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The Story Behind That Picture Part I
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Sleeping Child in India

The story behind that picture I: "Sleeping Child in India"

By: Thorsten Overgaard

Hearing Danish photographer Tina Harder in the radio today, she gave me an idea. She said, "Nothing in life comes easy, why any great photo is the product of hard work, possible hours of speculating and research as to which angle to choose, what is the story, what is it that is going to happen here."

“The good photographers are more clever in being lucky with all the details making up a good photograph,” she said.

Peter Schmeichel: “The more I train, the more lucky I get”

So I thought the story behind a picture could be interesting. I’ll start out with one of my simple stories, which is the one behind this ”sleeping child in India".

Whereas, in most cases, I see a picture before I get it, I’m not sure I saw this one. I certainly did not plan it, but might very well have seen what it could be seconds before I took it. I most probably did.

Actually, and we sometimes joke about this, I often see a picture hours, days or even weeks before I get it. Not that it’s coming to me in my dreams three weeks or something esoteric like that. It’s just that when I do a story, I often have a key picture in mind – and will mostly get that exact picture. More about that, later!

The story behind this picture was simply that I was standing against a wall just around sunset at the big and messy Calcutta Book Fair in India, shooting atmosphere and people looking at books. Just in front and below of me sat a mother with her sleeping child. They were in my way, which was why I noticed them! So I pointed my Leitz Leicaflex SL mot with the 80mm Summilux-R f/1.4 down and took three shots, thinking a 80mm was too much of a crop for so short a distance. But if I changed lens, it would be too late.

And then I forgot everything about it.

It took a while after I came back before I by coincidence re-discovered the slide. I had been through 3,300 slides from India and Sri Lanka for the After The Tsunami project and in those rolls I had been looking for any photos worth using about the bookfair. I wasn’t shooting atmosphere so I had simply skipped this one in the first run-through. But then I stumbled over it as a very dark slide which the Hasselblad Imacon film scanner managed to get someting out of. And that was this one.

(I wouldn't rule out the possibility that one change the way one look and what one sees, when looking through pictures again. There's just so damn many pictures on file that I don't care to do it right now!)

I would say that the light at the scene (very blue sky mixed with artificial lights from the book fairs around), the look of a Leica 80mm f/1.4 fully open, and the natural colors of Fuji Astia 100 ISO slide film, plus the dreamy look of that very slide film pressed to 800 ISO is what make this photo.

A daylight shot of that sleeping child would not have been the same, nor would a 35mm shot with all details clear and sharp. It’s the dreamy encapsulated look with the dark, yet lively colors, that make the shot.

In a way, this was not a product of my genius planning or know-how. It was more luck. The perhaps most professional about it was that I took it despite all.

Stop thinking. Just do it. Sometimes not questioning, being reasonable, trying to bend the world to suit the camera is the right approach. Just shoot and see what comes out of it. From that you can learn a lot. And in saying so, I come to think of many interesting shots I’ve taken where I had no idea if anything would come out of it. You know, arm out of the window and no light whatsoever type of shots.

But of cause seeing how a 800 ISO lowlight shot behave and create a dreamlike look. That’s an experience you can use another day.

You may by the way download it as a screen background for 24" screen (1920x1200) here .


    September 2008




Sleeping Child in India: Leica SL mot with 80mm Leica Summilux-R f/1.4 @ f/1.4, 100 ISO Fuji Astia slide film shot and developed at 800 ISO.
This photo is part of the After The Tsunami book project for which there exist a free eBook.

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Thorsten Overgaard
Thorsten Overgaard is a Danish feature writer and photographer. He currently photographs for WireImage, Getty Images, Polfoto and Associated Press.

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