At the recent Holi – Colours of Spring event held at the Esplanade, Ronald Paras created portraits that captured many with their luminescent and ephemeral qualities. We find out more about his process in such a spontaneous and dynamic environment.
Your portraitures at the event were very engaging. Was it a preconceived concept, or were you inspired by what you saw at the event?
About two years ago I did a similar concept with my Street Portraits series, where I also took tight headshots of random strangers. It was tough because I would get rejected most of the time.
There is something about street portraits that deeply captivates me. Maybe it’s the raw emotions from my subjects or maybe it’s simply the merging of my roots in portraiture and street photography. No matter how many times I get rebuffed, the end result seems to be worth all the rejections.
Fast forward to Holi Festival 2017. I saw an Instagram post for this festival at the Esplanade lawn and my immediate idea was to do a street portrait style of the participants. I realised I would seem less “creepy” if I asked people to take their photo as it was an event.
What was your thought process and decision in selecting this theme?
My original theme was to have portraits uniformly conveying a serious emotion on a tight headshot. I planned to shoot on the sidelines, so as not to mess up my gears with the coloured powders. However, during the event, I decided to enter the lawn to get better angles and to immerse myself with the participants.
It became so fun and chaotic that I failed to stick to my original theme, so I just decided to show their genuine emotions during those moments. I also took a few candid shots.
What equipment did you select and bring along for this shoot?
I took my Canon EOS 5D Mark III with me and paired it with my Canon EF 85mm f1.8.
Why were they chosen?
The legendary Canon EOS 5D Mark III still is one of the best portrait camera bodies out there. It still accurately renders skin tone beautifully and even in harsh environments and tricky lighting, and its auto white-balance is always spot-on. It’s perfect for portraits.
As for the lens, my favourite focal length for portraits is 85mm. It gives flattering results, with a compressed background and shallow depth of field, but not too long of a focal length that you may lose intimacy.
I originally didn’t plan to enter the lawn so I didn’t bring any protection for my gears. My camera and lens were completely bare. Luckily the Canon EOS 5D Mark III is fully weather-sealed so I didn’t have to worry at all when the powders got onto the equipment.
You seem to like portraiture, is there a reason for this and what about it captures you?
I love doing portraiture because I get so much satisfaction and accomplishment from portraits which convey candid emotions, that are also impossible to recreate.
With portraits it’s different from, say buildings, because you have an additional variable – the human emotion. This makes every portrait one-of-a-kind and impossible to duplicate, and that’s exceptionally rewarding.
How did you manage to capture such interesting expressions on the participants? Did you trail anyone in particular or did you just go with the flow?
The lawn area isn’t that big so it’s easy to keep track of participants and look for potential models. I have no specific criteria for selection as there will always be moments that catch my attention, so I went with what I saw.
We notice quite a few shots that were back-lit and gave the pictures an-almost ephemeral quality. What are some of the things to watch out for when trying to capture such shots?
Back-lit portraits are my favourite style and they were intentional for this series. I position myself facing the sun all the time, so that when I ask a participant to pose for the shot, they are already back-lit. It was a continuous and conscious effort for me to keep in mind where the sun was.
Lighting plays one of the most vital elements to achieving these type of shots. The best outdoor portraits are captured during the golden hour when the sun is low. Subjects tend to become more flattering and dramatic. Luckily, the event was held late in the afternoon.
To capture that perfect expression, I always set my camera to burst mode. This increases my chances of getting sharper photos, and choosing the best expression as both parties move.
Avoid using slow shutter speed. There’s a useful rule of thumb that states the numerical value of the shutter speed should not be less than the focal length (e.g. if focal length is 100mm, shutter speed should not be slower than 1/100s handheld). This guide will help you achieve less blurry photos caused by camera shake.
Post processing is the final thing to take note and an essential part that can make or break the photograph. I always believe in never editing the photos to a point where the original looks better, so I approach this process with a lot of caution and use subtle edits.
Lastly, what are some of your tips for the budding photographer trying to capture expressive portraits at events?
During post-processing, I prefer to keep imperfections and not over-Photoshop my portraits. I personally believe that these imperfections are what make a portrait perfect. Removing all of them in the image may make your photo look unreal, therefore losing its relatability to viewers. Humans are imperfect, after all!
Experience the beautiful expressions of Ronald’s portraits here: