How I Shot This: Bali Village Girl
I've started a new feature in the "Venture Horizons" monthly newsletter that we send to our customers and friends (you can sign up for the newsletter by filling in the form on the right-hand sidebar). In this feature I provide the back story and thinking behind a particular image that I have shot and loved. In some respects, it's about getting into my creative and technical thinking process that goes into the taking and making of an image.
Bali Village Girl
f3.2, 1/200, ISO 250, 120mm (using a 70-200mm f2.8 lens)
While this may seem to be a fairly straightforward, natural light portrait, the taking of it wasn't as easy as it appears. It was shot while I was exploring the banks of a riverside village in Bali. Normally, I shoot with my 24-70mm lens (my walk-around lens) but this time, I decided to use the telephoto to get some shots across the river as I walked along its banks. The 70-200mm f2.8 is not a modest lens -- it's pretty solid affair, sticks out quite a bit and, basically, makes your photographic gear look large and intimidating. It's not the kind of lens you would use for intimate, off-the-cuff portraiture.
While wandering, I came across a group of kids waiting to get some snacks from a local street vendor. They wore brightly coloured casual clothes and this little girl stood out because she had a beautiful, green dress. I waved at the kids, greeted them and they excitedly responded by asking to be photographed (that's one of the great things about Bali -- the kids always want you to photograph them). However, this little girl was having none of that. While the others hustled into a group pose, she deliberately moved away.
While I loved the fact that the other kids were so open to being photographed, this little girl's reticence intrigued me. I made a great show of photographing the others, and showing them the images and I could see that she had grown interested as she came over for a look. Then, I turned to her and asked if she wanted her photo taken. And she did. In fact, she wanted a solo photo shoot and moved to one side, pulled the "peace sign" pose and actually smiled for the shot! While shooting, I continued talking to her and said she was very pretty (in my limited Bahasa) and that I really liked the dress. Kids (and many adults) respond to chatter while you're shooting; it helps keep them interested, engaged and comfortable.
What I love about this casual portrait is the very soft and subdued smile on her face and the intensity in her gaze. I shot this quite close and at a longer focal length as there wasn't much space behind her and I wanted to throw the background of the textured concrete wall into soft focus. When photographing kids, I get right down to their eye level, because I believe that if you're able to connect at eye level with the person you're photographing, then you're dignifying them in the portrait.
The image was processed in Lightroom (Shadows, Highlights, Whites and Vibrance, with some HSL adjustments on Saturation and Luminance) and then worked on in Photoshop to add a Curves Adjustment layer to burn in the left and top edges (so that the viewer's gaze is kept within the frame and on the little girl).
Some tips for shooting street-style portraits:
- Always engage first. Start with a greeting, ask what they're doing, and then either wait to be asked to take a photograph, or ask if you can take a photograph.
- Take multiple frames, but work each frame differently. The first couple of frames will help relax the people you're photographing (and also help you think through your composition); the subsequent frames are your money shots. Don't rush. The hardest part of the job (getting their permission) is done, so take your time.
- Shoot at wide apertures to isolate the person from the background. Other ways to isolate is to shoot at longer focal lengths.
- Check and make sure your background is fairly simple and that it doesn't have any distracting elements (eg. bright lights, bright colours) that can draw attention away from the person in the picture.
- Shoot at eye level with your subject.
- Be gracious and open to possibilities at all times.
- Continue the conversation after you're done. And don't forget to thank them for the opportunity they gave you to create great portraits!