20 Dec 2006 India, Dec 2006 – Part #1 (Podcast 66)
Thanks very much Robert for that message. I’m so pleased that you like your prints. Unfortunately it’s taken me around two weeks to release a Podcast after receiving this message, so we’re pretty close to Christmas now. If anyone else does decide to order a print or two as belated Xmas presents I will get them out as soon as possible, so they would be with you shortly after the day.
As I say, this is going to be slightly belated episode. Today is going to be the first of a two, possibly three part travelogue about a recent, very brief, trip to India. I was in India on a business trip with my day-job, and decided that it was about time I took an extra day and visit the Taj Mahal. We’ll look at some of the portraits that I shot while there, plus some shots of the Taj itself. I also have a few pieces of advice if you ever decide to visit yourself. I also have a little bit of housekeeping to do, but we’ll save that for the end of the show, so let’s get straight down to it, and talk about my trip.
So, as I said, I spend a few days in India recently. Basically just two days in the IT center of India, Bangalore, for meetings related to my day job. Then I took an extra day before heading back to Japan to visit the Taj Mahal, which I something that I’ve been dying to do for a few years now since my first visit to India. First let’s touch on one of my weaker areas of photography, portraiture. On the second morning while waiting for someone to come to the hotel to pick me up, I did something which is becoming a bit of a habit now, which is to ask the doorman of the hotel if it would be OK to take his picture. The result was image number 1174 in which we can see the doorman of the hotel I stayed in for two nights. I chose the 50mm F1.4 lens for this shot, as it is nice and bright and a good focal length for portraits, and because it’s quite a small lens, it’s not intimidating, which I think is important when shooting portraits.To fill the frame like the 50mm you have to get quite close to the subject, and as I’d taken my gear in a bag that allows me to top load the camera still attached to the 70-200mm F2.8, I was tempted to just shoot at 70mm, but I decided to switch to the 50mm before shooting for this very reason. Also, because it’s a F1.4, stopping down a couple of stops to sharpen up the image still gives you an aperture of F2.8, which is the starting point for the 70-200mm, although that lens is still pretty sharp wide open. The other thing of course is that 50mm is considered about the same perspective as the human eye, so the results should be just about the most natural for us to look at.
In this shot, because of the shallow depth of field obtained by shooting at F2.8, you can see that the outline of the red turban and the gentlemen’s ears are already going out of focus. Although I chose a position that gave me a blank piece of hotel wall for the background, it also is way out of focus, which is of course what I wanted to achieve. In post-processing I removed the usual boost to the Red channel that I usually apply to give my images a nice Velvia look, just really from stopping the red in that vibrant turban from blowing out. Also the skin tones were a little over done at my usual settings too. The location of the shot helped me to get some nice lighting effects without having to think about lighting too much. It was under the eaves in front of the hotel lobby where cars stop to drop off and pick up passengers. This means there was no light falling directly on the subject, but plenty coming from the side. And also there was another wall-less section behind me to allow some light to fall upon the subject from the front and create some nice big catch-lights in the subjects eyes. Really just a coincidence but with it allowed me to quickly see that I was going to be fine shooting right there without repositioning the gentlemen. The only regret for this shot is that pale stripe on the hotel wall that runs across the image at the height of the doorman’s neck, but the wide aperture stops this from being overly distracting.
When I went back inside, right after I put the 70-200mm lens back on the camera and put it back into my bag, the subject of the next image, number 1175, started scraping the candle wax that had dripped onto the base of a large candelabra in the hotel lobby. He’s a great looking guy who smiled broadly as I asked what he was doing, and I couldn’t help but as him if it was OK to photograph him too. He agreed and as he did, my ride turned up, but this was too good to miss, so I took a minute to think about what I was doing. I didn’t want to waist this excellent chance. I tried first composing the shot with the candelabra, showing the young man about his task, but it was too distracting. Also because the subject had his back to the window, and I wanted to shoot with natural light, there was a lot contrast between the subject and the bright window. So I came around and crouched next to him. I later learned by the way that this guy is called Detho. Again, because I had switched back to the 50mm F1.4 lens, so I had to get pretty close to the subject, which I felt was unnerving him a little, but because of the slightly challenging lighting here, it took me a few shots to get the exposure right. With the light coming in from my left and all of the dark areas in the shot fooling the camera to over expose, I made a few jokes as I checked the histogram and corrected the exposure, which seemed to relax Detho a little too. This is the second to last of about 8 frames I shot in the space of about 40 seconds or so. I ended up shooting at minus one stop exposure compensation because of all the black in the shot. From both a lighting and an expression point of view, I feel in this shot to be the best of small the batch. Also, as you can see if you are looking at the image, I managed to include the candelabra that he was cleaning in the reflection of the black marble on the wall in the back there, so you can still get an idea of the surroundings.
I actually thought that this young gentlemen was perhaps not Indian, but when I asked the person that had come to pick me up later, he said that he was probably from the North of India, where some of the population have more oriental features than what we might think, as they are closer to Nepal. This had never really occurred to me until now, but I suppose is kind of obvious when you consider just how vast India is. By the way, in return for these photos, I agreed to mail a print of the photograph to both the doorman and Detho, which I intend to follow through on during this week. It’s the least I can do for them allowing me to shoot two great portraits. As most of you know, I’m not a big portrait photographer, and although I do shoot enough portraits to be getting gradually better, it’s still one of the weaker areas of my photography. I didn’t have many other opportunities to do any street photography, for reasons which I’ll get into later, probably in the next episode, and we will look at a couple of other environmental portraits then too, but for now, let’s just say I’m relatively pleased with the results of this first few attempts.
So, I went off to complete my day’s work, and then headed off to the airport at Bangalore to switch back from businessman to photographer, and flew to Delhi to make my way over to Agra, and the Taj Mahal. Now, I usually try to do lots of planning before any kind of photography trip to give myself the best chances possible to get some great shots once there. However, with the preparation for the trip from a business side, and other responsibilities really overwhelming me lately, I didn’t have a lot of time to do any real planning as such. I had investigated the possible weather conditions and the time that the sun would come up, and I had actually relied on an acquaintance to tell me how long it was going to take for a driver to get me from Delhi airport to Agra. I’d been told 90 minutes to two hours, so my plan was to arrive in Delhi at 9:20PM, take a few minutes to find the driver and get rolling, then arrive at the hotel in Agra no before midnight. That would allow me to get around four hours sleep before getting up at around 4:30 to be ready to leave the hotel at 5:30, in plenty of time to be standing at the gates of the Taj Mahal when they open at 6:00AM. This was always going to be tough, because I’d had a series of nights to this point where I’d not slept well through travelling, but if I could get four hours of quality sleep, I figures I’d be OK.
This is where the plan started to fall apart. The first piece of advice if you ever intend to travel from Delhi to Agra by car – give yourself plenty of time. We travelled at night, so apart from the odd truck heading full speed our way on our side of the road and the dangers of a half-asleep driver keeping me from getting the ‘quality sleep’ I was after, it took a full five hours. I arrived at the hotel at 3:00AM. After knocking the hotel staff up to tell me where my room is, and actually getting in there and getting to sleep, it was around 3:20. So I ended up having a few hours of very disturbed sleep in the car, and 90 minutes of very weird sleep indeed in the hotel. If you think of the time I spent in the hotel, including 30 minutes to have breakfast and check out later, I’d say I was here for about two hours, or 120 minutes. When you consider that the hotel cost me $120 for the night, that’s exactly $1 a minute. Not quite what I’d hoped for, but there you have it.
So moving on, I had booked a guide for what I had hoped was going to be a full day, but it was now obvious that we needed to head back to Delhi early in the afternoon to make the flight home. The guide arrived at the hotel as request at 5:40AM, and we started our one mile drive to the Taj. Tourists have to park up a little way from the area and travel the last half a mile or so by electric car. This is to keep car exhaust fumes to a minimum, as they yellow the marble of the Taj Mahal itself. It was on the drive over there that I heard about warning number two. For your reference in case you ever make it out here yourself, you are not allowed to take a tripod inside the grounds of the Taj Mahal. This is kind of understandable because some people might go and stand a tripod on the marble around the building itself, but I would have liked to have seen specific areas where it is not possible to use a tripod, rather than the entire compound, as most of it is just tarmac paths and garden. I guess also though on busy days, if everyone had tripods stood everywhere they’d get in the way somewhat. What this means though, is that all of my shots, including those during twilight as the haze cleared, had to be shot hand held. Apparently it is possible to get permission to take a tripod in, but it requires prior application to some place in Delhi, and because I hadn’t planned the trip properly, I hadn’t done this. I did check that photography was OK, but I hadn’t noticed anything about tripod.
Again for your reference, in addition to tripods, the security check at the entrance relieved me of my portable storage, because it contains a hard drive, which are not allowed, so take plenty of memory. I was not allowed to take my cable release, because it has a remote control function. I wasn’t too cut up about this though because I didn’t have my tripod. You can’t take mobile phones inside either, which I thought a little bizarre, and you cannot take any kind of food inside. I was pretty cut-up about the fact that I could also not take in the snicker bar that I’d taken brought all the way from Tokyo to eat if I started to flag during my few pre-breakfast hours, but I didn’t really miss it. My equilibrium was already shot from lack of sleep.
I should say that the items that you are not allowed to take inside with you are placed in a locker, not confiscated for good. My tripod didn’t fit into the locker, so I now have a nice number 10, my locker number, written on the top of one of the legs in permanent white pen. A reminder of my trip I guess. I also was told by the locker room attended that I was to pay him a nice tip when I got back for looking after my tripod for me while I was inside. When I came back from the locker room, an American guy was having two hand-knitted teddy bears taken from his back. The security guard was giving a great story of how the teddy bears could be used to photograph the Taj Mahal in a derogatory manner, and the American guy having his teddies confiscated was not a happy teddy himself. My guide tried to explain better than the soldier doing the checks was, but gave in when the teddy-bear-less American started getting frustrated with him too. The guide left him to it saying “I don’t work here, I’m just helping out with the language problems. Don’t moan at me.”
Anyway, we walked for a minute or so from the gate to another tall building with a gateway, and it was as I turned and looked through this gateway that I got my first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. Let’s take a look at image number 1176. We can see here the interior of the building, which is lit by artificial light making it look very orange, with the Taj in the distance, looking decidedly blue in the twilight. I quickly cranked by 5D’s ISO up to 1600 and hand-held this for 1/2 a second at F4. I was shooting at 80mm so this I was surprised when apart from a fair amount of grain from the high ISO and longish exposure, the shot showed very little camera shake. A testament to the Image Stabilizer on my 70-200mm F2.8 I guess. I was relying on IS totally, as I could not lean against anything for additional stability without losing the position of the Taj through this arch. It was 6:22 when I shot this, and you can see that there were already a number of tourists standing on the steps waiting for it to get a little lighter. Of course, the Taj itself is a little soft as I was shooting at F4, but I’m quite pleased with this shot as a personal record of my first sight of this marvellous piece of architecture
I shot a few frames from these steps myself, wanting some views of the Taj in the pre-dawn light, but I chose to upload one from a little later, which we’ll look at a little later. For now, I wandered around to the side of this gatehouse and shot image number 1177, against looking through an archway. Still looking very blue before dawn, this time I switched to my 16-35mm F2.8 lens to frame the scene with the arch. I used minus two stops of exposure compensation in Aperture Priority mode, to keep the shot dark. If you don’t have your monitor calibrated, you may well not see much detail in this shot at all, but this is really very much how I saw the scene. Leaving the camera to its own devices of course would have meant the shot would have been rendered much more brightly, and the mood would have been lost. The shutter speed for this shot was 1/8th of a second, again hand-held, and the aperture was also wide open at F2.8. This again means that the Taj was going to be a little soft, but as this lens is pretty wide, shooting at 33mm, I was going to get much more depth of field than when shooting with a telephoto at the same aperture.
I made my way back around to the front of the gatehouse, and as I waited for more light to fall across the Taj, shooting it every so often, I shot image number 1179. Again shot at F4 with the 70-200mm F2.8 lens, I isolated two domes, which are the roof of the guest house to the right of the Taj Mahal, but from this perspective only visible poking up from a line of trees that form a base for another pretty dark, moody shot. A pair of birds flew through the scene as I made about three or four exposures, and I chose this one to upload. I now had the ISO down to ISO 400 in this as well as the last shot, as the sky got a little brighter, though it’s not really noticeable in the photographs yet.
I shot image number 1180 at 6:41AM, and now we can see the warmth of the sunlight hitting the structure of the Taj Mahal. I was only exposure compensating to the tune of minus one stop now, which was again to really just record on film what I saw with my eye, and not falsely brighten it up. My aperture still F4, I was now getting a shutter speed of 1/25th of a second. The sun actually should have been on or above the horizon at this point, but was not cutting through the morning haze enough to really light the structure. It was around this time that I realized there was some scaffolding around the front left tower my perspective that is, which was a little disappointing, but can’t really be helped I guess. We can also see from this shot that the four towers that surround the Taj Mahal are actually leaning outwards slightly. The architects designed it this way, so that if the towers should fall down in an earthquake, they would fall outwards, away from the main structure so as not to harm it. Confident that I’d gotten the shot I wanted in this light as things just started to warm up, I set off on a walk through the grounds towards the foot of the Taj Mahal itself, but for now, we’ll finish on today and then pick up the trail in the next episode.
So that’s about it for this week. As I say, we’ll pick up the trail in the next episode, hopefully released later this week if I can make the time. I’ve not yet prepared for the rest of this travelogue, so I’m not sure right now if it will be a two part or a three part series. We’ll have to wait and see.
Just a little bit of housekeeping before we finish. Firstly, thanks to all of you that uploaded your images to the Assignment that has just finished, which was on “Sound!”, and note that voting has now started and will run until the end of December the 31st. You need to register on the member’s gallery site at mbpgalleries.com to vote, but once logged in, you will be able to see a small black vote button above the images when viewed full size. When you click on the button your vote will be added, but remember each member only has one vote. You can change your mind anytime though until voting stops. Just hit the button again and the system will ask if you want to reassign your vote before going ahead and doing so. Again the quality of the images entered has been incredibly high. The number of entries dropped considerably for this assignment though, due I’d imagine to the difficulty of the theme. I myself didn’t even manage to post an entry. I had a few ideas for a shot but just couldn’t find the time to execute on my ideas. Let’s try and get participation up a little again for the next assignment, which I’ll be announcing the details of at the same time as announcing the winner for this assignment in the first episode of the New Year.
Also, I’d like to quickly apologise for the irregularity of the Podcast releases of late. I’ve been incredibly busy with both my day job and my photography, and just catching up in what little spare time I can make has been very difficult. To compound that I’ve had a number of computer related issues that seem to be dogging me a little hindering my progress. I’m not quite out of the woods yet, with some serious photography planned in the coming weeks, that will also of course mean a lot of images to process. I also have a trip to the UK planned for a family wedding in the New Year, so I anticipate that I will still be keeping you waiting the odd week for a while, but hopefully I’ll be able to catch up and release multiple episodes in the same week when coming up for air, so on average we should still see one episode a week. Anyway, please bear with me. My commitment to produce one show per week is unchanged, although the release schedule might continue to be a little bumpy for a while longer.
Finally, I wanted to say a huge thank you to those of you that have written Reviews for the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast in iTunes. This Podcast has been in the top 25 of the Visual Arts section for a long time now, but thanks to a recent spurt of Reviews, the show icon is actually in the top half of the featured section at the moment. This will help to generate more interest in the Podcast which in turn will help us to continue to grow, so again, a huge thank you to all of you that have been kind enough to write a review. If you haven’t done so yet, please do go over to iTunes and navigate to this Podcast and click the “Write a Review” button under the show details.
And that really is about it for this week. Tune into the next episode of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast to hear about the rest of my mini-trip to India. Until then, have a great week, whatever you do. Bye bye.
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