INDIA - Portraits of People
13 Nov 2012
Kristian Bertel's images have been shown as photo essays online - documenting many aspects of the daily life particularly in India.
How would you describe the work you do now...obviously there's a strong reportage / photojournalistic element, but are you involved in the travel world also?
- My photographic angle is mainly documentary. I aim to share the spirit of the places I visit and the people I meet on my journey. Additionally, I would like to customize photography projects with organizations and NGOs. I think these projects challenge me to convey the spirit of their programs, the people involved, and the effects of the programs on their communities through photographs.
How did it start out?
- My photography career began with a small Canon camera with street photography of people in New York and grafitti in Berlin. Later on I began taking photos in India where I focus more on gathering impressions and tell stories. I think photography can have a strong impact on society, and by taking photographs humanity can have a voice in the work I do.
How would you describe your photography style?
- I think it has been developing into travel photography with people in focus. Generally in a portfolio, I think few good photos are better than many average photos. I think, if you want to start a career as a photographer you shall focus on one thing. Shall it be nature photos, shall it be portraits or a whole third thing. I think if a photographer focuses on too many things the photographic signature isn't strong.
What inspires you as a photographer?
- The things I see each and every day. I am lucky to have the opportunity to travel the world finding inspiration in seeing light uniquely falling on landscapes, people, that I come across in my travels. Also I get inspiration from viewing the work of other photographers on sites.
Your thoughts of taking portraits?
- A portrait is, according to what I have learned and as I remember it, a painting, drawing or photograph of a person, often only the face or a description, and when I think of photographing people, I automatically think of taking a portrait. But I think not all people photography is portraiture. A photographic portrait focuses on the person and attempts to convey a physical, spiritual or emotional image of what or who the person is. Of course there is also group portraiture, which is usually an image of a small number of people, such as a team or family portrait. However, people can also be photographed in other ways, where the focus might not be the individuals being photographed, but the social or cultural context fashion, news events, sporting events, etc. or their relationship to the scene in which they are placed.
When you are approaching subjects to photograph, how do you set about it? Do you chat and explain what you're doing? Or take pictures first, ask questions later?
- Usually, I don't ask permission when taking pictures of people. I want to have that sudden moment where the eyes of the subjects meet my camera. Of course on the other side and when there are situations where there is no common spoken language, then I ask through charades. For example, pointing to the camera and then smiling at the person as if to say, "Is it OK?". My general exception is when I take street or market shots from a distance and there are many subjects. But it is always a choice I make on the place and the people I photograph. However, I think portraits often can get a little staged in their expression if I ask permission for a photograph.
Have you encountered any issues photographing your subjects?
- Yes, once a person approached me in Varanasi, and he was angry about why photographers generally always have to photograph the poverty in India.
Is there something you always ask yourself or think just before you press the shutter button?
- The way my mind works, I am usually thinking a few frames ahead of the actual photo I am taking. Whenever we're shooting, I am always thinking with each frame, how can I make this picture better, how can I finish this picture, is this the best I can do? I always think that my images accurately reflect the captured moment in time.
Do you post-process your photos?
- Almost always. I shoot in jpg with the camera set flat, tend to always shoot between 3-4 frames of subject to ensure that I capture what I want in a scene. In the post-processing I try to highlight the person in the image so for instance a disburing background doesn't have so much to say.
What are your thoughts about Instagram, as a way of post-processing your images. Do you think Instagram is meant to be, or will it be out of interest in a couple of years?
- I definitely think Instagram has a huge impact on how people approach photography, and the way people can share something with eachother, which looks beautiful in an instant. On the other hand, I think these 1970's pale looking photos are seen too much everywhere. So I do not use Instagram myself, and I have in this moment no plans about using it.
How have your photography and editing process developed over the years?
- I have been working with photos during my time as a graphic designer, where I made photos ready to be published in magazines etc. The sharpening process is different when editing photos to magazines, because the photos then need more sharpening than photos to the web. For my own photos I only prefer a little sharpening, because I like my photos to have a round and soft look.
What three tips would you share for budding photographers who are interested in pursuing your style of photography?
- Use your eyes when you walk down the streets. The great photographic picture can also be above you, looking out from a window. - Be patient, when you find a subject to photograph but the angle isn't there, then be patient and wait. I often stand in several minutes before a subjects face is in the right position for my photograph. - If you photograph in sunlight go down -1.7 or -2.0 in EV. Too many times I have seen great images, where the white areas of the photos unfortunately are burned out in white.
What do you hope viewers take away from your photography?
- People viewing my photographs will definitely get a story, an overall concept of the situation I have tried to convey. I always try to be somewhat classic, in angles, moments and subjects.
Work by Kristian can be seen here: