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 clichÃ©) 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.
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 â€œgearâ€ you have. Start clicking, and start doing so consciously. If you have a decent P&S, start exploring beyond the â€œAutoâ€ 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 â€œoneâ€ 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, â€˜cause they (as my friend Aldo Risolvo points out) are either ignorant or just plain jealous. And I am not saying that you necessarily â€œeditâ€ 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 AdobeÂ® PhotoshopÂ® LightroomÂ®) 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 â€œYour picture may not be SOOC, but it will be exactly what you want it to beâ€. So go ahead, use â€˜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): â€œWhat camera do you use? Have you taken any formal course?â€ 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 â€œYour first 10,000 clicks will be your worst.â€ 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.
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