I had written this a few years ago elsewhere in this website reproduced as is. This is an attempt to consolidate relevant things into this blog.
This is a write-up on my experience in Photographing People while I travelled all over India. I have shot many more people images since writing this, and you can see most of the photographs is my People and Portrait photo gallery.
+ Also see: An essay on Photographing Children.
+ Click on the images indicated with a to view a bigger image
In the few years I have been fiddling with the camera, I have tried my hands on shooting different kind of subjects. There was landscapes, wildlife, travel photography, abstract, people, indoors, outdoors and many more. The hardest of them all has been wildlife. The animals and birds are simply not ready to trust that you are a harmless human who just wanted them to model for a photograph. Next in line of difficulty are people – it is not hard to shoot them, but it is very hard to get them right.
I was very skeptical about people photography in my early days. I made a few futile attempts and when I looked at the results, I thought it is not for me. I would rather settle for something more easy! I just did not seem to get it right. Sometime I missed the expressions, sometimes there was no light in the eye, and sometimes the best looking people were ugly in the image and so on. The worst was when shooting people in action. I would take a picture, only to see that the person in question is nowhere to be seen in the frame! There did come out a few good pictures once in a while, but they were not inspiring enough for me to move on.
Over the years, I saw many portraits and pictures of people that were very inspiring. All those times, I always thought about the difficulties involved and appreciated the greatness of the pictures but never thought about jumping into it. But later when I saw some good pictures taken from a few hobbyists that I personally know, I was inspired. I felt I could do it too and decided to give a go on it. In the last few months, I have tried to make use of every attempt in capturing moods of the people. The biggest challenge I have faced is that people tend to get conscious when they see someone looking at them through a camera lens. And when they get conscious, the real mood you are trying to capture does not exist in there face anymore. Presented here are some of the pictures I have taken in the last 3 years.
Happiness is one emotion that everyone would love to possess on their face. And it is one thing that I love to capture on film. There are occasions when you can make people happy by pointing a camera into them. And fortunately, and unlike popular belief, I have seen that genuine happiness is not a rare occurrence.
We were wandering in the hills surrounding Gangtok town looking for anything interesting for the camera, and walked into a nursery full of colorful flowers. As we were checking out the flowers, two kids walked into us and my friend started playing with them. Their parents – the gardeners walked in and were delighted to look at their playful kids.
I love seeing smiles on the wrinkled faces of old men and women. It seems to evoke a kind of warmth. And some of them seem to be happy and smiling all the time. They look all the more nice when captured in black and white. I saw this man in the streets of Haridwar. He was a cheerful lot and would burst out laughing at the end of every sentence he spoke. His smile was so infectious that he made me feel good too.
And then there are kids who have unlimited energy and enthusiasm. But hyperactive and always mobile that they are, it is difficult to find the right moment for the right picture, even though you see them laughing and happy all the time. Image taken at Hampi.
While many a times people get conscious of a camera pointing at them and shy away, you also get to see quite a few people who love to be featured on it. Some of them run into you and plead for a picture while some of the confident ones call us to get their picture. And then there are others whose smile just draw you into them and compel to take a picture. This Pathan in Rishiksh was of the last kind. He was bursting with confidence. I went and asked him for a picture, and he was all smiles – as you can see!
This fruit vendor was a different kind. I was trying to get a picture of the colorful fruits but wasn’t happy with anything that I framed. As I was heading back, this guy shouted at me and called me back and said “mera ek photo lelo(take my picture)”. It did look like a good idea to put this guy in the middle and let all the fruits form a frame inside frame.
I aimed the camera at him but he was giving me a very serious look which seemed to spoil the whole thing. I said “smile”, and he struggled a bit to widen his lips. I have the solution handy for this problem. I looked at him and said – “is that all you can manage?” and he started laughing. And I smiled too and pressed the shutter.
For the tough conditions that they live in, Doma was surprisingly cheerful and happy. They lived in the remote corners of Indo-Tibetan border at a height of 14,00feet in a small village in Sikkim and made a living by renting out a portion of their house to tourists. The cold and harsh terrain makes living very difficult but everyone in the village looked a lot more happy than the people I see every day.
Often one of the factors that makes or breaks a picture is the eyes of the person. Eyes contains all the emotions on the face. This friend of mine was walking on the other side of the bamboo hut. I aimed the camera and asked her to look this side. In a quick second when she turned around, I took this picture.
As much as the eyes carry our emotions, I find it hard to interpret them all the time. To me, it looked like this man’s eyes carried emptiness. He seemed to be tired and disinterested in everything, and at the same time deeply in thought.
There was absolutely no response or reaction from him when I aimed the camera right into his fa
ce. After a brief stare, he simply returned to his – what I presume was a half asleep state.
It is saddening to see emptiness in the eyes of children. They are usually active and curious. Even when they are bored, a flashy camera serves more than well to light up their curiosity. But this kid did not seem to be amused. He was probably more concerned about finding someone who would buy a drink.
This girl was selling something at Haridwar in the banks of Ganga. We were told that there is some puja happening by the riverside in the evening and we had gone there to witness it and take pictures. As soon as the puja started, she stopped her sales pitch and stood silent and immobile, staring at the proceeds. She seemed to draw her ray of hope with her unshakeable belief in a supreme power.
MANY MOODS AND PERSPECTIVES
On a cold winter morning, a bunch of us drove down to a hill station with our cameras. As we were wandering around, she drifted away for a few moments. She stood quietly for a few moments and her bent head seemed to indicate a contemplative mood. The misty weather added up beautifully to reflect the mood of the moment.
My first ever brush with people photography was an accident. I was thinking that the couple were an obstruction in capturing the beauty of the waterfall. But what came out was a post card of a perfectly romantic mood in a natural backdrop. They added so much to the picture despite being only a small portion of it.
She was enjoying herself in the countryside somewhere near the east coast on a beautiful winter morning. Her arms were in the air for a brief moment and I had very little time to take the picture. I asked her to redo it again and took my time to frame the picture.
Taken on the same day as the above picture, we saw a bunch of kids playing cricket as we were driving past. We decided to stop over and join them in the game. This guy was bowling pretty well and his style impressed me. This is one of a series of frames that I tried on the bowlers. The exercise made me realize how difficult it is to shoot people in action.
One of the puzzling things that I saw during my recent north India trip was seeing people sitting and doing nothing at all. It is understood if some friends are yapping and having a good time. But there was absolutely no activity in these people. They were simply sitting silently and occasionally staring at the people passing by. Some of these guys looked at me when I took the camera out but quickly lost interest and continued doing what they were doing – ‘nothing’!
I found this bunch of people in their interesting posture in the banks of Ganges in Rishikesh. I was hanging around this place for a long time taking pictures and they were sitting there all the time.
Taken from the passenger seat of a rickshaw in Rishikesh. These rickshaws are big enough to fit 9 people including the driver, and are called ‘Vikram’ by the name of the manufacturer. They serve as public transport within the town and you can also hire them for exclusive use. All the time I was sitting there, I kept wondering what is the use of the long piece of mirror stuck just above the driver seat.
These pictures are taken in three different cameras in a span of three years. I have used film as well as digital media. One of the simple advantages of using a digital camera is that you don’t need to use a viewfinder when framing the picture. That way the person you are shooting would not know that you are taking his or her picture. It helps keeping the subject natural and comfortable. Over that it gives the freedom to shoot as much as you want and discard the ones that don’t come out well. The downside is the quality of the pictures rendered on the digital media. The cameras I used still have some way to go before they match the quality of images rendered on film. Nevertheless, I believe that digital is the way of future and planning to spend more time working using digital media.
Of all my attempts in people photography, I have most enjoyed shooting happy people. Happiness is infectious and capturing it on frame gives me the feeling of freezing it eternally. On the other hand I hope to see less and less of eyes that seem to reflect emptiness. I detest taking pictures of people in suffering and publicizing them for any reasons and hope that I will never have to do any such work.