.
The above image was made in at the Ballet Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba studio in Havana, Cuba. We were graciously allowed to photograph for a couple of hours in a two different classes. There were obvious limitations; primarily we did not want to disturb the class in any way. Even though our group of eight was split up we also were conscious of sharing a limited space. Since I was the coordinator of the group I was especially concerned not to wander into anyone’s frame. (If I was a paying member of the group I sure would be annoyed if the guide was consistently in the best spot.) We also had a limited amount of time so we had to work very, very quickly.
I crouched down in the back of the room, and then consciously moved to either side of the room. We had our own choreography of movement around each other as we photographing the student dancers.
When I have a limited amount of time I work really quickly and try a myriad of combinations of shutter speeds and apertures. Since the image was about movement and expression there are basically two approaches: use a fast shutter speed to stop the action or a slow one to blur the movement. The first choice is the easiest and produces good but often-predictable images. I am a big fan of slow shutter speeds, yet there is more chance of failure. Conversely, there is also more chance of creating a singular personal image. Working in dim light means it is more difficult to use a faster shutter speed; another reason to experiment more with slower shutter speeds.
The room did have a bank of windows coming in from the right side so it wasn’t too dim. Nevertheless, I used 1250 ISO that was amendable to the use of a wide range of shutter speeds without producing too much noise.
One limitation I have with my infrared camera is the unpredictability of the focus. Infrared light does not focus on the same plane as visible light. In the old fixed focal length lenses there is an infrared scale on the front of the lens. However, with zoom lenses this is not possible. My 5D was calibrated for the 35mm focal length on my 24-105mm lens. Nevertheless I try to stay as close to f/8 as possible, and will the 5D I try hard never to go above 1600 ISO.
In this particular image I edged close to the front of classroom on the left side and framed the image through the mirror, hence the graduations in the light across the wall. Most the images when I used shutter speeds close to 1 second were too blurry or just didn’t have the definitions in the torsos and limbs that I prefer. The truth is that I only needed one image that worked. Just one. There are other images that are good but this one is my favorite, primarily because the lead dancer is so sharp, and the other dancers are distinct enough.
Digital infrared allows a bit of the visible light so there are touches of blue and yellow within the image. (Each conversion has different color palettes and there are choices when one processes the image. You can swap the blue and yellow color channel, but I rarely do this. And, occasionally there is a reddish color instead of yellow.)
The image is in the final stages of perfecting the print. For me, printing is like sculpting. I have to create depth and dimension on a piece of paper. I am also there, just a bit more fine tuning in the “burning and dodging”.
However for now, I’m off again to crumbling, fascinating Cuba. I have a new Olympus OM-D EM-5 that I’m using for color photography (usually I take a 5D Mark III but I’m testing the smaller, lighter mirrorless Olympus camera, more on that later). However, I have a Canon 5D Mark II for infrared images. I don’t go on any trip now without my infrared camera.
Here is a preview of another Infrared image I made in Rajasthan, India.
I love the Invisible Made Visible possibilities.
© Nevada Wier 2010 India. Rajasthan. Pushkar Fair. Digital Infrared.
Canon EOS 5D EF 24-105 f/4 IS USM (24mm)
1/60 sec. f/7.1 ISO 800
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.
Canon 5DMarkII 24-70mm f/2.8L (40mm) 1/4 sec. at f/14 ISO 100 Canon 580EXII
Welcome to my world of Bad Light Photography. I’m constantly photographing great situations in mid-day contrasty light (bright highlights, dark shadows). I internally tear at my mind pondering, “What can I do? Think creatively!” I believe in the ancient Chinese proverb: Crisis = Opportunity.
A couple of years ago I was traveling in the lesser-known state of Chattisgarh in India, photographing some of the numerous tribal groups. I stopped at Kangrapada village to make images of the Godaba Tribe’s fast-moving Dhemsa dance. It was a cloudless day at the stark hour of 2pm. They were outside, ready to dance, under big trees. The first thing I always do when I see a situation that I’m interested in photographing is to ask myself, “What is the problem?” Well, this problem was very evident: the light was mottled bright light and deep shadow, beyond the contrast range of my sensor (about half the range of the human eye). They were dancing under the shade of the trees, but it was an inconsistent pattern of light and shade and beyond the dancers was a glaring background. “What can I do? Think creatively!” Eureka, an idea: Pan and Flash!
I set my Canon 5DMark II camera at ISO 100. Then made an exposure for the lowest shutter speed possible of the dancers when they were the shade. That was ¼ sec. at f/14. Perfecto! My starting point for thinking about panning is 1/15 sec., but the slower the shutter speed the more dramatic the background blur. However, the problem with panning people at very slow shutter speeds is that the feet (and the hands) move at a much faster speed than the torso, so they can “ghost out”, disappear completely, and you are left with an image of a footless, handless torso drifting through space.
This is when using direct, bright flash is very helpful (I was using a Canon 580EXII, but a pop-up would work great in this situation). A flash burst is about 1/800th sec., so it will accentuate and freeze that moment within the blur. So it gives an illusion of sharpness with a blur. I always expect mistakes and misses so I “panned and flashed”for dozens of frames. I experimented from 1/15th sec. to ¼ sec. shutter speeds (aperture was not important). I was standing a bit away from the dancers and I needed a bright burst to make an impact, so I probably was on + 1.7 EV with the flash pointed directly at the dancers without a diffuser.
I had a number of interesting images to choose from but this frame I liked the most. The troublesome, splotchy light was smoothed into lines that mimicked the stripes in the women’s dresses. The multiple feet are not a problem as they enhance the feeling of the dance. If you look carefully you can see how the use of flash sharpened the toes and heels. The background of people, bushes, bicycles blurred into patterns of color.
I actually love it when there are problems because then I’m forced to think of a creative solution. Most of my initial photographic ideas are ones that are familiar to me and come easily. As the brilliant Leonardo da Vinci wrote in his diary:
“Life is pretty simple: you do some stuff.
Most fails. Some works.
You do more of what works.
If it works big, others quickly copy it.
Then you do something else.
The trick is to do something else.”
“There is no doubt about it; India is a photographer’s carnival. The colors are kaleidoscopic; the scenes are cinematic; and the light is luminous. I’ve been traveling to Rajasthan for the past few years to lead the National Geographic Expeditions India Photo Tour—a tour that has focused on light and lighting.
However, even the best light sometimes needs a bit of enhancement or a creative touch. I don’t bring a lot of lighting equipment when I travel because I have to carry everything myself, on my shoulder, for hours. I use a Canon 5D Mark II and usually work with only one flash, 580 EX II flash, and an assortment of small, lightweight, but very important flash accessories.”
Read the rest of the post on B&H Insights. Enjoy!
And join me in Tampa, Florida Sunday, September 26th or in Chicago, Illinois Sunday, October 3rd for the National Geographic Traveler CREATIVITY IN LIGHT one day seminar. It is a blast of a seminar; I share my insights with the fabulous Dan Westergren, photo editor of NG Traveler Magazine. If you can’t make it one of these cities then hopefully we will be somewhere near you next season when we go on the road again.
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.
October 28 Update: I just arrived at the Pushkar camel fair and have 15 minutes (and a good Indian cell/bluetooth connection) to explain a bit about the images I posted the other night. The updates are in this color red.
October 26: I don’t have much time to write but here are a couple of images from Rajasthan on the sand dunes! I’m leading a National Geographic Expeditions tour and we are having an amazing time. More on the photo technique tomorrow. but for now enjoy … the natural light and exuberance
This image was taken with a 100-400mm lens probably close to 400mm. It is not easy to find the perfect sand dune – where people and camels can walk right on top of the ridge so you can see their feet kicking the sand. So this was a find! We were riding our camels in the evening, spotted some local girls and enticed them to come with us to dance on the dunes. Because of the dusty sky the sun did not flare into the lens. I have so many great ones that it is hard to choose my favorite. I surely do not mind that!
and here is an image combining natural light with a bit of off-camera fill flash with a warming gel
This image was taken the next night at Jamba. This is a spectacular place but not the “perfect sand dune” for silouhettes showing feet so I bent very low, almost lying down, and photographed upwards. I had a slightly amber gel inside a diffuser on my flash which was held by my left hand outwards and upwards, at -1 EV. I took a light reading off the sky (about 20 minutes after sunset) and held the camera as steady as I could with my right hand. But I wasn’t worried about camera motion or the fact that 1/3 sec. at f/3.2; I knew the flash would give the illusion of sharpness. I positioned myself so I could see the two men and the camel in the background. I love images with depth.
And now I’m off to enjoy Pushkar! more camels. more images. more fun.
UPDATE April 2009: I found the 1Ds too heavy so I purchased a used Canon 5D and converted it using www.lifepixel.com with the Standard IR (equivalent to Hoya R72 / Kodak Wratten 89b / 720nm). My primary lens is a Canon EF 24-105 mm f/4L IS USM. I carry it separately in a Lowepro TopLoad Zoom.
© nevada wier 2009 India, Rajasthan
Original Post March 10, 2008:
I recently converted my old Canon 1Ds to a digital infrared camera. And, I LOVE it.
I used it for the first time in South India this past November.
© nevada wier India. Madurai
© nevada wier India. Mahabalipuram.
To convert a SLR digital camera to infrared contact http://www.lifepixel.com/
I was recently in the northeastern region of India, close to the Chinese/Burmese border. During a Naga festival and I had the opportunity to make a portrait of a young Naga prince (related to the royal family in the region). I loved the juxtaposition of the wall of the royal homestead and royal adornments with the contemporary fashion and pose. I am not looking to mythologize the world. So when I find a confluence of the modern world with tribal tradition, especially in a positive way, I am quick to record the moment.
Here are the RAW adjustments in Adobe Lightroom
Then I created a “Virtual Copy” so I could try a different set of RAW conversions:
Then I exported it as a .psd to Adobe Photoshop CS4 for a few extra adjustments in order to bring out more color in the necklace, using the colors in the original RAW conversion.
NOTE: THIS PHOTOSHOP WORKSHOP WAS UPDATED SEPTEMBER 13, 2009
© nevada wier 2008 Nagaland, India