Alessandra Meniconzi’s intriguing portrait of a Mongolian girl with a hawk on her head breaks all of the rules: she worked with children, animals… and a macro lens. The Canon Europe Ambassador tells us the story behind the portrait, shot in a 15-minute shoot in the girl’s Mongolian home, in October 2017.
«My first amazing trip to Kazakhstan was 18 years ago. It was when I first saw one of the most fascinating and ancient methods of hunting: catching prey using golden eagles. During my stay I discovered that new generations of men and women are keeping this tradition alive, from a very early age.»
The Mongolian girl and her hawk
«During the Eagle Festival in Altai, Mongolia, I saw this little girl walking with a hawk on her head. I became acquainted with the family and asked her parents for their permission to shoot a portrait – not in the middle of a crowd, but in a quiet place. I wanted to achieve a darker image with a special atmosphere.»
DURING THE EAGLE FESTIVAL IN ALTAI, MONGOLIA, I SAW THIS LITTLE GIRL WALKING WITH A HAWK ON HER HEAD.
«A few days later, the family invited me to shoot her in that set-up in their home. The room was very dark, so I used two flashes to freeze the movement of the girl and hawk. When you work with children you should be fast – they get bored quickly, and in this case I also had an animal. I took photographs for 15-20 minutes but wasn’t satisfied with what I had. To get a great shot everything must be synchronised: you, the child, and the animal…
«But then, as I was telling the child that I had finished, the hawk turned towards the camera and fixed its gaze, almost as if it were locked onto prey. Without wasting time I shot this picture. The last capture turned out to be the most successful. Never think you have finished a shoot – always stay tuned in because something special can happen when you least expect it!»
Using a macro lens for portraits
«For the Altai trip, I had to shoot portraits, life inside small houses or gers (a Mongolian or Kazakh tent), and landscapes. So I decided to take the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM for portraits and ice detail; the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM for landscape; the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM as an all-rounder lens and the Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM for the interiors.
«The 100mm is good for flattering facial proportions and the f/2.8 aperture creates very good depth of field. It is also very light and discrete. Moreover, the lens has been created for small details – the images really are razor sharp! And finally, you can get closer to your subject.»
Alessandra Meniconzi proves that sometimes rules are meant to be broken, and in the case of the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens, its creative use as a portrait lens can make it a versatile addition to documentary photographers’ kit bags.