Learning photography

February 07, 2020

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TAKING photographs should not be the aim. Making it or capturing your surroundings should be the target. I didn’t give much to the thought of photography until a friend convinced me to enroll in a photography class and learn the art form.

In today’s day and age, where just about everyone has a ‘camera’, there are billions of photographers trotting about the globe, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones. According to statistics, there will be more than two billion of these globally connected devices popping out of our pockets this year. Most of these will be held by new age kids, making duck faces and posting God-knows-what pictures using online apps and sharing with their friends. But what these and some of my friends are doing is not photography. It is simply clicking a button and then forgetting about the photo to be reviewed in the years to come.

First thing to do of course is to have a digital camera. And I am talking about a DSLR. If you don’t have one, get it. If you can’t afford one, borrow it. If neither works, then don’t waste money on the photography class. Don’t take this as sarcasm, but going for a photography class is only viable when you can at least have a DSLR camera. Otherwise it is just like going for car driving lessons and not having a car to practise it on.

Prices of a camera start from Rs50,000 and go all the way into the millions. For beginners, the basic need is a half-frame camera. If you can afford a hundred thousand more, then go for a full-frame one. I have two and they are both good pieces of equipment. Of course technology evolves and now companies are pushing for mirrorless cameras. But reliable technology is some time away.

Away from professional studies, there is a world that helps you bring out the creativity buried inside you. And, then, you never know when you might think of switching careers!

Once when you have secured the camera, the necessary peripherals are cheap. I didn’t go for the same brand flash or tripod. I simply opted for the cheaper Chinese variety. Flash you can get hold of in Rs8,000 while the tripod is for Rs2,000. A bag to carry all the equipment and the expected investment in the future is in the area of Rs5,000.

When buying the flash, don’t hold back on rechargeable cells. The regular cells drain quickly, as do the rechargeable ones. At least with the later you can re-use them for some time to come. There, now you are good to go on your photo journey. A note: no matter the price, all equipment requires care and patience. Do not for a moment think that you can take them for granted. Use them as they have been prescribed. Read the ‘note’ again, if you will!

When I enrolled in the class, the first lesson I got was how to hold the camera. This heavy bulky piece of equipment needs respect, unlike the smart phone in our pocket. With phones we can simply take them out and flick them on the bed, sofa, couch, push them on the table desk or inside the drawer. Now imagine doing that with the camera. When holding the camera you need to use both your hands, adjust the lens, focus on your subject, frame him and voila!

Leaning photography also taught us to respect the environment. Going out in the searing heat of the summers or the harsh winters, you have to go to the subject.

Photography is an art form. In today’s digital age, it has been made easy. There was once a time when it used to take hours to develop an image. Dark rooms, reels of footage et al. Today the same takes minutes. Thanks to technology, it is something that is an instant form of artistic expression. Hence, each individual should be good in photography.

In this modern digital age, photography should be considered important just as other skills like reading and writing.

Like other forms of learning, photography takes time and practice. So be patient and keep clicking and keep correcting yourself. Don’t rely on the auto mode. Those days are long gone. Adjust your shutter and aperture. Find the right balance for the moment.

One of the confusing things for me at class was to realize that as the numbers increase, the aperture will close. It was quite funny how my frustration increased when in the indoor shoot class, my results were completely dark, not realizing that 22 was in fact the bare minimum for the light to enter!

Same with the shutter. The less time I gave for it to capture the light, the worse result I got. Our teacher, Rahmatullah Khan, enjoyed the whole scenario. He kept quiet and later reminded me of my mistake. The result is that the first thing I do after switching on the camera is adjust my aperture and shutter settings according to the image I want to capture.

The world around us is what we perceive. Everyone looks at the world from a different point of view. Photography helps us truly share our point of view and perspective with the rest of the world. To many, a baby is a bay. To a photographer, it is innocence, happiness, joy, new life. To be able to get an idea in your head into a visual reality is what photography really does.

The rigours of life deny us the ability to be creative. This is true especially of our jobs. We have the ability as humans to express our emotions. Photography can give us an option to express this hidden creativity inside us and help us become different in a good way.

Initially, I just wanted to capture what I saw; not what was there. As a result, I was taking all the photos that everyone else was taking. However, over a period I learnt to slow down, view what was around me, seeing things that normally I would ignore in the blink of an eye. Your world becomes much more detailed than you have ever noticed before.

As your comfort with technique and equipment grows, you find that you can actually convey these things to others in a meaningful way. The sports day at your children’s school turns into a story that you can share on social media and through prints. By the way, I discovered a plus side to having a camera and it is that the ladies love to be photographed. Luckily, my wife was chill with it, so that went very well as well!

Speaking of prints, we also got to learn the basics of Photoshop and I eventually got to saw the print and the framing work. This is again something that mobile photography does not let you.

As you move through life, changing careers, migrating to another country, your photography remains with you. It is a skill that defines you wherever you go.

People see a camera in my hand and immediately I strike up a conversation talking about photography and the equipment I am carrying. Soon after you are being tested for your skill. People start demanding results. And that is when your practice starts showing off.

Simple snapshots don’t rise to this level of contemplation. ‘Learning’ photography forces contemplation. Using a purpose-built camera gives you an optimised tool for capturing images of your world. It is not that you can’t capture great images with a phone – countless people have proven that you can. But a phone camera is just that – it is a phone that takes pictures. A dedicated camera forces you to think about the camera and what it can do for you. With a phone camera, it is the opposite – the struggle is figuring out how to get something out of it.

Coming back to the photography class, there are things to avoid, like not to take unnecessary photos of your colleagues! No matter how pretty they are. Just don’t. You are there to learn how to photograph, not do what you think you are doing.

At the end of my course I realised I am still learning photography. This is something that only ages with time and practice. It is never going to be over. And I am looking forward to it progressing in the years to come.