Making of 40 Photographs #5

This is #5 in my series 'Making of 40 photographs'. I came to people photography late in my Photography. I'd been shooting landscapes since I was 21 (I'm now 42).

I think that this is often the case. Most folks who get into photography start by appreciating landscapes. They're a lot easier to control (to a degree) than people are, and of course, it takes a while to get over the hurdle of asking people too. Not all of us are comfortable getting involved with strangers and I think this is partly due to how we ourselves feel when someone takes a photo of us.

I don't think most folks in the west are comfortable being in front of a camera, so they tend to project that feeling onto their subjects too - similarly, it's often an issue as a photographer because we've not learned how to approach people correctly either. It's an us-them situation most of the time. And it needs to be broken.

So the reason why I want to discuss this image is because it came at the very end of a long afternoon with these two monks at Angkor Wat. We were at a stage where we were on comfortable terms with each other.

I'm always looking for an image, without being too aware of it. I just 'see' something and tend to get an immediate feeling that I need to record it. This is what happened here. We were leaving part of the temple complex and as I turned around, they were just standing there looking at me, framed by the door way. I'm convinced that there is something 'obsessive-compulsive' about the act of photography and I'm sure my mind has to 'put things in place'. Or to 'make a balanced picture' out of what is happening around me. I saw the framed door way, and there were a few things that struck me - the colours were all very complimentary - being primarily a light blue door way and the red of their garments. The background is black, making their garments and the door way more pronounced. And then there are the skin tones. These I feel are only recorded beautifully using Portra 160NC over a digital sensor.

So the shot is about colour and a frame-within-a-frame too. It's very simple really and there's nothing too distracting or conflicting going on. Add to that the warm look on the foreground monk and his calm posture and we have an inviting image.

From a technical point of view, I shot this wide open at f4, standard lens on the Mamiya but I had it tripod mounted. They were happy to wait for me while I set up the tripod and I gestured to them to keep where they were. Some shots require a lot of interaction and guidance by the photographer, and I'm very comfortable in that role these days : I know what I want, and I'm very considerate to my subjects feelings.

I do feel that being a good people photographer is as much about managing the expectations of the subject, and in that point, it will only do you well to build up a rapport with your subjects and be considerate. Don't be greedy. Photography should not be a greedy (acquiring) pursuit, but you should almost feel that you are part of the shot, even though you're not in it.

My subjects after all, are simply reciprocating my own relaxed and friendly state.