Portrait of A Shopkeeper In Kolkata, India

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

The history of Kolkata is long and rich with lots of fascinating sites, both religious and secular, to photograph.

What’s more, as the population of Kolkata is in excess of 5 million people, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to make creative portrait photos in this massive and cultural rich city.

The Beautiful Quality of Light at the Edges of the Day

One of my favourite photography challenges is to work under low light conditions at the edges of the day.

Have you noticed how, in the early morning and around dusk, time seems to move at a different pace and the act of photography can become a meditative and transforming experience.

Turn on, tune in, drop out.
— Timothy Leary

The soft, ethereal quality of light at these times of day is key and an abundance of opportunities await the photographer tuned into the light and the environment in which they find themselves.

It's no coincidence that many of the great photographs exploring The Human Condition or the beauty of our natural world are made under such conditions.

Making an Environmental Portrait

The photo at the top of this post was made while on a self-motivated photo walk around the back streets of a famous and popular Hindu temple in Kolkata, India.

It’s really an Environmental Portrait in so much as it depicts someone in an environment to which they seem to belong.

I made the image with my then Canon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 24-105mm f/4 L series lens at a focal length of 32 mm.

As the light levels were low I increased my camera’s sensitivity to ISO 800 to achieve a 1/13 second shutter speed.

As I feel the addition of flash to be inappropriate when producing this kind of intimate image, it's important to be able to hold the camera still at such a slow shutter speed.

As well as gathering light, the relatively wide f/4 aperture helps to deemphasize the background by producing a relatively shallow depth of field.

Working in close further decreases depth of field and provides a more interactive experience between the photographer and subject, and also for the viewing public.

A retailer, amidst a sea of color, in his store in Kolkata, India.

Different Ways to Photograph an Environment

For the second image I zoomed out to 24 mm for a wider angel of view. This allowed me to show much more of the shopkeepers environment.

It’s still an environmental portrait, but the size of our subject’s face and the prominence of their surroundings has changed.

Which photo is best?

I think it’s subjective and, possibly, dependent upon the context each image is shown in.

What’s interesting is that, by varying your approach to the way you make your photos, you’re able to tell the story in a variety of ways.

River Taxi, Hooghly River, Kolkata, India

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Why We Need To Be Positive When Making Photos

I’d say the whole process of gaining permission to photograph the shopkeeper and create the images was completed within 2 minutes.

I then thanked the gentleman and continued on my exploration elated by my success.

This degree of positivity makes it so much easier to tune into the moment between events, where the opportunity for great street photography so often resides.

Thank you Kolkata!

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru