Images of India

You’ll all be aware I am no stranger to tramping the streets of a foreign country in search of (hopefully) interesting photos. But my recent trip to India was a holiday pure and simple, so for a change I travelled light. Just my mirrorless R6 and four lenses. I know four lenses doesn’t sound exactly light, but for me it was. I generally only carried two in a small bag while out, and actually one lens, my 85mm, didn’t even get a look in once. Mainly because I found myself less interested in close portraits, and more fascinating by people in their environment. The truth is, probably 90% of my images were shot either on a 16-35mm lens or a 50mm. Why? Simply because the bustling, chaotic streets of india seemed to suit it better – especially the narrow backstreets of Old Delhi.

This week, I thought I’d pick 10 shots from my visit to Delhi, Jaipur, a small village called Barli, and Jodphur to explain the thinking behind each photo. I should point out, that as a whole, I eschewed the more obvious ‘tourist’ spots and looked for interesting ‘life’ going on in out of the way places. Fortunately, this also suited Amanda (Mrs James), so didn’t impact on our trip. Not everything is about photography, but in somewhere as crazy and lively as India, it sort of is. Even when you’re not trying to take photos, you find yourself in a situation where it would be criminal not to take a few!

Lastly, before I launch into the photos, I have to say the people of India were among the most friendly and open that I have experienced.

1 Dark alleyways, Old Delhi
50mm Sigma lens, f/2.8, 1/60sec, ISO 800

I took this on my second evening in Old Delhi. The first night I had a walk around and took some average ‘snaps’ but I think you need to soak up the atmosphere of a place to start to find interesting visuals. The Old Delhi alleyways are narrow, and full of people and mopeds travelling too fast. I actually preferred them after dark when a bit of the chaos died down, but you could look for pockets of artificial light to illuminate the scene. I used the dirty parked moped as my foreground, then framed up so there was a sense of the alleyway wrapping its way through the image. The moving moped and man crossing the road gave me some extra layers of activity. It’s gritty, which I like!

2 Jama Masjid Mosque, Old Delhi
50mm Sigma les, f/5.6, 1/2000sec, ISO 200

The Jama Masjid Mosque dominates Old Delhi and was built by Shah Jahan using red sandstone and marble. When we visited there were a lot of tourists about so the camera stayed put a lot of the time, but this area caught my attention. I needed to lurk for quite a while before I got a tourist-free photo, but I think it was worth it. The light was overcast but strong, providing a great contrast on the marbled floor. Light and shade always help to create something striking when you’re concentrating of architectural elements. Using the 50mm meant no issues with distortion of the verticals. It’s a simple, but I think effective photo.

3 Bangle-making, Jaipur
50mm Sigma lens, f/4, 1/200sec, ISO 400

I sat watching this chap as he made a bangle. Amanda bought a couple, but I felt they didn’t go with my complexion so gave that a miss. However, I was fascinated by the skill and dexterity he showed when creating each one. A wider environmental shot wasn’t working, so I decided to concentrate on just his hand. At this point, he was just heating some wire in the foreground charcoal. Shooting at f/4 provided just enough detail in the hand, but simplified the shot by dropping the background out of focus.

4 Elephant at Amber Fort, Jaipur
Canon 70-200mm lens at 185mm, f/5.6, 1/500sec, ISO 400

Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and is known as the pink city. Personally, I think they’ve labelled it wrong, as it’s more terracotta than pink. However, it is still beautiful. We visited the Amber Fort, which is an impressive place, but very touristy, making it nearly impossible to get something beyond a holiday snapshot. For most of the time I just used my iPhone, but looking down I was able to watch the elephants that bring lazy-arsed tourists up to the fort. I prefer my elephants in the wild, so was rather conflicted about this, but was assured by our guide that these particular elephants are well-looked after and were not expected to work after 11am. I can’t verify the well-looked after bit, but sure enough once 11am came, there were no more elephant rides. Getting a clean shot of them was tricky, so I pulled the 70-200mm out for a rare outing to try to isolate one on its way home. I thought it looked better without the aforementioned tourists on the back, plus I rather liked the fact the mahout was driving and texting on his mobile phone simultaneously. A mix of old India and modern India in one frame.

5 Building site, Barli village
50mm Sigma lens, f/2.8, 1/2000sec, ISO 400

I chanced upon these two lovely ladies as I walked around a rural village and, as it often the case in India, they asked me to take their picture. That was handy, since I liked the combination of the red brick colour and the front woman’s clothing. I wasn’t so convinced about the suitability of her footwear on a building site, but who knows, maybe they are safety flip-flops? Using the 50mm allowed me to put her in some context, and I thought her friend getting in on the act gave the photo some extra depth. Shame she hadn’t followed the colour toning though!

6 The ladies, Barli village
16-35mm lens at 25mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO 800

This was another case of being summoned to take a photo! I didn’t need asking twice because the colours were fantastic. The combination of the hot reds, pinks, purples, and yellows, against the cooler blues of the building really makes it pop. Interestingly, the lady looking away was smiling at the camera in the first two frames, but I chose this one because her body position adds a slight tension to the narrative. Obviously, there wasn’t a great amount of communication between us, but I showed them the picture on the back of the camera and they seemed delighted!

Oh, and here is a behind-the-scenes photo captured by my trusty sidekick, Amanda. Note, I got the memo about a colourful top.

7 One dog town, Barli village
16-35mm lens at 20mm, f/8, 1/1000sec, ISO 800

Getting an empty street scene in India is a tough ask, but I somehow managed it in this photo, except for the dog who obligingly posed for me framed by the blue door. It was the criss-crossing yellow flags I liked, as well as with the colours and textures of the foreground building. Everything was delapidated and apparently crumbling, yet it was still beautiful – an odd contrast but typical of India. I took this quite wide so there was some wide-angle distortion which has been rectified in Photoshop using Transform.

8 Drying day, Jodhpur outskirts
50mm Sigma lens, f/4, 1/2000sec, ISO 100

Colour is such a vital component of Indian life that it was great to visit a site where they dried the recently dyed materials by stretching them out on the ground. Even though we were early, the sun was already relentlessly bright. I didn’t use a polariser, partly because it may actually have over-saturated the already incredibly vibrant colours, but also because I forgot to bring one. To be honest, the second reason was probably the influential to my decision-making. The fact is, for 15 minutes I just watched. I was at a loss how to photograph such a big scene with all that colour. In the end, I decided I wanted to show movement because the strips of cloth on the ground were a bit boring. The people doing the laying out thought I was very amusing but were very chilled about me photographing them. This shot wasn’t deliberately taken on the ‘wonk’, but I haven’t straightened it as I like the dynamic it adds.

9 Feeling blue, Jodhpur old city
16-35mm Canon lens at 16mm, f/6.3, 1/60sec, ISO 800

Possibly my favourite photo from this selection of 10. It was taken in the old part of Jodhpur, known as the blue city. I could have spent a lot longer there as there was potential on every corner. I found this chap by chance. He is an ‘ironer’ – in other words he spends most his day inside that room behind him ironing peoples’ clothes. Amanda considered offering him a contract to do our ironing, since apparently my aptitude for ironing is closely aligned with my understanding of nuclear physics. In other words, non-existent. As you can see, this is a very wide-angle environmental portrait. I chose to shoot it like this because I felt the blue surroundings, particularly the steps, suited it. This shot is best viewed high resolution because the detail in the walls is lovely. My ironing man was pretty much in this pose when I found him, and I was delighted he chose not to grin at me while taking the shot. Interestingly, most people didn’t, even though they were always very happy to be asked or had asked me to photograph them. For the record, not a single person said no to me taking their picture when approached.

10 Hot food, Jodhpur
16-35mm lens at 23mm, f/2.8, 1/250sec, ISO 1600

I was deep in my gritty street photography phase when I shot this in Jodhpur’s main market. The place was absolutely crowded, with queues of people lining up to buy whatever was being deep fried in this huge pan. There was very little light as it was nearly the end of the day, and this set-up was also under cover. Of course, what makes it for me is the apparent jet-engine expulsion of flame! When I first arrived here I was more to the right, behind a metal barrier and I was wondering why my knees suddenly got so hot! I chose to shoot this at f/2.8 to limit sharpness because there is quite a lot going on in the scene.

I hope you have enjoyed this small collection of images from my India trip. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Published in Travel
  1. Nice article and photos. I have a nifty 50 but don’t use it enough. I’m always loathed or too lazy to change lens so usually stick with a faithful zoom. However you have inspired me to persevere with my 50mm next holiday. 4 lens on holiday is pushing it too far

    • 4 lenses was a cut-back for me, but yes I take your point. The 50mm is a really useful prime to have.

  2. Meeting the people in India was one of the highlights. We were even invited to a villager’s home, introduced to the whole family, and given afternoon tea and shown round the house.

  3. Love these and especially the story behind them. The settings are interesting too – I often tend to have a higher s/s than seems appropriate, but good to see you do too (I know it’s the combination of Aperture and ISO but it was affirming for me)

  4. A great selection of images…brought back wonderful memories. I could almost smell the place!

  5. Great photos, Andrew. I love the fact that you capture the colours for which India is renowned but in the gritty context of their everyday. The decision to show the environment was a good one and makes these images more interesting as a result. As for 50mm prime, I’m wondering why would I buy one of those if I have a 16 – 80 zoom? It’s a genuine question.

    • I think the fast aperture of a 50mm and the look it can give you is worth the investment. You’ll find it more restrictive than the zoom but in many ways that makes you work harder on composition.

  6. Great images and you have caught the atmosphere brilliantly. I feel you have caught the colours and the environment so well and take me back to my visits there – though I had not been to Jodhpur.

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