Are you ready with your camera? – By Pranab Mukhopadhyay

Are you ready with your camera? – By Pranab Mukhopadhyay

You have a nice digital camera, you love to take great photographs that will get attention and you want to be good at your photography. But when you click a good image, you wonder if your next click will get you as good a shot again. You wonder why every shot of yours does not come as well as your best shot.

As we explore why it happens that way, we see what is our position in terms of photography. We are not formally trained in photography, shoot mostly outdoor, use natural light for creating the images. As a group we are hobbyist photographers, users of cameras to pursue our love and passion for photography. We tend to think that lack of formal training prevents us from achieving the best of our potential. Some interesting examples may be useful to know that we can be great photographers even without formal learning.

Nemai Ghosh, the famous photographer of Satyajit Ray got a camera from a friend as repayment of a loan in kind. But he could make nothing of it as he has never held a camera till then. He got few tips for using the camera from a friend. A few months later, he barged in the location of shooting of Satyajit Ray’s Goopigayen Baghabayen. He took some shots of Ray at work in the location. With much hesitation Nemai Ghosh took his film roll to a friend – a famous photo developer. His friend was skeptical. But as he developed the rolls, he was surprised. He suggested that Ghosh takes them to Ray. After much efforts the prints reached Ray and he hailed them as ones that he would have liked to shoot himself! Nemai Ghosh’s world changed. For 25 years, Ghosh photographed Ray and his images are considered the most authentic portraits of the famous director.

Nemai Ghosh was clearly a native talent but his talent needed nurturing. Same is the case with you who have the talent. But are you prepared to nurture it?

What is the lesson for us in this story?

Nemai Ghosh inspires us by his conviction to pursue his passion. Enormously talented as he is, even for Nemai Ghosh, his success did not happen easily. He sacrificed many comforts to pursue his passion. Eventually he learnt the skill on-the-job and polished his natural skill to reach the full potential of a great talent.

The lazy shooter

A young friend who bought an advanced digital SLR camera, was taking shots for years only in the programme auto mode! He never took the trouble to learn the adjustments. Auto mode, as we know, gives little creative freedom that is the hall mark of an SLR camera. But he was shy to learn even the basic adjustments and preferred to  shoot in auto mode rather than experiment to learn the manual adjustments. We often take shortcuts and still aspire to get a great shot. But they do not go together.

The joy of creative photography can all be yours when you master the courage to ride the powerful horse (your camera) with the controls in your hand. While many of you have left the auto mode, you may still prefer to use  the auto for many functions. Next time you use your camera, leave the auto mode and experiment with manual operation.

Another friend’s case is also similarly interesting – he uses his camera to take a few shots once in several months. He feels that his camera is better off in his cupboard than in his hand. Imagine buying a Mercedes and taking it out only once in a month for a short ride!

What is the impact of such frugal use of  his camera. This friend has only a few images to review his own work and these give him so few options to learn from his work. The question is how will you learn photography and using the full potential of your expensive camera  if you do not use it enough?

Are you prepared to work hard?

Saptarshi Sanyal who previewed this article, shared with me a life changing quote by Raghu Rai and I present it here for my friends : ” I am almost 70, have been photographing for more than 45 yrs now…I feel I have not even touched ten percent  of the possibilities…I want to throw you up in the air and there’s one condition: when you land, don’t land at the same spot, and don’t land on someone else’s spot” ( don’t just replicate or do what you have done before or what anyone else has been doing).

Is it possible to gain insight in a complex machine-based art like photography without practicing hard with your camera? You learn photography when you roll up your sleeves and dirty your hands at it. You need to try again and again to look critically at your own work. If you choose to be frugal with your shoots and work in only auto mode, you have so little to explore from the fantastic options that are available to you.

As you take many shots of the same subject with different adjustments like the ISO, exposure, white balance  and shutter speed , you see the possibilities open up and a  pattern emerges in your work. You can choose the good images from your inventory. To study the meta data (that tells you what options were used in your shot) is an important step to self-learning. In the pre digital period with the film camera you had to note down, after every shot, what was your ISO, exposure and other adjustments. You could get back at the final work when the prints would come after waiting for days. Now all these information are instantly ready at your fingertips but have you learnt using all the info in your camera to review your work?

Are you learning continuously?

A related issue is how you learn from others’ Work. In the BKP you have an excellent opportunity to study of each others work. You can compare your work with what others are doing and see your strong and weak points and also learn from your friends work.

A great source of self-learning is internet where the famous photographers’ works are available at the click of your mouse. You soak up new ideas from the master’s work. You train your eyes from seeing the best work from the world. As you learn from the masters, you will be feeling the change in your attitude. You will be looking for something more in your own work, something that evokes, something that makes your photo say beyond what it shows. As you start questioning how you take an image, you see that your images are telling more than what is on the frame.

King’s abandoned palace in Kabul shelled by Soviet troop taken from a car with a 50 mm lens. It emphasizes the height and isolation of the building in proportion to all other elements. The way the cyclist is passing by unconcerned says it all

Modern camera’s endless features

Digital camera has so many options but you may be overwhelmed by their features and choose to take the safe bet to use only a limited number of options. It is a good way of throwing your money in the water. You should break away from this trap. But how?

You can start by opting for one of the many modes in your camera before you gain the confidence to switch to the full manual mode. Take for example, the aperture priority mode where you set the aperture and the camera sets the shutter speed. You see your images  look up when you use several aperture setting options to take multiple shots of the same subject that bring up beautiful and  artistic  variations in your images. Similarly you can choose the shutter priority mode and see how the slow speed shots create many artistic possibilities of your shots.

Get close to your subject

An important part of getting good photographs is to get close to your subject. A famous photographer said if your photographs are not good enough you were not close enough! The tele lens can get you close mechanically – you must physically be close too to know the elements and note what you want to portray.

Another great way to capture the moods of a subject is the change in use of camera angle. Many of us use only the eye level shots and a frontal view. Instead, get a stool and stand up to take a top-down view of your subject. As you change your angle, it will look so dramatic from the ones than the eye level and frontal shots.

Natural light can give great advantage

How much have you thought of the use of natural light in the creative way? Try using the low light of the early hours for your images. Go out early morning to see the same place you pass by every day- it will show you a different mood in the early hours of the day. A photographer said that I love the haze and the mist and that is my day for outdoor shooting!

Photographers are not snap shooters. They plan their images and think thru the composition and lighting. They use their mind and eye to create an image that carries meaning beyond the information that it captures.

Bada Gumbad of the Lodi gardens in Delhi
Bada Gumbad of the Lodi gardens in Delhi. The old monument comes alive with the yogi’s posture that creates an illusion of the yogi being even taller than the monument. Taken with a 24 mm lens in a high angle shot by lying down on the field

Persistence pays

An young and aspiring photographer used to travel everyday from his home at Srirampore to Howrah station by train. He started shooting the images of the daily passengers in the suburban trains. Rain or shine, day or night, he had his camera with him and he was using it. With time he documented the travails and joys of daily passengers that we often ignore to notice. Over three and half years of shooting and one life-changing workshop later, he learnt to view his own work through the eyes of others. The Delhi Photo Festival 2012 and so many other institutions recognized him for his work.( “50 Hours “ by Saptarshi Sanyal)

Creative photography– what does a master say?

The issue is, how can you “create meaningful statement and communicate emotions to others through photography?”(Art of Photography, Bruce Bernbaum, 1994). Bernbaum raised two issues that revolve around both personal and practical considerations; (1) What are your interests? (2) How do you respond to your interests?

On the practical external sides, are questions of design and composition, exposure, lighting, camera equipment etc. to turn the concept into reality.

On the question of personal interest, Bernbaum noted that you need to get involved in the areas of greater interest to you, areas where you can make strong personal opinions. Usually you take photographs that are of interest to you and not every thing that you see. If you are interested in a subject, it gives you the desire to work even when you are tired. You overcome your fatigue with your enthusiasm.

At another level, the issue is what excites you? Are you a portrait lover? Are you excited by passing events? That may indicate that you may be a street photographer. Are you stimulated by pure design, abstraction? If you can not define your interests, try your hand at number of alternatives and see what appeals to you most and which least. Go by what your heart says.

The second of the two personal considerations (How do you respond to your interests?) the answer is more difficult. How do you translate your thoughts photographically? It is more complicated to know not only what interest you but also just how it affects you. Bernbaum says that “as soon as I determine what I am responding to most strongly, and how I am responding, I must concentrate on emphasizing all the elements that strengthen the response, while eliminating those that weaken it”.

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