Photographer Nick Fleming recently documented Kumbh Mela, a mass Hindu pilgrimage. He took the time to choose three different lighting situations he encountered on this trip to India, and explained how he adjusted his approach and got the shot he wanted. Here is his story in his own words.
The enchantment of photography for me reveals itself when the magic of light meets the elegance of composition. How the compositional elements within the frame are arranged is very much determined by the style and skill of the photographer; the light though, is determined by time and chance. I am not talking about light that can be switched on or controlled, but purely natural available light, glorious, delicate, and beautiful. Light can transform a scene and make the visual story that much more compelling.
Light that has the power to do this—as we photographers know only too well—can be frustratingly fleeting and ephemeral. That is why when it’s there to be harnessed, we make the best use of it whatever the circumstances. To this end I always use a light meter. It is invaluable in helping overcome those tricky light situations I encounter all the time in the field.
I was in India earlier this year photographing the Hindu festival called the kumbh Mela. It is an event like no other. It is a spiritual celebration, a religious fair and a place of pilgrimage where the faithful come to bathe at the point where two of the great rivers of India, the Ganges and the Yamuna, meet. The crowds were at times overwhelming, but as a photographer, I found myself looking beyond the relentless waves of humanity.
The quieter more intimate moments provided a sense of the personal, a way of getting to the heart of people’s reason for being there and above all a more meaningful, impactful image. These moments were to be found in the early morning and late into the afternoon just when the light was at its most subtle and subdued. The light meter was an essential tool for me to nail the exposure and capture the atmosphere whether at first light near the water’s edge or in the confines of a sadhu’s tented encampment as an early morning ritual was being celebrated.
Sometimes in the early morning thick mist would gather over the Ganges. As the sun rose it would quite quickly start to burn off but before it did so the light was atmospheric and rather wonderful. For this exposure I took an incident light reading as I faced the water and I shot the image at f/11, 1/40sec, ISO 400, 20mm. I took an incident reading and not a reflective because I wanted to retain the mood the mist was providing and not to over accentuate the brightness of the rising sun.
Inside a sadhu’s tent is a private world where Hindu rituals are played out. Not an easy environment to get access to. It is vital to work quickly and with confidence. Hesitation and fiddling about is not looked upon very favourably in these circumstances. I took a spot meter reading with the light meter where the light is falling upon the orange shawl of the person sitting in the background to the right of the picture. The exposure was f/2.8 at 1/30 sec, ISO 400, 28mm. I often find using a light meter in these intimate situations can actually help break down barriers. It seems somehow to set the intention and convey the fact that I mean business. Once the people around me realise this they tend to just let me get on with it, which is my prime objective of course.
Aarti ceremony of fire and light photographed at dusk where the main source of light was floodlights. Again here I took a spot meter reading on the lightest part of the face on the figure in the foreground. He was moving constantly so I had to be accurate as there was a lot of extraneous light poking into the image and the light meter helped with that. The exposure was f/1.8, 1/60 sec, ISO 400, 85mm.
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