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On Portraits and Comfort Zones

I saw one of those standard Insta reels the other day where the photographer walks across to a complete stranger and asks for permission to shoot her portrait. She is surprised. Hesitant. But, finally, agrees.  And, loves the results. 


That entire episode kept playing in my mind. 


Over the last few years, I have devoured an insane amount of content on photography. I have listened to webinars, talks, interviews, read books by photographers, mostly to understand the thought process behind image making.


My guess is that in that entire content I consumed, wildlife photographers would feature in around half of that or less. In fact, my favorite book on photography, Jay Maisel’s ‘ Light, Colour, Gesture’ doesn’t contain a single image of wildlife.


However, despite the fact that the joy of creating an image would be the same across genres, I have rarely ventured out of wildlife photography.


For multiple and different reasons.


I have never been able to figure landscape photography – there is something about the thinking part of that craft that completely eludes me. I have sort of accepted that now. These days, I mostly prefer to simply put the camera aside and soak in the beauty around me.


Street photography has a fascinating allure since I think there is a wonderful opportunity for story telling here. There's so much that is happening there, what does one choose ? How does one tell it ? It's such an exciting genre. However, I have an extreme reluctance to be seen on the streets with a camera. I will stick out like a sore thumb. Am I not intruding ? Will I seriously offend someone ?

Though of all genres, it's when it comes to people photographs, or portraits, that I really hit a rough spot. 


I am utterly fascinated by people and their personalities in general, and think photographs that capture the personality of an individual are precious. There is a challenge, a deep craft in that, that is seductive. 


want to make images of people.


Yet, I am incredibly nervous about it. 


I am forever fretting that I would be intruding into someone’s personal space. I could ask for permission, but then I worry that it might lend an artificiality to the image. 


These are not original worries by any means. I have read what all photographers say about these worries and how many of them have overcome it. 


Spend time with your subject. Make them feel comfortable. 


Yeah, I know. 


It’s just that I have still not been able to step into that zone.


I was hoping that I will be able to overcome this at Pushkar. 


Of course, the richness of the colour there, the magnificence of the moustaches and the weather beaten, leathery faces all combine to provide tempting portraits, but I also thought it might be an easy place to push the envelope that wraps my mind. The place is supposed to be teeming with photographers and at least the subjects would be comfortable with being photographed.


The result ? Hmmm…Yes and no. 


Even in a place where the subjects were more than accustomed to wandering photographers I could never fully shrug off my hesitation. 


In most cases, I stood a little distance away and used a longer lens to capture candid images of people. Often I stood away from a gaggle of photographers for whom the subject would be posing and took images. 


In a few cases, I did overcome my rather silly hesitation and clicked a few images - and miraculously I survived ! ( They didn’t look very forced either )


Anyway….here are some portraits that I captured, and I think, some of them have turned out rather well.


This year, I will step out of my comfort zones a little more. 


For sure.

I think :)

Priest doing at aarti

Taken at the ghats at the time of the evening aarti. This gentleman had a striking personality and he knew it too. That can be a powerful combination, especially for a photographer

Camel herder at Pushkar

This gent was a very willing model, often breaking into impish grins. I used a wide angle lens here and also aimed at getting the sun burst from that corner of his turban

Portrait of a camel herder at Pushkar

I loved the way his eyes crinkled, his face breaking into a million crevasses and

that jaunty angle of the beedi

Portrait of a camel herder at Pushkar

Yup, it was cold...but the warmth of that smile !!! This was a quick shot, again from a distance

Portrait of a camel herder at Pushkar

Alone in crowd ?

Camel herder smoking a beedi

He noticed me...and then totally ignored me....may his tribe increase :)

Rural Rajasthani girl

She was the most comfortable in front of the camera. Confident, assured, she patiently allowed the crowd of photographers to click away -

I took this from a distance, shooting over the shoulders of the crowd

This girl was posing for a bunch of photographers and I was observing her from afar. In between their takes, she kept herself busy doing what she wanted and I got one that I liked


This kid found the whole thought of me taking photographs extremely amusing

And her sister was keen to see how I was reacting ...simple, joyful moments

Babies are indeed a joy to photograph !

Can I avoid the temptation of the play of light and shadow ?


A question for you...

What will be the uncomfortable zone that you will be stepping into this year ?

Cheers !

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