Making of 40 Photographs #8

This is #8 in my series ‘Making of 40 Photographs’. Anchoring a shot is important.

Whilst in Cambodia, at the Angkor wat temple complex, I came across a group of girls who wouldn't leave me alone. I would get my moto driver to stop at a small stall near the royal lake 'Sra Sang' just after sunrise so I could have breakfast, and these little girls would be keen to sell me bracelets and postcards.

The beauty about returning to the same location time and time again is familiarity. Not just by myself, but also from any people in the location - they get to know you and eventually, the get bored of you too.

So that's pretty much how I managed to get this shot. The girls eventually stopped trying to sell me photos and bracelets, and one morning I found a couple of them perched at the edge of Sra Sang, fishing.

So what do I mean by 'anchors' in a shot. Well, every shot needs to have something that links it to the outside world. There is often something in a shot that leads out of the scene, or leads you in. In the case of the photo I'm discussing now, it's the lower part of the scene that has an anchor. The stone pier that the girls are sitting on leads into the frame. But I think why this image works so well is because there are no other anchors. It's disembodied to a degree - the left, right and top edges of the frame have no context so it's easy to feel that the water is actually sky.

I was taken with this when I saw it, but it wasn't until I got home and saw it on a contact sheet that I realised just how powerful it looked, disembodied from the rest of the real world. I didn't really intend it, but the texture of the water - brought about by the texture in the sky being beautifully reflected by the soft morning light works really well.

I shot this image on a little Voightlander Bessa R3a, with a standard 40mm Nocton Single coated lens. I think it was shot at f1.4. I have a tendency to shoot wide open and I think it stems from a worry that hand holding the camera is going to result in a soft image. But it does mean that focusing has to be spot on.

I love the little Voightlander Bessa R3a. The view finder is a 1:1 magnification, so you can have one eye up at the view finder, and the other left open at the same time to watch things come into the scene. However, I felt upon returning home that I was able to get these kinds of shots with my Mamiya 7II, so eventually I sold it off.

I should note that the Mamiya 7II has never been considered a portrait or people camera and I'd agree with that in general. Poor close focusing and slow lenses, but I find that the resolution of 6x7 far makes up for the limitations over 35mm.

Further, I would also add that now I've used something like a 5D for a couple of years, I much prefer 35mm film over a digital sensor. This is not meant as bait to those of you who love digital. It's just my feelings on the matter.