A Moment Of Color in Kolkata

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 photos. But what’s meant by the term candid photo and how does it fit into your own approach to photography?

For the sake of this discussion let's refer to a candid photo as a single image, made within a fraction of a second, that successfully records an important or interesting moment from an event as it happens.

That moment may explore concepts such as relationships, feelings, mood and atmosphere.

Alternatively subjects like movement, solidity and heat or elements of composition such as color, shape or form could also be explored.

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 Afraid To Make Photos?

While a truly candid moment might make for a great photograph, to my way of thinking they rarely do.

I think 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.

My own thinking is that more directed, interactive images can exhibit the same qualities or sense of moment as a, so called, candid photo.

What’s more I 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.

River Taxi, Kolkata, India

About To Travel?


Shiva and Beyond | A Kolkata Photo Walk

And that's exactly what happened 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 to 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 was 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?

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.


A dignified black and white portrait of a gentle soul in Kolkata, India.


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 previous few weeks had been based around landscape photography 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 Photographers’ Mindset

So, here I was, in the hot, dusty, crumbling chaos that is Kolkata. I was hot and tired, but also inspired.

I knew the experience of exploring the backstreets of Kolkata would be enough to motivate me to make great photos.

With motivation shyness disappears and confidence rises, as does energy.

But it was still really hot.

I decided to move into open shade where I'd be more comfortable and the light more flattering on the faces of those good folk I wanted to photograph.

As soon as I got out of the sun I stopped moving and began to smile as a whole stream of potential photographic opportunities started to appear.

How To Make A Great Composition

The subject matter was everywhere. It was simply a matter of constructing an interesting and cohesive composition.

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 I found arranged in a triangular formation.

I noticed that the man in the centre of the group was about to pour a drink from a vivid green jug.

I instantly recognized that jug would be the key design element around which the rest of the image would form.

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.

Is Street Photography For you?

The early evening light was beautiful, the overall design of the image strong and the human element interesting and well placed within the frame.

However, timing was going to be critical to the success of this image.

Walking along the street I could see a range of interesting compositional elements on the other side of the road.

What I needed was for them to come together to form a cohesive and harmonious composition that would underpin the event or story that was about to unfold.

Photography and the Need for Speed

Anticipation was key. I moved into position and, before you could say Kodak Moment, up came my camera.

After quick adjustments to exposure, focus and framing the camera’s shutter was released. The picture, and the event, were completed within a few short seconds.

While I do very little candid photography, it can be a very enjoyable and invigorating experience.

It does feel good to be able to anticipate, observe and record a moment in time, as it unfolds in front of you.

That experience is at the heart of street photography.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru