Exploring a new world – Part 2 – Conquering the Streets

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Well this one’s going to take a bit of your time …

Capturing the moments on the streets is my personal favorite! The best part of street photography is that you need not travel far and wide to get those WOW shots! So why is this a part of the travel series?  It’s because street photography is one of the best things that you can do while you are travelling! The actual feel of any city is on the streets, that’s where the action takes place every day and every night! A good street photograph tells the story of the place and the people who live there. Street photography is all about timing, you need to keep your eyes open all the time. Street photography is also demanding, you can’t always just stand in one corner and do it, you need to walk, talk, see, visualize and feel the place! As they say to capture the action you need to be close. You need to be a part of the action and not a mere spectator.

Well it’s easier said than done. For starters you might be scared to point the camera at some random guy and take a photograph; a workaround is to use a zoom lens. That way you can be at a safe distance and still capture the moment. As you keep doing this frequently you will gain your confidence and street photography will become more fun! People often tend to be suspicious with all the bad things going around the world .If someone questions you , smile and reply , tell them it’s your hobby, show them a few photographs that you have clicked. Remember it’s not their fault to feel unsafe around a random guy with a big camera. While doing street photography you can encounter rude and harsh comments or people driving you away when you point the camera at them, just be patient and do not over react. If you feel the environment is getting hostile apologize and Walk away.

If they ask you to delete the photograph do it immediately, trust me it’s not worth the tussle.

You might be thinking why to do this risky business!! Well it’s not as risky as it sounds. These are just possibilities. Most tourist places are very camera friendly. I have hardly been asked not to take a photograph or to delete a photograph. The key is to smile and look none threatening.

Subjects:

There are a plethora of subjects like street -food, people, colors, artifacts, interesting vehicles like a pull carts or a trams which are not very common in your city or country you could look for while doing street photography. Each country or even state has their own specialties- look out for them. Following are a few pointers which could help you kick-start your street photography skills while travelling or at home.

  • The key is to keep your camera ready to capture the moment at all times. If it’s tucked cozily inside your camera bag then by the time you pull it out the moment will be gone!Image
  •  Try to anticipate the moment. It won’t be easy at first, but observance, experience and patience will teach you how to anticipate the moment. The key is to wait for the moment to happen. Pre- Visualize a scene and wait for it! eg : You see a nice picture drawn on a wall , but it looks incomplete as there is no human element to it , you visualize a person walking across it but there is no one around at the moment. Now don’t just walk away thinking that it’s just not a good day ! Stay back and wait for someone to walk by else move on but make sure you come back and try again. That’s how you create photographs!Image
  •  Up, Down, Left, Right: Don’t just shoot at your eye level, look up, look down, look right and look left! Crouch down and take shots touching the pavement, that’s what you want to do if you want to get shots with a difference. If you keep clicking at your eye level the result will be obvious and boring.
  •  Shadows and the sun: With street photography you don’t have to whine about “Golden hour “or the “Golden light” .You could be shooting in the middle of the day with the sun directly above your head and still get “WOW” shots. The key is to look out for shadows. Harsh shadows too tell a story, and well stories are what we are hunting for aren’t we? Not all stories are romantic; there are some which portray the harsh realities of life too!

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  •  Black is beautiful: For a change shoot in black and white, there is something about black and white and street photography which is magical! Your normal looking shots suddenly start to look interesting!

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  •  Get Closer: Go as close as you can to your subjects. It’s one thing to capture standing far away with a zoom lens and another to be inches near your subject and taking the shot. When you are right next to the action you are being a part of it and when you are far away you are just a spectator. This reflects on your photographs.Image
  •  Shoot wide: Using a wide angle lens is highly recommended. This way one needs to get close and also one can capture a big portion of the scene.

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  •  Blend in: Try not to grab attention while doing street photography. In touristy places no one really cares. You look like a tourist and tourists click pictures. Also there are some places where its not possible , like for e.g an Indian guy can’t quite blend in if you are on the streets of Hong Kong can you ! However what you can do is take pictures quickly before your subject notices you. That way you can still get good candid pics.

Street photography has always been top on my photography check list on all my escapades. It is really amazing to see that there is so much all around us that we can capture, but just that we don’t see it !  Street photography is the first step towards seeing!

Previous post : Environmental portraits

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Exploring a new world – Part1 – Environmental Portraits

All right I understand that the post came a bit late ! Apologies for the same. Life and my wife have kept me a little busy 🙂

Well here it is , the very first part of the Travel Photography series   Exploring a new world – Environmental Portraits !

Ganga Aarti at the banks of the Ganges by a Priest

Environmental portraits, as the name sounds are portraits taken of people along with their surroundings. The surroundings must depict the identity of a person such as what work does he or she do, or where is she or he living and so on. The picture shown below is of Dayal Singh , who is a weaver. The shot was taken at Varanasi at a Banarasi Saree handloom.

Dayal singh is a weaver and has been weaving Banarasi Silk Sarees for the past 35 years

Dayal singh is a weaver and has been weaving Banarasi Silk Sarees for the past 35 years

The most important thing about environmental portraits is to get your subject comfortable with you pointing the camera at him / her. The easiest thing to do is to talk to them. It’s really simple. Ask them a few questions about the nature of work, how long does it take to weave a saree (in this particular case) , how long have you been in this profession and so on. It’s really amazing to see that when you show interest in them they really open up and give you a lot of information. Once you have broken the Ice, politely ask them if you can take a couple of snaps. I have never been told not to till date!!

Chai wala at the Jodhpur market

Chai wala at the Jodhpur market

The second approach is to take candid shots as in picture 3. The above shot was taken at Pushkar in Rajasthan . Choose the best option, at the end of the day the picture is what matters. The point is to capture the true sense of the place and the person who is closely associated with it. If the person is a driver you might want to depict him along with his car, a potter with his pottery wheel and so on.

Santosh Parimal , a street hawker selling Bhajiyas.

Santosh Parimal , a street hawker selling Bhajiyas.

Things to remember while taking environmental portraits.

  • First and foremost – Ask permission! If they are not interested politely apologize and move away. Not everyone is comfortable in front of the camera!
  • Contrary to point 1 , capture candid shots.
  • You are on a vacation; the person whom you are photographing is not. Make sure you don’t disturb him/her in their activities.
  • Your subject is human: for you he or she might be a great subject to photograph but remember that they are human! Don’t go around sticking your lens on their face!
  • Smile, greet and be polite: It’s amazing to see how a simple smile on your face and a short greeting could help you get that shot that you always wanted.
  • Be quick: Set your camera before hand and make sure you get your shot in max 2 or 3 shots. Don’t keep the person occupied for long.
  • Use a wider lens (if you have one) which will be able capture the person and the scene around.
  • Acknowledge: Make sure you thank them before you leave. In some places people might ask for a small tip (chaai paani ) , you have got the shot so remember to be kind enough to.

Previous post :  Exploring a new world – Intro

Next Post : Conquering the Streets

Exploring a new world – Intro

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All of us want to bring back great photographs from our trips don’t we?

For most of us it might be just a casual vacation but there are a few among us who plan “THE TRIP” meticulously and are pretty serious about what we do. A dedicated photography trip with weeks to spare is a luxury for most of us and all we get is a week or max two weeks to do our “JOB”. This is where the so called “performance pressure” hits us and we go berserk  with our DSLR’s in our hands and treat them as if we are holding a machine gun , shooting almost everything that we come across. The result – a bunch of mediocre shots ! Well I have been through this time and again. The first  serious photography trip of mine was to Rajasthan where I ended up with more than 4000 photographs out of which I scrapped almost 90% of them !

Today I am starting a weekly/biweekly post (depending on how much time I’m able to devote) called “Exploring a new world” in which we will discuss one aspect of travel photography per post and how to nail them while you are out there exploring! This way you can concentrate on specific subjects and ignore the rest. PS: this is just a guideline and an eye opener.

Each post will be illustrated with a photograph/s (mostly taken by me) and a few short techniques on how each can be achieved with “WHATEVER EQUIPMENT” you have. We will also discuss what equipment to carry and what not to. I say this because I truly believe that “Great travel photographs are taken in the mind and the camera is just the tool “. Of course it doesn’t mean that if you have access to great equipment, you leave it at home, but any camera should be able to capture what it can within its limitations!! Neither does it mean that if you have state of the art equipment you will end up with award winning travel photographs!!

Now what Is Travel Photography All About?

Just because you travel to remote exotic locations does not mean your pictures too will turn out to be exotic. Travel Photography is about capturing the “ESSENCE “of the place. I emphasize on the word ESSENCE because that is what Travel Photography is primarily about! If your photograph does not tell a story about the place then it does not do justice to the place! It need not be a photo which wins awards or one that can be exhibited, however it must tell a story.

A friend once told me that I would love to travel but I don’t have the time to. I ask, is it necessary that one has to travel far and wide to get great travel photographs? The answer is a resounding NO and Why, you ask? Because your home town is also a travel destination for someone else ! Travel Photography starts right here at HOME  (Of course eventually one day you will have to step out , but hey till then you have plenty to cover !! ).

My aim is to kindle a new thought in every one of you who is reading this post. After you finish the series you should start thinking and question yourself each time you travel and see a cliché shot how can I photograph this better?  Like for e.g. our very own Taj Mahal. The moment you say Taj Mahal, the only picture that comes to your mind is the straight shot of the TAJ from the front entrance with the fountains and the garden in the foreground as shown above. But is that what you want to take back? , a cliché photograph that every person who has ever been to the TAJ already has in his album or hard drive. We will look at different techniques and practices that can help you get compelling images at the end of your trip.

One final thing, please don’t be a passive reader. I would love it if you can comment or share your inputs about the topics discussed. Keep it engaging, there are plenty of people who can benefit from your knowledge.

Next Post : Environmental Portraits

MRF Motocross Dirt bike Championship.

Well Im not a big fan of bikes but I was sure glad when I got there. Well this post comes from a dirt bike championship sometime back in April. Here are a few shots from the same. Hope you enjoy them. 🙂

The view from Mehtab Bagh

Ok the second part comes after a very long time…(Click here for the first part)… so where was I ??Ah at the Taj of course !!  Well most of the tourists view the Taj from the main entrance ie from the city side.. but there is another view to it too…from across the river Yamuna. The Taj Mahal was supposed to have a twin but His Highness Shah Jahan’s evil son Aurangazeb put an end to the emperor’s dream by making the emperor a prisoner in his own palace !! Well the second or the identical Taj was supposed to be built across the river Yamuna. The foundation still remains intact and is now a beautiful park called the Mehtabh Bagh.

The garden is very well maintained and is open to tourists from 6am to 6pm everyday.

The ruins of the foundation at Mehtab bagh.

The perfect romantic shot !

Say cheese !!

Children playing on the dry river bed.

I was actually hoping to get some photographs with the reflections of the Taj on the river..to my dismay the Yamuna was almost dry 😦 So dry that children were actually playing on the river bed !!

Lost in his thoughts…

Young love…with an eternal backdrop..

A Guard on his evening duty watches the Taj from his check post.

I spent almost an entire day at Mehtab bagh.Getting there was very easy ! I just caught an auto rickshaw and said Mehtab bagh.. had to bargain for a few minutes but it was done pretty easily. One word of caution though,if one is going to stay back at the place after 6 or 7 pm the area becomes pretty deserted.One will only find cops on duty.Getting an auto rickshaw back becomes a problem.So if you intend to stay back late to view the Taj at night make sure you pay some extra bucks to the auto or taxi guy and ask him to wait for you !!

Previous post : The Monument of Love

The Monument Of Love

” Dhai sau rupai lagega sir ” .. “Bhai aap bohot jyada bol rahe ho .. 6 – 7 km hi tho hai yaha se.”.. “Arey nai sirji ye ek dum sahi rate hai, subah ka time hai boney kara dijiye .. log pata nai kaha kaha se aate hai Taj Mahal dekhne .. aur aap ho ki dhai sau k liye jhig jhig kar rahe ho….Thoda hum auto waalo ke baare me bhi sochiye .. Ye humaari rozi roti hai…chaliye chaliye sir aapko Taj mahal ke darwaaze par chod denge hum ! ”

(” It will be 250 Rs sir ” …”That’s too much , it’s hardly 6 to 7 kms from here ” .. ” No sir it’s the standard rate , its morning time and you are the first customer.. people come from all parts of the world to see the Taj Mahal ..and you are bargaining for a mere 250 rs…Please think about us auto drivers..this is our bread and butter… c’mon sir I’ll drop you at the doorstep of the Taj Mahal ! “)

My watch showed 6:45 am ! I had no other option , the auto driver was fleecing me , there was no other auto in sight and I was running late !! I got into the auto and asked the guy to go fast .. in about 15 mins we were there.

It wasn’t my first visit to the Taj , but I realized that I was still happy and as exited as the first time ! There was a long queue at the entrance and then a security check ! My heart was racing !!  WHY ??? The bloody light was rapidly changing !! ( Ya I know we photographers are a fussy lot !! )  I wanted to capture the Taj in the golden light , but I had overslept and then the auto rickshaw guy had managed to rip of 250 bucks for a 15 min ride … and now this long queue … why did everyone have come and visit the Taj Mahal today ! I cribbed …

The Southern entrance to the Taj mAhal

It took almost an hour to cross over all the barricades and get through to the premises and when I finally did, the so-called “Golden light” had gone home !! So much for my dream photographs ..I cribbed again.. dejected, I started walking towards the main entrance..then it struck me like a bolt of lightning ! the Taj looked perfect even without “Golden light ” !  There it stood peacefully ad-mist all the hustle and bustle of the super exited tourists who had come from god only knows where and all !!

First Glimpse !

The cliché view of Taj Mahal !

Taj Mahal , one of the most photographed locations in the world , is an awe-inspiring monument.Its one thing to see the photograph on the internet and something completely different to be standing right in front of it !
The thing about the Taj Mahal is that from the entrance it doesn’t look that big , but the moment you start walking towards it grows ! And by the time you are right in front of it you realize how big the monument actually is !

A different view

Well we all know that it was Emperor Shah Jahan who built this gigantic structure in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, however what most of us don’t know is that Emperor Shah Jahan had planned to build another Taj Mahal right across the river Yamuna , facing the present one for himself !, and this time it was to build with black marble ! His son Aurangzeb thought other wise and stopped the construction !!

The emperor was over thrown by his son and held captive at the Agra fort. He was given a room with a view of the Taj so that he could keep looking at it and remember his wife !!

The foundation of the black Taj Mahal can be seen even today .The place has been preserved and is called Mehtab Bagh.

Taj Mahal as viewed from Emperor Shah Jahan’s quarters at the Agra Fort where he was held captive.

Zoomed in view of the Taj from Emperor Shah Jahan’s quarters.

Hmm now back to the Taj ! Inside the Taj Mahal’s Main Chamber lie the tomb’s of the Emperor and his wife. The actual bodies lie buried in the cellar and not in the main chamber. Now the design of the Taj was planned for one tomb and not two, and when Aurangzeb stopped the construction of the second Taj Mahal , Emperor Shah Jehan’s tomb had to be placed next to his wife’s tomb and that’s the only thing in the entire Taj Mahal which is not symmetric !

Intricate work on the marble walls.

Sunlight through the window inside the Taj.

On the right and left side of the Taj Mahal are two other buildings.The one on the left is the guest quarters and the one on the right  is used as a Mosque. Both these buildings are made out of red sandstone and are the exact replica of each other.

Mosque on the right side of the Taj Mahal.

A bunch of foreign tourists relax as a woman walks by.

Say cheese !!

A different angle

A different composition.

To come to India and not visit the Taj is a crime ! For all those who believe in love, this monument was built with love for a loved one and it stands tall even today as a witness to those old times !

Next Post : The view from Mehtab Bagh.

Mumbai Mania – Mahalakshmi Dhobi ghat.

The crazy thing about Mumbai is that no matter how congested the place is people don’t stop loving it ! Ask any true blue Mumbaikar and he or she will never say anything bad about the city. The crazier thing is that each time I visit Mumbai , the more inspired I am !

I still remember the first time I visited Mumbai ,I had just got out from a bike accident and my right arm was in a sling. I was terrified when I saw the crowd at Dadar station. I stood there for half an hour waiting for the crowd to reduce so that I could board the local train to CST without hurting my already hurting arm ! Seeing my dilemma an elderly man asked me “Is this your first time in Mumbai ? ” I nervously nodded my head ,he smiled at me and said “Dont worry Ill help you board the train, just stand next to me when the train comes” , well I dint have any other choice but trust this man. I stood next to him and waited for the train to come, the train came..then there was a blackout and by the time I could figure out what was going on I found myself inside the bogey !!! PHEW !!! That was a true nightmare !

The daily commuters.

Since that day I have been amazed at the beauty of the local trains of Mumbai. They truly are the backbone of this city.No matter what they just keep on running  !!

Life in Mumbai is really fast, especially for a guy like me who comes from a small town like Trivandrum ! Well I have lived in other cities like Bangalore , Chennai and Pune , but life out there in Mumbai is completely different. Time is precious in Mumbai and the people here know how to cope up with it !

The typical stark contrast of Mumbai... view of Mahalakshmi Dhobi ghat.

I always wanted to visit Mumbai , just see how life works out there , how people live there , to find out more about this ever-growing city.

The first thing that anyone who visits Mumbai notices is the stark contrast in the standard of living ! On one side there are slums where people hardly have any money to even meet there ends and right next to it you find a soaring sky scraper !! Well I agree that life is hard , it’s just that its very visible in Mumbai.

I was more interested to have a sneak peek into the lives of the working class and my search led me directly to Mahalakshmi dhobi ghat. The place was congested , slippery with soap and water all over and there were clothes and clothes and more clothes everywhere !!

Dhobi in Action !!!

A helping hand .

The dhobi ghat is a township in itself.The freakishly narrow lanes inside the ghat was the home for more that 15 thousand people !! WHOA !! That was really hard to believe !

At dhobi ghat - A dhobi heats up large barrels with water. When the water starts boiling soap is added to it and the clothes are dipped in them to remove the tough stains.

More firewood.

Inside the dhobi ghat - Once the clothes are washed and dried they are neately folded and sent for ironing.

People work here 24/7 as clothes pour in from all parts of the city everyday. Work starts here as early as 5 in the morning and goes on till 8  or 9 in the night ! The dhobis are registered to the dhobi ghat association which look after the needs of all the people who work at the ghat.

Clothes being segregated.

A kid at dhobi ghat.

Portrait of a dhobi.

I spent a full day at the dhobi ghat , clicking pictures and talking to various people who worked at the ghat. Most of them were people who had come to Mumbai in search of jobs and when they dint find the right one they settled to become a dhobi. Life was not easy for these hard-working people.Their employers made them work for peanuts.The association rented out the place to various filmmakers for shooting various movies at very large sums ! But the money remained with the association and never reached the workers !! Their standard of living has been the same for ages and still remains the same.No one dares to question the employers for the fear of being fired, and so the story just keeps going on and on….I guess some stories don’t end the way we want them to…

As I left the place I realized that I had managed to see one small portion of the life in this city…. and as I boarded my train back to Pune I knew that I would be back to experience many more….