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The Idea

From the moment I returned home from Sri Lanka in 2015 I was already thinking of where to go next to continue my photo series of portraits. I have just completed a very well received exhibition of this work in my local area and couldn’t wait to create an equally as exciting new one. I also have an online gallery from my Sri Lanka and India trip. Asia just fascinates me because of the huge culture shock compared to how most of us live so I wanted to try India this time around. India is a lot more spiritual than Sri Lanka so I wanted to see one of the most spiritual places in the world - Varanasi.

In Sri Lanka, I wasn’t fortunate enough to have an assistant with me at all times and when I did have assistance, it was usually my tuc-tuc driver whom I tipped a few extra hundred Rupees to hold my light for me. The down side to my lighting setup was because I was using cheap a flash/trigger system. I had to change the power output manually which sometimes broke the flow of the shoot but it was better than nothing and certainly a good budget way of doing it.

Using flash is my style of capturing portraits 99 percent of the time. I love to create drama in my portraits or at the very least, keep the sky correctly exposed if I’m shooting outdoors so that’s why I love using flash for most of my work. Plus, it looks pretty damn cool.

Planning & Creating The Project

When it came time to decide what gear to take to India, I was fortunate enough to have a friend, Brendan come with me to just be my assistant! I know, how luck was I?! Knowing I had Brendan coming along meant a couple things: I could take a bigger soft box because I know had an extra pair of hands and I could also bring a more powerful flash because Brendan can hold the external battery pack round his shoulder.

The soft box I took with me was a Pixapro 90cm Easy Open Soft box. I literally couldn’t have fit another inch in my hold luggage! As the name suggests, this soft box was easy to open like an umbrella which was vital if was to photograph on the streets of India and make a quick getaway without having to worry about packing away rods etc. This had an inner as well as an outer diffusion panel to make my images even softer than the ones I was getting in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, I was using a 50cm Westcott Rapid Box with only an outer diffusion panel. So my soft box this time was bigger, which means softer, and had an extra diffusion panel… even softer’er haha

The flash I used was a Pixapro Hybrid360 ETTL flash which was a lot more powerful than the flashgun I was using in Sri Lanka. As the name states, it’s the hybrid between a flashgun and a studio strobe. It basically looks like a flashgun on steroids! The trigger system was also from Pixapro, which was there ST-III C TTL Speedlite Trigger.

I used this trigger because it supports High Speed Sync, allowing me to shoot at shutter speeds higher than 1/160th sec with flash. I knew I was going to need this feature if I wanted to get a shallow depth of field photographing in the 40-degree heat.

Every part of my lighting system was an improvement from my Sri Lanka trip because I wanted to up my game and try a bigger and better set up.

As most photographers may know, the best times and the only times I really photographed was at the start and end of the day as the sun was either rising or setting. To achieve this, our routine was 4:30 wake up call, scope our location/subject, shoot the sunrise at 5:30, back to hotel to eat breakfast, go back to sleep, chill till the evening and then shoot around sunset time and then do it all again the next day. Shooting in the middle of the day was the worst time to attempt to photograph because of the angle of the sun.

The golden hour as photographers like to call sunrise and sunsets are the best times to shoot. The advantage of shooting at these times is you can use the sun as a second source of light even though you only have the one flash with you. I always like to have my subjects in front of the sun so the sun can backlight or sidelight my subjects.

I wanted to capture a mixture of working individuals around the city including locals Sadus and Monks. Most of the images I captured was across the Ganges River which is where a lot of locals gather every morning at sunrise to welcome the new day. It’s also where they have an open cremation ground where anyone can watch. I was speechless. The camera I used was a Canon 5D Mark III with an array of different lenses including 16-35mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4 and the Sigma 35mm f/1.4.

The key for this trip was to travel as light as I possibly can. Every bit of weight counts so only the necessities came. The hybrid flash and all my lenses and camera body went in my hold luggage, as I didn’t want any of that gear going under the plane through risk of damage. Plus, you don’t want to have to lug around all your gear on your back anyway if it’s not all needed. Only take what you really really need!!

Project Results

This trip overall was absolutely amazing. I truly believe the only reason the images look as good as they do is down to the lighting. Not the camera, or the lens used but the lighting. For me, the lighting is worth so much for than the camera or lens you’re using.

It doesn’t matter how expensive your camera or lens is, if the lighting is poor, the shot is poor. Lighting is everything! Using a single flash opens a huge window of creativity and the ability to control and balance your ambient with your flash. I can turn a flatly lit sky into a dramatic moody portrait using a flash and underexposing the ambient making my subject stand out from the background. Like I said before, it looks bloody cool too! aha

Varanasi, India [BEHIND THE SCENES]