A Moment Of Color in Kolkata, India

A candid image of a merchant pouring a cup of tea from a green jug in front of his establishment in Kolkata, India.

I very rarely make what is commonly referred to as candid images. For the sake of this discussion let's refer to a candid as a single image, made within a fraction of a second, that successfully captures an important or interesting moment from an event. That moment may explore such concepts as movement, color, shape, form, relationships, feelings, mood and atmosphere. When successful a candid portrait may talk to us about the human condition beyond the more trivial, mundane banalities of our own daily life.

Are You Scared?

While candids can make great photographs, to my way of thinking, they rarely do. My belief is that most folks like the idea of making candids due to their inability to approach a subject directly and ask permission to make their photograph.

That's not to say that more directed, interactive images can't exhibit the same qualities or sense of the moment. I believe they can and much prefer to work that way. But, on rare occasions, I'm drawn to seize the moment and try to grab an image as it unfolds before me.

Shiva and Beyond

And that's exactly what happen on my first day in Kolkata (Calcutta), India. I had spent all morning sleeping after arriving from Bangkok in the early hours of the morning. By the time I'd checked in, unpacked and sorted things out it was 3:30am. I spent most of the afternoon catching up on image processing, emails and the like. Around 4pm I took a taxi into a famous temple dedicated to Shiva, a most powerful Hindu deity.

Unfortunately, due to the bombing of a Hindu temple by a muslim extremist the previous year, photography within the bounds of the temple is forbidden. Sadly, this policy seems to have been enforced in temples throughout India. I think that’s just nuts. We all know that a mobile phone is all that’s required to make photos and videos of a particular site? Why punish well-meaning, creative photographers just because they have good cameras.

So, with photography inside the temple forbidden, I had a very quick look around and then wandered out to explore the activity in the nearby streets and alleyways in the late afternoon light.

India Is A Triumph Of Chaos

I was not disappointed and soon found myself immersed within the chaos that is India. Fortunately, the narrow alleyways around the temple kept the usual onslaught of cars and taxis to a minimum and I was free to walk around, talk with local folk and make pictures. Within about an hour I'd made what I consider to be a pretty decent set of images, mostly portraits. This is exactly what I was hoping for and, indeed, had expected. The past few weeks were based around photographing landscapes in China, while this particular trip to India would be a largely portrait rich experience.

Portrait of a shopkeeper in his tiny, colorful shop in Kolkata, India.

The Purpose Of Composition

So, here I was, in the hot, dusty, crumbling chaos that is Kolkata. I was tired but inspired and that would be enough to motivate me to make great photos. With motivation shyness disappears and confidence rises, as does energy. But it was still hot. I decided to move into open shade where I'd be more comfortable and the light more flattering. As soon as I did so I stopped moving and began to smile as a whole stream of potential photographic opportunities started to appear.

The subject matter was everywhere. It was simply a matter of constructing an interesting an cohesive composition and, as this was street photography, anticipating dynamic movement and being ready to make the image as that action unfolded. 

I was drawn to the scene at the top of this post by the dominant green hues that seemed to frame the three figures arranged in a triangular formation. I noticed that the man in the centre of the group was about to poor a drink from a vivid green jug. Being the most saturated color within the scene I knew that the jug would provide a strong point of focus. The positioning of the man's body, as he poured the drink would, in turn, draw attention to the jug.

The early evening light was beautiful, the overall design of the image strong and the human element interesting and well placed within the frame. Timing was going to be critical. Up came the camera and, after quick adjustments to exposure, via manual metering, focus and framing the shutter was tripped. The picture, and the event, were completed within a few short seconds.

So, why I do very little candid photography, it can be a very enjoyable and invigorating experience. It does feel good to be able to anticipate and then record a moment in time.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru