Making of 40 Photographs #3

This is #3 in my series 'Making of 40 Photographs'. Sometimes, you can get a photograph to tell a story much easier than the spoken or written word. So in that sense, it's going to be a bit of an uphill struggle for me to write about this one.

This was photographed at the Taj Mahal. It actually 'is' in the frame, but you can't see it due to the amount of early morning thick smog that descends upon the monument each evening.

I came here three times, and each morning I was never alone. With easily 1000 visitors at the gates for 6am, I felt defeated in my effort to get an isolated shot of this place, but the smog turned out to be a blessing.

At each end of the main mausoleum (the white building we all consider the Taj Mahal) are two red sandstone buildings. I was spending some time in these watching the smog swirl and drift into the arch ways and had been attempting to capture people's silhouettes as they came and went. To no avail because I was using my Mamiya 7. It's a terrific camera, but it's not fast. The lenses are f4.5 at the fastest aperture and I had been prohibited in taking in a tripod or monopod to the area by the security guards.

Sometimes you can visualise something happening before it does. I'd noticed this group of tourists wandering around the red sandstone arch ways and eventually they walked out into the open air. I followed them and noticed them all looking in the same direction. I knew they weren't looking at the main mausoleum - it's to the left of them, but for some reason they were all staring into the same immediate distance. I 'saw' this composition forming and it was a quick moment as I re-focused the camera and placed them to the bottom left of the frame.... they're looking right, so they 'should' be at the left of the frame looking 'into' the frame.

But although this image gives the impression of them looking for a hidden Taj Mahal, it's not really what they were doing. But the point is, before I told you that, it's probably what you felt the shot was about.

I took advantage of the quality of the air, the lack of visibility and the abundance of space and 'nothingness'.

Sometimes the simplest scenes are the best. There's not a lot going on in this shot at all, but I feel it's to it's merit rather than its detriment.

In terms of technical data for this, I knew the fog was causing a lot of 'internally reflected light'. All cameras are dumb. A meter wants to turn anything it sees 18% grey. So I added a stop or perhaps 2 stops compensation. One way to know how much to apply is to simply point the camera at the subject, take a reading, then point it at something you 'think' is mid grey and note the difference in stops. I wanted to keep the intensity of the smog's brilliance, so I over-exposed. My recollection of just how much - I can't remember, but I tend to err on the side of 1 stop. However, this was shot on negative film, which has a very wide latitude, so I wouldn't be surprised if I had over-exposed it at +2 stops. No grad filters used, and I shot the lens wide open - there's only one focal plane in the shot, and I wanted to ensure I got a sharp picture.

Bear in mind when you over-expose, the shutter speed gets slower, so you really do need to open up the aperture to keep the shutter speed from going below the threshold of what is possible for a hand held exposure. I was shooting the 80mm lens. The text books tell you not to shoot below 80th of a second for this mm, but the camera is a rangefinder with a tiny shutter in the lens. It's practically silent as well as vibration free. So I can often hand hold well below 80th of a second.