Back in school, and in style!

I should have done this post long time ago. I know I am late, by at least a couple of weeks! And I am not going to give any excuses. What am I talking about? Well, if you remember, when I introduced C to the world, I had promised to explain the rationale behind the decision. Wait! You do not remember C now, do you?

Well, let me introduce C to you once again. See below!

C final

Who is C:

C is a made in Japan 1974 Canon FTb QL all manual film SLR with a Canon 50mm f1.8 FD lens. I got her from the US after lot of searching and researching. And it took extra shipping charges, customs duty, tweets to India Post and 30 days for C and me to unite. (For those of you who are interested in vintage cameras in great working condition, I got C from an online portal called F Stop Cameras. They ship international. You can find out more here.)

I don’t find it weird to name the inanimate objects I own. I have named my Scorpio as “Pearl”, my Pulsar 200NS as “V”, and my DSLR as “N”. I also talk to them sometimes. No, it is not weird. It is just that I find these inanimate objects much more trustworthy than some humans who I have come in contact with. Of course, I am kidding! Which part you ask? The “talking” part.

Now you have been properly introduced, again!

Why C – an all manual film SLR:

When the world around me is moving at a breakneck speed, what is the need for me to slow down? Going back in the cycle of evolution by going from digital to film was only going to slow me down, correct? And what purpose would it serve other than being cumbersome and making photography costlier?

Flash back to Hampi in Karnataka, India, beginning of last year. I had just got my new DSLR and the lenses. The moment I got down from my car in Hampi, I went click click click. For the next three days, all I did was click click click. By the end of it, the counter read 950. And when I took those photos to my computer, there were about only 80 frames which I could proudly show to the world. That is a dismal c8% hit rate.

Confession time! I admit, that was the problem with my style of photography when I had just started taking this art seriously. I took hundreds of photographs and hoped that I will get few worthy frames. And in the frenzy of pressing the shutter button, I was being oblivious to the events around me. If Henri Cartier-Bresson would have been around me during that madness, he would have slapped me for missing The Decisive Moment. So, when I was just pressing the shutter button instead of making a photograph, where was the art in that, I thought! Hence, I decided to slow down.

Since that trip to Hampi I have been out on numerous tours, and I thought I had slowed down considerably. Had I? Though the hit rate had improved considerably, I was still taking a lot of bad photographs – for example the subject was not in focus, or I forgot to change the settings (I always shoot manual), or the framing was not done properly, or all of the above.

I was getting worried about how I was making photographs. I had hit a plateau as far as improving the quality of my frames were considered. I considered myself a 10/10 as far as theory of photography was concerned. But when it came to practical application, I was being a mediocre at best. And they say photography is all about practical application. There was one important ingredient missing from my recipe. After a lot of contemplation, I found it!

Attention! That was the missing ingredient. I was not paying enough attention. I was not being attentive enough, while making photographs. The only way to bring attention to the forefront was to attach some kind of a cost for each bad photograph, I thought. And the only way I could have done it was by relearning photography on film. Also, I felt the less automatic controls the better, and hence an all manual film SLR.

Also, if you are serious about making it big in your chosen field, the best way to learn is by learning the same way as the greats in your field did. In photography, invariably all of the greats learned the trade on film cameras.

Also, film SLRs make you appear much cooler in the field! And who doesn’t want to appear cooler than the crowd?

The first roll and what I learned:

To start with, C had developed some snags, owing to few lose screws on the lens. I had factored these snags in my expectations. I mean, who won’t, especially when the camera you are shooting with is 43 years old! A camera repair shop in Hyderabad repaired it for me and for free. You can find more about the repair shop here.

I had ordered a couple of Ilford HPS 400 B&W 35mm rolls to start with. I intend to shoot B&W till I get bored with them. I have successfully finished the first roll, and as I write, I am in the process of shipping it to Mumbai to get it developed. I just hope that I didn’t expose few frames while rewinding the film. This was the first time I was rewinding the film manually, you see!

The first thing I noticed was the weight of the camera body. And the heavy shutter click. So much so that camera shake will be evident at shutter speeds of anything less than 1/60th of a second. Looking at the brighter side of it, my hands will tend to become steadier. They call it muscle memory!

There is no auto mode in the camera, so I understand the exposure triangle better. Also, because there is no auto focus, I have sharpened my manual focusing skills and learned about zone focusing.

And I saved the best one for the last! When I visited the vanishing beach of Chandipur, in coastal Odisha, India, in my recently concluded trip, I actually waited for my subjects to walk into my frame. The waits lasted between 2-5 minutes, and on one occasion it lasted close to 10 minutes. I realised that I have become more patient and much more attentive about my surroundings.

To tell you more about C and my recently concluded trip, as a challenge to myself I deliberately did not pack my DLSR for this one. I photographed with C on the beach, on the street at night and in an event. I just hope that the frames turn out alright. And even if most of the 36 frames do not turn out alright, the learning experiences alone will make the effort worthwhile. Fingers crossed!

In the meantime, please keep an eye on the Project 35 page in the menu at top for the photos.

In frame: C, my made in Japan 1974 Canon FTb QL all manual film SLR with a Canon 50mm f1.8 FD lens.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

Could you repeat that, Mr Capa?

“If your pictures are not good enough, you are not close enough.” – Robert Capa

Well, that’s what Robert Capa said. But, who was Mr Capa?

Robert Capa was the “greatest combat and adventure photographer” in history. If you are not in the photography business or have got nothing to do with cameras, you would probably not know him. An accidental photographer like many of us, he becamse a legend because of the way he dealt with his profession – dedication and commitment.

The said quote was in the context of war photography. Robert Capa lived and died during an age when there were no fancy photographic equipment. And in that age, more often than not, one had to walk in to the thick of action to get that appealing frame. We are talking about bombs going off all around, bullets whizzing past ears. That thick of an action! And it was this “getting close” part which helped Capa in capturing some of the most dramatic photographs of the wars that he covered.

How is the quote relevant for me in this age, when we have all the fancy equipment we can think of: super-zoom telephoto lenses, the best sensors, and what not? How is it relevant for me when I have not seen a live combat in my entire life? Combat as in when people are trying to kill each other! And most importantly, how is it relevant in my life? Read on for the revelation!

Capa’s quote in the context of photography:

On a scale of one to telephoto lenses, how lazy are you? That’s a weird scale, isn’t it? Not when we are discussing photography.

First, let’s all agree that photography is all about interactions with subjects. Alright? The goodness of the photograph is directly proportional to how well the photographer has interacted with the subjects. If the broad genre is people, then it becomes interaction with people, and if the broad genre is wildlife and/or nature, then it becomes interaction with the nature (insects, trees, birds and animals included). Simply put, the photographer needs to get involved with her/his subjects. And one cannot get involved with the subjects without getting closer, can (s)he?

For me, capturing people was always difficult. I was shy by nature. I was not comfortable talking to strangers. For this reason, most of the times I came across as arrogant. When I say capturing people, I do not mean staying in my comfort zone, taking out that telephoto lens and start capturing people from far off. And then, out of those thousands of photos chose one that is reasonably good and call it “candid”. Well, nothing wrong in that! Nothing wrong other than the fact that I would be bull-shitting, if I say “I capture people”. So, to challenge myself, I took up making portraits.

The photographs where the subjects look right at the viewer, I find these photographs as most intriguing. I feel these are the photographs which connect with the viewer instantly. And to capture those, the subject must be aware, and one needs to abandon all the inhibitions and ask for permission from a total stranger. That is the thrill part!

And that is the level of involvement (“getting close” in Capa’s words) one needs, irrespective of the genre of photography. All or nothing, I tell you!

With time, as I develop my skills of making a portrait, I am also developing my people skills. Now, I do not mind approaching a total stranger and ask for permission to make a portrait. If it is a “yes”, you can see the result in the portrait above. And if is a “no”, I take it in the stride and keep working on my smile.

While making portraits, how do I know how close is close enough? Well, definitely not so annoyingly close that I am encroaching my subject’s personal space. But close enough to capture the right emotions.

Below is yours truly in action, while making the portrait above. That close is close enough, I think.


I have never been caught in action, except for this one time, all thanks to my good friend Amit Kumar Singh.

Capa’s quote in the context of life:

I am going to tweak that original quote slightly.

“If your life is not interesting enough, then you are not living it from close enough.”

Well, you are alive, aren’t you? And what part of “being alive” do you find not interesting?

More about Robert Capa:

Capa lived and died in an age when there were no fancy photography equipment, in an age when photographers had to “make” photographs. Yes, he died at a young age of 40 back in 1954, when he stepped on a landmine while covering the French Indochina war. He had a love story too! He was engaged to Gerda Taro, another combat photographer, who was killed in the Spanish civil war in 1937. Capa contributed primarily to Life magazine. He clicked some of his most famous photos when he accompanied Allied troops during D-day invasion, in World War II. He was the co-founder of Magnum Photos. For all his association with war and death, here is his second most famous quote:

I hope to stay unemployed as a war photographer till the end of my life.” – Robert Capa

In frame: A flower seller in Gudimalkapur flower market, Hyderabad, Telangana, India. I initiated the talk by asking if I could take pictures of the marigold flowers she was selling, and she agreed. After the photographing the marigolds, I asked if I could make her portrait, and she agreed but said it is going to cost me. So, we bargained and settled for a “nominal” amount. So much for people skills.

Also, I have used a 3-step Brenizer technique here, for the first time. These are three photographs from top to bottom merged in to one.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

Anatomy of a photographer’s mind

“The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.” – Elliott Erwitt.

Why do we take photographs? To document? To record? To cherish a memory, or as a key to the past… time travel, you see? And in worst case as evidence or proof. Right? For those of us who have difficulty with words (and even for those who have a way with words), it is easier and far less cumbersome to explain events through photographs. Ever heard of Instagram?

What would have we done if we had lived in an era where there was no Instagram or even cameras? Answer would be painting, yes? In most cases, we wouldn’t have painted those ourselves. Rather, we would have hired a painter. If we take out the elements of imagination and creativity, the primitive instinct which drives this behaviour is our propensity to record the events around us.

That, my friend, is the primary motive behind visual art! That’s where it all started.

Wait! How old is visual art?

Hold your breath!

The oldest existing painting is at least 40,800 years old (El Castillo, northern Spain). The oldest surviving examples of paintings in the Indian sub-continent are at least 30,000 years old, in the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in the Vindhya range in Madhya Pradesh, India. These rock shelters are believed to have been continuously inhabited right up to the medieval period. And the same primitive instinct which I mentioned earlier, was the driving force behind the paintings of Bhimbetka, for close to 30 millennia.

The procession (see photo) was one such event of ancient India, which the dwellers of Bhimbetka recorded. The painting is that of a royal procession, with possibly a very important figure seated on the decorated horse at the front. Some say, it is the royal procession of Emperor Ashoka, himself. Even I believe so, for three reasons. First, for the dwellers of Bhimbetka to depict something, it had to be an extremely important event. Second, Ashoka was the governor of Vidisha during the reign of his father, Bindusara, Emperor of Magadh. Vidisha lies about 90 kms north of Bhimbetka. And third, this painting dates back to the classical period which starts sometime around 3rd century BC, about the same time as Ashoka.

Now, go back up and the read the quote by Elliott Erwitt, while looking at the painting in the photo. Do you understand why we take photographs?

I got to confess, if not a photographer and a storyteller, I would love to be a historian. But wait, in a way aren’t historians storytellers too?

In frame: The Royal Procession, Rock shelter no. 8, Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh, India

You can read more about Elliott Erwitt here.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.