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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Don't forget to look back.

When you're trying to explore a photographic subject in-depth not every image is going to be a masterpiece. But that's OK. What you're aiming to do is create a complete picture of a place, or an experience, so that people who weren't with you can travel through your pictures.

To do that effectively you need to show the story from start to finish. One of the best ways to do this is to remember to look back over your shoulder. When you're faced with something as beautiful as the Taj Mahal it's pretty hard to remember to look at anything else.

But when you first take off your shoes and head on up the steps, if you look back you'll see where you come in. Now I'd never seen a photo of anything else in the Taj complex apart from the mauseoleum itself so I wanted to show what the entrance gate looked like and where you walked to get there.

Using a slight telephoto makes the gate look relatively large and also shows the masses of people that visit, as well as the lovely manicured gardens. Even though the Taj itself isn't in the picture the famous moat helps place the viewer. As a stand-alone picture it may not be as significant as some of the others but in terms of building a visual story it is vitally important.

Of course another major part of the experience is the people. As someone who spends a lot of their working life photographing strangers, the Taj came as a bit of a shock because everybody wanted their photo taken with me. (Not to mention all the guys trying to chat up my wife!)
I'm used to people coming up and asking me to take their photo but this family all wanted a photo together with me. I guess the strangely dressed white guy was a bit of a novelty.

Anyway after I posed for a photo with every one of them I couldn't resist asking for a photo of my own. Photography 101 says I most probably should have turned them around so that the Taj was behind them and gave a sense of place to the photo but they were so shy about being photographed, and so about to head for the hills that I had to grab a photo quickly before they changed their mind.

So even though the background isn't perfect it's another story building image. Rural Indians travelling great distances in their finest clothes to see one of their national treasures. You can almost see the words 'shy' written in big letters across their foreheads but also see how proudly they're dressed, and even though they're all frowning formally for the portrait you still get a sense of how happy they are to be there all together.


angus said...

That's great advice Paul. Taking photos to tell a story to somebody who wasn't there is definitely a skill. That is something I am aware of but so often get caught up in trying to get the knock-out pic that I forget to take photos of the smaller things around the knock-out subject to tell the story. Simply taking photos of signs can help tell the story back home or provide relevant information for an automated slide show. So much to consider when taking photos!

Paul Dymond said...

Telling a complete story really is a vital part of documentary travel photography. 100 cracker pictures of the one place will be guaranteed to put your audience to sleep but throw in a wide variety of images that really give a feel for where you went will keep the audience begging for more.

Lee said...

Hey Paul - In that group photo is that you in the yellow sarong? Good stuff mate, a great way for us to keep up with your travels.

Paul Dymond said...

Mate you should see me in a sarong. Miss Universe look out. Just gotta wax those legs and I'll be right.