There I saw her in Myanmar, a little girl in a pink robe. There was something different about her, she was absolutely striking. Deserving of a portrait.
For many years I was not interested in setting up traditional portraits. I preferred a more journalistic approach that included the setting and so I often "stole" my pictures. When I was in Myanmar with Ron Fricke, the director of the breathtaking non-verbal documentaries Barako and Samsara, I noticed he went all the way with portraits – they were close up and tightly cropped. I realized these two methods can co-exist.
We went to a Buddhist monastery where there were many little nuns in pink robes walking around. An amazingly photogenic place. I could point my camera in any direction and I had a picture.
But then I spotted this little girl, I immediately noticed that there was something different about her. Besides being pretty, she was as interested in what I was doing as I was in her. She was also conscious about her missing front teeth.
But when I showed her the pictures on my LCD screen and realized that she actually looks pretty, we connected.
For a good portrait, after checking the light, it’s all in the eyes, expression and connection. The background becomes irrelevant, even a distraction, so I blurred it out by using a very low f-stop and a long lens. My sweet spot is around 100-120 mm. I use a zoom because it allows me to adjust the layout fast.
I still like to shoot wide-angle. But then I get out my long lens and try to capture that amazing smile, beautiful eyes or deep-rooted expression. There is a reason why the most powerful magazine covers are using close-up portraits, a good portrait connects with you on a deep level.