The smoker

Rajathan, India 2007 | Canon EOS 400D, 50mm f/2.8, ISO 400, 1/125s

Background story

India has long been considered a photographic paradise. There are so many faces, so many colours, the people are so welcoming. To top it all off, there's really strong sense of culture which is still very much alive and very visual. 

To me a paradise within that paradise is Rajasthan - a state which is even more colourful, more welcoming and more photogenic than anywhere else I’ve been. I've spent quite a bit of time in Rajasthan with my friend and right-hand man Hardik. We've been though countless hours riding a motorbike, exploring villages and searching for photogenic characters.

We met this woman during one of those village explorations. While a particularly friendly local was showing us around the local sights, the most important of which is usually a temple, I noticed her at the front of her house, puffing away at a bidi (Indian cigarette).

The light didn't feel particularly interesting to me in that spot and she had such an incredible face. I wanted to match the drama in her face with a dramatic light. We went inside, where I could have some control over the lighting scenario. I had a reflector. Hardik used the golden/silver side of it to reflect sunlight from the outside into the house through a window. 

Main reasons I think it works

Sometimes a photo is made almost entirely by the person in front of the camera. If you have an amazing character, you pretty much have at least a relatively interesting photo, as long you let that character have a significant presence within your frame. This was one of those cases, but I didn't only let her have a significant presence within the frame. I let her dominate the frame and really went up close on her face. This decision is one big reason behind why the image works.

The other important reason is the light. The photo would have been pretty decent in almost any kind of light. However, to create something a bit beyond the ordinary I accentuated her facial features, her wrinkles, the smoke with the sideways light from the reflector. 

Main tip

@@Don’t get complacent if you have a great subject in front of you. Always think of how you can make the photo stronger. @@
— mitchellkphotos

Don’t get complacent if you have a great subject in front of you. Always think of how you can make the photo stronger.

The framing/composition is always a big part, but don't stop there. Often, it’s also a matter of what kind of light you shoot in. If you’re shooting a portrait, there’s no reason not to tweak the lighting scenario, whether by going indoors and photographing next to a window or taking it a step further and using a reflector or other types of artificial light.

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