How I Got the Shot: David H Wells on a Scene out of India


BHInsights blogger David Wells has been a busy man! He was recently on an assignment that tasked him to photograph the historically-significant Islamic architecture in Bijapur, in the Southern Indian state of Karnataka, for Saudi Aramco World Magazine. They were quite tedious to get to, since there is no commercial airport in Bijapur, and during the short window of time that he had for the shoot, no trains could be found from Mumbai, to get him to and from that city with enough time to do the kind of photography he was expected to do.

Capturing the photo above was not only quite a physical task, but also required lots of knowledge and understanding of exposures and metering. Here's David Wells, explaining how he got the shot:

Gear Used

- Olympus PEN E-PL1   

- Olympus Micro Four Thirds Zuiko Wide-Angle Zoom 9 mm - 18 mm - F/4.0-5.6

- Bogen/Manfrotto 209 Tabletop Tripod Legs and 482 Micro Ball Head

- Lexar Media SD Card

- BlackRapid strap

Here's a link to a podcast on his gear, and especially his use of tabletop tripods.

David's Plan

We started out before sunrise, and drove straight through for 12 hours over some of the worst roads imaginable. When we arrived, we had enough time to drive to the various sites and decide which venues were morning shoots and which were afternoon shoots, based on the orientation of the sun. Each of the next three days started very early, with photographing until mid-morning, then back to the hotel to download the images, nap, and have lunch, then back out photographing in the afternoon light, into the early evening. The whole assignment closed out with another 12 hour drive back to Mumbai. The assignment ended with an enthusiastic note from my editor, whose words of praise made up for the bumpy roads and white-knuckled ride through the chaos of India’s highways.

The building shown is the Gol Gumbaz, meaning, "rose dome" (a reference to the flower/rose/lotus petals that surround the dome at its base, making it appear as a budding rose). The building was completed in 1656, and is the mausoleum of Mohammed Adil Shah. The structure is composed of a cube, capped by a dome. Running around the inside of the dome is the "Whispering Gallery," where even the softest sound can be heard on the other side of the mausoleum, due to the acoustics of the space. I was standing at the base of the dome which sits atop that cube, leaning over the edge, looking down at the tomb. The railing that you see at the top of the image runs all the way around the dome, and that is where I am resting my ever-present tabletop tripod, on that very ledge.

How David Shot the Photo

Though I carry an electronic cable-release with me, I usually use the built-in 2-second self timer in situations like this. That way, any vibration I might introduce by touching the camera disappears by the time the two seconds are over, when the timer releases the shutter. The above embedded image (see Gear Used section) shows the gear setup I used for the image in question, though in this case I am photographing the same building from the outside, at sunrise. The added bracket you see in the image allows me also to use a shotgun microphone to record audio and/or video when I am working.

David's Technique

The only light coming in for the image is from the door in the image (center/left), doors just like it underneath me, and from small passages through which people enter the Whispering Dome, which can be seen at the top of the image. Because I was working inside, and I wanted the most light possible to come into the building from the outside, I made this image in the early afternoon, when the sun beating down would spill into the building the most.

The technical issues were keeping the lines relatively straight in composing the image, securing the tripod on the ledge that you see, and making a few test shots to to get the right exposure.

The best exposure would need to be long enough to make a good RAW file while minimizing any overexposed highlights (in the door at the bottom, or the small highlights in the passageways at the top.)

EXIF Data:

ISO speed: 100

Shutter speed: 1 second

Aperture: f4.0

Metering: Pattern

Light source: Sunny

Focal length: 9mm  (35mm equivalent of 18mm)


In this case, I ended up overexposing one stop from my initial starting point in order to get the walls to be bright but not overexposed, while keeping good tones in the dark areas AND not burning out the highlights.

Because I work very hard to get a good RAW file, even if the image looks a a bit overexposed on the back of the camera, I usually have all the information I need, and so do almost no post-production work.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of B&H Photo, Video, Pro Audio

Discussion 2

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You took a prosumer camera on assignment to India to shoot architecture? Really???

I rarely comment on other photographers work and almost always limit myself to praise but this is too much. I can only hope that you sent B&H a number of photos for this article and the interior was mistakenly sent and chosen.

What a beautiful building!  The Ancients did not have computers or space vehicles to Mars, but they did know their math and civil engineering disciplines.  

Your composition and artistic conception are excellent and moving.  And your efforts demonstrate the power of simplicity.  

I also find in your efforts, a wonderful, practical lesson in art, which, IMHO, applies not only to photography, but to other methods of artistic expression.

Thank you for your generosity, your sharing your techniques and vision with us and your demonstration of excellence in teaching.