Jon Warren explains how he created this photograph from Ghana.
Every day, women and children in rural African villages walk long distances to collect muddy water from parasite-laden waterholes. I wanted to capture this scene when I visited Ghana in 2006 to document the Hilton Foundation’s partnership with World Vision to provide clean water in West Africa.
Water collecting happens early in the morning. I asked the World Vision staff in Ghana to take me to a waterhole before sunrise, and they graciously agreed. Sunrise is one of the best times for photography, when the light is beautiful and warm.
As people walked up the embankment from the waterhole with heavy buckets full of water, I noticed how dramatic they looked silhouetted against the sky. The sun was just starting to rise. I ran ahead of them and found an open spot where the sky was clear of trees and put my camera on the ground (lying down myself wasn’t quite low enough), clicking as they walked past me. Then I ran ahead again and did the same thing again and again, each time there was a clearing. I followed the group for about a kilometer until I felt I had a good image.
The sky was much brighter than the people, and I knew that I couldn’t have both the people and the sky properly exposed—if I made the people lighter, the sky would just be a white, blank area. To keep the tone of the orange sunrise, I set my camera on manual exposure, making a spot light reading of the sky a little distance from the sun. I set my white balance to the “shade” setting, which warms up photos. The water carriers were solid black silhouettes, and to keep their shapes distinct I had to make sure there was enough space between and around them.
Because I wasn’t looking through the lens, there was some luck involved in getting the photo. In cases like this, I always take some pictures as quickly as possible to check what it will look like, and then I make adjustments. Then I feel ready to concentrate on the real picture.
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