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How to Tell the Story of a Single Subject

By Ralph Velasco

Enjoy this post where I discuss how to tell the story of a single subject with your photography.

Sadhu in Pashupati Nath with Cigarette in Hand - Kathmandu, Nepal by Ralph Velasco
Head-on view of sadhu, or holy man, in Pashupatinath, Nepal.

Pashupatinath Temple in Nepal

The temple in Pashupatinath, situated just about 5 km outside of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is a sacred site for Hindus.

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s located on the banks of the Bagmati River in the eastern part of the Kathmandu Valley.  

Sadhu Rinsing Hands in Pashupati Nath - Kathmandu, Nepal by Ralph Velasco
Sadhu rinsing his hands of colorful dye.

Wonderful Sadhus Everywhere

According to Wikipedia, sadhus (male) and sadhvine (female) are “a religious asceticmendicant or any holy person in Hinduism and Jainism who has renounced the worldly life. They are sometimes alternatively referred to as jogisannyasi or vairagi.

Literally, it means one who practises a ‘sadhana’ or keenly follows a path of spiritual discipline.  Although the vast majority of sādhus are yogīs, not all yogīs are sādhus.” 

Side view of Sadhu in Pashupatinath in Kathmandu, Nepal by Ralph Velasco
Side view of sadhu in Pashupatinath in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Be a Visual Storyteller

As travelers, we’re auditory storytellers.  We go to a place, ideally do interesting things and have wonderful experiences, and then we innately want to tell our friends and family, and anyone else who will listen, what we saw and did.

Medium shot of sadhu's hand and detail in Pashupati Nath - Medium - Kathmandu, Nepal by Ralph Velasco
Medium shot of sadhu's hand and detail of his sitting place.

Don’t Think One and Done

Although auditory stories are great, it’s just as important to tell visual stories with our photography.

Being able to visualize an overall scene, and then how to break it down into smaller scenes that are just as important, but make up the whole, are crucial to this task.

Closeup of sadhu's hand in Pashupatinath, Kathmandu, Nepal by Ralph Velasco
Closeup of sadhu's left hand.

These are How I Saw This Sadhu

This series of images I’m presenting here are how I saw the scene of this particular sadhu on an early July morning while visiting Pashupatinath. Your vision would likely vary, but that’s OK, and part of the beauty of photography.

As almost always, I arrived early, and in this case I was not only awarded with nice, even light and zero crowds, but also with a rare opportunity to photograph this man as he prepared himself for the day.  Had I arrived just 5 minutes later he would have been done getting ready and this unique opportunity gone.

Vertical of sadhu in temple doorway in Pashupatinath, Nepal by Ralph Velasco5
Vertical of sadhu in temple doorway in Pashupatinath, Nepal.

Preparation is Everything

Especially for a sadhu, preparation is everything.  

At times sitting for hours in the same place, and same position, sadhus will often cover themselves in gray ash, using this as a base.  Then, at least in this man’s case, to express his individuality he took both yellow and red dye and made various markings on his head and body.

Right hand of sadhu in temple doorway in Pashupatinath, Nepal by Ralph Velasco
Detail of right hand of sadhu in temple doorway in Pashupatinath.

It Only Takes a Minute or Two

This entire series of images that you see in this post, plus a few others I didn’t even include, probably took a total of 2 minutes to make.

I simply started with an overall version of the immediate scene, then in my mind I broke it down into smaller medium- and detail-sized chunks to tell the story.

Portrait of sadhu in temple doorway in Pashupatinath, Nepal by Ralph Velasco
Portrait of sadhu in temple doorway.

Just Point and Shoot

With my camera settings dialed in for these conditions, which didn’t change at all in that short period of time, all I had to do was concentrate on “pointing and shooting” these various parts of the scene.  

Once my settings were right I didn’t have to think about Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, White Balance or anything else at all, other than where my focal point was in each image.

I started wide, then went medium, and finally zoomed in on the various details, all of which helped to tell the overall story of the sadhu.

This is not at all difficult to do, it simply takes a bit of vision and foresight, and experience, which you’ll gain over time.  It does, however, also require a decent knowledge of your gear, and then it’s just click, click, click, etc.

I can’t recommend enough that you get to know your gear before embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime trip.  This way you’re not fumbling around for settings or digging through the camera’s menu trying to get things right, all while the scene you’re looking to capture fades into history and is gone forever.

Ralph Velasco photographing sadhu in temple doorway in Pashupatinath, Nepal by Rebecca Foreman
Ralph Velasco photographing sadhu in temple doorway in Pashupatinath, Nepal.

Are you telling the story of the subjects you photograph?

This is pretty basic stuff, and anyone can do it, with any kind of camera.  However, just like anything else, it takes some practice for it to become second nature.  

Are you making an effort to tell the story of the people, places and other subjects you’re photographing?

Be sure to share your experience by commenting below.

And while you’re at it, go ahead and share this post with others who might be interested, plus Subscribe to my new Continental DRIFTER YouTube channel.

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