low light photography

My Top Five Low-Light Photographs from India

The Royal Photographic Society Talk

This low light photography from India post came about thanks to the RPS. Back in January, I was invited by the Royal Photographic Society to talk about my travel photography (you can find out more here). This was a huge undertaking, a project that took me literally months to research as it involved going back over 20 years of work. In doing so, I rediscovered some great photos and, with the aid of denoising software, I was able to edit some of my low-light shots that would otherwise have remained hidden.

Since I have these images to hand, I thought it would be fun to post five of these images here, along with an explanation of how they came about. They are in no particular order.

1. Early Morning Majuli

Low light photography of Majuli Island

This photograph, taken on Majuli Island in Assam, has an interesting story behind it, one that shaped my photography technique.

The day before I took this photo, Liz and I had been visiting the local Mising Tribe. By the end of the day, we were hot and tired and ended up at a tea shop. It was here that I placed my camera gear on the table. I was using a sling at the time and didn’t think about the weight distribution of spare batteries in the sling pockets, so it immediately slipped off the table, taking my camera and lens with it. The camera survived but the lens, my beloved Canon 28-70 2.8 L, didn’t. It was broken beyond repair and being so remote there was no chance I was going to get it fixed. The only other lens I had on me was a Canon 50mm 1.8 prime and, out of necessity, this became the one lens I could use for the rest of the trip. The first photo I took with it was the one above, coming second place in the Wanderlust Travel Photography award.

Being forced to use one lens, and a basic prime at that, taught me a lot. It was the first time I had to walk to zoom, but photography purists will tell you this is a good thing. Being stuck at one focal length teaches you perspective and makes you more aware of the potential picture you see in front of you. You very quickly learn what will fit in the frame. If you mainly shoot with a zoom, I cannot recommend enough how forcing yourself to shoot with a prime makes you more focused on finding the right framing before bringing the camera up to your eye.

2. A Holi Ritual

Favourite low light photograph of Holi ritual in India

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Holi, the Hindu festival of Colour, Love and Spring. It is celebrated across India and usually involves lots of paint, but here in the north-west of India young adults take it a step further by running through bonfires! We’d been sharing accommodation with a group of adolescent school-kids who, in the early evening, were encouraged to build pyres and then jump through them. The more ambitious ones attempted two stacks like this chap. One of their teachers explained that the ceremony represented good overcoming evil. I took quite a few fun photos that night but I selected this as my favourite because of the lad’s holy, outstretched arms.

3. Tibetan Illustrator

Tibetan worker in india

We spent quite a bit of time in Darjeeling, in part because we were involved with the Mondo Foundation. Pictured here is a resident of the Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre who illustrates books with water-colours using only the dull daylight coming through the misted windows. The centre specialises in helping elderly Tibetans by training them in a skill that can be monetised. If you get a chance to visit, it’s fascinating.

4. Delhi Tailor

Low light Delhi

Probably my most recognised photograph from India, in part because it was short-listed in the Sony World Photography Awards Low Light category way back when. This was one of my ventures into proper low-light street photography and was really pushing the limits of the Canon 5Dii. The one thing that few people notice when first looking at this image is the woman hidden to the left, glancing up at the camera.

5. Lifeguards, Goa

Lifeguards in Goa

After sailing across the Arabian Sea to Mumbai, Liz and I were joined by friends Katy and Emma, who helped us make our way down the rest of the west coast to Kerala. Sadly, because of problems with bureaucracy, we made few stops. One in a tiny fishing village south of Mumbai, and a second stop at Panjim, in Goa.

In terms of tourism, Goa is about as touristic as you can get, except we were visiting in the off-season so the beaches were pretty empty. That said, they were still monitored by the lifeguards, seen here standing in the setting sun. I particularly like this shot because it captures a typical Indian sunset: one misted in haze and pollution. Many parts of India have a certain light to them and this is typical of that orange light. You simply do not get those crystal clear blues like you do in the Med, unless you’re up in the mountains, and since we spend most of our time at sea-level, this is the kind of light we were used to.

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