It Was An Eye-Opener. I Gave Some of The Best Photography Tips That Day!

Imagine what happens when your plan bombs.

It’s most likely you’ll end up being frustrated, not so? You might be saying, “Well it depends…” I get it!

Hear out my story and you will know what I mean.

I was leading a photo walk in Bangalore on the occasion of World Photography Day 2015. You know that we celebrated it with our Top 12 Bird Photographers in the World.

There were around 50 participants who turned out around 7:30 am at the designated place.  I was supposed to do this photo walk for around 3 to 4 hours. Can you imagine guiding 50 participants at once?

It was impossible, so I decided to divide them up into groups, each of which would have a mixture of experienced and beginner photographers. That way I could offload some of my work.

This plan was a disaster! Almost 80% of the participants were beginners. They all wanted to learn photography in 3 hours! Can you imagine my situation?

It was a frustrating situation but I was determined to help everyone who had taken the time to attend the photo walk.  After all, everyone wants to learn something, that’s why they have come out so early on a Sunday morning.

But, I didn’t want to give unnecessary assurances.

The first thing I said was “If you are thinking that you will learn photography in the next 3 hours, then you are bound to be frustrated.”

It’s a shocking statement, but isn’t it TRUE?

It takes ages to learn one concept thoroughly and you are hoping to learn entire photography in 3 hours.  That too, within a group?  Forget about it!

I continued…”But what I can assure you is I will show you the right path. If you practice hard, then you will improve your photography, GUARANTEED.” This statement brought some hope to the groups.

My Simplicity Principle Came in Handy

Here’s what I did.

I SIMPLIFIED it to the best possible extent. All these years of teaching about simplicity paid off.

That simplified teaching is what I bring to you today. If you follow these principles, you are guaranteed to succeed.  If and only if you take action.

Let’s divide photography into two broad aspects:

  1. Science of Photography, and
  2. The Art of Photography.

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Science of Photography

What do you think the science of photography is?

Is it the camera, the lens, settings, focusing points, metering modes, aperture, ISO, or shutter speed?

There will be a lot of answers for this question!

But tell me why do you need all these things? Why do you need a camera, lens, focus points, metering modes, aperture, ISO, shutter speed, etc.?

Everything that relates to the science of photography does just ONE thing and that is PROPER EXPOSURE.

Isn’t it true?

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Can you please ID the above bird?

The lens allows the image to form on the sensor.  Aperture and Shutter speed controls the amount of light and time it is exposed to the sensor.  The metering mode helps to meter the light.  The Sensor helps to record the light.  ISO helps to sensitize the Sensor. Focus points help to get the right details present.

All in all, the end result is to get the PROPER EXPOSURE. All that you need is to expose your scene properly. You need to record the details present in the scene so that you can recognize the objects in the scene.

That’s it. As simple as it gets.

So, why complicate it?

Next time when you are bogged down by many things in the field, just remember that all that you need is the right exposure. If you are not getting it, then there is no point.

“A poorly exposed image is the NUMBER ONE reason for an unattractive image.”

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Art of Photography

This is where most photographers fail.

Sadly, the art of photography is overlooked by most of the photographers. Most often it is ignored. This is because it cannot be learned, it can only be experienced.

Of course, there is some learning involved, but the majority of it is about the experience. You can learn about the quality of light and direction of light, but it’s of no use if you don’t actually know what do to with them.

Let’s see what constitutes the art of photography.

  1. Light
  2. Composition

Light

The light is the most important aspect of photography. If there is no light, there is no photography.  How many times have you studied the light? How many times did you check if the light is good for photography?

All that you might care is, “Am I getting a good shutter speed?” Isn’t it the only thing you care about most often?

Light is much more than that. It has the power to create a mood in your photograph. It has the power to evoke emotions. It has the power to make you smile, laugh, appreciate, get excited, feel peaceful, feel sad, etc.

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A flower bathed in golden light during sunset, Grayslake, IL, USA.

But, it’s ignored.

How does one work around this?  Let me give you a small exercise to help you.

  1. Pick a static subject in nature near your home. Maybe a tree that is in an open place.
  2. Pick a sunny day.
  3. Wake up before Sunrise. Go check out the tree. Note down how the tree looks in the pre-dawn light. Perhaps, take a photograph.
  4. Watch the tree from the same place. Every hour. Note how the changing light is lighting the tree.
  5. Take a photograph every hour. From the same point-of-view. Do it until the last light of the day.

Check every photograph on your Computer. Check it on a bigger screen. Do you see any difference? Can you see how light is modeling the tree? Do you feel different emotions with the different photographs?

I bet you do!

You should see a huge difference in the photographs.  Carefully analyze how the light models your subject and how the changing light gives a different feeling.

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Lesser Flamingos bathed in golden light during sunset in Jamnagar, Gujarat, India.

Composition

I heard many people say: “I hate rules.”

Come on. Do you know why you hate rules? Are you afraid that you’ll not be creative by following the rules? Or do you think they are all made up?

Allow me to take you back to your childhood. To those good old days when you started learning the English alphabets. How nice 🙂

Did you start writing the alphabets on an un-ruled sheet (a blank sheet of paper without any lines or markers) as a child? I assume you never did.

There were copywriting books (or the ones with several lines) to guide you to write the alphabets within the specific lines.  There were, in fact, multiple horizontal lines (guidelines) to help you to write both capital and small letters.

Why is there a need for guidelines?

As you wouldn’t know where to start and where to end, it’s necessary to start with a guideline. To start with something that makes your handwriting better. It is readable by the teachers, parents, friends, and people around the world.

Once you are proficient, you’ll be able to write beautifully on the un-ruled sheet too. You might no longer require the guidelines.

If you agree with this principle, then there is no reason to hate the rules of composition. They are the guidelines to help you make your photographs better. They are there to help you. If there were not helpful, no one would have made them the rules in the first place 🙂

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Swiss Alps in Switzerland

Learn them first. Learn them thoroughly. Once you are proficient with the rules of photographic composition, think about how to break them. If you do so, you will know why you are breaking it.  You’ll completely understand why you are doing so 🙂

If you do, then you are there. You are a photographer.

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Black-winged Stilt in Jamnagar, Gujarat, India.

Forget about all the rules of composition.

For a moment, think that there are no rules. Try this simple exercise.

  1. Identify a subject.
  2. Photograph that subject as you normally do.
  3. Now check the photograph and see if you can make out what the subject is.
  4. Is it evident to anyone who looks at your photograph?
  5. Are there distracting elements?
  6. Now, work on a simpler composition.
  7. Remove the distractions one by one by going close or using a telephoto lens.
  8. Change your position until you get a simple and non-distracting background.
  9. Take a photograph.
  10. Repeat steps 3 to 9 until you are satisfied with the result.

If you do this exercise, you will end up thinking like a photographer. You are no more a happy snap-shooter. You are working the subject. You are thinking about what makes it an appealing photograph.

You are COMPOSING…my friend.

What if you started with some rule of composition? Would it help in achieving results faster? Would it help to make it any better?

If yes, go ahead and do it. If not, don’t mind.

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Science Vs Art of Photography

If you are not growing as a photographer, the reason is you don’t really care for the art of photography.

It’s not an exaggeration if I say, “Many photographers start and end their photography with the Science.”

Don’t you believe it? Consider this. Perform this test with honesty on yourself. Note down the answers for each question.  It’s a mandatory task if you would like to improve your photography in leaps and bounds.

  1. How many months/years of experience you have in photography?
  2. How much time passed before you bought your first DSLR?
  3. How much time did you spend researching lenses before you bought your first big/quality lens?
  4. How much time did you spend on learning all the basic photography concepts like aperture, shutter speed, ISO, metering modes, focusing modes, manual mode, etc.?
  5. How much time did you spend on practicing these concepts?
  6. How much time did you spend in cursing your current equipment?
  7. How much time did you spend on researching the pro camera bodies and lenses that you wouldn’t buy in the near future? Those dream machines!

I can list at least 10 more items. But, let’s stop here. I hope you have some good numbers. Now list the following.

  1. How much time did you spend on learning about light?
  2. How much time did you spend on observing the light?
  3. How much time did you spend on understanding how the light models a subject?
  4. How much time did you spend on understanding the quality of light and its impact on the end result?
  5. How much time did you spend on understanding the direction of light and its impact on the end result?
  6. How much time did you spend on understanding composition?
  7. How much time did you spend on why there are rules of composition and why you should or shouldn’t follow them?
  8. How much time did you spend on understanding why do you need to compose in the first place?
  9. How much time did you spend on making several images on a single subject?

And I can bore you with more questions. But let’s stop it now.

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Water Lily in Wayanad, Kerala, India.

You have the number of hours you spent on the science of photography and the art of photography.  Now, compare the numbers. You would automatically know where you stand and what you should do from now on.

It Was an Eye-Opener!

Why was it an eye-opener?

It was supposed to be a 3 hour photo walk where participants would take some photographs. I gave them a 30 minute brief about the science and art of photography and asked them to go out and photograph.

I also told them that they were free to ask and questions.

Initially there were 3 to 4 participants who took some photographs and asked me questions. As I was reviewing the photographs, more participants joined.

Then more questions came in, which lead to more answers. This, in turn, involved many more participants.

At the end of 3 full hours, almost every participant was listening to me. There were around 40 to 45 crazy people lugging around their camera, listening to the craziest guy who just went on blabbering.

The photo walk became a photo talk 🙂

It was all good at the end. I saw excitement in the participants’ eyes. They were quite happy, I hope 🙂  The glint in their eyes as they departed said it all.

I was able to engage the audience for a very long time despite being preachy 🙂 It was an eye-opener for me too!

They did not realize that we were standing for all of 3 hours and only had breakfast at 10:30 am!

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It’s Your Turn Now

Was it helpful? Was it an eye-opener for you? Don’t forget to write about it. I’d love to know what you think.  I am always open for feedback.

If you don’t mind sharing the numbers from your exercise, go ahead and share it in your comments.  I would love to see how you performed.

If you disclose the numbers, you would remember them for a long time. This will help you to quickly improve your photography.

THINK PHOTOGRAPHY. THINK SIMPLE.

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10 Responses to It Was An Eye-Opener. I Gave Some of The Best Photography Tips That Day!

  1. Myer Bornstein February 14, 2016 at 12:47 am #

    Great Article
    Myer

    • Prathap February 15, 2016 at 1:24 pm #

      Thank you so much, Myer.

  2. Rupa February 16, 2016 at 12:32 am #

    Wonderful, eye opening article. Food for thought I would say for us to take time and self reflect on our passions/habits/commitment etc. I love taking pics but haven’t spent enough time to practice just for the sake of reviewing/improving.

    • Prathap February 17, 2016 at 2:49 pm #

      Thank you Rupa for the appreciation. Reviewing one’s own images and learning from other photographers is a necessary step for improvement. Good luck!

  3. Suphal Dasgupta February 17, 2016 at 1:16 am #

    Your every post is valuable to the beginners and even to the professionals. It is simple but full of great depth, easily understandable to anybody. Thank you so much to share your knowledge and vision
    to us who loves photography. Out appetite is increasing and we are looking forward to receive more
    exciting post with your breathtaking photographs.

    • Prathap February 17, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

      Thank you so much for your kind words! Suphal Dasgupta. I give my best to write the articles which can inspire other photographers to improve their craft. Or, at least, enjoy photography. I am glad that you like my posts and photographs. Thank you.

  4. Robin Tetley February 19, 2016 at 4:41 am #

    Prathap your ideas are inspiring and I did do the numbers and realised I have spend hours on studying the light. I tend to do shots into the light for impact and have read for hours about light and composition but you can not beat just sitting and watching the light play out on a scene. As for the other numbers I did little research on equipment because I knew what I needed and with my present camera and lens combo I have managed to get some great photos by getting in close and just sitting and waiting, my neighbors say I could watch grass grow.
    Thank you for your ideas and sharing some of you splendid photos with us, pity I live in Australia as I would love to do a work shop with you because you never stop learning, because you never know what a bird will do next. One thing I have learnt well is one must be very critical of ones own work to really see improvement ditch the duds and keep only the very very best.

    • Prathap February 24, 2016 at 9:40 pm #

      Hi Robin, Thank you for your kind words and also for sharing your thoughts. I am glad to hear about your story. I can imagine the patience you have and the photos you would have got. We would love to see them sometime.
      I would love to visit Australia one day. Maybe I will hold a workshop there and you could join. I seem to have a lot of Australians in my readership. You are absolutely right in saying you have to be critical of your own work. It’s quite challenging to do so…but that’s the way to improve!

  5. Kudajadri January 18, 2017 at 9:19 am #

    Hi, Nice tips, i will try to implement these tips on my photography journey. Thank you.

    • Prathap February 9, 2017 at 8:18 pm #

      That’s great, Kudajadri.

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