INDIA: A Photographer's Paradise
This article was first published online in March, 2019 by Outdoor Photographer magazine.
By David Samuel Robbins
India is more like a constellation of many smaller countries, each unique and fascinating in its own way, each with its own distinctive landscape, culture, and ancient history.
The Gatekeeper. Castle Mandawa, Rajasthan.
PHOTO NOMAD TOURS has been operating small group photography workshops in India for over 10 years. We are both experts and lovers of this amazing country and have perfected our itineraries over time, to provide an unforgettable cultural adventure and fantastic photo opportunities.
For all of India’s diversity, there are also similarities found in all of our programs: stunning landscapes, incredibly ornate temple architecture, vibrant color everywhere, world-class street photography and environmental portraiture and some of the most photographer-friendly people on the planet.
At the same time we are exploring these amazing places together, we are also striving to challenge ourselves creatively and to grow as photographers, to cultivate our own personal vision.
Here are a few of my select images from our two favorite tours:
ULTIMATE NORTH INDIA: Rajasthan, Varanasi & the Holi Festival (February / March 2020)
ULTIMATE SOUTH INDIA+ Kerala, Tamil Nadu + Sri Lanka Extension (February 2020)
Hindu Religious Pilgrim, Varanasi
Varanasi is world famous as an ancient center for spiritual study and devotion. Walking along the Ganges riverbank, I found this man, a Shiva worshipper, observing other devotees taking their ritual cleansing baths in the holy river Ganges.
I chose a shallow focus to preserve sharp detail on the foreground figure, but blur the background figures and boat so they would have a dream-like quality.
Laundry Workers, Varanasi
On an early morning wander down the full length of Varanasi’s famous ghats (the massive stone steps and platforms that contour along the Ganges riverbank), I saw many groups of people doing their laundry. In one place I came across a rack with some elaborately patterned, sheer fabrics drying in the wind, and I shot the silhouetted figures of the laundry workers through the fabric. I chose a fast shutter speed to freeze the fabric, which was softly billowing in the breeze, and a shallow depth of field to emphasize the finely detailed weave and pattern of the fabric rather than the people in the background.
To walk the entire length of the ghats takes several hours, longer if frequently stopping to photograph. Starting at the north, I passed over 80 ghats and saw other foreigners only at the southernmost 10.
Varanasi, like iconically famous travel locations everywhere, has been endlessly photographed, forming a library of predictable visual clichés. The challenge I set for myself—and the support and guidance I offer my students—is to look at things in a fresh way, to find a new and exciting solution to an old and familiar problem.
Restoration Project, Chittorgarh Fort, Rajasthan
The light was terrible that day – a completely flat, milky sky, uniformly overcast.
But the body gesture shapes of the workers on the scaffolding was intriguing, and I noticed that the flock of birds would circle around again and again, and at a certain point they were nicely distributed in the sky around the structure.
I underexposed 2.5 stops in camera and later added the color in post-production.
The very flat lighting that at first seemed discouraging became the basis for a very flat—but very graphically successful—image.
Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan
Sometimes the best shot is in the least likely and completely overlooked location.
Mehrangarh Fort is a massive, sprawling complex of high walls, grand courtyards and inner palaces.
In this small and seemingly uninteresting corridor, I was struck by the beautiful, soft light and the nearly monochrome palette of the stone pillars. I chose a very soft focus for the pillars and sharp focus only on the end of the corridor, where many people were continually walking through.
This image is the best of many shots, the brilliant red of the woman’s clothing contrasting with the muted color of the stone pillars.
Castle Mandawa. Mandawa, Rajasthan
In Rajasthan, many former royal residences of Maharajas and Princes have been converted in to Havelis, fascinating and unique hotels that welcome guests with a mix of historic grandeur and modern amenities.
These massive gates guard the entrance to the Castle Mandawa Haveli. The spikes at the top are to discourage an invader’s elephants from charging through the gates headfirst. Really!
Camel Shadow. Thar Desert, Rajasthan
The “Camel Shot”—without the camel!
The Western Thar Desert in Rajasthan is famous for its gorgeous sand dunes and exotic camel safaris. The classic “formula” shot is the silhouetted camel caravan in profile, orange fireball sun in the background. Yawn. No need to do that again. Here is a new take on an old situation.
The Holi Festival of Color and Love, Mathura, Uttar Pradesh
Of India’s seemingly countless festivals, Holi is perhaps the most exuberant, and certainly it’s most photogenic!
For one week each year, Indians of all social classes and ages “Play Holi” in the streets, dousing each other with colored powders and water.
For this shot I was very close and chose a low camera position to shoot upwards, which, in combination with a shallow depth of field, helped to eliminate much of the distracting background.
Airavatesvara Temple, Darasuram, Tamil Nadu
Rules are made to be broken.
In this high contrast scene, the exposure was selected to preserve shadow detail in the dark interior. This led to the man at the end of the corridor being very overexposed, and the highlights are badly clipped in the histogram.
Technically speaking, this exposure is “wrong”, but the impression of the figure being ghost-like or dissolving in to light is what makes the image evocative.
The Ganga Aarti Ritual Performance, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
Every evening of the year, without exception, the young Hindu priests mount their platforms at Dashashwamedh Ghat on the banks of the holy Ganges river and perform an astonishing, tightly choreographed offering of prayer, song, fire and smoke to the sacred river.
This handheld shot would not have been possible before the advent of high ISO / low noise digital sensors, used in tandem with image stabilized lenses and camera bodies.
Unless otherwise noted, all text, photography, cartography and graphic design is © copyright David Samuel Robbins / Photo Nomad Ventures, Inc. All rights reserved. Except for personal reference, no reproduction in any medium is allowed without advance written consent. We vigorously monitor and protect our intellectual property rights.