Kashmir Pt 4: Portraits of Kashmir

Kashmir Pt 4: Portraits of Kashmir

I photographed this Kashmiri man in a tea stall.


As I wrote the in first three posts in this Kashmiri series, the light was not so great for pictures with blue sky, but fantastic for portraits. I love taking pictures of people–smiling, sad, laughing. Over the years I prefer it if they are not so camera aware, but sometimes people just fix their eyes on your lens and the only thing you can do is take the picture. This is especially true of Kashmiris. They seem to stop like a deer in a headlight when you raise your camera. It is both good and bad. Great for portraits like these. Not so hot if you want more candid unaware images. It helps when you are with someone else and they can talk to them or show them their picture they just took. Then, you as the second photographer, get to photograph their reaction.

There is not one thing that makes a good environmental portrait for me. It is really a combination of things and sometimes one of those things can be so strong that it trumps all else. There are two things that I look for first in a strong environmental portrait– catch light in the eyes and overall dramatic lighting. Next I look at the pose or the emotion the subject is giving off. Like the shot below of Abdul Aziz’s daughter–the light is not the best, nor is there any catch light, but I added it to this series because I find her pose or actions to be intriguing.  The first two images are less dramatic as far as the subject’s pose goes, but the light is just so amazing. Ideally, I want the environment to give the photo context, and let me tell you this is getting harder and harder in today’s flattening world. More and more cultures are adopting Western dress at the cost of losing the uniqueness of individual cultures. You try your best and you shoot what you can to inform the image.  My style of shooting changes with who I am with, or why I am shooting. Sometimes I like to just sit and photograph life go by. Other times I walk, observe and then just shoot what I see along the way. This trip was a little of all the above. I hope you enjoy this portrait of Kashmir.


This photo of a Kashmiri man was taken at the same tea stall as above.


A shoe salesman in a tunnel/breezeway under a large house, thus the reflected soft light.


Kashmiri vender at hazratbal market, Srinagar.


A bread baker at Hazratbal market, Srinagar.


A bread seller at Hazratbal market, Srinagar.


Two young children at Shah Hamdan, Srinagar.


A Gujjar woman


A young Gujjar boy playing in the light.


A Gujjar girl all wrapped up for winter.


A Gujjar woman and child.


Abdul Aziz’s youngest girl outside her hut in Pahalgam.


Gujjar laborer. I caught this moment as Jon was distracting him.



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About The Author

Matt Brandon

Matt is a Malaysia based humanitarian and travel photographer. Well known as a photographer and international workshop instructor, Matt’s images have been used by business and organizations around the globe. Matt also on the design board for Think Tank Photo, a camera bag manufacturer. In 2013 Matt founded the On Field Media Project to train the staff of non-profits to use appropriate technology to produce timely as well as quality images.


  1. Robert

    I normally don’t “gush” on comments. But this is simply one of the best series I have seen anywhere. Absolutely great.

    • Matt

      Robert, that is certainly high praise coming from you. Thank you.

  2. Ian Mylam

    A masterclass in street portraiture, Matt – these are wonderful.

    • Matt

      Thank you Ian.

  3. Kathy

    sorry, this magic trackpad of mine is so sensitive . . . I keep sending emails before their time.

    Anyway, really great job.

    I kept trying to imagine why the bread baker’s right arm is brown from obvious task repetition.

    • Matt

      Kathy, Thank you for your comments… all of them. 😉 Yes, you are right. The baker is baking the bread (the same bread in the next photo) in a tandoori oven. He sticks his arm down inside it and slaps the dough to the wall of the oven to bake. Later he takes a hooked metal rod to detach it and bring the bread out. Good observation.

  4. Kathy

    ha, it looks like the initial comment didn’t make it here. Basically I was raving about this series.


  5. Erin Wilson

    This is a gorgeous series. These portraits in particular… love the lighting. Somehow there is a real affection for the people that comes through. Not sure what gives that feeling, but it’s there.


    • Matt

      Erin, always good to hear from you. Thanks for the kind words. I certainly have a love for these people, I am move that you see it in the images.

  6. Antony

    These images are off the scale !! Look at that wafer thin DOP, truly beautiful work !!

    • Matt

      Thanks Antony.

  7. Cheri M.

    Matt, your portraits are so amazing. They are what I aspire to in my own work. I never get tired of looking at your work. I hope that one day I can join you on one of your workshops! I loved getting a glimpse into how you work too in this post. Your work has been a huge influence in my journey as a photographer, so thank you.

    • Matt

      The 50 1.2 and I think the 85 as well is known for it’s issues with back focus and slowness. Frankly, with both the 1.2 lenses I get a lot of rejects shots. Maybe more than keepers. Usually I adjust my focus point around in my viewfinder for any give shot, but not with the 1.2s. With them I leave it on the center point, focus and recompose. I was told the 5d MKIII would help this the back focus, but I don’t think it really does. I have been told the 1dx would take care of the back focus issue as well. But I don’t own one so I can’t comment on it. I look at reject images 3 or 4 to 1 as a price for the 1.2 bokeh.

  8. Jesse

    I’ve been a big fan of yours for a long time. These simple portraits are reason why. I love how you are able to capture a person’s personality so fluently. Simply beautiful.

    I have one quick technical question if you wouldn’t mind indulging me…. 🙂

    For some reason I always have a hard time getting a tack sharp image when dropping down in the 1.2-2.0 range on Canon lenses. I seem to only get about 40-50% of my shots. The rest seem to have the focus sitting on the front of the nose or just behind the eyes so the eyes are somewhat soft.

    This is something I’ve dealt with for years! I’ve tried the center focus and re-comp technique. I’ve tried always moving my focus point around to the off axis points and putting that right on the eyes. I’ve even tried manual focus…. But I always seem to get relatively the same results.

    What is you main technique you use when shooting these type of portraits to get that tack sharp look in the subjects eyes when using such a shallow depth of field? Do you shoot like 40 images and only get 1 keeper? (I’m doubting on the second guess…)

  9. Wendy 'Woo'

    Absolutely gorgeous, beyond compare, stunning photography, thank you


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