Yesterday I hired a car and driver for a day tour through the surrounding Udaipur countryside in search of great subjects and locations for my Stroborati environmental portraits. I made sure the driver spoke great English and explained that I needed him to also function as my photo assistant and translator. I also hired a second assistant, an Indian fellow who worked at my hotel. My plan was to move as fast as possible with my lighting configurations and try not to use light stands and setups that would slow me down or attract too much attention in these remote villages, as if such a desire is even possible in India.
I explained my three primary objectives for the day: to find characterful, colorfully dressed local villagers, to photograph them in context with their everyday environments and, most importantly, for my images to honor and respect the pride and dignity of these people.
When I spotted this old wooden bullock cart parked alongside the road, I knew I’d found my first shooting location of the day and I knew it wouldn’t be long before a colorfully dressed lady walked past.
Three Canon Speedlites were used for this setup. All were mobile and all were triggered with Pocket Wizard TT5 radios. On the left side and slightly toward the rear of the lady’s position, one assistant held a 430EX II Speedlite fitted with a LumiQuest snoot. This provided the rim light on the left side of the balanced basket on the lady’s head and on that side of the sari draped around her face. Near camera left my driver held a 580EX II Speedlite fitted with a LumiQuest Big Bounce and I asked him to extend his arm full height. This was the main light and it was positioned to cast minimal shadows on her face from the sari. For both the snoot and Big Bounce I used a LumiQuest non-slip strap for a quick Velcro attachment to the flash head. A Ray Ring Flash fill was mounted on the camera lens. See the setup in the photo below.
You can see how downright simple the lighting arrangement was. The rim light in the distance on the left was the only unit that fired in this setup shot since I hadn’t yet turned on the ring flash fill at camera or the Big Bounce unit. But this makes it easy to see what an available light shot would have looked like with the exception of the rim light on her basket. Notice how much more sculptural the cart and the lady appear in the top photo with all lights tweaked relative to my final ambient exposure setting.
With all three lights mobile each of us could quickly change location and height to rapidly adjust for the lady’s position as I asked her to shift back and forth for my best composition trying to place her in the perfect location relative to the zoom of my wide-angle lens and the bullock cart.
After three or four test frames I zeroed in on an ambient exposure that was down one f/stop. I set the rim light to group “C” and rolled down its exposure two stops. I used my standard A:B ratio of 8:1 for the key light/fill relationship and did some funny facial gestures to elicit a smile. Bingo, two or three frames later and I was done. I showed the nice lady the photo framed in the LCD on the back of my camera. This elicited a very proud smile but, dang it, the camera was being used at that moment for display and I missed her best expression. Nevertheless, I could see she felt honored that a stranger was celebrating her life and this made my day, too. I proffered a fifty rupee note (about one USD) for her time and her grace. Ditto for the old gentleman who owned the bullock cart and who had helped us roll it over to the shade.
Moments later we piled back into the car, I waved goodbye and we rode off into the sunset . . . well, actually it was midday but you get the mood. A very short distance up the road we found another nice lady. I used a similar quick setup sans rim light this time. The Big Bounce was held up high on the right with the Ray ring flash as fill light again.
I wanted a warmer look to match the earthy brick tones but didn’t want to spend time re-rigging all the lights just to add a 1/4 CTO gel so I used Auto White Balance and added the warmth later in Lightroom. I kinked my body in gesture to this lady as an example of how I wanted her to kink her body so that she would loosen up a bit. A funny twist of my face and a warm smile elicited her’s in return. Click, click. BTW, behind this lady the stacked branches are lashed together and the entire assembly swings around to become the front door of her house. Isn’t she beautifully dressed? This is her normal daily attire not just a dressy outfit donned for my photo.
It really doesn’t take long to initiate a heart to heart connection and others can quickly feel our sincerity. Even in just a few moments we can add depth to the experience for everyone. I offered another fifty rupee note and one tossed in for the big group of kids nearby for them to buy some treats. With a warm farewell and a wave of friendship we were on our way once again.
Many might think that just one dollar as remuneration is a bit meagre but not when considering that most people in these outlying villages don’t even make that much for an entire day’s hard labor. I don’t think of this as “payment for services rendered.” Rather, it’s a meaningful exchange of my gift for theirs and a way I can express appreciation for them having shared a moment of life with me.
And so the day continued like this.
Click the photos below for info about some of the gear I used for images in this blog post.