The number one question I get from photographers and non-photographers alike is how I determine what is a good shot. It’s not something that is an exact science, but to emote genuine feelings to your viewer and have them mentally put themselves in the photograph, you need to find that sweet spot.
Here I detail the process in which how I get that perfect photograph.
I covered a story for the New York Times in Nepal about a local tradition where women on their periods are isolated in a hut away from their families. The practice, Chauppadi, is outlawed by the government as a serious danger to women’s health, however it still happens regularly in the outer reaches of the country. Each year, women die from smoke inhalation and snake bites.
For this story we found a girl who was barely a teenager and was on her period. She was preparing to spend the night in this very small hut. Her uncle who was her guardian consented to us taking her photo.
My storytelling goal was to show how young and vulnerable she was in a tiny space. This wasn’t an shot, there were a lot of variables I had to consider when it came time to telling her story, therefore I had to take several shot from different angles.
- First angle: I liked the outside, but the background was too cluttered and I didn’t think it showed how tiny and bare the hut was. It looked like any other small structure. It also didn’t give a sense of her isolation.
- Second angle: I then tried to show how dark and tiny it was inside by using a bit of depth from the front — but in the end, you can’t really tell what is going on in this picture.
- Third angle A: I then moved inside with the girl to try and show where she would sleep, but again, it wasn’t showing how small this hut was or how smoke-filled it could get.
- Third Angle B: This image was closer to showing more danger to her because you could see how close she was sitting to the fire, but it failed to show what close quarters there were around her.
- Fourth angle: I exited the hut and she sat by the door as the writer chatted with her. This shot is cleaner than the first image, but still gave a sense of smallness. and how the fire inside the hut, which could be potentially dangerous, was glowing in the background. With her body language, the photo also gives the viewer a sense of how young she is and how vulnerable she could be at night.
It was the photo that the editors chose to put on the front of the paper!
Every storytelling goal will be different, but as you can see, my goal dictated how I viewed the different shots. How you find your angle won’t be the same process for everyone, but we visual storytellers, have a duty and purpose to uphold an authentic voice for both the subject and audience.
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