The making of a National Geographic winner photo

This photograph won the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO 2012 and was later disqualified. See entry.


 This photograph was taken at Asi Gaht, Varanasi, more or less 5:45 am. I usually stay next to this precise Gaht when in Varanasi. This said, I obviously know the place :-) . The extraordinary thing about the ghats is their tremendous transformation which lies on the level of the Ganges. On this opportunity - one month ago- the level was low and, unfortunately, the image, from the steps of the Gaht, was not very pleasant: mud, garbage, etc... I decided to go down, next to the Ganges.

I keep visiting the Gaht each morning, early in the morning and at dawn, with my camera, a Fuji X-pro1, and two prime lenses: a 24 mm equivalent and a 50 mm. I feel more at ease with the wide. You have barely time for, perhaps, four to five different framings as the light that I want lasts for no more than 30 minutes. 

 It is quite stressing to decide the setting depending on the things that are happening around you: lights, candles, people, specially knowing  that there is not much time left and everything will disappear as people move and change position continuously.

On this opportunity, suddenly, a big group of pilgrims, obviously coming from villages (they are more prone to be photographed) came into the Gaht. I literally run to fight for my position in the middle of the mass. I have lately discovered that the " I am a professional photographer" approach works far better than the "shy" approach: cameras, tripods, lens bags, an Indiana Jones hat :-) . With the poor light and the mass, people have little time to care about me: they came to Varanasi for their ritual morning bath, they are not in the mood of losing their time arguing or discussing with an -obvious- foreigner in disguise (disguised as a photographer).

All this to advance that I was well before the "final" shot at the place. Probably at 5:00 am for the "final" shot taken at 5:45 am.

This was possibly the 6th shot in the same position. I set the tripod, decided on the frame and light and, using my mechanical shooter, (Fuji Xpro1 does not have an electronic shooter !), and not looking through the camera, (as in old good time) I shoot..

If you take into account that this was my third consecutive morning, at the same place, the time needed for the picture increases ... :-)

Strangely, my main concern was to decide on the exposure. In theory I should have set everything to a right hand side histogram to prevent the grain should I need to work later on the picture with LR or PS. My decision was -and I think that it was, for once, the right one- to underexpose (you do not have time for a serious measuring) two stops less than what my "multi-I don't knowwhat " exposure setting was telling me, in order to prevent as much overexposure on the candle lights as possible.