A year ago, on a gloomy winter morning just before dawn, a 35-year-old man stumbled through the ravines in a jungle in Jharkhand, carrying nothing but a lantern and a DSLR camera. When he got to the Maitron Dam, he knelt at the edge, whipped out his camera, adjusted the lens and clicked what he claims was "an astonishing picture of the snake-infested waters."
The snakes didn’t scare graphic designer Rakesh Singh. The thought that he might not get the photograph he’d mentally framed over months, did.
Singh isn’t a professional photographer. He’s just an enthusiastic amateur who takes his hobby very seriously. So seriously that he is more than just willing to invest time, effort and amounts of money into his pastime. He is actually driven to do so.
What’s new about this, you may ask. There have always been passionate photography hobbyists and there always will be. That’s true, but in the last couple of years, the sheer number of people looking at photography as their medium of creative expression has gone ballistic. And, like Singh, for most of them, this is not just a hobby. It’s a deeply involving occupation.
Blame it on technology
"The seriousness with which people are pursuing photography now has never been seen before," says Dabboo Ratnani, celebrity photographer.
That’s the fallout of several factors, all of which fall back on one word – technology. Digital cameras have turned hordes of aim-shoot-and-get-wobbly-pictures people into wannabe pros.
"Now you can shoot thousands of pictures without having to plan each shot or bother about the exhaustion of a film roll,"says Ratnani. "You can see what you’re shooting and improve it instantly."
So thousands of people are willing at least to try and take great pictures, and once even one fantastic frame is achieved, the bug begins to bite.
Two other factors have added to the growing photo fascination – smartphones with super cameras and websites like Facebook, Flickr and Picasa where photos can be uploaded and commented upon.
For instance, Hrushikesh Sonsurkar’s tryst with photography began when he used the 3.6 megapixel camera on his phone, uploaded the pictures on Facebook and got a positive response from his friends. Mobile photography as he calls it, gave him the confidence to take up photography as a serious hobby. And Mulchand Dedhia, 25, founder of the Mumbai Weekend Shoots (MWS) photography club, started shooting on a Nokia 6600 cell phone with a 1.3 megapixel VGA camera.
"Smartphones are making more and more people passionate about photography as these phones come with cameras that yield an image quality that rivals that of point-and-shoot cameras," says fashion photographer Atul Kasbekar. "But smartphones can’t replace actual high-end cameras."
That’s something that any amateur photographer worth her or his megapixels knows, so it’s no surprise when Anshul Jha, manager, Canon Image Lounge, Gurgaon, says: "In the past few years, we’ve observed that most people who’ve shown a keen interest in photography have been ones who started shooting on their smartphones."
And photo-sharing apps such as Apple’s Instagram have taken the hobby to a new level altogether. Says Vikram Bawa, celebrity photographer, "Instagram reaffirms the fact that anyone with a creative streak can get into photography."
Getting in focus
If the photography bug has really bitten deep, the amateur photographer doesn’t want to remain totally self-taught. She or he really wants to learn.
And if anything truly shows the mega interest that photography has aroused in a previously photo illiterate nation, it’s the number of photography clubs and workshops on offer.
Every weekend, cities all over India witness groups of enthusiasts equipped with DSLRs who meet to shoot and discuss pictures, walking around the city for practical classes in the photographic art. For instance, in Mumbai, Breaking Rules, a school of photography for amateurs, conducts five-weekend workshops, with a focus on outdoor photography within city limits.
"We’ve been to the Global Vipassana Pagoda at Gorai, taken a closeup of the Haji Ali Maula, paraded the streets of Chor Bazaar, shot in local train compartments and actually captured the pulse of the city," says Kaushik Chakravarty, 35, organiser of Breaking Rules and a freelance photographer.
So how does learning happen while you shoot? "We are taught the basics of operating the camera and applying different techniques for different shots, then we analyse and critique each other’s works, and that’s how we learn," says Dr Sharika Prabhudesai, 38, ENT surgeon, who was gifted a photography workshop by her husband.
As word spreads, photography clubs can become huge, says Dedhia. "We started as a small community of likeminded people in 2008, and by the end of this year, we expect membership to cross 5,000." The majority of MWS members are fulltime working professionals, who cheerfully turn up for a 7.30 am shoot on a Sunday morning, often travelling from places closer to Pune than Mumbai.
Other groups move beyond city limits, organising holidays that expose amateurs to different kinds of photography. Trips to Click, for instance, founded last August by Chirag Patel, 24, a film editor and audio-visual consultant turned photographer, conducted its first photo tour in Leh-Ladakh in September 2011 for seven days, followed by a trip to the Pushkar Mela in Rajasthan for five days.
"We had a fantastic response from amateur photographers across the country," says Patel. "People love photography tours and the market for it is booming."
Camera brands like Canon and Nikon conduct workshops and tours for amateurs too, and also invite submissions by amateur photographers for online photo contests. "Ninety-five per cent of the participants are amateurs who are passionate about photography," says Jha. "A few years ago, we used to organise eight to 10 sessions a month. Now the number has grown to 16-20 a month."
Wide angle view
There’s no denying that photography is an expensive hobby. Still, you can gauge the level of involvement with any hobby by the amount of money its devotees are willing to spend on it.
Deepankar Arora’s family thought he was crazy when he invested his first pay cheque two years ago in a Nikon D 90 that cost R80,000. "Then I purchased another lens for Rs 98,000," says the 30-year-old operations management and logistics executive from Delhi, sounding not at all sheepish.
And Ashu Mittal, 31, mother of two and an employee at Adobe, sacrificed all her other indulgences for her camera. "I graduated from my first Rs 30,000 SLR to my latest one for Rs 80,000 and have been adding lenses, which means I’ve spent more than R2 lakh as of now," she says. "That means I don’t spend much on clothes and other things, but that’s fine. I have no vanity. I just lust for anything even remotely related to photography."
Not many people can afford these extravagances and in fact, they don’t have to, says Jha. "Good quality digital cameras are available for between Rs 8,000 and Rs 25,000, which work very well for an amateur," he says.
And those old manual cameras that clutter up closets can still be used today. When his friend tried to sell a manual SLR Yashica FX7 to the kabadiwala, Husain Shaikh, 35, bought it instead. "It’s a priceless treasure and and I use it for black and white street photography," says Shaikh. "These manual cameras are amazingly precise, don’t cost much and get you to deliberate upon each shot. I’m gonna be with my manual for a long, long time."
This 30-year-old call centre executive specialises in abstract photography
This 35-year-old Delhi businessman has spent R1.75 lakh on his passion
This Adobe executive’s forte is still life, and clicking pictures of her daughter
This Delhiite is passionate about taking pictures on backpacking trips.
Dr Sharika Prabhudesai
This dentist loves reading online tutorials and books on photography
How to be a shooting star
Freelance photographer Natasha Hemrajani has shot all sorts of pictures from people to wildlife to stills. Here’s her advice on getting the best shots – always. Portraits
A good portrait is a perfect blend of lighting, moment, mood and emotion. A flattering angle for face portraiture is usually slightly over the shoulder, with the face turned towards the camera lens. It is said that the eyes are windows to the soul and a good portrait should capture some of that mystery and magic in the human eye. Sometimes shooting in monochrome can add starkness to the features of the human face. Landscape
Pay attention to the quality of your light. Often, light from the golden hour, i.e. around sunrise and sunset, is the most magical to shoot in. Frame your shot in a way that allows the viewer’s eye to travel within the photograph, thereby adding a ‘being there’ quality. Work with a foreground and a background to avoid making the final picture look flat. Travel
The essence of travel photography is capturing a place along with its culture, flavour, quirks and people. It may be impossible to fit all these attributes in one single image but aim for it. Good travel photography is a mix of still life, portraits, landscapes and moments. Wild Life
Sometimes, the more interesting picture is one that says something about the animal in its habitat, as in the case of this deer in its denuded forest. While the most captivating picture may be the eyes of an animal looking back at you, sometimes catching the animal when it’s unaware of your presence can also be a powerful picture. Think about the animal you are shooting and take your time. Capture it at the right moment. Still Life
When shooting an inanimate subject, tighter framing and varying depths of field add a persuasive quality to the final image. Concentrate on working with a background that does not take away from your subject. A shallower aperture value will enhance the main subject in the foreground while allowing for a pleasant blur in the background. Extra exposure
Expert photographer Dinesh Khanna on how to best capture
Delhi’s camera-friendly spots
Shopping malls: Remember to take permission before you start snapping pictures in a mall. Also make sure you carry the smallest camera possible. You don’t want to attract too much attention. Clicking pictures in a mall is all about regular people juxtaposed against swanky objects, for example an old man in an Imagine store. The choice of lens is up to you. If you’re looking to capture pure emotions then use a telephoto zoom lens (200-300mm) but if you’re looking to capture mall architecture then the super wide-angle lens (16-24mm) is your best bet. But never use a flash. It will kill your picture.
Mehrauli: I feel Mehrauli makes for a very interesting subject. The architecture is worth clicking. Remember to carry a wide-angle lens for this. Preferable time would be early morning to capture the sunlight falling on the monuments. Again, remember to not use a flash.
Railway Stations: I feel railways stations are really interesting. The hustle bustle of a station is worth capturing. The best way obviously is to become one with the crowd. Click from a distance using a tele lens (200mm). You can also experiment with multiple exposure, but you would need a tripod for that.
Dilli Haat: The energy of Dilli Haat is palpable. Imagine the colours and contrasts you can capture with your camera. A wide angle 16-24mm lens can give you a graphic shot, which is highly recommended.
Jama Masjid: Head there at the crack of dawn or late evening. The light is perfect for photography at that time. Carry both your telephoto and wide angle lenses – it gives you the option to play around a little. I also suggest you walk through the area and shoot people (with a wide-angle lens), instead of trying to focus on one thing.
(As told to Amrah Ashraf)
An expert’s take on how to best capture Mumbai’s five camera-friendly spots:
CST station: Two types of lenses work best for capturing the architectural beauty of CST. One is the super wide angle lens (16-24mm) to cover the whole length, breadth and the busy life of the place; and the second one is the telephoto zoom lens (200-300mm) to zoom in and get creative pictures of the station’s architecture, windows, shadows, etc. For more artistic pictures of the place, one must stand on the Fort side of the station with the wide angle lens and shoot in an angle towards Crawford Market. Or from outside the station, looking towards the local train section, with the telephoto lens so as to actually capture the essence of those life-size stained glass windows.
Dhobi Ghat: Though a typical way of capturing Dhobi Ghat would be to take a shot with a 50mm or 24mm from above the bridge looking down, I suggest the creative option of walking down to the ghat and actually shooting people (with a wide-angle lens) while they’re at it, instead of trying to focus on the place. This way one has enough leverage to get really creative, especially with the place making for an interesting background.
Gateway of India: I feel the best way of capturing the grandeur of the Gateway is to get inside it and shoot upwards into the dome. You can again use a wide angle to zoom lens (18-85mm). Another interesting option is to shoot from the harbour towards the Gateway and the Taj, by actually getting into a boat or ferry. Preferable time would be early morning during sunrise, to capture the sunlight falling on the Gateway. For an evening shot from the seaside, wait until you are able to see a lovely silver silhouette of the skyline, and then shoot with a 24-120mm lens for the best results.
Marine Drive: Marine Drive can be captured from various different angles, but the most innovative would be to place the camera on a tripod, on the flyover and shoot towards the north or towards south and get different viewpoints. The best time would be between 5.30pm and 7.30pm because that is when the play of light is at its best and the Queen’s Necklace looks breathtakingly beautiful. Aim for the blur, that is so particular to cars zooming by – that’s the most cinematic view you can get. Experiment with the wide angle and zoom 24mm lens to capture the whole expanse of Marine Drive.
Sealink: Take a shot from a moving vehicle, looking upwards at the cables, and use the techinique of panning. My favourite time would be around 6.30pm which makes the shot more interesting, given that you get to shoot in twilight. A wide angle 16-24mm lens could give you a very graphic shot. Another option would be to go to Shivaji Park or Bandra Fort during sunrise and capture the view from there.
(Courtesy: Vikram Bawa).
From HT Brunch, January 29
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