Kristian Bertel | Photography
Archive story
In this archive story we are learning about Portrait photography in India with a photograph from Delhi, India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
In the bustling heart of Delhi, where ancient history meets modern chaos, lies the neighborhood of Paharganj presents a microcosm of Delhi's diverse tapestry. As a portrait photographer, stepping into Paharganj is akin to entering a whirlwind of sights, sounds and emotions. Amongst the lively crowds and vibrant colors, there exists a stark reminder of the city's socio-economic realities.
In the bustling heart of Delhi, where ancient history meets modern chaos, lies the neighborhood of Paharganj presents a microcosm of Delhi's diverse tapestry. As a portrait photographer, stepping into Paharganj is akin to entering a whirlwind of sights, sounds and emotions. Amongst the lively crowds and vibrant colors, there exists a stark reminder of the city's socio-economic realities.
Kristian Bertel, Photographer By Kristian Bertel, Photographer
– Updated on April 11, 2024

Portrait photography in India

Although Delhi is spread out, the areas of interest to travelers and portrait photographers are relatively easy to navigate in India. To the south, you can find the New Delhi train station. Near this station, acting as a sort of buffer zone between the old and the new cities, is Paharganj, jam-packed with cheap accommodation and a good place for portrait photography in India.

What is the focus of portrait photography?

Focus on the eyes. Portrait photos look best if the eyes are in sharp focus. This improves the sense of eye contact between the subject and viewer, creating a powerful and engaging photo. So, when shooting portraits, especially with a shallow depth of field, make sure you set your focus point carefully.

Street sleeping in India is a major problem
Traveling towards the north-west from Connaught Place, visitors will find themselves immersed in the lively streets of Paharganj, a hub of markets, budget accommodations and eclectic eateries. However, it does not take long for the reality of life in Paharganj to make itself known. As the photographer wandered deeper into the maze of streets, he came across pockets of poverty that are impossible to ignore. On a narrow stairway leading to a dilapidated building, he was seeing a sight that stopped him in his tracks – a man, his clothes tattered and worn, fast asleep with a makeshift blanket of old newspapers and trash.

It is was a poignant moment, a stark contrast to the lively scenes just around the corner. As a travel photographer, he is often faced with these moments of duality – the juxtaposition of beauty and hardship, joy and sorrow. In Paharganj, this duality is palpable, a reminder that behind the vibrant facade of Delhi lies a city of stark inequalities and Poverty.

Individuals with rights
Yet, amidst the challenges, there is also resilience and vibrancy in Paharganj. The locals, despite their hardships, greet the photographer with warm smiles and curiosity. Shopkeepers eagerly showcase their goods, inviting the photographer to capture the vibrant colors of their textiles and trinkets. Rickshaw pullers share stories of the city, their voices filled with pride for their home despite its flaws.

Powerful images that tell stories
The photographer's journey began in Delhi, a city of stark contrasts, where ancient monuments stand amidst the whirlwind of modern life. He was setting out early, eager to witness the awakening of Delhi. As the sun cast its golden hue upon the tin shacks of, I was swept into a time warp, imagining the daily life who in generations have walked these very grounds.

Photography can take us to places that many of us could never visit and photographers strive to capture powerful images that tell stories and, in doing so, reveal a deeper truth about the complexities of the world. This was certainly the case for photographer, who traveled to the Delhi in India to document the hard life of the inhabitants living there. The conditions witnessed by the photographer in Delhi were difficult to stomach. He described the city as "- Filthy, cramped and oppressive", with an incredible density of people and an overwhelming level of poverty.

"Despite these overwhelming circumstances, the people and workers that he encountered with his portrait photography maintained an extraordinary resilience and strength. Through these portraits, the photographer wanted to tell a story of hope and strength, but he is also deeply moved by the reality of what he was seeing as he describes himself being overwhelmed with emotion after experiencing the lives of the people working and living in such difficult conditions"

Taking portraits in India's craziest street
With his camera on his side the photographer went into the whole Main Bazaar in Delhi, which is lined with shops full to the brim with books, music, jewellery, bags, clothes, shoes, incense, textiles, wooden statues and handicrafts. 'Shanti Handloom' and other textile shops offer bags, bed spreads, cushion covers, wall hangings and so on. The jewellery shops sell handmade beaded necklaces and bangles in every shape, size and color. Carved wooden statues of gods and goddesses, brass wares and decorations are available among handicrafts. A place specializes in incense sticks, incense cones and Indian tea. Even books, both new and second-hand, are available.

With the arrival of the Hippie movement in the 70s at India's shores, the area became a regular part of the 'Hippie trail', for hippies, backpackers and college students looking for budget accommodations near Connaught Place, New Delhi and New Delhi Railway Station. Gradually the hotels and guest houses spread till neighboring Ram Nagar and area along Deshbandhu Gupta Road. This legacy which continues even today, with its streams of budget hotels, cafes and restaurants specialising in global cuisines.

The background plays a essential role to a portrait
As a portrait photographer it is important to know that the background plays a essential role to a portrait. As you know, portrait is all about someone's face so it is important to have a background which is not interfering with the subject. A simpler and less cluttered background works better for portraits in India.

However, sometimes surroundings in the Indian street may need to be considered to bring out the personality of the subject. Make it blurred or dimmed by focusing on the subject and the same applies to almost all types of portraits. In most cases, it is a good idea to blur or dim the background especially if there are many vivid objects and colors in the Indian street and this can be accomplished by using a zoom lens and shooting from a short distance or with a wide aperture manual setting. If you take the portrait in natural light, you have the best chance of getting a great look with the natural colors and skin tones.

However, photographing outdoors may be tricky, as you may not be able to control the light in most situations. Make sure that you do not pose the subject right in front of the Sun and this may cause unwanted brightness or deep shadow.

"Photographing in mid-day also should be avoided as much as possible and for best results, position the subject in such a way that sunlight in India falls on the face from the side. You may also use reflectors or an external flash to light up some parts of the face, but it is not something that the photographer himself is using, when photographing in India"

Photographing portraits in India
When photographing portraits in India another thing is the aperture, where you can try different apertures. A wide open aperture with a lower number will blur the background and make the subject stand out. A smaller aperture with a higher number will make the whole scene come into better focus and typically 'F/2.0' to 'F/5.0' are good for portraits. When taking portraits, your focus should be your subject's eyes and as most of us know eyes have a lot of stories to tell like the photograph above of an Indian cartpuller and as a good portrait photographer and you should be able to bring those out in your photographs. And it is not always a smiling face which makes a good portrait and you should try capturing different expressions while keeping focus on eyes.

As a portrait photographer you should also carry out different poses when photographing. You will get some great portraits in India when you learn that the pose of the subject's body and face play an important role and when looking straight at the camera with motionless expression can be boring. You could also try to improve your portraits with some other poses and maybe it is with an inviting Indian smile, a sad expression with tilting the chin down another pose could be the subject turning the head back while walking forward or sitting and looking up in the streets.

A full-body portrait is a depiction of a person that includes their entire body within the frame. Unlike portraits that focus solely on the face or upper body, a full-body portrait provides a more comprehensive view, capturing the subject's posture, stance and often their surroundings as it is seen in this archive story. Artists use this format to convey not just the physical appearance of the individual, but also their presence, demeanor and sometimes even aspects of their personality through their body language. Whether in paintings, sculptures or photographs, full-body portraits offer a complete visual representation, allowing viewers to engage with the subject in a more holistic way.

Tips for portrait photography
• Background
• Light
• Aperture
• Focus

"Ultimately, the photographer's work in Delhi is a reminder of how essential it is to keep telling stories from less privileged places. It can be hard to witness these stories firsthand and photographers often have to grapple with intense feelings of helplessness. Still, these stories can serve as an urgent reminder of the inequalities that exist in our world and motivate us to seek out solutions"

See this video about portrait photography in India made by Nikon India.

Stories from less privileged places
"- A portrait is, according to what I've 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", the Photographer says.

"- 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 and so on or their relationship to the scene in which they are placed. One of my favourite lenses for portrait photography is definitely the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR lens mounted on my camera"
, the Photographer says again.

"- As I boarded my flight back home, memory cards filled to the brim with images of India's soul, I couldn't help but feel humbled. India had opened her heart to me, allowing me to glimpse the myriad stories woven into her fabric. Each click of my Nikon had been a tribute to the resilience, the diversity and the timeless beauty of this incredible country. India, with its chaos and calm, its colors and contrasts, had left an indelible mark on my soul. And as I sifted through the photographs, reliving each moment captured through my lens, I knew that this was just the beginning of a lifelong love affair with a land that defies description – a land best understood through the stories it weaves, the emotions it evokes and the photographs it inspires", the Photographer says again.

Read also:  An Indian portrait

An Indian portrait

Read also:  An Indian portrait

More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of an Indian man using a hand-pulled cart in Delhi. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.