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Elbow angles

Women walk home after a day of working in the fields near Poonthandalam, a village in the southern India state of Tamil Nadu.

Photography is about hard work and persistence, but also a bit of luck. Here’s an image from a 2010 assignment in Tamil Nadu, in southern India. I was in the small village of Poonthandalam, photographing some children in a church-sponsored after school tutoring program. It was late in the day, nice light, and interesting subjects. The class took place on the porch of a building, so I could see the animals and carts going by. Out of the corner of my eye I saw some women with stuff on their heads walk by, heading directly toward the setting sun. My brain, whose synapses were working better than usual because of all that spicy Tamil food, immediately sent out the alert. “Photo op! Photo op!” accompanied by that loud claxon like in the movies when a submarine is about to dive. (Eat a lot of curry and tamarind and your body will start making all sorts of strange noises.) So I went running up the road, past the women, who were laughing for some reason, perhaps because this sweaty, camera-laden foreigner was running by them, the sound of a submarine claxon emitting from his ears. Anyway, I got enough in front of them so that I could use the long glass (that’s photographer talk for that heavy 70-200 f2.8 telephoto I carry around), and began to capture images of them walking toward me. What works here is two different factors. One, they’re walking into the setting sun, and if you’ve ever hung out with a photographer for more than one beer, you will have heard of the golden hour, blah, blah, when the sunlight is close to horizontal, so eyeballs emerge from the shadows and the temperature of the light takes on this nice warm character. But also, in this particular frame, the angle of the woman’s arm, echoed in the woman behind her, makes for a nice geometry that gives the image a bit more visual interest. The shallow depth of field keeps your focus on the woman in front, while leaving the second woman in a sort of fuzzy supporting actress role. Four or five clicks, an enthusiastic Nandri — thanks. Some shared smiles. And then back to the kids.

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