Photographer Dan Westergren recently traveled throughout South Australia, capturing its people and places. Here he shares how a compelling portrait revealed itself to him at the last moment.
When I arrived at Ila Greenaway’s house, she came through the back gate with a small, orphaned kangaroo bouncing in lockstep everywhere she went. Ila, age six, lives with her family in Gawler Ranges National Park, South Australia, where her father is the head park ranger. Entering the yard, I realized I was stepping into a dreamland for a nature-loving kid. After a short conversation about how blue-tongue lizards had been eating their chicken eggs, I followed Ila into a small coop to look for eggs that needed rescuing.
Outside, the light was horrible for taking pictures, the bright early summer Australian sun reducing everything to a squint. But just inside this tin shack I noticed a magical quality of light. Half the room was filled with the bright light, but by asking Ila to stand behind the sharp shadow line of the doorway we converted the modest space into a wonderfully lit photo studio.
Ila held up six multicolored eggs and started awkwardly posing. Her eyes kept darting around and I kept waiting for her to finally become comfortable with the camera. She looked really uncomfortable and I started to realize that even with the great light I wasn’t going to get a nice picture. Suddenly, she went to the corner, carefully set down the eggs, and ran out into the yard. An instant later she returned to our studio with an uncommonly cooperative chicken tucked under her arm. She posed with her friend Brownie, giving me a look that said, “Now THIS is the picture.”
Photo Tip: Often, portrait situations are best treated as a collaboration. Even though I didn’t realize it, this photo was as much Ila’s as mine.
Photographed with a Fujifilm X-T1 and a Fuji XF 16-55mm, f2.8 R LM WR.
Follow Dan Westergren on Instagram @danwestergren.