Sometimes, Please Don’t Smile

The other day I had a short business trip to Bali. Lovely place, as you can imagine. Indonesia really got its act together lately. The government’s no longer focused on oil and mines solely to fill the state coffers with. A new focus is on tourism, and having been traveling to the mystic island since many years, change for the better is real.

Bali looks clean and well-maintained, and Balinese people are a uniquely fine breed of people. Mellow, compellingly beautiful, the perfect reflection of their stunning island. Who would want to be immune to Bali’s allurements.

Back at Denpasar’s airport, ready to depart, there was this trio playing popular tunes in the duty free area. Guitar, violin and contrabass. Nice subjects/objects, me thought, and grabbed the camera.

The first shots are mostly a waste because people are aware of the camera and it shows. After a minute or so, quietly interacting with the musicians, they kept on concentrating on their music again and ignored me. Well, one gave me a smile. Not too smiling, just right.

The timing seemed alright, had waited for the sales girl on the left to stop moving and stand still. So she did. Snap, and I had to run to catch the plane. Only to find out: sales girl, you were supposed to look just normal or absent-minded, but you smile directly at me!

Please, ignore the photographer! -- Bali Airport, Indonesia | Daniel Kestenholz
Please, ignore the photographer! — Bali Airport, Indonesia | Daniel Kestenholz

Kind of deflects, adding unwanted attention. Diverting the focus from the overall composition.

Direct eye contact is a tricky thing to deal with in photos. It can add an important nuance — like the contrabass player on the right with his kind of absent smile. Or, if flashy selfie-style smirk, it can take a photograph’s honesty.

Next time I’ll have to make absolutely sure that everyone in the frame, e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e, ignores me. That’s the moment to snap.




  • Omer

    I’ve learned to try not to control every aspect of a composition. Good art can sometimes be a mystery that may be beyond an insight. I guess the difficult part is recognizing or allowing an unknown moment to flicker into our composition.

    I kinda like her smile. It adds to the dichotomy of the pouting model above the musicians.

    • Spot on, Omer. The exception proves the rule. This was the one occasion I tried to control everything, otherwise I seem to trust intuition and the moment…