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Midday sunlight is terrible for outdoor portraits. It's too contrasty for digital sensors to handle. In other words, the shadows go black and the highlights appear too bright, compared to what the human eye and brain see. That’s why it was a struggle to get good pictures when I photographed the spectacular annual Jember Fashion Carnival in Jember, East Java, Indonesia last month.
The event took place at noon, and since this was just a few degrees south of the Equator, the sun was directly overhead. Fortunately, I had arranged for my photo tour group to have VIP credentials, and this allowed us to go behind the scenes to photograph the costumed participants—hundreds of them—as they were getting ready for the big parade. I was able to ask them to pose for me in the shade, and that made all the difference. Most of the models were young people in their teens and early twenties, but there was a group of little girls as young as six years old that looked like decorated dolls. It was so much fun photographing them.
Another challenge was that the background behind the models was pretty bad. Buildings, crowds, vendors, patchy light and traffic don’t make attractive environments. Therefore, I had two options:
- I could either shoot tight, and fill the frame with a face and only a portion of the costume,
- I could shoot the entire costume (many of which were so large that they dwarfed the people wearing them) and then use Photoshop to replace the background. In fact, I used both of these techniques to take the shots you see here. The image at the bottom of this blog post shows an outrageous background to go with an outrageous costume.
Unlike the carnival in Venice, Italy where all of the participants wear masks, here the models’ faces are decorated with makeup, paint, and costume jewelry. It’s a different experience to be able to see a person’s face when you photograph them. Instead of the model being shrouded in mystery, the Indonesian models were able to be expressive for the camera.
The only lens I needed was a 24-105mm, and I used ISO 400, because while the diffused light of shade was the ideal, it was fairly dark, and I wanted to make sure I had enough depth of field to reveal the fantastic detail in the incredible costumes. Everything was shot hand-held, because a tripod would have been a burden, with the throngs of people.
If you are interested in traveling to Indonesia with me next July, here is a link that shows other amazing places we visit and photograph. It's truly a trip of a lifetime.