Harvinder Sunila: Miss Hell’s Belle, Glasgow

The Image

Harvinder Sunila

Glasgow, UK

Time / Date:
23:16 / November 3, 2012

The Technical

Camera Body: Nikon D3
Lens: Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8 G

Camera Settings:

Shutter Speed: 1/90
Aperture: f/2.8
ISO: 3200
Focal Length: 50mm

The Story


I’m a portrait and music photographer, and I wanted to start a series of portraits on a particular group of people. Initially I had looked into ballet dancers, but I decided burlesque fitted better. There was a wider range of people, the clothes and added sexuality made it more interesting. I don’t like the “pin up” style images or stage images you often see, I wanted a glimpse backstage at what you don’t see. Due to the nature of burlesque, me being male and taking images in changing rooms it’s not been the easiest series to organise. Just getting in contact with some dancers has been difficult. Sometimes a dancer will let me shadow her the whole night so I’m there for over six hours, other times I’ve had ten minutes. But that’s OK, I’m very grateful to the dancers who have allowed me to photograph them, without them the series goes nowhere. The passion and obsession I have for my photography I see that in burlesque dancers and their performances…I think that’s one reason I was attracted to them.

The Scene: 

This is an image of the beautiful Miss Hell’s Belle, in the changing rooms of The Gatsby Club, Glasgow where she was performing.


I use a Nikon D3 which I love. To some photographers their cameras are just out and out tools, some like myself feel a connection with their cameras. You often hear Leica users talk about their connection to their cameras, well I have that with my D3…it fits my hands beautifully. The three lenses I use backstage are a Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 AF-D, Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8 G and Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. The high ISO capability of the D3 is fantastic but I’m often below 1/60th sec at f/2.8 in dimly lit changing rooms. I use a SB900 and an odd diffusion technique when I do use flash backstage.

Making the Shot:

Different venues bring different restrictions, usually I’m only using available light, often it’s extremely dark backstage, occasionally I can use flash…for this shot it was available light from a few overhead fluorescent tubes. As well as pulling dancers aside for one on one portraits I also take some more reportage type portraits. Even in a crowded changing room like this people soon forget you’re taking images and you become almost invisible. In this case Miss Hell’s Belle was in a world of her own doing her make up, she looked stunning in that dress and I was able to move around her to get the images I wanted.

Editing & Processing:

I come from a traditional darkroom background, all my photography from school to college has been using film. Now that am I’m using digital all those techniques I learned then are used in the digital darkroom. Whatever I did in a traditional darkroom I use now…contrast, brightness, burning, dodging, toning etc.

I use Lightroom for main adjustments, Photoshop for fine tuning, SilverEfex and ColorEfex for conversions which I fine tune again for what I want. My retouching is very minimal and is pretty much restricted to taking out marks or spots. To me digital is just a capture method in the same way as film was a capture method. 99% of my cropping is done through the viewfinder.

Looking Back: 

It was an interesting night and a frustrating night…something connected to the show went wrong, which meant I didn’t get the time for more one on one portraits of Miss Hell’s Belle. I worked as an assistant and you accept that things go wrong on shoots, and you have to deal with them. If I ask her nicely maybe Miss Hell’s Belle will let me photograph her again and I can get the shots I didn’t get that night.


My advice is a quote from Ansel Adams:

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”


My inspiration is very much connected to the quote above. I’m always looking at images from photographers like Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, Bettina Rheims, Terry Richardson, Bill Brandt the list goes on. There’s that old story about certain tribes around the world who believed that the camera would steal their soul if they were photographed. I believe what you see in a good photograph is the photographer’s soul, I think when you look at my images what you see is me.



About the Photographer

I’m a freelance portrait and music photographer currently based in the UK. I worked for many years as an assistant to several well known music, portrait and fetish photographers in London.

If you’re a burlesque performer, and are interested in being part of the series I’m working on, have a look at my work on my blog and feel free to contact me.

Website: www.harvindersunila.com
Blog: www.harvindersunila.tumblr.com

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Comments (4)

  1. Jez Coulson

    Amazing timelessness to this. Has beauty but also a hint of vulnerability….. mixed with kind of the opposite….. the strength needed to get up and perform …….. for me this study seems to really see her in this dichotomy ……… seemingly capturing her in that private time building to her performance ………. yeah…….. nice one :-))

    Cheers Jez XX

  2. Harv.!

    Thanks for the kind words Jez, ” beauty but also a hint of vulnerability”…absolutely, there’s definitely something about her.


  3. Lynda

    Your image transports me back to 1920s Paris. And from the look on her face, she is someplace far away as well. The image suggests a larger story, a larger context—and that is what makes it so captivating. Good capture. And I like the Ansel Adams quote as well.

    Peace, Lynda

    • Harv.!

      The image was taken at The Gatsby Club, a 1920’s themed cabaret and club night. Not only are the performers dressed for the era but so are all the people who attend…apart from the crazy photographer backstage, lol.

      Take care,