by Marc Apers
In August 2008 I was visiting the small town Antananarivo (also known as Tana), Madagascar. The woman in the photograph had just caught a lift from a truck driver and was returning home, walking along the road. I waved to her just to say hello. That pleased her so much that she agreed to let me take a picture of her.
I focused on the woman in the right corner and positioned the truck in the opposite corner. This created a kind of tension in the picture, and it helped to illustrate the story behind the photo.
Nikon F3 . Nikkor 24mmf/2.8 . 24mmmm . 1/125ss . f/5.6 . ISO100
I am often asked how I succeed in taking portraits of people in such a natural way, despite the rather difficult lighting conditions. For black and white photos, I absolutely prefer soft spread light; otherwise, you get harsh and unflattering shadows. I therefore always try to take my pictures early in the morning or late in the evening when the sun is low. If I do not have the opportunity during those hours, I try to catch my subjects either in the shadow or in the full direct sun so that the light on their faces is balanced.
"When I visit foreign tribes or a township of great poverty, I never give money to the people I photograph, but I always have a stock of sugar, rice, flour and tobacco in the trunk of my car."
The best advice I can give is to never immediately just start taking pictures of a stranger. First, get acquainted with your model, and make sure that you show openness, honesty and respect. Behave courteously and you will win the necessary confidence. I often photograph very poor people, and these situations require a certain attitude. When I visit foreign tribes or a township of great poverty, I never give money to the people I photograph, but I always have a stock of sugar, rice, flour and tobacco in the trunk of my car. Giving the people a gift is my way of saying thank you. Even if I do not have any gifts, people usually thank me for the recognition. I love to take photographs in Africa. I do not have great technical skills, only the basics. Nevertheless, most of the time I succeed in expressing what I saw at that very moment. Normally I know right away when I have taken a good photograph. I am happy that many people say they like my photos. My final advice is to keep having fun with photography — it is such a magical world!
The film was developed in Microdol-X, dilution 1 + 3. A good black and white print should contain a minimum of black and white and the necessary midtones, so dodging and burning in Photoshop CS5 afterwards is a must. In this photo, I added a separate layer with a graduated filter to darken some parts and put more light on the main subject.
1) If you want to take a photograph similar to this one, my suggestion is to always be aware of the environment, the culture and the people.
2) Keep looking for good light. Do not just look for ordinary people — you may find many interesting photographic opportunities if you are patient and wait.
3) Dare to approach people, and stand quite close to your subject to make the situation more relaxed. I mostly use a 24mm lens. Never use flash, but always work with natural light. People will then appear natural in the photos, which will also get more depth. I prefer ISO 400 because it allows you to work in difficult circumstances as well.
4) Choose the right position to isolate your subject from the background. Use an aperture of maximum f/8, and make sure that you have enough shutter speed.
5) Above all, always try to tell a story so that the viewer can feel the same way you felt when you took that “ultimate” shot.
I started rather late with photography. I began with slide film, but soon turned to black and white, which remains my passion. After working almost twenty years in the darkroom, I finally made the decision in 2010 to go digital, and I have to admit that I do not regret it. Photography is really a fantastic medium.