At the recent Holi – Colours of Spring event held at the Esplanade, Ronald Paras created portraits that captured many with their luminescent and ephemeral qualities. We find out more about his process in such a spontaneous and dynamic environment.


Your portraitures at the event were very engaging. Was it a preconceived concept, or were you inspired by what you saw at the event?

About two years ago I did a similar concept with my Street Portraits series, where I also took tight headshots of random strangers. It was tough because I would get rejected most of the time.

Fast forward to Holi Festival 2017.

2EOS 5D Mark III | F/2.2 | ISO 400 | 1/4000s

I saw an Instagram post for this festival at the Esplanade lawn and my immediate idea was to do a street portrait style of the participants. I realised I would seem less “creepy” if I asked people to take their photo as it was an event.

EOS 5D Mark III | F/2.2 | ISO 400 | 1/5000s

What was your thought process and decision in selecting this theme?

My original theme was to have portraits uniformly conveying a serious emotion on a tight headshot. I planned to shoot on the sideline so as not mess up my gears with the coloured powders. However, during the event, I decided to enter the lawn to get better angles and to immerse myself with the participants.

4EOS 5D Mark III | F/2.2 | ISO 400 | 1/5000s

It became so fun and chaotic that I failed to stick to my original theme, so I just decided to show their genuine emotions during those moments. I also took a few candid shots.

What equipment did you select and bring along for this shoot?

I took my Canon EOS 5D Mark III with me and paired it with my Canon EF 85mm f1.8.

5EOS 5D Mark III | F/2.2 | ISO 400 | 1/2500s

Why were they chosen?

The legendary EOS 5D Mark III still is one of the best portrait camera bodies out there. It still accurately renders skin tone beautifully and even in harsh environments and tricky lighting, its auto white-balance is always spot-on. It’s perfect for portraits.

6EOS 5D Mark III | F/2.2 | ISO 400 | 1/4000s

As for the lens, my favourite focal length for portraits is 85mm. It gives flattering results, with a compressed background and shallow depth of field, but not too long of a focal length that you may lose intimacy.

7EOS 5D Mark III | F/2.2 | ISO 400 | 1/4000s

I originally didn’t plan to enter the lawn so I didn’t bring any protection for my gears. My camera and lens were completely bare. Luckily the 5D Mark III is fully weather-sealed so I didn’t have to worry at all when the powders got onto the equipment.

You seem to like portraiture, is there a reason for this and what about it captures you?

I love doing portraiture because I get so much satisfaction and accomplishment from portraits which convey candid emotions, which are impossible to recreate.

8EOS 5D Mark III | F/2.2 | ISO 400 | 1/3200s

With portraits it’s different from, say buildings, because you have an additional variable… the human emotion. This makes every portrait one-of-a-kind and impossible to duplicate, and that’s exceptionally rewarding.

9EOS 5D Mark III | F/2.2 | ISO 400 | 1/4000s

How did you manage to capture such interesting expressions on the participants? Did you trail anyone in particular or did you just go with the flow?

The lawn area isn’t that big so it’s easy to keep track of participants and look for potential models. I have no specific criteria for selection as there will always be moments that catch my attention, so I went with what I saw.

10EOS 5D Mark III | F/2.2 | ISO 400 | 1/2500s

We notice quite a few shots that were back-lit and gave the pictures an-almost ephemeral quality. What are some of the things to watch out for when trying to capture such shots?

I’m glad you noticed! Back-lit portraits are my favourite style and they were intentional for this series. I position myself facing the sun all the time, so by the time I ask a participant to pose for the shot, they are instantly positioned to be back-lit. Likewise with candid shots, it was a continuous and conscious effort for me to keep in mind where the sun was.

11EOS 5D Mark III | F/2.2 | ISO 400 | 1/5000s

Lastly, what are some of your tips for the budding photographer trying to capture expressive portraits at events?

I have a fundamental rule that’s obvious; but photographers sometimes forget that the subject should be the focal point. Be it an up-close head shot or an environmental portraiture, the first thing that your viewers’ eyes should look to is your subject.

12EOS 5D Mark III | F/2.2 | ISO 400 | 1/4000s

Another tip I can share is to not over-process your portraits. A lot of retouchers tend to over-Photoshop the portraits to remove imperfections. I do post processing as well, but I personally believe that these imperfections are what make a portrait perfect. Removing all the imperfections in the image may make your photo look unreal, therefore it loses its relatability to viewers. Humans are imperfect, after all!

13EOS 5D Mark III | F/2.2 | ISO 400 | 1/2000s

Lastly, if you’re going to similar events, don’t be afraid to press that shutter when you see something interesting and change your settings to burst mode to increase your keeper rate!

14EOS 5D Mark III | F/2.2 | ISO 400 | 1/2000s

Experience the beautiful expressions of Ronald’s portraits here:

First published: Canon EOS World

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