Me, Myself & Camera – Happy Valentine’s day
My first love- Photography . .reposting on Valentine's Day! In 1986 in class VIII while struggling with my meagre pocket money, all I knew was that Photography was an expensive hobby. I would envy some of my friends who had a Kodak-35mm film camera (some Rs.700 piece with just the capability to point & shoot; no bells & whistles) and really dream of owning one. I loved the thought that time could be frozen on an emulsion and brought to people who were not party to the event and preserved for posterity.
Funding my first camera
At a time when I didn’t have 50 bucks a month for pocket money dreaming of a Rs. 700+ camera was a luxury and even if I somehow saved that money I would need my elder’s permission to splurge on a white elephant called camera.Yet, I somehow convinced my family that if I can save the money they would let me buy one. Given the economics of those times for we kids, I convinced my two sisters and one brother to start saving for the camera. I found a discarded tin paint-box and slit it the lid wide enough for coins and folded rupees notes to slip through. Our camera funding piggy bank was ready and I had wrapped a paper around the tin-can neatly written camera on it! Maybe that’s what you call setting your intent clear for The Universe to listen and oblige
It was not an easy job since they were all younger to me (I was 15 at that time) and we hardly would have any money to survive. In those days, the sisters were a richer lot because boys were considered earners (future) and girl would therefore get helpings from several quarters. They would make a lot of money when tying rakhis to brother and cousin brothers or in some rituals, poojas in the house, etc But making them part with it was not easy specially when you couldn’t match their contributions. Yet, slowly the money trickled and all the coins of the house found their way into the piggy bank. Yes, illegal funding at some level if you like. We also didn’t miss any opportunity to fund the bank and wouldn’t mind a five rupee note or more gifted by visiting relatives. Several months passed and the wait was getting unbearable and we could just stretch to 500 Rs. And we were still a solid 200 Rs short to get the camera and then we haven’t yet talked about buying the film and the battery to operate it, etc. At some point some magic happened and Mom agreed to contribute the missing piece and it was decided that the next time when mummy goes to her mother’s place (Nepal: In those days, Nepal was a haven for foreign good and electronics; cameras, etc would be available very cheap there).
It wasn’t long before my first camera was in my hands! Luckily for being the elder and more technical friendly person, I was the one handling it! It was a Yashica MF-2. Yeah, it had impressive specifications? I could put in a 35 mm film (it was better than the 110 film HotShot Cameras would allow) and it allowed ISO 100/400 and f-no 4 and less and less, fixed focus, fixed lens, manual film advance film camera! It would warn you of low light conditions through a red-light but do nothing about it. It had a flash and I could see the film loaded inside the camera through a tiny glass window at the back. I was ecstatic!
The first picture I took was of the worship altar in the house. That was like inaugural pooja and obeisance to God for this privilege. In those times flash was always used so you could always get a picture no matter with
what color tones, etc. Infact, flash itself was associated with photography to the extent that no-flash meant no photo-graph taken! It felt uneasy if sometime a shot wouldn’t fire the flash and I would see a confused expression from the subject as much as I was unsure of the efficacy of the shutter press. My little more experienced photographer friends warned me to load the film correctly else you would never know if it moved OK for the next exposure. Little jittery but life was still easy for I just had to see and click! I enjoyed capturing the world around me as the exposure nos increased.
Finishing the film roll was an easy target (36 exposures). Yet, the Murphy’s Law kicked in at 33 when suddenly it appeared that all subjects from the world had disappeared. It was such pleasure when you would find that the film would advance even beyond 36 and you could get a couple of extra shots. The biggest craze was being able to take the camera to school on “Teacher’s Day” when you could click photos of friends, specially of the girls in your class. Yeah, girls were always in the picture, isn’t it? I learnt the hard way that my camera was not good to take a picture if the tube-light was right behind the subject. It was also as helpless in low light conditions when all very familiar family members would turn in demons because of the red-eye effect. My viewfinder told I could go as close I wanted to the subject yet if you went closer than a feet and half it would make a virtual image.
I also realized that to take pictures of very large objects like the TV Tower (235 m) at New Delhi I needed to go very far away from the object which was at times not possible within the compounds of the monument/building. I did this taking two pictures and combining . (Alert! You need wide-angle lens!)
I also realized that my camera was
severely limited if I wanted to take pictures of say peacock’s dancing for if I went too close it would attract their attention and they stopped doing their grotesque movements. ( Alert! You need telephoto lens). I photographed my mom in the kitchen often a candid shot so that someday I could surprise her when the film would develop. I also photographed the TV and the results was little surprising and I couldn’t explain at that time why I could not see my complete TV in the snap. (It was the famous cricket match in1986, Australasia cup at Sharjah when a six was hit on the last ball making India lost the cup and me my interest in the game of cricket).
Every picture was precious however funny it may seem now. This is what a train (on River Yamuna, New Delhi) and an airplane at Kathmandu Airport, Nepal looked like from P&S camera. I know you are just giggling, “But where is the train?”.
Oh I missed this one, the biggest problem with my P&S was that the viewfinder used a different lens then the one that took the photo so I would have often clicked the picture without removing the lens cap! I envied some folks who had a shutter locking feature if the lens cover was not open.
Camera film costs a fortune and was the most expensive resource after one had the camera. I would learn 15 years from now when I would own a film SLR that film was the cheapest resource in photography world and one needed to burn films on films to learn photography. However, present dilemma in 1986 was that I found because of my carelessness the film leader also went inside film holder. And I shivered with the thought that the entire roll would be lost! I walked up to a studio with a stupid look and trying to hide my imbecility narrated the sad incident as if heavens had fallen. I was introduced to something called a film-picker that would fetch the film-leader from inside the container. Bravo!
I read somewhere that they develop films in red light ambience as it doesn’t effect the photographic film emulsion. So, I went to the darkest room of my house and opened the back cover with my camera’s flash-ready light lamp on (It looked red enough! Right? ) and ran through the whole film looking for changes on the film after photography! Only when I developed the film I found that I had spoiled all the exposures and the studio guys wondered the grotesque patterns of lights that apparently came on photographs. Only I knew the secret else my sister and gang would have killed me for spoiling their birthday pictures.
I also happen to run through a duplicate film roll from a vendor and to my dismay found that when my film lever refused to budge after 10 exposures! I also read about harrowing tales of exposed films available in tourist places like Mysore and made it a point to buy enough film and only from known studios even if they were twice as expensive.
First Break into the SLR world
I wanted to take pictures from fast moving trains/buses. I wanted to take pictures secretly without people knowing about it. I wanted to get very close to the subjects and photograph them. Ofcourse, I knew I needed something better! The desire to own a more capable camera was seeded.
I managed to get a Yashica film SLR from my father’s sister’s husband. And even before I could understand using it, we had a robbery in the house and it was just taken away! Bummer!
We were not well off and a camera costing some six thousand bucks was ruled out. I knew that my maternal uncle was a photography freak and he lived in the United Kingdom so all was still not lost. The next time around when he was visiting India and he asked me what I wanted I blurted a good camera with zoom lens! That’s all I knew about photography equipment at that time and I felt
“good” and “zoom” would do the trick.
The wish was fulfilled with a not-so-big-deal-but-great -for-then-camera. It had a boring name : Centon- DF 300 (not one amongst I knew like Kodak, Pentax, Yashica, etc) with 35mm-80mm zoom lens, manual mode and shutter priority. I managed to get a Pentax camera-carry bag from the streets near Bombay VT to give it some level of respectability. I felt proud I owned a SLR. It meant the world to me, but I had no one around me to teach how to use the machine.
My uncle who gifted me the camera didn’t stay long enough with me to explain. I was always good at making sense out of the user-manual (a skill I found pretty rewarding in all aspects of life) and I learnt how to put the film and could shoot in automatic mode with OK results. I almost carried it passively through my 2 years each at IIT Kanpur and at IIT, Bombay except for one trip to the GMRT (Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope, Pune) where I always put the camera focus set to infinity and a fixed f-no 11 and a shutter speed of 125 and took tons of pictures of the radio telescopes. And most of them came out good in the day time – Unknowingly I was using the Sunny 16 rule to my service.
I also successfully impressed my fiance in 1999 March when I went to Delhi for my engagement and clicked some pictures of her at Central Park – Connaught Place, New Delhi. We also successfully coaxed the camera into taking decent pictures of my first few months at Hyderabad post marriage (July 1999) and also my honeymoon trip at Kodaikanal. Some of the flash-used pictures were half-bright. I learnt the hard way around that if I took pictures at shutter speed greater than 1/60, the flash won’t be able to completely illuminate the entire frame. I also learnt that the softness I was experiencing in the pictures were also because of the fungus in the camera lens! We were still not sure what the numbers on the lens meant or the colorful lines, the distance reading scale, etc but nevertheless that was the only camera we had and life moved on and it atleast appeared that I had something sufficiently sophisticated.
In 2000 my wife’s office organized a free photo workshop for its employees and spouses were invited! The first photography outing happened at Shilparamam, Hyderabad at the behest of Mr. Murli who did professional photography. In a day I learnt about Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO and most importantly Metering. And I complemented it with tons of reading on the internet. It
put back lot of life into my Centon. The guess work was gone and we did the metering of the shadows and highlights and we made decent estimates on the aperture/shutter speed combination and we knew what we were doing. Thus me and my wife stepped into the world of photography. For my wife, it ended there (although she still reminiscences the workshop and has better perspective of pictures then me ) but I took the baton ahead. And this also meant that in years to come I will be the one splurging money on photo equipment while my wife looked with browed countenance as my wish-list ever grew and my need for camera accessories avariciously increased.
My house saw the advent of the Canon Elan7E (EOS 30) with kit lens 70mm-90mm in 2001 at the cost of $700. A exponential jump from a paltry Rs.700 camera to $700! The dealer ensured that I carry a polarizing filter and also the UV protection filter and also a camera bag to go with! That would be another $100 Sir! I still remember the guy’s face and that beautiful afternoon in Camerworld, Portland. Oregon. I was suppose to flyback to India just two days later and I just had two days to test the camera out! In a matter of few hours I had gulped down the manual and I was thrilled at what this camera offered compared to my Centon. I could do multiple exposures, not worry about manual focussing, even eye-controlled focussing, several metering modes, auto bracketing, exposure compensation and a whole lot of paraphernalia. I knew I had a monster of a camera! At times the photographs turned out so good I was seriously considering if it was owing to my skills.
It wasn’t long before I added a Canon 480EX flash, Tamron f4-5.6 75-300mm, a Canon EF f3.5 20-35mm Wide, Canon EF f2.8 100mm macro, Canon EF f1.8 50mm and also the battery pack and the remote and a couple of tripods! Every trip to the United States translated into more sops for my every greedy Canon! To be true the focus was on acquiring equipment then on learning skills.
Nevertheless, my photography inclinations made me start a photography club in my company and we went out on several photo walks. I created a gang of people who were interested in photography.
My learning was limited as most of the folks with me were newbies and I needed advance interaction. I found a great institute for correspondence course – NYIP, but their course fees $1200 was crazy high! Luckily, I found a friend Mr Praveen in the Mentor photography Club who had done the NYIP photography course and was kind enough to lend me his material. And that’s when I experienced a sea change in my photography skills! The first thing the course asked me to do was to not buy any other equipment and basically focus on developing the Photography Eye! No sooner I was a roving eye, my brain was always looking for objects that would make a good picture. I would dream of having taken a mind-blowing picture only to find that ethereal scenic beauty I just captured was only in the mind. I read a lot from technical web pages to forums to Ansel Adam’s books. I did a lot of photo critiquing at photosig . I photographed a lot and my skills were improving and was slowly winning small accolades around me that I took great pictures. That was NYIP aimed too, we all take good pictures but do we take great pictures too? I was all set with slides films, and even a negative/slides scanner and most of my films rolls will come from the earned credit card points.
I have carried my camera everywhere I went. To crazy altitudes (Rohtang Pass -13059 ft) at freezing weather, to the oceans (Pacific, Indian), to the volcanoes (St. Helens), to national parks (Corbett), for everyday events, to the streets, marriages. But, I always took pictures with the end in mind!
The kite of SLR film photography was just beginning to soar in high skies but the winds of change were strong. Almost all discussion forums were predicting the demise of film photography. At that time digital photography was expensive let alone going digital SLR photography. In 2001 when I got my SLR film camera I was advised to buy a digital camera Canon s40 4 MP for $800, but I had always felt attached to a film SLR and a digital camera didn’t hold enough appeal and that too at such a high cost. In 2003 when my daughter was born I succumbed to the pressures of digital brouhaha and let myself a Canon s40, 4 MP for some $700. It was the highest MP Canon offerering at that time unless you went above $1300. The advent of s40 made me a lazy photographer and to an extent killed my confidence in photography as I could review the results of a bad shot so it became more of a hit & trial photography. Given the ease of use with digital photography I found myself carrying the digital compact camera more often then the sturdy film camera Elan7E even though the pictures from the film SLR were amazing! Sad, but true!
Next two years I manipulated my life between film and digital playing see-saw between the good and bad of owning one over the other. Missing one when I had the other at photo ops. I shoot about 4000 pictures in just six months and captured my new born baby in all action.
I was beginning to feel the pinch of not owning a digital SLR. It was less difficult to buy digital SLR then to live with the thought that your wonderful film SLR will be rendered useless. Unfortunately it did happen, and I got a Canon 30D with the thought that I will never need another advance camera. It also coincided with my life getting little hectic and my photography taking a little back seat until about a year back I accidentally chanced upon the Hyderabad Photography Club and met a wonderful set of enthusiastic photographers. Photography was back on the radar. Now with several photography trips and outings in my belt, I look forward to every opportunity to shoot! We have done it in all flavors: ancient monuments, national parks, jungle treks, car rallies, streets photography, etc.
I still envy the Canon 40Ds, 50Ds and the ilk, I also envy the Canon L-lens some of my friends can boast of, but I have silently learnt the Art of Photography. Yes, it is not in the equipment but in the beauty of the mind that sees a photographic opportunity.
I would like to see myself as a Nat-Geo photographer, but the big long lens should be a means to an end than and end in itself.
Class VIII :
is high-school level and two years from completely high school
is Indian currency – present conversion rate approx. about $1 = Rs. 50 .