Street Profiles: Ashraful Arefin
When you think street photography, Bangladesh isn’t the first location that would normally come to mind. But after discovering the work of Ashraful, it’s evident the everyday situations he captures of his home convey as much as or more emotion and character than street photos from any major global city.
Upon seeing his work for the first time we were instantly captivated not only by his use of light and colour but by the real life moments of a country we rarely see. As such we thought it would be great to approach Ashraful and give him the opportunity to talk about his work and the country he loves.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what photography means to you.
I am a Photographer based in Dhaka, Bangladesh and been doing it for the past 6 years. I was a student of Fine Arts and wanted to be a graphic artist but eventually I found my true passion for photography, and right now it means the world to me. Photography has opened my eyes and heart to see things differently and finding beauty in the simple little moments that may seem boring and mundane to normal eyes.
What is your definition of street photography?
For me it’s the surprise of elements and those fleeting moments. You know that you got only one chance to capture a moment and it will never happen again!
What do you look for when you go out shooting?
Well I am obsessed with light so that’s the first thing I look for. I love how light can turn a simple scene into something beautiful! I always look for spontaneous little moments and people just being themselves.
What do you want people to feel when they view your photos?
I really believe that beauty is everywhere, all you need to do is look at things with a different perspective. And that’s what I try to convey through my images. I hope to make people feel positive, appreciate their surroundings and all those little moments of everyday life a bit more when they see my images.
Reaction from the locals
I have been to different places in South Asia and it was interesting to see people reacting differently in different cities. In some places people don’t even notice me or give any attention in contrast with my own city, Dhaka where people get very curious and keep staring. But so far the reactions I have received are on the good side.
Do you have a dream location you would like to shoot one day and why?
I do and funny thing is its in my own country! There’s a tribal village far away from the capital city, the people their live with incredibly beautiful houses decorated with colors and their lifestyle is also very unique. They are not very eager to get their photographs taken but I’d love to go there and capture their unique lifestyle and houses.
Spending a week in Bangladesh
If you are a street photographer and want some amazing shots with interesting locations and people then Old Dhaka is a must visit. Its full of narrow lanes, alleyways and each street has its own vibe and character. If you love nature and interested in landscape photography then hill tracts in Chittagong or lush green forests in Sylhet can be your destination. You will find swamp forests, rivers with crystal clear water and beautiful tea gardens there with unique tribal people. And if you want to experience river life then backwaters and riverside villages in Barisal would be an excellent choice.
We notice in your work that you are very specific with the light you choose to shoot in. Is there a best time to shoot in? Do you have any tips on how to work with the shifting light and shadows in the alleys and city?
Personally I prefer to shoot in late afternoon for the warm golden sunlight and less harsh shadows. I also shoot in early mornings. The light that time is really beautiful, soft and diffused. Also I think location scouting and studying the light really helps... at least for me to get the kind of result I want. Whenever I go to a street I study that place and try to see how it looks with different kind of lights in different times of the day and that really helps to understand which angle, composition or subject matter would look good in that particular time. Also knowing the time when your preferred light will be available is the key.
Name one lens you can’t live without and why.
I have recently got the NIKKOR 105mm F/1.4E ED and now it barely leaves my camera body. I love to capture people in their natural state without interrupting their personal space and with the 105mm focal length I can get really close to my subject without disturbing them. It also helps to capture their authentic expressions. And the f/1.4 creates great depth and amazing separation with the background.
What’s in your camera bag?
Can you share the story about your favourite image?
This image was shot in Yamuna ghat, at the bank of river Yamuna in Delhi, India. It was very early in the morning, just before the sunrise. I went there to photograph the Siberian seagulls. Every winter, flocks of Siberian seagulls migrate through Delhi making a temporary home in river Yamuna. While looking for subjects to shoot, I saw this man roaming around in the water with his small raft filled with trashes. Later I got to know his name was Sikandar, a lone boatman who stays in the water from dawn to dusk, picking and collecting trashes from the river water and this is how earns his living. The way he appeared in the morning mist with flocks of gulls surrounding him, it felt very surreal and mysterious to me. He seemed like a character from story book and I wanted to capture that moment and atmosphere within my frame.
You obviously spend time perfecting your colour grading. Can you briefly walk us through what software/apps you use and what is your process in colour grading? Which tools in the apps do you recommend and why?
Thank you! I do all of my post processing work in Adobe Photoshop. I always shoot raw and start by doing basic editing and corrections like exposure, contrast, shadows etc in Adobe Camera Raw and later I color grade using different adjustment layers like curves, selective colors, color balance in Photoshop. Basically I work on highlights, midtones and shadows separately to give the image more depth. And if I have to choose one tool it would be curves. Its super easy to use, you can work on highlights, shadows and midtones individually and enhance the colors and light with ease. Another tool I absolutely love is selective colors adjustment layer. I love that you can work on a particular color without effecting the entire image. That gives so much control and saves time.
Finally, do you have any advice for people wanting to get into photography?
Follow your heart and do it only if you really want to, shoot what you really want to shoot instead of following trends or popular things. It’s all about finding your unique voice.
Let us know what you thought about the article. Who do you want to see us interview next? Drop a comment below. You can follow us on Instagram @street.classics.
Find more of Ash’s work & follow him here:
Still life: www.instagram.com/monsieur_arefin