Documentary PhotographyPERFECT LIGHTCompelling Authentic Timeless

Bei Bei

This is the follow-up to my previous post 2nd Prize in the Epson/Steve McCurry Photo Competition.

My normal style of photography is as a passive observer of whatever is unfolding before my eyes. I try as far as possible not to “direct” the subjects I’m photographing. I concentrate mainly on composition (mostly by moving around to find the best angle and lighting) and then waiting to press the shutter button at an anticipated specific moment when everything seems to fall into place in the viewfinder.  The camera I used when photographing Bei Bei was a Leica M6TTL rangefinder camera which is totally manual . . . manual focus and manual exposure. I have to set the shutter speed and aperture manually in order to get the correct exposure and then manually focus. I also have to manually advance the film . . . no such thing as “machine gun mode” or “continuous shot mode”, hoping that one of the shots captures the right moment.

beibei-00Bei Bei’s granddad put out her toys in the morning before she arrived

I’m quite selective with what I shoot, so the number of shots I take tends to be low. Looking at my black and white contact sheets, I took only a total of 12 shots that included Bei Bei in the frame (excluding a few family group shots) during the 1 day that she stayed with her grandparents who are farmers. Looking at her granddad’s face and hands you could tell that they were exposed to the sun and soil. The following is a selection of some of the shots I took.

beibei-01When she first arrived, she was a bit shy.

beibei-02She slowly started to warm up to having unfamiliar faces around while she got her milk fix.

beibei-031st shot I took of her and granddad playing. This one won the prize.

beibei-042nd shot I took of them playing. I pressed the shutter when I saw his expression a second or two later. I like his expression here better, but overall the 1st shot was better because of Bei Bei’s position and expression.

beibei-05Resting on granddad’s lap after all the excitement.

beibei-07It wasn’t long before they started playing again. He was chasing her around the courtyard on the little tricycle.

beibei-08Her right rear wheel dropped off soon after which led to the end of the chase.

beibei-06Granddad and Granddaughter.

Shooting with a rangefinder camera which is smaller in size compared to a SLR camera helps a bit in keeping the subjects not too self conscious of me as my camera looks like a point-and-shoot to many of them. I think this was one of the things that helped when I photographed Bei Bei.

One of the things I enjoyed when i was shooting film exclusively was that there was no instant gratification. I never got to see the results of what I took till days, weeks or even months later. There was a certain anticipation,surprise and pleasure in getting back my contact prints and going through the frames I took. Seeing what turned out well in the end and what did not. I’ve since moved to a digital version of my Leica film camera and old habits die hard. I still tend to use the camera as if it was my old film camera . . . the auto preview is turned off permanently . . . I’m still very selective about what shots I take . . . and I tend not to see what I’ve taken till I get home and download the images onto my computer (sometimes days later), hoping I captured the moment. Just the other day, after a pre-wedding outdoor shoot, I was telling my wife, Laura about this habit and she said something like “Nowadays, you can preview your photos straight away, you better use it especially on important shoots like this!”. I might and I might not . . . old habits die hard.