Train | Colombo, Sri Lanka

I daresay that when I finally had the dosh to get myself a real camera, all those years ago, I wanted to make pictures like this: of someone drawing the light around herself with such magnetism that mundane objects are lifted on that glamour, time stops, and I find myself wanting to go and ask her what she’s thinking about (I didn’t though; repose is so rare in public spaces).

I may have made two, including this one, in all the years I’ve been shooting, and both have been on trains.

Like it is in a lot of the world, it’s harder to shoot pictures of women than men here in Colombo. Many of the younger men have courted the attention of this photographer by posing and doing funny things when they see the tourist camera pointed at them, but the women I’ve encountered are much shyer – quite a few will cover their face with their hand if they don’t manage to avoid the camera.

I get this. I am the same.

So I always find myself fighting a particular reluctance to intrude on other woman by photographing them, but I’d hopped aboard and was so arrested by this particular scene, I snapped three frames off from the hip before really thinking about it. Two were motion-blurred to hell owing to the sway of the ancient carriage and too long an exposure from passing shadows. This one came out just right.

Flemming and I have been in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, for a month now. Colombo’s railway has been the focus of much of our time here. There’s more to come.


  1. What is it about trains that assist in the picture making process. Perhaps it’s the romance idea we begin with? Whatever it is, it works.

    1. Charlene says:

      Romance must have a lot to do with it. Train travel engages the senses like no other form of mass travel does. The rhythm, and the relative leisure of the journey; I always feel like I’m really travelling somewhere on trains.

      Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar starts out explaining this so well: “Ever since childhood, when I lived within earshot of the Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it. Those whistles sing bewitchment: railways are irresistible bazaars, snaking along perfectly level no matter what the landscape, improving your mood with speed, and never upsetting your drink The train can reassure you in awful places – a far cry from the anxious sweats of doom aeroplanes inspire, or the nauseating gas-sickness of the long-distance bus, or the paralysis that affects the car passenger.”

  2. David Goold says:

    Beautiful piece and sensitively made, Charlene. A very special image. I have yet to make one – I suppose I will know it when I do. Well, I should not try it on our trains here… they do not offer ‘special’ opportunities in any way!

    Oooooh, it’s the new 35? Nice.

    1. Charlene says:

      All trains offer special opportunities… whether it’s a photo or being told off by rail security for slinging a camera ;)

      The new 35 really is nice, David. This one’s a loaner and I’m much wishing I could keep it.

  3. Erin Wilson says:

    This is a gem, Charlene. That serene look on her face and white shirt bathed in light, against the grimy windows and walls. Quite something.

    1. Charlene says:

      It was quite a scene. The light is always beautiful in these old trains. They’re not artificially lit in the daytime so all that sunlight flowing in…oh, I could go on.

  4. lynn gail says:

    There is always that pull and push inside of us when we feel we are intruding in another’s personal space – but when the pull to take that image is greater it’s interesting that our want takes over our logical conditioning. I would definitely be taking the picture too, how can we not in these story-telling moments – love your train stories Charlene.

    1. Charlene says:

      Absolutely Lynn. I guess that push-pull never goes away…. maybe it’ll end up being a good thing in the end?

      And thank you :)

  5. rajesh says:

    hey nice frame.what was this shot with?X-T1 with a 35mm f2 and classic chrome- these are my blind guesses?thanks.rajesh

    1. Charlene says:

      Hehe, Rajesh, my tags say X-T1 and the new 35 f2, so yes, you’re right ;)

      Film simulation: Astia. I normally shoot with either Astia or Provia. I have to be one of the very few (or only?) Fuji shooters out there who can’t get classic chrome to work for me.

  6. rajesh says:

    hey Charlene.many thanks.Different strokes for different folks I guess.I await the new XPRO 2- rumoured to be out in Jan 2016?

    1. Charlene says:

      I guess so. I think Astia just suits the way I like to make pictures. That being said, I should try harder with Classic Chrome. So many photographers get such great results from it.

      I await it myself! It’s torture reading Fuji Rumors these days :)

  7. rajesh says: what are your in camera settings outside like in the sun with shadows,highlights etc…and what are your camera settings indoors when there’s very little light like using 3200 or 6400 ISO?

    1. Charlene says:

      Default settings mostly – 0 Highlights, 0 Shadows.I’m usually on at least -2/3 EV. The darker it gets, the lower the EV… then it goes to -2 or -3 depending on what I’m trying to do.

      I’ve ever had qualms about shooting at ISO 6400 when I need to – I started out shooting almost exclusively at night, so cranking the ISO up to get a reasonable shutter speed was a habit I got into a long while ago.

    2. Charlene says:

      I meant to ask: what do you normally shoot? And what do you do it with?

  8. Greg says:

    Interesting. My eye is inexorably drawn to the older woman, nearer the foreground, with her hand at her chin and finger along her cheek. Maybe it’s to do with the fact that all eyes in the frame seem turned in her direction (if not actually looking at her), but she’s the one I want to query. There’s a strength and elegance to that hand position that seems to bespeak what? intelligence? practicality? wisdom? not sure, but anyway, something.

    Every train seems the “Orient Express” or “The City of New Orleans”, while buses are “Desolation Angels”.

    Really handsome, fascinating image.

    1. Charlene says:

      Public transport is great to people watch in isn’t it? Might change your perception of the photo after I tell you the woman in the white shirt collapsed into the arms of her companion, shortly after I snapped this frame.

      “while buses are “Desolation Angels”. ‘

      That’s cause you’ve never taken the buses I take from Singapore to KL. They’d give the Orient Express a run for the money I reckon! ;)

  9. Håkan Lindgren says:

    Your writing made the photograph come alive for me – I wouldn’t have seen what you saw in this picture if you hadn’t written this. So … when is your photography book coming? :)

    1. Charlene says:

      Thanks Håkan. Re photography book: Ha, maybe if I get old and have something interesting to say about it?

  10. Håkan Lindgren says:

    You already have something interesting to say. I still remember what you wrote about what it is like to travel as a woman.

    1. Charlene says:

      Well, that’s one blog post. Not sure I have an entire book in me… not anytime soon anyway. One day I might learnt to shut out the voices in my head and write something cogent / useful though :)

  11. Håkan Lindgren says:

    Tell the voices in your head to start working and write the book for you. They might be disturbing you because they have nothing useful to do.

    1. Charlene says:

      Now you’ve hurt their feelings… they were hard at work keeping this blog alive ;)

  12. Håkan Lindgren says:

    Tsss …. :)

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