The art of seeing #15: Fix your settings before you ask for a portrait

(Image credit: Benedict Brain)
About Benedict Brain

(Image credit: Benedict Brain)

Benedict Brain is a UK based photographer, journalist and artist. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and sits on the society’s Distinctions Advisory Panel. He is also a past editor of Digital Camera Magazine.

This photograph was taken on the remote island of Kitava, part of the Trobriand archipelago in the Solomon Sea, Papua New Guinea. It’s a remarkable and beautiful place. There’s no electricity, running water or amenities, and the small population is largely self-sufficient. It seemed heavenly, although I’m sure there’s more to the island’s story than I discovered in one day.

While I’m often drawn to shoot urban-esque topographies on the fringes of developed areas, I have also started to shoot more portraits. It is, after all, the people and their stories that enrich travel experiences as much as the geography and architecture – if not more so. And I’ve been lucky to meet some amazing people.

I still find it awkward approaching people to take their portrait – even after being
a photographer for years. I don’t know why, because when I do I’m nearly always warmly received. So if you’re traveling, I urge you to pluck up the courage and
ask interesting folk if you can take their portrait. If nothing else, it’s a great way to break the ice, start up a conversation and learn something. My top tip is to make all the technical decisions before approaching a subject, so when they say yes you won’t waste time fiddling with settings.

Weirdly, I chose to render this image in black and white. It was insanely colorful: the green jungle contrasted exquisitely with the red and blue T-shirt and the deeply red-stained teeth (the result of chewing the psychoactive betel nut). Despite this, I felt it worked better in black and white. Perhaps the colors were a distraction from the character of the subject’s face. BB

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Benedict Brain

Benedict Brain is a UK based photographer, journalist and artist. He graduated with a degree in photography from the Derby School of Art in 1991 (now University of Derby), where he was tutored and inspired by photographers John Blakemore and Olivier Richon, amongst others. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and also sits on the society’s Distinctions Advisory Panel.

Until July 2018 Benedict was editor of Britain’s best-selling consumer photography magazine, Digital Camera Magazine. As a journalist he met and interviewed some of the world’s greatest photographers and produced articles on a wide range of photography related topics, presented technique videos, wrote in-depth features, curated and edited best-in-class content for a range of titles including; Amateur Photographer, PhotoPlus, N-Photo, Professional Photography and Practical Photoshop. He currently writes a regular column, The Art of Seeing, for Digital Camera magazine.