One in a Billion, Photos from India

There are estimated to be over 1.2 billion people in India. If you were to make a photograph with a wide-angle lens you’d be likely to include dozens, and often hundreds, or thousands, of people. In a land of so much humanity it can be easy to lose the individual. This post is designed to focus on a few individual people out of the billions.

Along with the photographs this week, I’ll give a written rendition of my internal editing process of the photographs, looking at their strengths and where they could have been improved.

Dhobi Wallah

The Dhobi Wallah

The word dhobi comes from the Hindi word dhona, which means, to wash. This is a very common scene along the Ganges River in Varanasi, India. What I like about this photo is the strong line on the horizon and the golden color as the sun reflects on the water, including one accented sun spot near the man’s bamboo rod. I like the tension in the moment as the Dhobi Wallah prepares his windup in anticipation of beating the clothes. A vertical orientation was necessary in order to exclude a line of several other washermen. There is one potentially distracting element in the photograph in that there is the line from a anchored boat in the upper 1/3rd of the photograph on the left hand side.

The Boy in Blue

The Boy in Blue

If you’ve ever been on the streets of Varanasi then you’ll know just what an unusual photograph this is. This was made in one brief moment between cycle and auto rickshaws passing, as well as people on foot, cows, etc. I like that the boy has on a blue sweater and is standing against a blue wall. What is he looking at? That question is one strength of the photograph. Had I  taken a half-step to the left I could have placed his head a little more completely against the blue background, a move that might have strengthened the image. This would also be a good time to take two successive images, one showing the boy alone on the street, the next showing him surrounded by activity. Next time.

Alleyways of Varanasi

Alleyways of Varanasi

I think there is a lot to this image. It was one that I set up in advance when the noticed the poster of Shahrukh Khan, a famous Bollywood actor. I wanted to contrast the Bollywood poster with life in the alleyways of Varanasi. I can stay with this image for a while because there is a fair amount of detail to keep our attention; the woman’s basket, her clothing, her bracelets, the Bollywood poster and the tattered old rickshaw against the wall. What I don’t like is that I had not intended to have a posed shot, I was wanting to catch a more organic scene. Then this woman saw me photographing and actually posed for me without my asking. While I prefer a more neutral look, something less posed, there was a real pleasantness in our exchange and enough detail in the image for me to keep it.

Woman on the Ganges

Woman on the Ganges

I like that this photograph has a natural sepia-type tone. I like the sun and the empty river behind the woman. This was one time where I wondered about the advantages of using flash, as it was shot, like all the others, using only natural light. A little bit of fill flash might have brought out more detail in the woman. I’m not super happy about her expression, nor the fact that her sari is covering her right foot, but sometimes it is what it is. Overall, I liked her isolation against the Ganges River.

Pilgrim to Varanasi

Pilgrim to Varanasi

This was shot using with at a 70-300mm lens at f7.1 and 1/200. I could have possibly opened the aperture further in order to blur the background a bit more, and I think that would have helped this image. Nonetheless, I think this woman stands out enough from the background and there is enough detail in her face and hands to make the image interesting. There is a challenge in shooting older individuals as their eyes are usually set back and it’s more difficult to get “catch light” in them. I think we see just enough of her eyes to make this photography usable.

Girl in Varanasi

I like this portrait, there’s just enough light in her eyes.  She’s put on a new dress, but still has her towel tucked under her arm after her recent dip in the Ganges. The light is great, it’s natural, and it casts a nice glow. It’s rare that I crop a photograph, but I did crop this one to square because the brick in the background filled up much of the frame and it was distracting from the girl. This photo was made with a 50mm lens at f8 and 1/250. On this one too I might have benefitted from shooting at f2.8 instead. That would have given the background a little softer blur and perhaps made the girl stand out just a little bit more. I like it overall.

So there you have it, a few images from my last trip to Varanasi and some of the verbal processing as I do as I edit images.

If you’d like to join me on an upcoming trip to Varanasi, Jodhpur, and Rajasthan then you can find out more details by visiting India by Railway on the Nomadic Routes Photography webpage.

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13 thoughts on “One in a Billion, Photos from India

    • you described it well. i usually tell people that by the time you’ve spent two weeks in india it will “take you to the end of yourself, the end of your patience, etc.” and at the same time it is so incredible. i’m glad you enjoyed the adventure!

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