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Yet Another Shutterbug’s Story

I didn’t know that my neighbourhood park had rows of trees with lilac flowers. Or that if I stand in my balcony between 6.30 and 7 in the evening, I will see flocks of birds returning to their homes against splendidly-painted skies. I have lived in the same house for about 4 years now. So what changed? Well (to use a cliché) I became a shutterbug of sorts. And I feel immensely happy and sad at the same time. Sad at having missed experiencing so much beauty that was around me all along, but happy that I will no longer be sleep-walking through what life has yet to offer.

Ashu Mittal

Though I am not courageous enough to call myself a photographer (I am content being an enthusiast), but just as I received a lot of help and encouragement along the way, I am impelled to share what I have learnt (and unlearnt) so far. So, you may be an expert and may have been-there-done-that, or you may be the kind who dust-off their camera twice a year for the customary vacation clicks, read on to find out what are my key takeaways so far:

1. No camera/lens/<insert any other accessory> is bad (or good) enough: You can just use your point-and-shoot to click an extra-ordinary picture (like this), or you can use the most sophisticated camera to click the most mundane picture (you don’t need me to tell you which pictures fall in this category ;-). That’s how it is. Don’t be bogged down by the “gear” you have. Start clicking, and start doing so consciously. If you have a decent P&S, start exploring beyond the “Auto” mode and learn the basics about composition, perspective, framing and so on. You might even be able to try out some primary Aperture, Shutter-speed and ISO controls (also called the exposure triangle). See how it goes and then plan about upgrading to an SLR.

However, if you don’t have a digital camera yet or have an old one and are planning to upgrade, just one word of advice: please don’t spend more than 15k on a point-and-shoot no matter how feature-rich it claims to be. Save some more and spend on an SLR. Even if it is the entry level SLR with the kit lens (costs about 25k), it will be worth it.

2. Stop, *Look*, Go: You know who the best writers are? Invariably those who are the most well-read! So go on, hunt for the most awesome photographs (anywhere from the Boston Big Picture to even some of the Flickr groups will get you started) and just observe all those fascinating pictures, very very keenly. Then, try and think about the “one” most striking thing about each of those images. This is what I do and it entails the kind of tacit learning that stays with you forever. And the next time you are clicking that shutter, you will consciously (or subconsciously) realize what is going to make your capture that extra-bit special.

3. Post-processing is not a cardinal sin: Don’t for a moment fall in the trap of the people who say a big no-no to post-processing, ‘cause they (as my friend Aldo Risolvo points out) are either ignorant or just plain jealous. And I am not saying that you necessarily “edit” your pictures every time (though that is yet another art altogether and far more complex), but by all means, use one of those amazing softwares out there (I use Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom®) to enhance your pictures.

Enhancing, again, can be anything from a simple increase in the contrast or putting together a full-blown HDR, but using it wisely will definitely make your picture come alive, and how. To quote another inspiring friend Helen “Your picture may not be SOOC, but it will be exactly what you want it to be”. So go ahead, use ‘them software, and you will be surprised with what you may uncover.

4. Network with people, it makes a difference: Yes, just like any other hobby/profession, networking with people with the same interests pays rich dividends. Always welcome feedback, especially the negative kind. It’s like getting free consultation, ain’t it? And even if photography is something you do for your personal-fulfilment, you can always improve by listening to what others in the field have to say. Moreover, there are ample avenues to easily find those who share this passion with you, whether it is your local photography groups or simply through social networking sites (Facebook groups, Twitter directories, etc.), it will do you a whole lot of good by interacting with them.

5. Don’t let education get in the way of your learning: Recently, I get asked these two questions a lot (and at alarming frequency): “What camera do you use? Have you taken any formal course?” Well, I want to address the second question here (though the answer to the first is a Nikon D40 and it really doesn’t matter). Anyway, here goes: No, I haven’t taken any formal training and I haven’t really felt daunted by this fact.Let me ask you this: Do you ever look beyond the set-up page of that bulky user manual that comes with your camera? Well, I read it from the first page to the last, and I did myself a huge favour. Turns out there are a lot of good tips in there!

Moreover, there is a wealth of resources easily available on the internet that can be exceptionally useful as you start learning the ropes (to name just a couple: Ken Rockwell’s site, Digital Photography School). So whether or not you should take a course? You already know what my answer is, but it’s also your personal choice in the end (considering that good courses don’t come cheap).

All said and done, always remember that “Your first 10,000 clicks will be your worst.” And you may want to increase that number 100 folds considering Henri Cartier-Bresson said that quite a number of years ago. But yes, the idea that unrelenting persistence will be the tipping point from good to great still holds true. And yet, don’t take the brute-force approach of just snapping away in the hope that you might get lucky. Trust me, if you don’t know what you want right now, you will never know later.

That’s about it. Go ahead, take out that camera and start taking notice of how your mom’s lips curl a special way when she smiles.

You can also write a guest article and share your knowledge with our community. Do contact us or tip us on twitter if you would like to do guest blogging for us.

Ashu Mittal works in a software multi-national in Noida (India) and loves to dabble in photography at the first chance she gets. You can see her most interesting work here: http://www.flickriver.com/photos/ashumittal/popular-interesting/ and it ranges from the stunning sunsets from the deserts of Rajasthan to serene landscapes from the far-east India. Flower photography is what she believes to be her stronger points as compared to some of the other areas. Nevertheless, photography is a lucky tryst that she hopes will become a lasting affair! You can also find her on Twitter


34 Responses to “Yet Another Shutterbug’s Story”

  1. Raghu/ says:

    Very well written, Kudos for covering some important points on the subject!

  2. annkur says:

    i rarely read things on mobile, and almost never comment. But here we go …

    Thx for the wonderful post … Hope to improve my photo skills. I will start with reading the manual thats overdue since long :)

    Annkur

  3. Ashish says:

    Good post…keep it up

  4. Phatboy says:

    Excellent Write right (not to be confused with write up): It’s not what you have but, How you use it :) Keep Clicking

  5. Lovely composition!

    I am pretty sure this will inspire lot of budding photographers and motivate them to pick up a camera and start shooting.

  6. Very well written! Stress my point that the art of practicing commoin sense in photography is a neglected one! Would like to invite you to post on our social photography site as well.

  7. jason says:

    I’m not sure what to highlight; your innate artistic eye that is already evident in your work or your excellent writing style. Not only do you make some excellent points but you do so articulately and coherently. Whether its photography or writing, you’ve got an excellent command of both!

  8. Sparx says:

    I’m glad you’ve brought up point #1. Equipment, although important isn’t the be-all and end-all that a photography enthusiast focus on. You’re right. Concentrate on good composition while bearing in mind the technical aspects. Learn from your mistakes. And of course, to repeat an oft-mentioned cliché – Don’t be afraid of making a mistake.

    Good work ; lucidly written.

  9. Two words for this article.

    Short and Sweet

    Short helps me read it complete and Sweet coz i got a clear picture what should be done :)

    nicely written.

    keep writing

  10. yafe says:

    Awesome article! Great work, keep it up!

  11. Ashu says:

    firstly, glad to hear someone emphasize on composition and finer details, thought you’d mention depth of field as well…

    if you’re an enthusiast, i’m a step behind if not many steps.

    digital doesn’t animate me…i click from my cellphone 3.2…carl zeiss…and edit it in picassa…havent learned photoshop even after knowing the beauty of it…too lazy to learn…

    you got me back to my college days, when i used a SLR for the first time…we had a b/w exercise to be developed..(clicked colour too), and it was awesome…it’s just that with me having glasses, i always had focus issues…

    and u were right, first 10,000 snaps would be crap…

    never really got a chance to experiment a lot with aperture and shutter speeds…tried, composition wasn’t that bad, but then if ur being a cynic, which i am, it was bad! ok, i just contradicted myself…

    anyways, i was hoping you would mention the developing process, because it’s orgasmic… i’m gettin a dark room when i get my own apartment…those few seconds when you see your creation coming into life, oh, sheer bliss!!! there are very few feelings that come close.

    thank you for taking me back. :)

    on the write up- very informative, very inviting, very apt, very innate!
    :) kudos!

  12. Good post Ashu, especially 5. Vision and a sense of creativity beats formal learning anyday, IMHO.

  13. rohitsabu says:

    Great post- hope to see a lot more of these!
    Anybody who has considered taking up photography as their new hobby will be greatly benefitted by a post like this- it keeps things simple and essentially tells everybody to go out and take photos unmindful of their gear or qualification- great advice!! Anybody can take a good photograph- they just need to try!!!

    Something that I’d like to add- at least my experience- photography has given me something to do while i just sit around the house- to SEE! As a photographer- you tend to look less and see more! And yeah- there is no greater rush than coming back home from a spectacular sunset feeling truly inspired!
    Great post again, keep ‘em coming!

  14. kanupriya says:

    Hi,
    Nice post & I checked your flickr link on flowers. Really lovely ones!

  15. Nitin says:

    Loved it …. I saw your photo stream too and it took out floor of me …. really amazing … keep up the work …

  16. Adam says:

    Lots of great words to click-by in this article. Bravo!

  17. Nick Boren says:

    You did a very nice job of writing this.. you should be proud.. I know I am proud of you.. ;-)

  18. Ashu Mittal says:

    @Raghu: Thank you! I am glad you found the points pertinent.

    @annkur: Why thank you Annkur for taking the extra trouble of reading and commenting on your mobile, we all know it ain’t easy ;-) I am glad you found the post useful and that manual isn’t all that bad as it looks :-)

    @Ashish: Thank you Sir!

    @Phatboy: LOL that is a nice way to put it ;-) Thanks for reading!

    @Vinay: Thank you my friend, that is such a nice thing to say. If even a single person feels motivated to pick up their camera, I will consider this post a success.

    @Pikkie: I don’t even know where to begin! Thank you for reading the post, thank you for commenting and appreciating, and thank you for the invite, I will most certainly take it up!

    @Jason: Hey Jason, you are way too kind. I really admire your blogging style and your words really mean a lot. Merci!

    @Sparx: Thank you so much for the taking the time to read and write back. Yes, completely agree that it is only a mistake if we don’t learn from it! I am glad you found my experiences relevant.

    @Sukhdeep: :-) But your comment is even sweeter :-) Muchas Gracias!

    @yafe: Thanks buddy!

    @Ashu: Hi there namesake! It was very very interesting to read your experiences. Thanks for taking the time to share them in detail! You have intrigued me about the developing process, shall try to try it soon :-) And oh, I wear glasses too, they are defintely not the photgrapher’s best friend :-)

    @Craig: I am elated (and secretly relieved) you agree to that! It’s nice to know from the best in the business that they agree to what you think :-) Thanks again!

    @Rohit: I am grateful to you for sharing your thoughts so very passionately. I so agree that photgraphy just opens up a whole new world for you while being in the same world :-) Your work inspires me Rohit and I am so very humbled by all your encouragement.

    @kanupriya: Thanks Kanupriya! Happy you liked the shots. We girls have a thing for flowers, don’t we? ;-)

    @Nitin: Hey! Danke my friend. Glad you liked my work.

    @Adam: Hey there, I am just trying to learn a trick or two from you ;-) Thanks and you’re the best!

    @Nick: Hi Nick, you are a generous person, I am truly touched by your kind words. Thank you.

  19. Megha says:

    Yes, its true that we don’t understand our worth unless we start it. Blogging was wandering on my mind for a long time, one day I started, and now I am hooked to it :)

    Change is good and refines you, you discover talent in you.

    Nice post. :)

  20. “Your first 10,000 clicks will be your worst.” -> still 9,147 clicks to go or maybe a little less if I count photos not published on Flickr :-)

    I really agree on all of your points: I just started to play with post-processing using LightRoom and I can tell that it gives really good results. I should take some time to read books on photography (maybe I should start with the documentation of my camera? :-)) and not forget to take always my camera with me (I forgot it today and there was an nice shot to do outside in the rain!).

    Thanks you for this “inspiring” 1st post (you need to write more), and yes I’m still jealous of your Flickr photostream :-)

  21. Ashu Mittal says:

    @Megha: Thanks Megha, I am totally with you about how we should never stop exploring! You have a great blog yourself. Glad you liked my post.

    @Cyril: 9,147 is way ahead of 10,000. So just keep at it! I have seen those first few clicks and your knack at post-processing, I am sure it will just keep getting better! Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. I am really motivated to write more after receiving such generous response from you all!

  22. pigglywiggly says:

    Excellent tips. As you said, the best way to learn or nurture something like photography, is to take many pics. There are so many mental blocks. “Wont carry a camera always”, “dont like to intrude and take pics of people”, etc etc. But, in the end, you can almost always see your work improve. Even the most “untalented” photographer. Going beyond gear talk, you need to capture moments and things, and try to see if you can focus or revolve a photograph around a theme, or moment. The theme, is of course, always your own. That others can see, identify with, or change the theme, is another matter completely, but self-satisfaction and exploration – of nature, environment, people, experiences – all comes out of it.

    I’m a very lazy photographer. Have some very old cameras – but i prefer to use a small olympus film camera with a fast lens for street photographs. Not hooked, or well versed in digital photography yet. But .. i enjoy looking through pics, mine – for the memories, and others’ work – for the train of thoughts.

  23. Barbara Kite says:

    As an actng coach I am always stressing to stop, look away, look back and see what comes at you. Because you are missing so much. I also stress the sensorial awareness in life. Smell, taste, touch, hear AS WELL as see. It makes you more alive.

  24. Shantanu says:

    ” Go ahead, take out that camera and start taking notice of how your mom’s lips curl a special way when she smiles.” – Well said.

    Asking a photographer what camera you use is like asking a writer what pen you use, me thinks.

    So far I haven’t tasted the joys of using an SLR but I hope I come across one in the future. This is one of those articles where all the tips make sense. :)

    Nice read, really.

    And I am one of those who devour user manuals and there is much more sense in them than they get credit for. Excellent point that.

  25. Nick says:

    Probably the most important skill for the photographer is learning to SEE not JUST look.

    Photographers have been “editing” since the beginning of the art. Its just that we do it differently now.

    If any photographer tells you they never edit, they are lying! Every image is edited to some degree, film, polaroid, digital etc., all.

  26. Russel Reda says:

    Without a doubt, this article is really the latest on this deserving topic. I agree with your conclusions and am eagerly look forward to your future updates. Just saying thanks will not just be enough, for the extraordinary clarity in your writing. I will at once grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates. Gratifying work and much success in your business endeavors!

  27. Indyeah says:

    even though dont have the best camera (but then like yous aid it doesnt matter anyway:) ) I have always loved clicking pictures :) more so when there are people involved… a sudden laugh, a smile that has not yet bloomed…a moment of intimacy :)

    loved all the tips you have written about here :)
    also absolutely LOVED the pics you have taken :) the ones of flowers are gorgeous and the ones taken in Rajasthan and others?breathtaking…beautifully done!

    @blogadda thanks for tweeting this today or would have missed it :)

  28. Hi,
    I apsolutly agree with you on every step. Reading and networking is the key to spread the (your) message and to learn. Some times it can be a quicker curve with a lesson or training compared to read or learning-by-doing, but it does not stop you.

    Keep up the good stuff, and thanks for the tweet :)

    Rgds,
    Peter

  29. Really amazing article u pointed out small yet so significant things which i have never thought. Got to know many things. I really like photography as a hobby and always wondered how to get better at it. Thnks for ur help

    PS i have some pics i would like to share n like get ur views. If u r interestred please tell me how can i post them to u

  30. Heyamy very first comment on your site. ,I have been reading your blog for a while and thought I would completely pop in and drop a friendly note. . It is great stuff indeed. I also wanted to ask..is there a way to subscribe to your site via email?

  31. Nimmy says:

    Indeed informative..I love taking snaps,but yes,i need to learn some technical aspects too..

  32. Vikram says:

    Good Post, nicely written :)

  33. umang says:

    Nice post would love it if you could check out some of my pics here http://plain-black-and-white.blogspot.com and let me know what you think of the photographs .

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