Photographing the children

I woke early this morning to the sounds of roosters crowing and soft bird song.  I made myself a cup of coffee with the hot water in the thermos Milly had left me last night and munched a quick slice of rye bread and almond butter I had brought with me as I doubted I would have time for breakfast once I started shooting.

The orphanage was fairly quiet, dew glistened on the grass as I approached the five houses containing the children and house mothers.  Sleepy little faces were starting to appear in the doorways, yawning and waving shy hello's as I walked by.  As I rounded a corner of house two I came across the boys lined up against the wall.  They were captivated each time the shutter went off they gave a cheer and rushed to see what was on the back of the camera.

I had planned to make my first stop at house one which was that of the infants.  It was already a beehive of activity as the house mothers Jessica and Florence were already up feeding some of the infants.  I was struck by the fact that taking care of these infants was what Jessica and Florence did day and night.  They lived ate and slept with these babies.  Two women caring for almost 8 babies each.  No small task, and again the amazing thing was I could tell by the interaction between them that they performed this mammoth task not for the tiny salary they received but for the love of these small children.

Many of the infants were still sleeping in their mosquito net covered cribs as Florence took me around and introduced each baby to me.  Moses was just waking up when I got to his crib, I later took quite a few pictures of his happy little chap.

While I was moving around the children's two bedrooms the house's central common area was becoming a beehive of activity as the senior girls started filing in and began to prepare plastic basins of hot water, towels, fresh diapers and clean clothing for the infants.  It was the role of the senior girls to wash and change the infants every day.  

I was touched by the warm and loving bond between the infants and these girls.  I sensed nothing but genuine love from them for these small children.  This was not something they did because they had to, they loved these children as their own little brothers and sisters.  Each child was stripped down and placed into a basin on the floor filled with warm water.  The child would then be soaped and rinsed in the basin and passed on to another senior who would dry and clothe the child.

The light in the room was a little dark as the children were being washed deep into the room forcing me to shoot at around 800 ISO, a lot higher than I would prefer but the Canon 5D and MK III perform extremely well in low light especially when combined with a fast lens like the 50mm  f1.2.  I decided I would return the next morning and position the children in better light closer to a doorway which would create a beautiful soft main light complemented by the weaker back light from the opposite single window.

After spending quite a while photographing the morning bathing of the infants I moved on to shooting some video of the orphanage founder Dorothy and her sister Milly who currently runs the orphanage.  I had brought lights, Canon portable strobes and small portable soft boxes but I decided to set up in the chapel, a large classroom adjacent to the admin offices as it had beautiful wrap around window light which I felt I could use to light my subjects in very flattering but natural way. I placed the subjects close to the window with my back to the window so that the subjects received beautiful modeling light with a wide edge light from the more distant windows on the opposite wall.  I decided to take the curtains from my bedroom to soften the strong window light from over exposing my background, they also added a lovely dappled effect around the subject.  I had brought my lav microphones and zoom sound recorder for the interviews.  I set up for a dual source sound recording with a Senheiser shotgun mic on the 5D. Both Milly and Dorothy proved to be great subjects. Milly spoke at length about the challenges of running the orphanage and Dorothy recollected the first child she took in having no food and living in a run down mud house with a leaking roof. She had come a long way from that first child almost 20 years ago, scrounging baby formula at the local hospital to todays orphanage with 85 children and five houses and a staff of over 10 people.

I ended my first day shooting some pics of the kids playing outside as the sun sank slowly behind the Rhinzori mountains.  It was heart warming to watch the different age groups playing together while some of the teenagers carried infants on their hips, laughter and squeeling filled the evening air.  House mothers sitting on the porches kept a watchful eye as kids ran back and forth chasing each other around the lawn and shrubs.

After a warm bucket bath and a delicious meal of rice, fried peanut porridge and cassava I headed to bed.  I crept into my mosquito net covered bed tired but feeling good that I had some great video and a lot of gorgeous shots of the kids.


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