Photographing the Serenity of St. Thomas Mount, India

Children, just before their daytime nap, in a nursery on St. Thomas Mount in Chennai, India.

If ever you go to Chennai (formerly known as Madras) in Southern India you should make your way to St. Thomas Mount on the outskirts of town. It’s a great place from which to escape the horrible touts and taxi drivers that continually hassle solo tourists in so many of India’s larger cities.

St. Thomas was one of the Apostle’s of Christ. Also known as the Doubting Thomas, St. Thomas traveled to India to spread the teachings of Jesus beyond what was then Roman occupied Palestine. He was killed on a hill nearby St. Thomas Mount, for which he was later declared a martyr

The peak of this pretty mount, reached by either a single road or after a climb up 160 steps, features a lovely church and a kindergarten. I photographed both during my stay. It was important for me to visit St. Thomas Mount as my mother, Mary Guy, through a charity she created and funded, support the kindergarten for many years from the sixties onwards.

I was really pleased that the nuns who run the kindergarten allowed me to photograph some of the beautiful kids who are billeted there. In many cases their poor, working class parents are unable to support the children until they’re old enough to attend school. The nuns make sure the kids are well fed and cared for. Their parents usually visit on a weekly basis. Many of the children are cared for in this way from crib to their first days at primary school.

Photographing the Innocent

The photo at the top of this post features three of the children, just about to go down for their afternoon nap. They were as intrigued by me as I was thrilled to meet them. I love children and, as you know, they make wonderful subjects for photography.

I suppose it’s the innocence in their expression that draws our attention. They’re still young enough not to worry about how they look, which I think is a critical point. It’s great to photograph people without pretension, masks or inhibitions. We can learn a lot from children.

You’ll notice how I employed a shallow depth of field and critical focusing to draw attention to the child closest to the camera. I think the pastel color palette within the nursery was ideal for the gentle mood I was trying to portray.

How to Photograph a Group of People

You may also notice how I moved around so that the space between the three children created a triangular shape. Circular faces linked into one or more triangular shapes, that’s the secret to composition when photographing groups of people

A beautiful relief of Jesus Christ on the top of St. Thomas Mount on the outskirts of Chennai, India

The above photo features a carving of Christ. (I was brought up a Catholic and have an interest in world religions, though I’m not directly associated with any particular religion or belief system). I was fortunate to find the carving well illuminated. It was then a simple matter of moving in close with my lens and ensuring I directed the lens to focus on the eye closest to the camera.

A shallow depth of field and a vignette, applied in Lightroom, helped draw attention to the face prior to bringing the photo into Photoshop where I applied my usual glow technique to produce deep blacks and smooth, glowing highlights. A very simple approach that produced a reasonably compelling result.

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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru