Meditating on the banks of the Ganges

Varanasi, India - 2014 | Panasonic GX7, ISO 250, 12-35mm, f/2.8 at 35mm, 1/3200s

Background story

Almost everything has been photographed in Varanasi, India. You could even say that the whole idea of photographing in Varanasi has become a bit of a photographic cliché. My personal challenge in this amazing, so often photographed place was not only to find something visually interesting, but, something that was either a little different or unusual, or had some magic, some life to it. 

After absorbing the existing imagery from places which have been photographed as much as Varanasi, you start to almost subconsciously search for the familiar and react to it. You recognise things and think. This is such and such. This falls into a particular category. I should make a photo now, or, I shouldn't make a photo of this because it doesn't fall into a category that I recognise. Of course if we follow this kind of thinking, we'll get easily trapped in just repeating what's been done before over and over. I’ve fallen into the trap many times myself. I was very close to doing it again and not making the image you see here.

The man meditating is actually not your typical Sadhu (holyman). He is a foreigner. He's not the exotic, orange-robed figure that one comes to expect and to photograph in Varanasi. If I were to stumble upon an unexpected situation like this a few years ago, I would have thought - no, this is not Varanasi, not what I came here for and move on. However, now I recognised the potential.

I also immediately saw a lot of potential in the birds. They were getting fed sporadically by pilgrims. If things came together and the birds got airborne, I'd have a very dynamic and lively scene.

Main reasons I think it works

To me the primary reason this image works is the juxtaposition. The man is very still in meditation and the birds are flying/moving through the air. The image is very still and very dynamic at the same time. There's a bit of magic and life to it because it's a moment from life, frozen in time.

@@A photo of life in front of you may very well end up better than your preconceived ideas.@@
— mitchellkphotos

The light fog was quite an important factor too. It made the buildings in the background fade into the distance. This really helped separate the main scene - the man and the birds from the background. It also eliminated the chance of the buildings being too prominent and taking away attention. 

While the image didn't end up being incredibly different in terms of subject matter – it still depicts a variation of a holyman. However, it is somewhat unique because it isn't the typical orange-robed holyman/Sadhu. 

Most important tip

As I mentioned, I could have easily missed out on this photograph. I've come to realise that making images like this one requires an open-minded approach. Walk around the places you intend to photograph. Watch life.  Don't limit yourself to whatever preconceptions or stereotypes you might have in your mind. Make images of what is actually there. A photo of life in front of you may very well end up better than your preconceived ideas.

Spread the word. Ask away and learn.

Since I’ve just launched this section of the website, I’d love to get it in front of as many photo enthusiasts as possible. If you find it useful, I’d really appreciate your help. Please “Like”, “Share” or spread the word however you prefer.

I often get emails with questions about my images. I think it would be so much better if those questions could be asked here, in the comments section. The answers can then benefit everyone.