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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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