Saturday, October 20, 2012

About Me - 3

Once the SLR camera had been purchased, the next step was to understand how it worked, and then take photographs. While it may appear child's play, to children as well as adults, to use digital contraptions such as digital cameras, in 1999 it took me a good fifteen minutes to figure out how the camera strap had to be looped around and fastened. That was indeed one of the first tasks that I had to accomplish after unpacking the camera from its packaging. Trust me - if you haven't done that before, nor seen it being done before, it's not as easy as it looks. Fortunately I had the privacy of my home to preserve my dignity. Completing that task seemed like an achievement; nay - I knew I had accomplished, and accomplished much. I felt I could now take on even bigger challenges - like taking photographs. Slipping in a 35mm roll was not that big a deal. What was even more reassuring was that this camera - a wonder of modern technology - could tell me if the film leader had fastened itself properly or not. It was the apogee of progress in idiot-proof technology, to my mind at least.

Interstate I-84, aka "Columbia River Highway", running parallel to the Columbia River, in Oregon, near Portland. The turnout in the highway is a scenic viewpoint turnout. This photo's been taken from the Crown Point Vista House.

Now, if you had always shot with point-and-shoot, auto-focus, auto-exposure cameras, but now wanted to progress to using cameras that actually allowed you to mess around with aperture and shutter timings, you had to have balls and nerves of steel. I mean, and I have to remind you, this was still the age of 35mm film rolls. So you had to be better darn well sure of what you were doing, and if you didn't know what you were doing, then you were better off learning fast enough what you ought to be doing to learn shooting with an SLR. 35mm film may have been cheap, but it wasn't free. Marginal costs of photography were most certainly not zero, or close enough. The processing and printing certainly wasn't free. No - I was not going to get into the slide business just yet. I never did, actually, but I first wanted to understand basic photography well-enough before getting into the ego trip of slide-film shooting - which is what I suspected a lot of people were indulging in. There was the comforting green pointer on the camera dial that told me that if I ever got scared, I could always move the dial to this green marker, and the camera would take care of me. Nothing to worry, everything would be just fine. I didn't want to do that. Just yet. So I opened the manual that came with the camera, and started reading. The manual wasn't bad, but it was a manual. It was a help doc - not exactly at the top of anyone's priority. Important, yes; critical; no. It had to go out with the camera, and it had to be accurate - but beyond that I wasn't expecting much from the camera's manual. It did its job, but I was looking for more. More importantly, how could I call myself a serious learner if I didn't have a fancy looking book to tote around?

Someone at work then mentioned the "Magic Lantern" series. The series of cameras was an ideal way to get started with learning how to operate a camera - for each popular brand of SLR cameras there was a "Magic Lantern" guide. They cost less than $20, and after having put down more than $500 of the camera body and starter lens, $20 felt almost free. I did not know at the time, but I was being influenced by the "anchoring" effect. The Barnes and Noble store close by was put to good use, and I now had a Magic Lantern guide with me. Over the next month or so I shot a couple of rolls with the new camera. All the while, I was using the camera mostly on automatic mode, or semi-automatic mode - where I would move the shooting mode to "portrait", or "sports". I still did not feel brave enough to move the dial counter-clockwise to the "advanced" settings, like the "Aperture Priority", or "Shutter Priority", or heavens - "Manual" mode! What I could say was that the Magic Lantern guide was making me aware of the basics of photography - the kinds of basics that would stand me in good stead. It was time to take things to the next level

The Crown Point Vista House. A must-stop point for people doing the old Columbia River Gorge scenic route. And yes, the vistas really are stunning from here, at any time of day, but especially at sunset.

To do that - to take things to the next level, I needed to spend more money. Yes, sure, that was one way of taking things to the next level. However, some more searching around on the Interwebs had taught me that there were people who made their living taking and then selling photographs. Surprise! What was even more startling was the knowledge that these people often wrote books. On photography. For people like me. I heard for the first time names like Art Wolfe and John Shaw. I ended up buying three of their books, and each was worth far more than what I paid for these books. Perhaps the best was John Shaw's Nature Photography Field Guide. In spite of the fact that the book was 15 years old by the time I bought it, I would heartily recommend it to anyone wanting to understand the basics of photography. Whenever I leaf through it, in 2012, I feel the book is as useful today as it was when I first read it in 1999. The book guides you through the trade-offs between shutter speed and depth-of-field, the rule of 16th, the basics of composition, the importance of a tripod, the value of patience, and so much more.
Mt Hood towers over everything else. This shot also taught me that I was sorely lacking a neutral density graduated filter. This kind of a filter would have allowed me to shoot and still preserve the highlights in the mountain as well as in the landscape. Pity.

Take this photo below. I think I shot it sometime in the second half of 1999, while on a day trip down to the Columbia River Gorge. It was the early hours of the evening, and the sun was about to set. Now, this shot is of the Vista Point House looking east, and the sun was directly behind me, though hidden from view by trees. There were two other photographers there. Professional photographers, who made their living through photography. They had their cameras mounted on sturdy tripods, and weren't even touching their cameras to shoot - a cable release was used lest any hand movement shake the camera. All I had to do was to unfold  my tripod, mount my camera, and do what they were doing - monkey see, monkey do. I shot off a few photographs, and they all came out beautiful. Shooting in the Columbia River Gorge felt doubly awesome. The place itself is packed with scenic vistas, waterfalls, gorges, mountains, and more, and photographing there feels like icing on a cake.
Crown Point Vista House at dusk.
I should add that the Pacific Northwest so abounds in scenic avenues that it requires little additional incentive for someone to pick up a camera and want to learn as much as is possible to shoot the best possible photographs.

That's all folks; take care.
Oct 20, 2012

 © 2012, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.