Friday, September 25, 2009


‘Exhibition quality pictures’ is the standard used to rate fine photographs. I was taught to make every other picture as though I am going to exhibit it. Ace photographers prepare and work hard for many years to exhibit their pictures. These photos were worth to see and every photo exhibited could tell about the strength of the creator and the power of photography. We learned a lot from those photos. 

Nowadays, ‘photography exhibitions’ are becoming more common. Recently, I had visited one of the photography exhibitions in Chennai along with few students from our Ambitions 4 Photography Academy. It was a miserable experience that most of the pictures that are not worth even to keep in the personal albums, were blown up beyond recognition and mounted on random frames and sizes. 

Those days the art galleries check the quality of the author and exhibits (May it be art, painting, sculpture and photography). Now most of the galleries do not even bother about as what is displayed on their walls. Sometimes, the organizers of the photography exhibition need to satisfy  everyone, if  it is by a group of photographers/members of a photography club. There may be an indirect obligation on their part to exhibit some ones average photograph..!

These are few of the reasons why the photography exhibitions nowadays attract very few visitors. Let us first learn to edit and select quality photographs, challenges involved in printing a digital image and before we plan to exhibit them.  

Displaying a below average photograph in an exhibition is like displaying our ignorance about photography.
Here, ‘ignorance’ is not bliss..!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Reflectors

I still remember the days my Dad used to keep the candles close to a dressing table mirror or at the corners of white walls whenever there was a power failure. I never knew that the mirror and white walls could reflect the candle light more powerfully all around the room. Here the mirror and the white walls are the reflectors…!

Reflector is an indirect or borrowed light source which reflects the main source of light. Every bit of our surrounding in the world reflects the light in its own way. I could recall the surprising information my science teacher shared, that the Moon light we enjoy at night is the Sunlight reflected from the Moon. Here the Moon is just a reflector and not a source of light.

Reflectors in photography are used to manage the shadows. Infact shooting a photo is easier than handling a reflector in photography. In fact it is an important accessory to bring in the right amount of contrast in the pictures and show the ideal details in the shadow areas. In the earlier days of making cinema, while shooting in the outdoors, reflectors were the prime source to manage the shadows.

I had many times wondered as how and why a movie shooting crew carry so many huge silvered square boards (they call it as reflectors) and set them in perfect places. I also watched them moving the reflector closer or farther and position it at a particular angle. Now ofcourse, many of these reflectors are replaced by the huge HMI lights or professional studio flashes stimulating the daylight in the scenes.

The effect and the quality of the light reflected from a reflector depends on few factors.This makes the reflectors unique and comfortable to use for an effective management of lighting contrast. 

Apart from photography, reflectors have become a part of our everyday life in many accessories and applications. You cannot miss out the use of reflectors in traffic signs and display advertisements. They are used in many of the domestic, automobile, industrial applications. Reflectors are used for safety and identification by signal men, traffic cops, sanitary workers, fire men, life guards etc.

Though we have very few light sources, the world around us look bright and beautiful because every other object around us reflects the light mutually to make us see the world great!

Model courtesy: Ms.Ankitha

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Texture

Like lines and curves, texture is yet another strong element of detail that needs to be communicated in a good photograph. It is about as how you feel about anything. It is about the feel of touch and the reaction. In photography, it could be known as the visual understanding of your physical touch without really touching.

Almost everything has some texture: rough or smooth, patterned or irregular, dramatic or subtle. It could be understood as the surface details that exist physically.

For me textures are about our feelings about the finish of any subject. It is more emotional than physical. It affects our comfort level of being with it. Imagine holding a dragon reptile in your hand and a silky feathered dove on the other hand. How do you feel looking at a rocky mountain and the fine sands of a silent beach?

Everything that exists on earth has a texture that emotionally disturbs you knowingly or unknowingly. They may be either man made or natural. As a photographer, could you really bring in the feel of these emotional disturbances of through the visual impact of different textures? In a sense, texture enables the eyes to touch the subject.

Look at the world around to understand as how the visual feel about the textures are changing when the quality of the light changes, during the different time of the day. The feel of texture also changes when the angle from which you see it changes.

It’s all the variations in the shadows and high lights that make the texture look different even if it feels the same.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Lines and Curves

Lines are the powerful means to direct your eyes and in to a particular direction. They are the inherent power of our mind when it comes to understanding visual communication. Our mind tries to read the visual of a line or a curve through continuous scan from a point to an end. This is the reason why they are used lavishly on road signs. An inverted ‘U’ with an arrow tip could communicate about the ‘U turn' on the road.

When you were a child, remember what you had ‘drawn or written’ for the first time before learning to write the alphabets….nothing but random lines. A script of a language contains nothing but lines and curves. A line starts from a dot. You could even understand the lines as the continuous dots..! Well, when you try to join four lines you get a square.., which is a well defined shape. Similarly joining three lines gets you a triangle.

What happens when you join both ends of a line? You end up in a circle. A circle is a curved line! A rhythmic pull of a strait lines towards a direction will give you curve. Curves are beautiful. They are the representation of a neat flow in a visual. They make the portraits look elegant and beautiful. An ‘S’ curve in a glamour shot makes it really attractive. That is the reason why we make our portrait subjects to stand or sit in a particular way. 

The flow of the hands and legs in the people shots gives you a feel of imaginary lines and curves. They ultimately tell about the character of the person in the photograph. Lines and curves establish the feel of depth in the landscape and architecture shot. 

Whatever may the subject we shoot, let us look for these imaginary lines and curves. This geometry will lead the eyes of the viewers to the importance of the subject and understand it effectively.

"Not everybody trusts paintings but people believe photographs."
-Ansel Adams

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Background

Like the subjects, the background is also an important in the photographs. Yes, whether you like it or not you always shoot a picture with a background. May be you can eliminate or change it by using an image editing software! But it is impossible to shoot only the main subject without a background. At the same time, just by moving or shifting your camera slightly to your left or right you can change the effect of the background in your picture.

In photography, the background plays a vital role and used for ‘story telling’. The background needs to be definitely interesting but not distracting. If not handled carefully, background could do more harm than good for a fine subject. This is because, when you see, your eyes see very selectively (many time we don’t even care about the background) but in a photograph, it is seen because the camera sees the subject and the background alike (the camera doesn’t see selectively).

Learning to understand about the ‘background’ in photography is something similar to learning to understand the ‘parking rules’ before one learns driving..!

Experienced photographers are very careful about the choice of backgrounds because the background does a lot of magic in photography.

A perfect scan on the background every time will help to get a meaningful image on the digital sensor. 

Photography appears to be a simple matter, but it demands powers of concentration combined with mental enthusiasm and discipline - Henri Cartier-Bresson

Monday, March 16, 2009

The subject size

The size of the subject as shown in a photograph is always a point of importance. The size of the subject in photography means its ‘visual size!’ Well, the visual size of the subject in an image can be modified by several ways. The easiest being, moving closer to make it look big and moving away to make it look small. I have always wondered how a huge ‘Boeing 747 Air Bus’ diminishes in size and vanishes in to the sky as it flies high.

When I was in my primary school, I used to wonder as how the entire football ground with our high school players disappeared as I bring my little finger closer to my eye. The small finger which is closer to my eye grows bigger in size than the foot ball ground which is away from my eye. Here the visual size has something to do with the distance.
 In photography the relative subject sizes (visual size) in an image can easily be changed by using lenses with different focal lengths and shooting from different distances.

In all the cases, the subjects’ size as shown is not true to life. In the sense they always confuse the real size! Surprisingly, hardly we could guess the actual size of any subject from a photograph…!

That is why we include few scaling elements like cars, people, etc. in the corner of the frame as a part of the main subject while shooting huge architecture, buildings, landscapes, machinery etc. Again that is the reason why tiny objects are shown on the tip of a finger for comparative sizes. In any case, a photograph mostly cannot tell you about the ‘real size’ of any subject.

“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”- Ansel Adams

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The colours

‘Colour’ in photography is an important information. But to me, colours in photography are not just information but elements that communicate something more . This is because colours an really change your mood. They have few interesting inherent feelings connected to our heart and soul.
Will you not experience the feel of freshness when you enter in to a virgin land of greens? Won’t the calm blue ocean and the huge sky wrapped in blue give us peace of mind? Even from birth, humans are connected to colours knowingly or unknowingly. Like tastes, colours are so personal and everyone likes different colours.
Infact colours have very strong cultural and moral values in our lives. In one of my recent south Indian wedding assignments in India, the bride and family were from Vietnam, and ‘white’ was totally avoided in every aspect of the auspicious events, decorations, dresses and so on. In the above picture, you could see the sister of the Bride expressing unhappiness about a bit of white flowers forming the part of a garland!
I always wondered from my childhood about how beautifully colours are blend with nature. Look at flowers, plants, animals, birds, flies, insects for example, I really get to envy the way natures get the combination of colours. Sometimes nature camouflages colours and some other times it makes them standout. Well, there is a strong purpose behind the choice of these colours in nature. We also try to imitate nature in our choice of colour themes.
If you start observing the world around us, then, colours could teach you beautiful lessons. When our science teacher in the school told us that some animals cannot see colours, I understood the blessings of our vision in colour! Imagine our world in Black & will understand the power of colour vision!
As a photographer, learn to first love colours and observe them in everyday life. Let us try to find the meaning and purpose of colours and use them in our photographs.
Photography is an immediate action; drawing a meditation For me photography is to place head heart and eye along the same line of sight. It is a way of life. - Henri Cartier-Bresson

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Black & White

Way back in the early 80's, colour photography was introduced to India. I still cannot forget the excitement and demand it created among the photographers and the public. Studios in India added ‘Colour’ in front of their existing name like - ‘Raja Colour Photo Studio’. Photographers waited for months to get their rolls developed and printed. I still remember that I used to send my rolls to Kodak, Bombay (now it is Mumbai) and wait for at least a fortnight. The development in the colour imaging technology has now reached a different level.

Despite the ‘information and details’ given by colour photography, there is always something missing in it. It is undoubtedly the ‘feel or the emotion’, which is the power of ‘Black & White photography forever. Don’t you think that whenever you wanted to communicate emotions in a subject, colour really takes it away by its power of attraction?

Though not in most other subjects, people and portrait shots are deserved to be done in B & W. as they are truly powerful in expressing the emotional content of the subject. 

But for me, B & W photos are very special because they are not true to life. The reason being their 'default creativity.' When you are trying to express something that is not true to life then, you have a lot of scope for imagination and creativity. May be that is what the ace photographer Ansel Adams had tried several black & white land scape shots. How can a B & W landscape shot be true to life? But, they were truly beautiful and undoubtedly artistic. That is one of the reasons why B & W pictures take the lion’s share in the photo exhibitions, competitions and art galleries.

Enjoy artistic photography….! Learn to see the world in a different way…. the B & W way! 

A photographer does not operate a camera to merely take pictures. Photographic work is always personal. A photograph reveals the photographer.

‘Photography knows how to authenticate its misrepresentations’- Manson Cooley

The Reflections

Like shadows, reflections also communicate a lot about the subject. But unlike shadows, reflections, many times reveal the details of the subject. Reflections are exciting. You can understand this feeling, when you observe the reactions of a child or a pet dog looking through the reflected image in the mirror. I cannot still forget my first water reflection shot of my friend standing on a very small canal bridge.
The clear reflection of a glass table top gives you tremendous still life pictures. A semi reflective acrylic sheet or mica or any metallic surface provides you reflections of variable strengths. The distorted reflections on the uneven surface provide you a great feel of abstract. If handled carefully these reflections create an immense feel of aesthetics in our pictures. These magical reflections are powerful emotional strength for photography.
There is something called unwanted reflections in photography. These reflections could de-saturate the colours and take away the contrast in a photograph. These reflections could be removed to the desirable extent by using a polarizing filter.
But to me, reflections are natural and they are true to life.
For example, have you ever looked at the reflection of the world around in small dew drop hanging from the tip of a leaf? Have you ever seen and enjoyed the reflection of a tall building in the tinted wind shield of a car as it is approaching the building? Have you ever seen and enjoyed the reflection of your entire new house in the sun glasses of your wife? Have you ever seen and enjoyed the reflection of the automobile lights as they move on a wet road after the rains? Have you ever seen and enjoyed the reflection of your wine glass on the black granite table of your bar counter? Have you ever noticed the distorted and elongated reflections of your entire family on the stainless steel glossy water mug when all of you are dining..?
If you have not seen such beautiful things in life then, there is very little you could do with your camera. Because, reflections prompt you an instinct to photograph even the ordinary things to make it look extra-ordinary.

The Sharpness

When I was studying sixth standard I found it difficult to see the text written by my class teacher on the black board (those days we had only black boards and chalks to write, unlike the present days digital boards..!) but copied the same from my classmate sitting next to me. I was even punished for a couple of times for not reading the text on the blackboard correctly before realizing that I had a problem in my eye sight..! Yes, the text on the black board was looking little fuzzy and less sharp for my eyes. Here, the lack of sharpness leads to lack of details. Of course the problem was solved by adding a lens called ‘spectacles’ on my little face. Well, I still carry one on my face for more than 40 years.

Technically, sharpness may be understood as the distinct separation of identifiable shapes through clear demarcation of lines and curves. Above all, human eye always tend to see things sharp and there is a greater level of discomfort when you cannot see things sharp. We know photography is all about details. Sharpness of the image is one of the factors contributing for ‘details’.

But for me ‘sharpness’ is near to heart. It is a way and means to understand anything you see or photograph. Well, it doesn’t mean that everything in a subject needs to be completely sharp. In fact, selective sharpness achieved through intelligent use of depth of field control is far more powerful in details . They are a bit more artistic too. When your attention is about a small honey bee that sits on a flower, then a selective sharpness laid on the bee will be far more powerful enough to highlight the finer details.

The ‘laser sharpness’ is dangerous sometimes when you shoot portraits. Otherwise, look for really sharp images that touches the heart of the viewer and take careful control of the ‘challenges of sharpness..!’

Every time someone tells me how sharp my photos are, I assume that it isn't a very interesting photograph. If it was, they would have more to say. - Anonymous

Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.
- Henri Cartier-Bresson

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Perspective:

‘Perspective’ in photography is the much talked about topic and technique. This can be understood as how a subject looks like from a particular place. This is a lot about the ‘point of view’ of the camera. Well, when a camera looks at a subject it sees certain parts of the subject and certain parts of the subject is not visible for the camera. To see the parts that were not visible earlier, the camera has to move to another point of view. And now, something that was seen earlier becomes hidden from that particular point of view.
Technically, perspective is about the feel of ‘depth or third dimension’ in the two dimension picture. That is why it is very important in visual communication. It is identified very easily by the relative difference in the size of the subjects or the parts of the subject in the frame. For example, when you look at a building in close from its front, it appears to be very flat like a cinema set. But as you move towards the sides, you see the receding other side also along with the front, to give a feel of depth and three dimension. This angle is also called as ‘perspective angle’ and the shot is referred as ‘perspective shot’.
In the figurative sense, perspective means how you perceive a subject, not just spatially, but aesthetically, emotionally, even morally. This kind of perspective requires that you understand your subject enough to have an opinion or idea about it . . . and that you have the technical skill and creativity to convey that opinion or idea to others. 
Well, to me perspective is very powerful element in a photograph. But unfortunately it is not the same when we use lenses with various focal lengths. It is generally understood that the normal lens for a camera (the focal length almost equivalent to the diagonal of the sensor) roughly delivers the perspective of human eye. This may be one of the reasons as why our grand fathers used the normal lens for most of the shots. They wanted their pictures to be natural and true to life!
But, now, the trend is astonishingly different. No one wants the natural perspective of a subject. An exaggerated perspective of a wide angle or fish eye lens is rather very exciting and sometimes the excessively compressed perspective by a long telephoto lens is preferred. In any case, we are always altering the way a subject looks by changing the focal length of lenses. May be, that is one of the techniques of ‘making a picture..!’ The choice of lenses, camera levels, camera angles, distance between the subject and the camera, direction of lighting, lines and curves, geometrical shapes, patterns, selective focus and overlapping forms influence a lot about the appearance of a subject – ‘the perspective’ from a particular point of view.
By all these the photographer alters the feel and idea about a subject. The distance between two subjects in a photograph could be easily be misunderstood by a viewer when it is altered by the change of perspective controls. But for me, this is the 'power of photography.' Yes, you tell what you want to tell through your pictures. Let the fact be different. If you want to tell about the fact, you could still do that with the proper controls of perspective in photography.
Enjoy the power of perspective and use it to make your picture meaningful. If you could connect that to the emotions of the people and subject effectively, then that is the purpose of photography!
The magic of photography is metaphysical. What you see in the photograph isn’t what you saw at the time. The real skill of photography is organized visual lying’ – Terence Donovan

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Shape:

When someone asks you describe about something, you‘ll probably start with explaining about its shape. For me, however, shape is something more than a means of recognition. Shape helps convey the nature of a subject; not just what it is, but what it is like. Is it heavy, light, big, small, beautiful, ugly, interesting, plain? Shape answers most of the questions like these. It also answers questions about the way an object interacts with its surroundings. Which object is biggest, closest and most important?

Shapes are generally identified with its definite outline and sometimes with texture details. A shape in photography can communicate about the mass, proportion and relation. Mass is about what it is filled with. Proportion is about the comparison of masses between two or more shapes. Relation is about how the shape of the objects interacts in a photograph. This can mean physical factors, such as whether they are close, touching, far apart, similar, different, etc. Interaction between objects can also be extended to include interpretive factors, such as which object is more attractive, which is more important, which is dominant, whether they seem to belong together, and so on.

For me, this is more important as to decide which of the objects in the frame are more important and as how it should be composed to establish the importance in a picture and so on. Hence ‘shape’ is an important element of photography composition; a photographer cannot afford to miss out in the picture.

Everyone has certain preferences about the shapes and every other shape communicates different meaning in the visual media. For example, the dynamics of circle shape, triangle shape, square, shape, rectangle shape, leaf shape, flower shape, oval shape and so on are not the same. They create variable feelings in human mind. The emotions are different for every other shape that we see or include in our photos. That is why there is so much of attachment about the shapes of anything and everything we see and use in our life. There are cars, houses, furniture, perfume bottles, dresses, jewels and every other thing in our life sold like hot cakes and are popular just for their shape.

The choice of a shape is something very personal and very similar to colours. But still, there are some psychological and emotional impacts the shapes can make in human mind when used in the right way. For example, ‘round’ means action or movement, ‘square’ means static limitation, triangle, means growth and stability and so on.

As the shapes of the objects have an impact on the minds of the viewers, the photographer has to carefully handle it in the pictures. Geometrical shapes are very powerful in a visual representation like photographs. They have to be handled very carefully, especially when it is in the background or foreground. They can lead the eyes to a meaningful communication about the main subject. The shapes with colours are even more powerful communication tools and they need to be handled carefully in all photography situations. In a great composition, shapes are powerfully used to communicate the content and space. As shape defines the space, the ineffective use of space is called negative space (empty areas other than the main subject). This could be mostly outside the positive space (the main subject).

For me, the shapes without colour, texture and details are very interesting. They are called, ‘silhouettes’ in photography. Silhouettes are very powerful and aesthetic means of shape. Silhouettes with an unknown shape are more interesting and thought provocative than the known shapes. Silhouetted shapes in front of a building or portraits (arches, corridors, pillars etc.) generate greater power of perspective in landscape and people shots. They are communicative, emotional and beautiful in the pictures.

Remember, shapes can shape up your images into aesthetic pictures. Hence, look out for it and use them powerfully.

'It is imagination that gives shape to the universe’ – Barry