Thursday, May 21, 2015

Getting the Pictures – Kristian Bertel – A Photographer Interview

Portrait picture by the photographer Kristian Bertel taken in India
Portrait picture by the photographer Kristian Bertel taken in India.

I came across the incredible India pictures taken by the Danish travel photographer Kristian Bertel. His bold and colorful portraits from India caught my eye online when I was browsing the Internet. So I decided to contact him to hear more about his photographic work. This is an interview by Eric Daniels for FrameWork Photo.

Photographer Interview

Your work is much dependent on light. Can you explain more?
One of my favorite locations to photograph is in India. And yes, the light especially in the early morning and in the late afternoon is this glowing almost orange light. It gives some my portraits an almost movie scene look. There is something in the photographic world we call 'the golden hour', because the contrast is less during the golden hour, shadows are less dark, and highlights are less likely to be overexposed. In landscape photography, the warm color of the low sun is often considered desirable to enhance the colors of the scene.

Picture from a street market in Mumbai in India
Picture from a street market in Mumbai, India.

So, you mean that as a photographer you have to wait to that time of the day to take your pictures. And only take pictures in the golden hour?
No, when traveling it would be a shame not to photograph during the day as well. In India there are so many travel moments during the day that I would not miss to photograph during the day too. In the middle of the day, the bright overhead sun can create strong highlights and dark shadows. The degree to which overexposure can occur varies because different types of film and digital cameras have different dynamic ranges. This harsh lighting problem is particularly important in portrait photography, where a fill flash is often necessary to balance lighting across the subject's face or body, filling in strong shadows that are usually considered undesirable. You have to remember that this golden hours in the morning and in the late afternoon are spending over a very little time, actually a very short time to get the pictures that you want and suddenly it is dark in the evening.

Woman picture from Aurangabad in the Maharashtra state of India
Woman picture from Aurangabad in the Maharashtra state of India.

I can see on your recent pictures that they show a lot of poverty. Howcome?
I have always been drawn to take pictures of daily life, both in the good times and in the bad times. When I walk in a street with my camera I am always on the lookout for something which sparkles my interest. I have developed a more humanitarian approach to my photographic subjects. Where I notice people that are standing out in the street scenery. I'm interested in photographing things which have a story and some great history. For example I find a wrinkled face on old Indian man more fascinating to photograph than a pretty woman. A wrinkled face has a story to tell.

The world outside your own home is so big and so full of life conditions than your own and your own habbits. To travel and to take pictures in some kind of way opens up and broadens my view on the world. I think everybody should have that chance or do that once in a while. To get a little out of your own comfort zone and take the pictures that you really want to take. And for me that is in the incredible country of India, with is mesmerizing culture and cities of millions. Where the daily life is rushing by you with such a variety and in such a massive way that is peaking your senses, which is hard to forget.

Woman and child are walking in the countryside of India
Woman and child are walking in the countryside of India.

So, do you always ask people before taking their portrait?
It is balance I work with, when I'm out in the streets. Sometimes I ask before and sometimes I don't ask before taking the portraits and the pictures. Earlier, I used to think that if you ask people before the photo, the picture will be too staged and to staged to look at afterwards. However, I have experienced that on my latest India journey to Mumbai and Maharashtra, that if you wait the face will be changing in a couple of minutes. A change to the better and to what I am looking for in a great travel portrait. Where the expression is more real and authentic.

So you are looking for pictures where people are not smiling?
When I'm taking pictures in India I work within the same ethical approaches to objectivity that are applied by journalists. What to shoot, how to frame and how to edit are constant considerations. Photographing poverty is one of the most ethical things I as a photographers have faced. As a traveling photographer and as some of my pictures are photojournalistic motivated I have a moral responsibility to decide what pictures to take, what picture to stage, and what pictures to show the public. I have experienced that some controversy is arising among poeple from India when my photographs only are showing poverty.

Picture of poverty in India which is photographed in Mumbai
Picture of poverty in India which is photographed in Mumbai.

Do you have an advice for photography beginners?
Yes, one of my advices is that you have to stick to what interests you to take pictures and where you find your passion. As a beginner in a photography it is important to try out a lot of things, to photograph a lot of different things. After a while I recommend people to then try to find their own specific path in photography. You can decide if it should be travel photography or other kind of fields of photography. And when you have you have found your field then develop yourself in that field. Always try to get better each day. But also respect and know that your interest and field of photography naturally can change over the years.

What I also see is that beginners are all very focused on having the right gear and the right camera. Of course a good camera is important and how you technical use it, but over the years it all ends up with how you see things through the lens. You can use all your money on an expensive camera, and still take bad pictures. What matters and what counts is how you are getting the pictures that people want to look at and to return to look at. Something that moves the viewer and something that can make them think about your picture.

So, how are you getting the pictures you are talking about?
One of my conclusions so far is that it is not in my home country I can always get the pictures I want. And that can also be a good lesson for other photographers. If you are out of photographic inspiration where you live, then traveling is the way. By traveling you see and can get pictures of things, people, landscapes and historical monuments that you do not see everyday. My camera bag is almost full of dust when I'm home, and I hardly photograph anymore in my own country. You can say it is sad that I don't photograph all the time, but I use the time when I'm home to edit my pictures and to read travel articles to know more about the world. When I'm out in the field in India I carried two cameras one with a wide angle lens and one with a telephoto lens. When the photographic moment is just in front of you, the time to change lenses can ruin the moment of the picture in that specific situation. Another thing is that I use a lot of time on research before I go to an area or a neighborhood in India. And use my time on the location to wait and I examine from where I best can get the pictures.

And I also think about getting the pictures from different angles, so I have something to choose from when I'm going to pick out the photo from that specific scene I want to edit. I click a lot of pictures of the same subject so I'm sure that I have what I want. For instance it can be picture number seven which has something. It is not about closing eyes on the pictures. Even though the first six pictures are allright there can be something extraordinary in the expression of the seventh picture that leaves an impression on me. But of course there can be moments where you don't have the ability to take several pictures of the same subject. Then you just have to hope for the best and that have got the picture that you want.

All the pictures in this blog post are kindly borrowed by the photographer with his permission. If you are interested to see more pictures from India by the interviewed photographer, you can visit his website here:
Kristian Bertel | Photography

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