János Asztalos’s trip to India has left him thinking hard about composition and settings
I first discovered photography in my teens, when I attended an after-school class where we shot both digital and film. I even learnt the basics of printing black-andwhite photos from film. I picked up photography again in 2013 when I found a bargain: a Nikon D60, complete with 18-55mm kit lens and 55-200mm telephoto.
I took my camera to India on a business trip and was lucky enough to spend a few days travelling around Chennai (formerly Madras), in the south-eastern part of the country. It was very interesting to see how much people’s lives differ from our life in Europe. This is especially true when you move away from big cities like Chennai. My aim was to capture those moments which are part of everyday life in India, but which are perhaps unfamiliar to us in the West. The portrait of the craftsman , the lady making garlands  and the man preparing for a festival  are all examples of these moments. India’s rich colours also grabbed my attention, and I wanted to capture these as well.
In Europe we’re used to cameras; sometimes we don’t even notice if someone’s taking pictures. In India, though, everyone had a reaction to my camera, which occasionally made it more difficult. It was hard to predict people’s reactions. The spontaneous expressions I wanted to capture were fleeting, giving me only a short time to set up my camera. It also meant that I didn’t have a chance for a second shot.
Recently I’ve been using my 35mm f/1.8 lens the most. It makes me think more, change my position, get closer or further away from the subject. All of these are helping me to improve my skills. I would like to improve my compositions, and I’m also curious about what the most important controls are – the ones you need to check before pressing the shutter release.
János, you clearly have a love of portraiture and different cultures, and the inclusion of bright colours works really well. We would suggest, however, that you concentrate on the framing of the subjects as well as their behaviour. Take note of what’s included in the background, and try to keep it as simple as possible. If you can’t move things in the scene to make it cleaner (and most of the time, you can’t), then reposition yourself. You might find that moving affects the portrait and the light isn’t quite right; if that’s the case then try to return at another time when the light is better.
Avoid cropping people’s limbs; it’s better to step back and include the whole of their body than to chop off an arm or part of a foot (see right). If you need to crop in closer, though, make sure the frame edge does not fall on a joint; landing on elbows, knees and ankles are usually portrait-cropping no-no’s.
Experiment with different angles, too: get up high, down low or just tilt the camera back and forth to change the perspective. You shouldn’t be able to tell how tall the photographer is from their photographs.
You can check some settings long before you shoot; for example, if you know you want to capture a portrait with a shallow depth of field, you could set a wide aperture of, say, f/4 in aperture-priority mode, and then set ISO400 or 800, or even Auto ISO, to ensure your shutter speed is fast enough to shoot handheld.
Finally, don’t be afraid of eye contact. While candids can be great, there’s nothing like direct eye contact to make a portrait really engaging. Of course, this means getting past that awkward moment when you’re first spotted, and getting to know your subject, before you start shooting.