Travel photography in India is a feast for the senses. It is a visual, cultural, aesthetic and culinary treat like you have never ever experienced. It is a nation that is a unique blend of languages, believes, practices, architecture and religious believes. Speaking of religious believes, religion assumes an integral part in the lives of her people, something that you are likely to experience quite ostensibly.
Does that mean that your India experience is going to be centered on a religious overtone? Not really. Not every Indian is the religious type in this sea of humanity and your experience of India is going to be as diverse as you choose it to be.
For most travelers, travelling to India is both a source of excitement and a cold sweat running down the spine. The din, the smell, the sights and an anticipation of the unknown can be just too overwhelming for the first time travel photographer. It is really difficult to keep calm, but I suggest you find ways to do just that. Patience is a virtue, and nowhere would that age-old proverb seem more apt than when you are stuck in one of the proverbial ‘traffic-jams’ of Mumbai or Old Delhi. Things will go wrong at one time or the other and Murphy will get you at least once during the trip, so be mentally prepared and take it in your stride when that happens.
Read as much as you can about the destinations
Places like Jaipur, Agra, Udaipur, Khajuraho, Hampi, Mahabaliuram and Konark are cultural paradises. There are countless more like them strewn across the length and breadth of the country. Traveling to these places and not preparing yourself in advance is always going to make your journey an incomplete one. Pick up some good reads from the local travel book store, research on the internet to understand the significance of these places. You will better appreciate the cultural and historical significance of these places. In effect that will make you a better photographer because you will see in a different light from the average tourist.
Carry at least a 50mm prime (35mm for APS-C shooters)
Streets are where the real action is in India. If you choose to spend the next week or so just by shooting street scenes, you will come out with at least two to three dozen usable photos; and I feel that is a good crop. A 50mm prime (35mm for APS-C shooters) is a must have.
A prime lens, apart from the fact that these are extremely sharp, does one thing; and that is they allow you to get a shot in an instant. With no zoom ring you have less reason to dabble around with camera control; that evidently leaves more time in hand to shoot.
Learn how to pre-focus
Pre-focusing is a technique wherein you focus on a spot in the frame in advance, anticipating the movement of the subject. This technique allows you to frame the shot in advance and then wait in anticipation for the subject to arrive so that you can press the shutter release.
Dress for the occasion
One of the pre-requisites for great people and street photography is to use the camera as discreetly as possible. One of the greatest exponents of street photography Henri Cartier-Bresson used to paint the shiny metallic parts of his Leica black and practically hid in a corner to capture the most natural poses you would see in images from the street. I only suggest to go a step ahead and also dress as per the occasion. Indians prefer to dress modestly for the larger part. Though in big cities you will see contradiction to that notion, for the larger part it is true. In places like Varanasi, e.g.; dressing modestly and at times even dressing as the locals do will help you to get close to your subject and capture images that are impossible otherwise.
Take the off-beaten track
In between your hotel room, air-conditioned transfers to popular sights and the occasional drive to restaurants and curio outlets printed in the travel itinerary use the free time that you get to tread the paths that no one else in the group is doing. Always inform your travel manager in advance of your desire, take a local guide cum expert and at least one friend from the group to make those special trips. At the end of the day you will be happy that you did so. Mixing with the locals will give you a clear advantage and better opportunities to shoot more compelling images.