Photographing A Big Handed Woman In The Backstreets Of Kolkata

A portrait of a woman in front of a colorful background in Kolkata, India.

I was fortunate indeed to have several portrait photography adventures while in Kolkata (i.e., Calcutta) India. In the case of the above photo I had just finished photographing the gentleman on the bottom right corner of the frame, included in this composition for reasons of fun and balance, when an onlooker (possible a relative) expressed a desire to be in on the action.

A group of kids pose for a photo in an alleyway in Kolkata, India.

Why It's Important To Adapt To Changing Circumstances

A few quick pics of her followed and, before I knew it, a bunch of kids appeared wanting to be in on the action. One of them even led me across the narrow laneway to a small Hindu shrine and then, behind that, into the courtyard of a family home. I made a few more pics in the area and then moved on.

The colors blue and aqua dominate this household courtyard in Kolkata, India.

A Candid Moment In A Formal Portrait

I love the warm/cool contrasting colors throughout the scene and the dominance of her hands in the picture. In the case of a traditional portrait it's normally essential that the eyes are both open and illuminated for the viewer to engage with the subject. But although this photo features a woman as the primary subject, I didn't make the photo for her.

I'm very comfortable making photos of strangers. But I prefer making interactive portraits, rather than candid images of folks I observe through the camera. What I tried to do in this image was to embed a street feel into a formal portrait. I think the slightly chaotic appearance of this highly composed image is representative of the experience of the backstreets of Kolkata and so many other cities in India.

In this case dark shadows mask her eyes and, as a consequence, allow the viewer to journey down the length of her arms towards, what appears to be, strong man-like hands. It's just an ambiguous element within this particular picture that I find pleasing. I hope you do to.

River Taxi, Kolkata, India

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How Your Photos Can Explore Alternate Notions Of Beauty

Is the photo at top of this post beautiful? Well, that's for you to decide. I feel it has a certain, alternate beauty based more on the color palette and physical elements within the frame than any notion of a pleasing likeness of the primary subject depicted.

A young boy holding a lollipop, that matches a similar looking item on his top, in Kolkata, India.

The Worlds Of Documentary Photographer And Photojournalist

While we might now have an idea how to approach this image, compared to a traditional portrait, it might also be worthwhile classifying the image into something a little more tightly defined than a travel photograph. Actually the photo fits into the documentary travel genre which you might like to think of as an artist's alternative to photojournalism.

It's important to understand that, in reality, such definitions are fluid and any apparent demarcation between genres is really only there to help folks understand how to make sense of certain photographs. There are documentary photographers who work as photojournalists just as there are photojournalists who work in the documentary tradition.

The way I like to make sense of it is to think of a photojournalist as a commercial photographer making images, usually on a tight deadline and budget, in line with the needs of an editor reflecting the preferences of a magazine's viewing audience.

A documentary photographer may photograph the same event or subject matter, but will usually undertake to self fund the project without any guarantee of publishing the images via traditional commercial means. Their images, as they are often more personal in nature, are more likely to end up, at the photographer's expense, on a gallery wall.

A Moment In Time, Kolkata, India

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The Commercial Reality Of The Travel Photographer

If you're hoping to make any money from your own travel-based photography you need to work out where your images fit into the greater scheme of things and then explore ways to display, publish and, ultimately, sell them.

If you are commercially minded you will either have to find an audience that's prepared to pay for your own, unique vision of the world or adapt your approach to meet the needs of the market you find yourself working within.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru´╗┐