Image of a woman with a child in Mumbai, India.
When the photographer is photographing in India he is always trying to take a portrait that is showing the inner feelings of his photographic subjects. In this image we see a woman with a child in Mumbai, India. She was begging for milk powder for the child that she had in her arms.

In India Kristian Bertel uses his camera to capture colorful portraits and gorgeous cultural and natural landscapes he sees around this subcontinent. He is a freelance photographer who has been traveling in several provinces of India taking travel photos with a humanitarian eye and he is regular travel blogger with his pictures.

Interview with an India travel photographer

Startingly beautiful pictures of India
We were most fascinated by his startlingly beautiful photos that he has captured in India, so we interviewed Kristian and asked him about his experiences and insights as a travel photographer.

How did you get started in travel photography?
I had been a keen amateur photographer for many years. However, I had a long-held ambition to travel more and had enjoyed photography, and especially travel photography. Whether you look at your travel photos as the most memorable photographs you have ever taken, travel photography is one of the most popular activities for those who travel, and also for me.

How much does your photography equipment mean to you?
Many people discuss equipment for photography, because that is a relatively easy topic to explain. However, note that it is far from the most important thing in getting good photos. A good photographer gets much better photos than the average shooter, and not mainly because he or she has better equipment. I think as an imagemaker one's magination is more important than knowledge. Of course both equipment and skill can help, but the most important thing is to have the artistic vision, the ability of some photographers to think about the image they are capturing and plan a good composition. Other factors include awareness of both light and subject, a good sense of timing, and willingness to get the photo from its greatest side. Because what I have learned in India is that some of the best photos require things like getting up early to catch the dawn light in India or waiting for several minutes for an Indian portrait to turn up at a specific place.

Image of Mumbai seen from Malabar Hill in India.
Image of Mumbai seen from Malabar Hill, one of the most expensive places to live in Mumbai. From this view you can see the Chowpatty Beach and the Marine Drive. The beaches in Mumbai are a great place to see how the locals spend their Sunday evenings, with various food and game stalls.

What is it about India that particularly is fascinating you?
Before going to India for the first time I have heard stories about the country's ability to turn everything upside down from what we regard as normal here in the western part of the world. Stories about holy cows in the streets and that India is probably worth visiting just for its street markets, the hustle of vendors, and the madness of the crowds. When I relished the idea of being able to travel to India all my expectations were fulfilled and much more. The smells and the sounds and its people are a mind-bending travel experience. India tosses up the unexpected on almost every street corner. This can be challenging, particularly for the first-time visitor where the poverty is confronting, Indian bureaucracy can be exasperating and the crush of humanity may turn the simplest task into a frazzling epic. Even veteran travelers find their nerves frayed at some point, yet this is all part of the India ride. Both in my journeys in 2008 and in 2014 the country has an ability to inspire, frustrate, thrill and confound all at once, adopting a 'go with the flow' attitude is wise if you wish to retain your sanity. Love it or loathe it as a traveler and as a photographer and most travelers see-saw between the two to embrace India's unpredictability is to embrace her soul.

India is one of the most religiously diverse nations in the world, with some of the most deeply religious societies and cultures. Religion still plays a central and definitive role in the life of most of its people. It is basically a portrait of Indians and talks about Indians and their Indian-ness using color photographs that is reflecting my photographic work.

  Image of young girl in India near the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai, India.
Image of young girl in India near the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai, India. She is one the many street children in India that spends her time walking around from car window to car window in the inner traffic among cars, knocking on them in order to change her own life situation.

Can you tell more about your Indian portraits?
When photographing it is not just straightforward faces in these portraits that talk to the viewer personally. What I find interesting is the ability to communicate my subject's inner feelings, the area where he or she spends the majority of their time, inside and personal. I have taken photos of people in a variety of locations like streets and in factories and so on. It is a set of comfortable photographs for my subjects. And I think every picture comes with a story. What is the story about the life of the portrayed subject, also after the photo session I tend to look back on the pictures and my thoughts begin to wander. I have taken a lot of photos of begging people in India and I often think about what story that is behind that this beggar has ended up this way. But while thinking I also put myself in the photographic situation and if you as a traveler or a photographer are too quick or eager to hand out money for any form of begging, you not only make yourself visible as a possible easy mark but also make things more difficult for the next traveler. When traveling, you will without a doubt come across people asking for money. After all, poor people are everywhere in India and they will reason that anyone who can afford to travel by definition has money to spare. Even a budget traveler may be much richer than most local people in some places and according to statistics more than a billion people live on less than a dollar a day.

  Image of a blind man in Mumbai, India.
The number of blind people in India is very high with an estimated 15 million blind people live in India. Many places you go in the streets blind people are asking for charities like in this image of a blind man in Mumbai, India.

Where have your latest of traveling brought you?
One of my latest travels went to Mumbai in India, which is a bustling, diverse metropolis with a flair all its own. As a photographer I have seen with my own eyes that the spirit and pulsing pace of life in Mumbai provide a sharp contrast to much of the rest of India. There has been much debate regarding the original name of the city. Some say the current name of the city Mumbai is the original name and is an eponym derived from Mumba, the name of the local Hindu goddess Mumbadevi, and Aai, meaning mother in Marathi. Others say that Bombay was an anglicized version of Bom Bahia, a name given by the Portuguese to mean Beautiful Bay and later made popular by the British as the name of the Bombay state.

But the city has recently changed its name?
Yes, that is correct. The name was officially changed from Bombay to Mumbai in 1995. Although Bombay and Mumbai are both used, people who explicitly use Bombay are generally non-Marathi speakers whereas Mumbai proponents primarily speak Marathi.

  Image of an old woman in Mumbai, India.
Image of an old woman in Mumbai, India. As a photographer he has always been fascinated by the clothing of the Indian people. One of the most typical is the saree, a piece of cloth that strectches up to many meters long, and is wrapped around the shoulder on the women.

So it is mostly in the streets that you take your pictures?
No, it not only in the streets that I take my pictures. Mumbai has a few beaches, including one in the downtown area. But they are not that great and the water off Mumbai's coast is extraordinarily dirty. The relatively better ones are in the Northwest Mumbai area. However, they are a great place to see how the locals spend their Sunday evenings, with various food and game stalls. There are other beaches to be found such as the Girgaon Chowpatty in South Mumbai, Juhu Beach in the western suburbs.

Image of an old woman sleeping in Mumbai, India.
Image of an old woman sleeping in Mumbai, India. When you walk in the streets of India it is a common sight to see people sleep on the pavement. Over the years I think that this is actually a strong symbol from each human being sleeping in the streets of India, to display oneself under these conditions for the public. But of course it is also sad.

Do you make your subjects pose in your travel pictures?
No, most of the time I take my photos unposed. Some people get their family or other travel companion and companions into every picture. Others focus exclusively on the places. One of the most practical things to remember with a camera is that you are capturing 'light'. If you are photographing outside, make sure the sun is to your back. If you are shooting into the sun it will throw off the automatic settings on your camera and you will have a very dark image. The same applies to shadows. Sitting someone in shadows and standing in the light to photograph them will likely be disappointing. The same applies to inside photography. Taking a photo with an outside window in the frame will throw off the automatic settings and result in a dark image of what's in front of the window. If you must photograph a subject with a window or direct sunlight behind them, change your flash settings from auto to always on or the camera will see the bright light in the background and turn its illumination off, yielding a silhouette. For those wishing to travel on a dedicated photography trip I know that there are companies that cater to this market. Photo tours and workshops allow interested photographers to travel to destinations with the primary goal of creating images. Some offer extensive photo instruction while others simply get you to locations where photography is exceptional.

Where can we see more of your Indian travel photography?
I generally find people on my travels as interesting subjects to photograph, and I have an interest for stories that are photojournalistic motivated, because if you look closer to the pictures they all might have a story to tell. You can also see that travel photography is a theme in photography that has a lot of appeal to me on my photography website.

Text and interview by Jill Anderson.