02 Oct 2007 India Sept 2007 – Part#2 (Podcast 106)
Today is the second part of a two part series in which we’ve discussed shots from a brief trip to India in September 2007. I was literally there for just three days, and didn’t expect to get much free time, but I was hoping to get some shots while there, so I took some minimal kit, comprised of a Canon EOS 5D and three lenses. Today we’re going to continue to look at some of the shots from the trip and I’ll explain my thinking behind the shots and how I worked the situation. The sounds we were played in with is the same as last week, which is a snippet of something I recorded with my smart-phone in the every busy streets of Bangalore, the city I was visiting.
So to briefly recap, that I had used a strategy that I explained last week to get people used to my being in the Madibala Market, which is where I was photographing some portraits. It’s not really important that you listen to last week’s episode before this, but if you’d prefer to listen in sequence, you might want to go back to episode 105 for full details. Anyway, what I’d done was basically walked through the market with my camera hanging around my neck on the strap, and just said hello and smiled at people as I walked through. This was really just to get them used to the idea that there was some foreign guy wandering around with a camera, and this would reduce the shock if I did speak to them later on. Despite the visit being literally just for 20 to 30 minutes, this strategy really paid off as I found it not only easier to talk to people on my way back through the same stretch of market, but I found people calling out to me, asking me my name and what I was doing there. I’d captured a couple of great portrait shots already by this point, and was kind of on a roll by the time we pick up the trail here.
Let’s take a look at shot number 1538, which is the last shot from the family of fish mongers that we looked at some photos of at the end of last week’s episode. Here we see another kind of tough guy type shot, but this time the son was really almost breaking into laughter as his Dad, I think, was acting up behind him, as we can see in the bokeh in back here, with his hands up in sort of a pantomime ghost like gesture. This young man was very up for having his photograph taken and was kind of shoeing the rest of the family away as I continued to position him in such a way that would give the least distracting background. I was concerned about the poles and blue plastic sheets that were making patches of colour behind him, and had just about found a good spot, with just one pole visible, and the Dad came in and did this. Eventually though, on looking at the results, I find that I prefer this over the other shots, as the expression on the young man’s face really brings back to me the frivolity of the whole exchange with this fun loving family
I was shooting with my 85mm F1.2 lens at F1.8 with a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second at ISO 400. I could of course have gone much slower, but as we saw last week, some of the shots were actually under the cover of the market stalls and with much slower shutter speeds, and because I was working in such variable light, I just set the camera up in Aperture Priority, and ISO 400 so that I didn’t have to mess around with setting instead of concentrating on interacting with the subjects and actually getting the shots.
A moment or two later, confident that I’d got a few good images, and also not wanting to keep this family from their work much longer I thanked each of them and again shook their hands, and moved on. It was only later, on looking at the resulting images that I realised that the hands I was shaking had moments before been holding those big, not quite sweet smelling fish. Having grown up playing in pretty much ever muddy stream, woods and even coal hills near my home in England, I’m not particularly the most fastidious person in the world either, so it didn’t particularly bother me. It was much more important to me to show my gratitude for the photos and the human exchange that to worry about keeping my hands clean. Actually that reminds me of something else related to this. When I walked past this fish stall earlier, I noticed that there were a huge number of flies feasting and probably laying eggs in the fish laid out of the table. Bangalore is not particularly close to the coast, and with the transport infrastructure also being far from adequate, I’m sure it takes quite some time for the fish to even make it this far. Also there was of course no refrigeration in the market, so the flies were really just able to have a field day. A little off-putting when you think of this by Western standards, but I have never been one for judging other people and other cultures by my own standards. I had mentioned this in fun that night though over dinner in which one of the many curries we were eating happened to be a fish curry. An Indian friend told me though “Martin, we have the perfect cleansing procedure for all meat and fish”, and we looked directly at each other and at the same time said “curry”. Originally the reason why people in India curried things was to keep it edible during long periods of storage. In England, people like relatively salty food because we stored meat in large barrels of salt to stop it rotting. It’s the same thing. The necessities of the past have shaped our culinary cultures today.
Anyway, as I mentioned last week, the whole shoot was not plain sailing. Although most people were very open and obliging, and allowed me to take their photograph, I approached one man with a small child playing on top of a cart and asked if I could photograph the child. Although he looked as though he wanted to allow me to proceed, he refused almost immediately. I was a little puzzled by the conflicting expression and actual reply, but of course I just said OK and started to walk away. As I walked away, I could hear the man’s wife saying something to the man and turned and saw him kind of reluctantly refusing his wife too. Later I heard from Shashi, the guy from my Team in Bangalore with my day-job that was walking with me, that in India, some people believe that photographing children is bad luck. Basically it is customary to display a photograph of a person that has died and decorate it with garlands of flowers, and every time you photograph a child, you are making more images that can be used for that final post-death ceremony, and therefore shortening the life of that individual. Shashi says that this man definitely wanted me to photograph his child, as we could tell from his expression, but felt it necessary to refuse based on this custom or belief. With this information it all made perfect sense.
Let’s look at image number 1539, which I shot a few moments later a little further along the market. This is the first of two shots of the same father and son that I uploaded. I was still using an aperture of F1.8 with ISO 400 and this gave me a shutter speed of 1/640of a second this time. I had kept the aperture wide to through the background as far out of focus as possible. You can see that there are lots of patches of blue and other colours there, and I wanted to reduce their shape as much as possible. I’d seen this little boy also playing on top of a cart and asked the dad if I could photograph him. I was surprised how little I had worried about the rejection from the last person I approached, but I think this was partly because I was on a mini-high from the success I was having, and also because of the kind way in which the last person had refused. This guy was very accommodating though, and basically just picked up the little boy and posed him for me. I would probably have preferred just the boy playing on the cart, but I didn’t want to contrive things too much. The man obviously wanted to be involved and it’s his boy after all. Still quite a nice shot I think, with the boys big cute eyes in sharp focus, at least the right eye, which is closest to the camera. I had to rotate around the subjects a little to get the boy and his dad as parallel as possible to avoid the dad being too blurred. As it is, he’s a little soft, but is sharp enough to be able to appreciate seeing his features and the boy is perfectly focussed, as I say, on the nearest eye.
On turning around from shooting this, I saw a man sitting in his stall weighing something out, and have uploaded an image of him, but I’m not going to talk about it today. The next shot I want to look at is number 1541, in which we can see a great looking man with a wonderful red apple backdrop. The guy in the photo I just mentioned that was weighing stuff actually pointed down to this man who was sitting in front of the next stall, and shouted something out to him that I didn’t understand, but as the man kind of sat up straight, in preparation for a photograph, I assumed he was game and confirmed that it was OK. I first crouched down to his right, kind of instinctually as that was the direction I was coming from, but then I realised that this bank of stacked up apples would make a nice backdrop, and moved around to his left. I shot three frames, and in the first he was looking straight at me, and the second two he was looking straight ahead, kind of unaware of me. I chose to upload the first, as it maintained the brief human connection that I was enjoying. I used the same settings as the last image for this shot too, so the nice wide aperture had thrown the apples out of focus quite a lot, but we can still make them out for what they are, but keep the focus of the shot, pun intended, clearly on the gentlemen who is the main subject. Again, I showed him his portrait and got one of those Indian head shakes where they swing the head quickly sideways, while facing forward, which is a gesture of both affirmation and gratitude. And once again, I shook his hand, and said thank you, and moved on.
Literally again just moment later, I asked the lady at the next stall, who was also laughing as I moved closer, if I could shoot her portrait. She then gestured with her hand for me to wait and went inside the blue plastic sheet that was pulled down over the front of her stall, and came back with two incredibly small and incredibly cute children, that we can see in shot number1543. I shot about 8 frames to these wonderful kids, and chose this one to upload. The young girl had the sweetest eyes, as does her older brother, but in this shot, she looked away from the camera briefly, with a kind of cheeky grin, as her brother pushed something into his mouth also with a bit of a cheeky grin showing through. Still with a very shallow depth-of-field from the F1.8 aperture, I had to move around a little to keep the two subjects parallel to the film plane, and here as the girl swung around forward to face more towards her brother, I ended up only with her right eye, the furthest from the camera in focus, and the left eye and this side of her face is slightly soft, but I kind of like this too. When viewed large it is nice to work your way into the shot and find the in focus eye. After about eight shots I was thinking that I’d like to switch to portrait mode, and as I started to move and rotate the camera, the young girl got a bit upset with this big foreigner snapping away in front of her and turned away kind of half crying. I of course didn’t want to upset anyone so I said sorry and stuck my hand out. The older brother shook my hand with his tiny hand, and this calmed the sister, who also put her even tinier hand out, which I also shook while saying thank you, and decided it was time to move on.
That is the end of my brief shoot in the Madibali Market. My strategy of just walking through the market was also quite a success I’d say. By the time I made my way back through the market with everyone having seen me, and then also with the kind of snowball effect of the laughter from the next stall as I interacted with all the subject, it really turned out to be a magical time for me, that I won’t forget in a hurry. There are a few other shots online, and if you want to take a look I’ll put a link to list them all in the show-notes. One thing I have made up my mind to do is to go back to this market again on a future visit, and next time, I am going to go armed with a bunch of 5×7 prints of the images made here, in the hope that some of the subjects will be there again. I don’t know how regular the same people turn up, but I would just love to hand them photographs of themselves as another way to show my gratitude. Of course, it’s not just the photograph that would be the token of gratitude, but the fact that I will go to the trouble, although very minor, to create the photos and search out the subjects again. I hope that this will reinforce the notion that I have respect for the people that allowed me to photograph them, and value the exchange we had, however brief
Before we finish, I want to look at two of the six or so shots that I have uploaded that I shot from the plane both on my way out and back from India. The two we’ll look at now were from the last few minutes as we approached the Narita airport in the Chiba prefecture, with is across the Tokyo bay. The first one is actually shot south of Tokyo, and that is image number 1548. Here we can see Mount Fuji poking out of the clouds in the top right, with what is probably the mountain range in the Yamanashi prefecture behind it. The dark areas that we can just see poking out from under the clouds to the center left is the probably the Izu area, and in the foreground we can see the island of Ohshima, with its airport landing strip, about half way into the bottom left of the frame. I shot a few other images with the whole of the Oshima island in it, which I thought were pretty cool but I opted to this one, I guess just because of the feel of the clouds and Mount Fuji, and possible also because it felt better to leave out part of the island, leaving something to the imagination. Actually it is a bit strange saying Ohshima island, and shima just means island, and Oh means big, but it would seem even stranger just saying the Oh island, or totally translating it into big island, especially as this is the name, and so shouldn’t really be translated anyway. As for the settings for this shot, I was in Manual mode for control of the lighting, and was using my 70-200 F2.8 lens at 115mm here. The aperture was set to F9 to give me nice clear shot, sharp throughout the image at this distance, and I had a shutter of 1/250 of a second, with ISO 100. Had I used Aperture Priority here I’d probably have had to use around plus one stop of exposure compensation to stop the meter from making this scene too dark. It was very bright, and I wanted to represent the scene that way. I did have to play with the contrast a little though to bring Mount Fuji out a little as it was a little bit washed out.
I actually uploaded another shot with a small island called Toshima in the foreground, and in its entirety, which is pretty cool, but we won’t look at that today. If you are interested please do stop by martinbaileyphotography.com and take a look. The last shot I want to look at today though, is number 1549. This is literally just minutes before we touched down. The request to turn off all electronic devices had just been announced, and the landing gear had bumped and banged its way down, and I’d actually put my camera into my camera bag at my feet, when I saw this river coming towards us. I could not resist getting my camera back out in case this came to something, and indeed, the sun being just at the right place in the sky lit the river up in a beautiful golden orange colour, and this lined up perfectly with Mount Fuji in the background and the clouds and sun’s rays hitting the misty area below the clouds really work for me.
The thing that I am a little disappointed with was that the banking of the plane as we swang around to the left was making for a bit of a bumpy ride at this point, and I was finding it difficult to keep my horizon straight. I had framed this quite tightly at 100mm with both edges of the river in the frame, but I had to rotate the image slightly to get the horizon straight, which meant cropping the right to the right slightly. It’s not a huge issue, but a little annoying as I actually had it in the frame. As I was shooting this though, a member of the cabin crew came by and asked me to put my chair up straight, as I’d been so excited shooting that my seat was still slightly reclined, so I moved the camera away from my eye for a few seconds to straighten my chair. By the time I looked back, the moment was gone, but luckily I salvaged what is still a great shot in my humble opinion, by doing a little bit of rotation in post processing. I also played with the contrast on this some to reduce the slightly washed out feel of the image, but this was nowhere near as bad as with the previous image.
I guess I wanted to add on this that I’ve kind of proved here that you can get some great shots from the inside of a plane when conditions are right, or close to it. When I showed these to a friend here in Tokyo they said that whenever they take photographs from a plane they end up with a reflection in the window. I was lucky here in that the angle of the sun was acute enough for the light from the window to be hitting the arm of my chair and not the camera itself. Even if my camera had been directly catching the sun though, the same rule that I’ve mentioned before for shooting through glass applies. If you make sure you have a camera hood one, and put it right up against the glass, you will greatly reduce the possibility of anything reflecting back into the window. Without anything actually reflecting through the window you should be able to shoot away to your heart’s content without any issues. One thing that might work against you though, is that plane windows tend to have a second plastic window inside, and quite a large gap between it and the real external window. This introducing a problem in that you will be more likely to reflect in the real window because you can’t get right up to it. If that happens I guess you could try moving so far back that the light no longer hits you, but that will greatly reduce your field of view through the window, so you might just be out of luck. I was in luck on this day though, so came away with a few nice shots to round off my brief trip to India.
So I hope you enjoyed this two part series. I enjoyed putting it together. As I make these travelogue type Podcasts I realise that I’m also making a kind of audio diary of my photographic adventures, which is definitely very special for me too.
A quick apology for the Web site problems AGAIN, over the last weekend. I received a mail on Thursday asking me to move our sites again, only a month after I moved our second server to the same provider that I have our audio file server with. This kept me up until almost 3AM on Friday night and really ruined a large part of my weekend as it was totally unplanned. Needless to say I was a little peeved, especially as problems persisted until Monday, so sorry about all that. Hopefully its now all over, and hopefully won’t happen again for some time. Touch wood! The Documentary/Photojournalism Assignment is now closed for entries and voting is turned on until the end of Sunday October 14, just about anywhere in the world. At that point I’ll create that week’s podcast to announce the winners and to announce the theme for the next assignment, so stay tuned for that. Please do go over to www.mbpgalleries.com to vote as well. There are some great images in the assignment gallery which you can find just over half way down the top page. whatever you’re doing — Bye-bye.
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