Using a Slow Shutter for Dramatic Portraits

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While in Kolkata, I finally met my friend Shivam, a talented photographer and professional fixer for journalists and documentarians. On my last day in the city, I asked him if we could go somewhere that isn’t often explored by traveling photographers, a place that most people would ignore.

He brought me to small connecting tunnels just outside the Kolkata railway station and, like a choose-your-own-adventure, gave me the honor of picking which way to go. During this walk, I got to snap a very special image.

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The Details

This photograph was captured on the Leica SL2-s with the Summicron 28mm F2.0. I set the aperture to F5.6, the shutter speed to half a second, and let the ISO respond accordingly. In this case, it fell to 100.

The Story

Exploring these connecting tunnels was like entering a whole new world. I’ve been to many subway systems worldwide, but a clash of the old and new here felt fascinating and even dystopian.

I saw interesting frames around every corner as people flooded from one train to the next, but this balloon vendor caught my eye, and before I could even make a step, Shivam directed me to try a slower shutter with her.

It’s as if this man was reading my mind!

You see, you have this one subject standing almost absolutely still with this comically large and unnecessary object for sale as a swath of bodies flows past her. It touches on a lot about our society nowadays.

So get this: I know what shot I want; I called my friend here watching and probably had one or two chances to nail the shot. Naturally, I think, “Don’t f*ck this up, Gajan.”

First, I set the shutter speed to half a second because, from experience, it’ll add enough of a blur to people walking briskly while keeping their bodies recognizable. I chose F5.6 to give me enough of a window to keep my subject in focus and pre-focused the lens to roughly how far I’d be from my subject. And then, I just had to wait for the next train.

Once I saw the next pack, I centered myself in front of my subject, looking the opposite way, and when enough people were maneuvering around me, I turned around and started firing. The image shared here; was the second last frame, and sh*t, it’s something I’m quite happy with.

Trying to capture images that have meaning, depth, and even story to them is what we aspire to do. This is one of the rare images that delivers all three for me.

Most of the images I capture will never be worth sharing, and that reality is what makes this photography journey so unforgiving. But when I land moments like the one above, it gives me enough of a reason to keep moving forward.

I hope these images and stories can also be powerful enough to help move you forward.

That’s a Wrap

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This was my first trip to Kolkata, and I instantly fell in love with the city. The people are incredibly warm, and the environment creates a great canvas to explore your photography.

This article was originally shared on the Church & Street Foto Club, a bi-monthly publication around street photography, travel, self-discovery, and cameras. Visit and get a new story in your inbox every other week for free.

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