Tag Archives: India

Making Eyecandy

A limited color palette can work well in a photo.

Like everything in photography, shooting in color is a decision. That sounds weird, right? After all, the world is in Technicolor and we can’t really turn all the color “off.”

Color has emotional content. We use it a lot in the ways we express our feelings. “Red as a beet” for both embarrassment and anger. “Blue” when we’re sad. “Green with envy.” Our perceptions of color reach far beyond just what color something is. We can add impact to a photo when we use color effectively.

Green is a soothing color.

Farmer and beautiful ricefield, Vietnam.

Some colors are cool—the blue-green part of the color spectrum. These colors are usually soothing. Photos that are mostly blue or green, such as this photo of lush forest around a beach in Krabi, Thailand, exude a sense of calm. The second photo, of a farmer walking across a rice field in Vietnam, is mostly green, and the blue shirt of the farmer gives the color palette in the photo unity. The yellow, although it should intrude on the cool color palette, instead serves to punctuate the blue and green and it also helps give the photo a three dimensional feeling, acting as a gradient running from foreground to background.

A limited color palette can work well in a photo.

The other end of the spectrum—the red-yellow part, are the warm colors. Reds, yellows, oranges are fiery, aggressive colors and we associate them with like feelings. This photo of a swami in Rajasthan, India, is full of red and yellow. The walls, the clothing of the swami, even the ground have reds in them. I think this image works because all the elements in it contain similar hues. This harmony then allows the content of the image to pop out—the humor in the pose of the swami, and the self-deprecating smile on his face, playing with the photographer and the situation.

Morning light at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.

A sense of harmony in this shot from Siem Reap comes from the narrow color palette. The browns and yellows give the photo unity, and since everything is golden from the early morning light, even the green leaves in the photo are tinged with yellow.

But we can’t always photograph still objects, such as Angkor Wat and fallen leaves. A lot of travel photography is of people. One of the most used “tricks” of shooting travel portraits is to find a great background, wait until someone interesting walks past it, and shoot. Usually this strategy produces some gems. But after finding this wonderfully colorful wall in Saigon, Vietnam, I waited and sure enough, a girl in the traditional ao dai dress walks by. Click. Now I look at this photo and think, would it work better as a black and white photo? The clash between the purple tinge on the girl’s dress and the red, yellow and green of the wall might be distracting and does not add to the photo.

Girl in traditional dress in Saigon, Vietnam.

Another photo I think might work better in black and white is this one of a boy surrounded by his family at a market in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and they are all wearing striped shirts. The stripes on their shirts frames him, and I originally shot this in color but again wonder if the color does not really add to the photo at all.

A photo that might work better in black and white.

Sometimes, when the most compelling elements in a photo are lines or shapes, it works better as a black and white image.

Making a color image is a matter of decisions the photographer makes. Since the goal of capturing an image is to create order out of chaos, to somehow arrange the elements of a scene into a harmonious design, we can’t ignore the fact that there are ways to use color in achieving an image.

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Desert Lines

Blind matriarch, Rajasthan India. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

We drive all night from Mumbai airport, stopping only for warm chai to wake up, at a tea shop with a dirt floor and truck drivers clutching cups of chai, swarmed around a 14-inch television showing city soaps. In the morning, we are in Rajasthan. In the early morning mist, a camel and his mahout stop as the sun rises, a silhouette in the dust. We stop to negotiate for some camels to ride into a village in the Thar desert, East of Pakistan.

Mahout and camel, Rajasthan India. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

The saddle of my camel has raw pieces of silver in its horn, where the metal stuck to the pommel has peeled off in jagged edges. As the heat rises, shambling along the sand, I notice my hands begin to bleed from cuts. I think of tetanus briefly, but it is a distant notion, and I give it little thought as the sun climbs higher and the heat seeps through my scarf and alights upon my nose. A camel in the group has a cold and sneezes into my friend’s backpack.

In the village, the children crowd around us and our cameras. A girl with hair stiff from the dust and too little water stands leaning on a wall and stares brazenly into the camera. They are curious, and we do not share a language. Their chatter sounds like a hypersonic version of the ghazals I’ve heard on CD—literary in its cadence, almost like a song, with whispers of a prayerful love. I bask in the poetry of noises I do not recognize but strangely, understand with my heart.

Later the mahouts wave us over for lunch. Onion and potato curry over rice.

Women gather firewood, Rajasthan India. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

“Does the rice taste crispy or crunchy to you?” asks Karin. I nod, perplexed. The curry is hot and delicious. Just that strange crunch with every bite.

After lunch, one of the mahouts gathers the dishes and cleans them with sand. We put away the dishes and drink some water, taking care not to waste a drop.

A woman comes out of one of the earth houses and grabs my hand, chattering. I follow her with my camera and she takes me to her mother, her blind mother, gestures for me to take her photo. I don’t know if I can send them a print of this shot—do they even have addresses, here in the desert without streets? I take the photo, show it to her whole family. I get happy smiles in return. They want to see the photo over and over.

My male companions have to stay outside because they aren’t allowed to enter the women’s section of the compound. They stand around with the men, smoking cigarettes, laughing over something they didn’t need language to understand. When I join them, the men want to see the photos of the women, and I oblige, showing them the photos from inside the women’s compound. Somewhere a baby begins to cry, a woman coos to it.

Blind matriarch, Rajasthan India. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

We pile back on to our camels and begin to trek again. The camels have a mind of their own. Sometimes they want to stroll, and each step feels like forever punctuated with a bump. Other times, the camels jog, and talking, our teeth clack against each other. My friend and I sing syncopated love songs on our camels to pass the time, laughing at all bits made strange by the camels’ rhythm. Soon, the sun is almost gone, the breeze has come, and the temperature change is evident in the way we have gathered our winter coats around us and fallen silent.

The moon rises over the Thar Desert, and we camp out, in the middle of all that sand, no street signs to tell us which way was Pakistan and which way was India. The dinner feels gritty, the water is sweet, and the men sing like poets.

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