Random thoughts on photography
Managed to take a long trip to a nice destination after a pretty long time. And this time, it was to the beautiful Coorg region of Karnataka, the home of coffee in India. We spent 4 great nights in the lovely new Taj property there - the Vivanta near Madikeri. Located across a hill and valley, and constructed in the local style with a lot of thought to minimizing environmental damage, this was definitely one of the best Taj properties that I have visited. We experienced some lovely weather there, including one magical evening when fog swept up from the valley and clothed us in its misty cloak, before moving on. Obviously I spent a lot of time shooting, & the results are there in the "Coog" page of this site. Hope you like the photographs, & as always, look forward to your comments. Here is one photo that particularly am fond of from this trip.
I recently had the privilege of going on a photographic tour of Bhutan. The local name of Bhutan is Druk Yul, which means the "land of the thunder dragon". Bhutan is an extremely pretty country governed in a very environment friendly manner. By government decree, 70% of the country is under forest cover. The country is predominantly Buddhist, which makes for very picturesque architecture in the forms of stupas, monasteries and dzongs( a unique institution which is a combination of a monastery and an administration unit).
The people of Bhutan are unfailingly hospitable and friendly, & they tolerated the cameras of our tour members with admirable good humor. We spent 8 days in Bhutan traversing through places with exotic names like Trongsa & Punakha.
We had the good fortune of having two very senior National Geographic photographers ( Cotton Coulson and Sisse Brimberg - check www.keenpress.com) leading the expedition. In addition to in-field tips and guidance, they conducted workshops in the evenings, which I personally found to be tremendously educative. This trip also forced me to step out of my comfort zone and do a lot of people photography, which s something I am grateful for. The expedition was organized by Better Moments, a Denmark based company. You can check them out on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/bettermoments?fref=ts.
You can check out my photographs from this trip in the relevant pages of this site. Look forward to hearing your feedback.
Elephant Falls is a prominent tourist attraction in my home town Shillong. Consequently practically every person visiting Shillong feels duty bound to take a photograph of the water fall, and most people also seem to select the same spot to take their photographs from. Totally boring.
So I was absolutely thrilled to see a photo of the falls on flickr a few years ago in which the water seemed to be cascading down the rocks in multiple streams of silky soft material. That was when my eyes opened to the power of the long exposure shot in converting an ordinary scene to one of extraordinary beauty.
Years went by, and I was in this wonderful place called Cherrapunjee on a holiday with my family. As is usual in the month of May, it had mostly rained throughout the day. The sky had cleared up a little while ago, treating us to the spectacle of a beautiful sunset, and now it was almost dark. For the first time, I had all the right equipment(decent camera, sturdy tripod) to try and get a good long exposure shot. So I plunked my tripod down right in the middle of a small stream, focused the camera on the water, held my breath, and clicked. And here’s what the result looked like - the first long exposure shot of my life!
© Jishnu Changkakoti. All rights reserved.
Since then, I have lucky enough to get a number of opportunities to take a reasonable number of such shots. Along the way, I have bought a couple of filters and learnt some new things as well. So here’s what I have learnt so far.
For any long exposure photograph, the key objective is to ensure that you maximize the amount of time that the shutter stays open so that the movement melds into something smooth and flowing. So all our efforts have to be focused on getting the camera to deliver this.
As a starting point, I assume you have a decent camera in which you can control the shutter speed and exposure, but you don’t have any other specialized filters etc. Ideally you also have a decent tripod. If not, your camera needs to be placed on a solid surface before taking the shot. You have already located the object of your photographic affection – maybe a waterfall, maybe a small stream rushing by, or even waves dashing against rocks on a beach.
In order to get a long shutter speed of a few seconds or more, you would ideally need to shoot at times when the light is pretty low. The best times would be either at dawn or dusk, when there is just about enough light to illuminate the scene. To keep things simple, I prefer to keep the camera on aperture priority and let the shutter speed take care of itself. To ensure that the lens remains open for as long as possible, I would set the aperture to the minimum possible – f/22 or even f/32. One benefit of this level of aperture is that you get huge depth of field i.e. objects close to the lens as well as objects very far away will probably be in focus. One disadvantage of such a small apeture is that image distortions start creeping in. Based on the lens you are using, set it to whichever number works best for you.
The other factor you can control is the ISO. Set it as low as possible, say 100. You are basically reducing the camera’s sensitivity to light by doing so, and this will result in the camera keeping the lens open for longer to properly expose the scene.
Finally place the camera on a solid tripod or surface, focus, and click. Just one thing, since the exposure will be a long one, any shake of the camera needs to be avoided. One prudent thing to do to avoid shake while you are pressing the shutter would be to set the camera on its self-timer and click. To be even more careful and avoid the shake due to the “mirror slap” of SLRs, put your camera on “mirror up” mode and then take the photograph.
That, then, was the simplest way of getting these photographs. However, this needs the situation to be ideal - you need to have access to the location at exactly the right time to get the shot right. Here is a photograph I took where the shoot location was right in front of our hotel. Thanks to jet lag, I even managed to wake up at an unearthly hour to capture this shot without the use of any specialized equipment.
© Jishnu Changkakoti. All rights reserved.
What do you do if you are visiting a place and are not able to be at the right location before sunrise or after sunset? Is there any chance of still getting those long exposure shots?
Well, yes. Provided, of course, that you are willing to invest in a very useful thing called a neutral density filter. So what is this magical piece of equipment? Simply put, it is like a sunglass for your lens. It is a grey coloured glass filter that fits in over your lens. Since it is dark, it cuts down the amount of light that reaches the sensor in the camera, so that the same scene will require a longer exposure time with such a filter compared to without.
Depending on how much light they cut off, there are various grades of neutral density filters available in the market. There is a standardized protocol for naming these filters – an ND.3 allows only 50% of the light to reach the sensor, an ND.6 filter allows only 25% , and so on. Depending on your needs and the price of the filter you could select any of the various options available.
I ended up buying the ND 3.0 filter from B+W, which is considered to be an “extreme” ND filter, since it allows only 0.01% of the available light to reach the sensor. The advantage of this is that I can use it even in bright sunlight to get long exposures. The disadvantage is that the glass is so dark that it is practically impossible to see anything through it while composing the shot, so one has to compose the shot and do the focusing first and then screw on the filter. This is what my ND filter looks like.
And here’s a shot that I took recently using this filter. Considering that the sun was already up, there was no way I would have been able to get this long an exposure without the help of this filter. By the way, I also did some single exposure HDR processing on this one to make the foreground lighter.
© Jishnu Changkakoti. All rights reserved.
Sometimes, however, a simple ND filter may not be enough. For example, I was in Goa, trying to get some long exposure shots on the beach. Unfortunately I woke up a bit late (actually quite late, way past sunrise). Thanks to this, the sky was pretty bright though as a saving grace, it was cloudy. I spotted this nice looking log lying on the sand with the waves swirling all around. Due to the brightness of the sky, however, I was not able to get a long enough exposure to get the effect I wanted even after stopping down the aperture all the way. Luckily, I had just the solution with me - a graduated neutral density(GND) filter!
So what is this new creature? Well, it is like a normal neutral density filter, except that it is perfectly clear at one end and gradually gets darker and darker towards the other end. It is basically a rectangular piece of glass that is dark at one end and clear at the other. You need to buy a filter holder that matches the diameter of your lens & place the filter in front of your lens. I attached this filter, rotating it to ensure that the dark part covered the sky. Doing this cut down the light coming from the sky significantly, thus giving me the extra exposure time I needed to get the shot I wanted.
And here is that shot.
© Jishnu Changkakoti. All rights reserved.
So in circumstances where one part of the scene is significantly brighter than the other, a GND filter can be used to cut down the light from the bright part of the scene, thus ensuring even exposure. Other than for long exposure shots, you can use GND filters to ensure that details of the sky(clouds etc.) are not burnt out when shooting landscapes on bright sunlit days.
Some additional points about GND filters.
· Like ND filters, different grades of GND filters are available.
· There are circular and rectangular graduated ND filters. If you are ever to buy one, do not go for the circular one as it provides very little flexibility for adjustment. This is because once it is screwed in front of the lens, its position is fixed.
· There are also “hard” and “soft” GND filters. In the hard filter, there is a sharp demarcation between the clear and shaded portions, while the transition is very gradual in the soft filters. With the hard filter you have to be more careful about its position so that the dark line disappears into the horizon and does not appear as a line in your photograph.
To summarize, if you are able to take the trouble to get to the right spot in time, you can still get great long exposure shots without using any special filter. However, having either of these filters can help you get some shots that would not be possible otherwise. Take a look at the image below. To my mind, the scene looks like rocky cliffs surrounded by mist. In reality, the shot is that of moss covered rocks on the sea shore. Thanks to the long exposure that my ND filter enabled, the flow of the water has been smoothed out to such an extent that it looks like a mist. This is despite the fact that the sun was shining pretty brightly by then, as you can see from the bright glow of the sun on the top of the photograph.
© Jishnu Changkakoti. All rights reserved.
I hope this note has been useful. Hope you shoot a lot of beautiful long exposure images & look forward to seeing them if you connect with me on fb or flickr. All the best!
I recently visited the picturesque coastal town on Pondicherry. This town is unique because it is one of the few places in India that was ruled by the French from around 1764 all the way till the early nineteen sixties. The French influence is most obvious in the architecture of the "French Quarters" portion of the town, and to a lesser extent in the various restaurants there. Since I was there on my own for a fairly long time, I got the opportunity to take a lot of photographs there - of the town's architecture and people as well as of the sea. This was the first time I got to use my new neutral density filter to take very long exposure shots of the sea, and I had a lot of fun doing that. Here is a travelogue I wrote on my trip. Hope you like it. Look forward to your feedback.
I got a very pleasant surprise last night to find out that one of my photos - "A lifetime" - has won the 2nd place Merit of Excellence award in "Fine Art" category of the 7th annual Black & White Spider Awards ( http://www.thespiderawards.com/gallery/7th/gallery.php?x=a&cid=107&g=w ). Two other photos - "Solo" and "Blessings" were nominees in the Silhouette and People categories respectively. Considering that there were more than 7000 contestants from around the world, & the judging panels included prestigious institutions like National Geographic, getting the award and nominations is a deeply satisfying moment for me, & gives me motivation to continue to try and improve my photographic skills moving forward.
Thanks to this awards, I can now display the following winner's button on my site:
And here are the photographs.
A lifetime - 2nd Prize, Fine Art Amateur, 7th Annual Black & White Spider Awards. Copyright Jishnu Changkakoti. All rights reserved.
Blessings - Nominee, People Amateur, 7th Annual Black & White Spider Awards. Copyright Jishnu Changkakoti. All rights reserved.
Solo - Nominee, Silhouette Amateur, 7th Annual Black & White Spider Awards. Copyright Jishnu Changkakoti. All rights reserved.
I was pleasantly surprised by the response to my recent note on getting away from using the auto mode . Luckily, the points mentioned there were found useful by a reasonable number of people. Encouraged by that, here is my second piece. Today, I am putting down what I have learnt about using the different metering modes on my DSLR.
Metering is one of the most important things I learnt after joining Mr. Munish Khanna’s course a couple of years ago(www.munishkhannaacademy.com). It actually came about after a disastrous assignment in which I had to do a portrait of someone in my family. After much coaxing and cajoling, my dear wife agreed to be my model. Inspired by some great images I had seen, I asked her to pose next to a window such that one part of her face was lit by the morning light streaming in, while the other part was in relative darkness. Try as I might, I never managed to get the image right. The problem was that the lit part of her face was always getting over-exposed, with all details getting burnt out. Here is what the image looked like.
© Jishnu Changkakoti. All rights reserved.
First of all, my wife hates having photos taken. And on top of that, this is what I come up with. You can imagine the grief I got after taking this photograph! It was only later, once I learnt about metering, that I understood why this was happening.
Most cameras have 2 or 3 metering modes, the selection of which determines how a particular image is exposed by the camera. In the case of the image above, the camera was in the default “matrix” metering mode(called the evaluative mode in Canon cameras). In this mode the camera averages out the light coming into it by sampling the light equally from all parts of the image, and then uses this average light reading as the correct exposure for the image. The problem with my wife’s photo was that while the part of the image where sunlight was falling on her face was extremely bright, the rest of the image was significantly darker.
To describe this simply, let’s say that the intensity of the light coming from the lit part of her face is measured by a number, & let's say that this number was 5, while the intensity from the dark part of the image was significantly lower at 1. The average intensity of light would work out to 3, which is what the camera would set as the exposure. (This is a very simplistic explanation, & in reality how the camera sets the exposure is nowhere as simply arithmetical as this). Now when the image is exposed at 3, what happens is that the while one gets to see some details from the dark areas of the image, the bright areas get totally over-exposed, resulting in the problem that I faced.
Now, don’t take this to mean that using the matrix metering mode is wrong. In fact, Nikon’s matrix mode is justly famous for giving excellent exposures for most images. To the best of my knowledge, a lot of pros simply put the camera of matrix mode and trust Nikon to handle the exposure. It is only in special cases like the one described above, where the matrix mode does not turn out to be the right solution to the problem. Here is an example of a recent photograph taken using the matrix metering mode. As you can see, the image is overall decently exposed, so the mode obviously works well.
The valley at Matiana © Jishnu Changkakoti. All rights reserved.
So, getting back to the photograph of my wife, you can understand how important it was for domestic peace to figure out how not to make such mistakes again in future. Well, with such high stakes at play, I did figure out the solution, & here it is.
The ready-made, in-camera solution is to switch to the “spot” metering mode when you are photographing such situations. (In Nikon cameras, this mode is visually identified by a square with a dot in its centre).
In spot metering, when you focus on a certain point in the image, the camera sets the exposure for that spot, so that the point of focus is not just properly focused, it is also perfectly exposed. So, going back to the example of my wife’s photo, if I had used spot metering and focused on the part of her face on which light was falling, then that part would have been perfectly exposed, showing all the details, and thus avoiding the problem that I faced.
Simple, isn’t it? However, one also needs to understand how this will impact the rest of the image. In my example, since the exposure would now be set for the brightest part of the image, the shutter speed would be much higher than in the matrix mode. This means that the darker parts of the scene would be under-exposed, & would therefore appear to be very dark(close to black), & you may not be able to see any details in those parts of the image. Therefore, you need to be clear whether this is the effect you want before you choose to use spot metering.
Here is an example of an image where I have used spot metering to ensure that the bright part of the image is properly exposed.
The rose © Jishnu Changkakoti. All rights reserved.
In this case, the rose was lit up by the sun’s rays and I was shooting against the light. By spot metering on the brightest part of the rose , I was able to retain enough detail there so that one can see the folds of the petals even in this part of the image.
Other than these two, there is a third mode of metering called the “centre-weighted” metering. In this mode, the camera assigns maximum weightage to the light it received from the centre of the image, & correspondingly reduces the weightage as one moves out concentrically towards the edges of the image. I have found this mode very useful for shooting sunsets, and for shooting silhouettes of people against some bright light or against the setting sun. Here is an image in which I have used centre-weighted metering.
Leaves and buds © Jishnu Changkakoti. All rights reserved.
Now that I’ve talked about metering, it’s time to get down to the practical issues. For example, where would you find the metering option on your camera? Since I own a Nikon D80 camera, let me show you where to find the option on that. If you own a Canon or any other brand, I assume you would be able to find this option without too much difficulty.
In the photo of my D80 below, what you need to do is to press the button in the darkened circle at the top right side of the camera(immediately above the LCD screen), and then rotate the wheel in the brownish area at the bottom right of the camera(next to the strap), to shift from one metering mode to another. When you do so, the metering mode selected is displayed on the LCD screen.
I hope this note helps. I have personally found that using these metering modes well gives me a tremendous amount of control over the final result that I want from the photographs that I take. Wish you happy experimenting and shooting!
I recently discovered Instagram. Yeah, yeah, 30 million people did discover it before me, which is an indicator of how far I am from anything that is termed cutting edge.
Anyway, armed with my iPhone 4, it's been tremendous fun using the app. I'm again at the stage I was after buying my first camera, aggressively hunting out opportunities to take photographs anytime, anywhere.
Other than the fun aspect, one good value add of instagram is that one learns how to compose effectively within a square frame, which is something new for me.
Given my current excitement levels, I have finally taken the leap and added a full page of instagram images to this site (check the "Instagram images" link above). I hope you like these images as much as I enjoyed creating them. Look forward to your comments.
After buying my first DSLR(Nikon D80) in 2007, I spent almost two years shooting totally in auto mode. The photos weren't too bad at that time, but are a bit embarrassing to see now. It was only much later that I started discovering other things that my camera could do and learnt how to better control the photographs I was taking. Recently I met up with a colleague who wanted to learn how to move out of auto mode, & wrote a small note for him on this. I'm sharing that note here, with the assumption that some people who visit me are relative newbies for whom this may be useful. Of course, this is very basic stuff, so most of you would not need to read this post at all.
Is your photography still on auto mode?
This is for those people relatively new to photography, who would like to get more control over their shots. The simplest method I can suggest is to move to shooting on the “aperture priority” mode from auto. I have personally found this to be the easiest way of taking photographs that one can actually control to deliver an end product that one visualizes.
Very simply, aperture is how large is the opening in your lens through which light strikes the image sensor in your camera. Just as the pupils of our eyes dilate in order to let in more light in a darkened room, and become narrow slits when you suddenly step into the bright sunlight, the aperture of the camera opens up to a lesser or greater extent depending on the intensity of the light. The interesting side-effect of this changing aperture in cameras is that it directly impacts the depth of field of the image that you are photographing.
You have probably seen photographs where the eyes of a person are in sharp focus while the rest of his face is out of focus. Or of flowers where the main flower stands out from the surroundings because everything else is blurred while the flower is in sharp focus. These images use a narrow depth of field to get this effect.
And how does one get a narrow depth of field? Very simple actually. Just put your camera on aperture priority. Now when you move the dial, you will see the f stop reading changing. Take this down to the lowest possible level available on your camera – maybe it is 2.8. The smaller you can make this number, the more the aperture opens up to let in more light, & the narrower the depth of field that you can get.
When you fix the aperture, the camera automatically adjusts the shutter speed to ensure that the image is properly exposed. Fundamentally, the more the aperture opens, the higher the shutter speed needs to be in order to ensure that the amount of light striking the sensor just enough to ensure proper exposure of the image.
Once you have adjusted the aperture, all you need to do is choose your subject, aim, compose your picture, and shoot! Here is an example of a shot where I used a narrow depth of field to get just one of the idols in focus, while keeping the others blurred. Doing this helps the eye focus on the subject that you want to highlight.
Gods in waiting © Jishnu Changkakoti
Conversely, if you are shooting a photograph of a large group of people standing in 3 or 4 rows, your objective is to ensure that all the people are in focus, whether they are right in front or standing at the extreme back. To ensure that this happens, do the reverse, i.e. turn the dial so that the f number becomes larger and larger – maybe take it up to 16 or 20. The larger you make this number, the less the lens aperture opens, and the higher the depth of field you can get.
So by making this simple change in your camera setting from “auto” to aperture priority, you suddenly realize that you have a huge amount of control over the camera and the final image that emerges.
To keep everything else simple, I would recommend keeping the white balance and ISO settings of the camera on auto mode, so that you don’t need to worry about any extraneous factors while shooting.
Beyond this, following one simple composition rule can help make your photographs look much better. This is the “rule of thirds”. Most people starting off on photography put their subject right in the centre of the image and shoot away. While this helps in getting well focused images, the net effect is generally a bit boring. Plus keeping the person right in the centre ensures that she is actually obscuring the beautiful Taj Mahal behind her.
Following the rule of thirds is an easy way to make your pictures look better. What this rule says is that if you divide your image into equal thirds, both horizontally and vertically, & keep your subject in the intersection of the 1/3rd or 2/3rd lines, the composition looks much more pleasing. Take a look at the photograph below for an example of using the rule of thirds.
At rest © Jishnu Changkakoti
One of my photographs was shortlisted as a nominee in the landscape category of Better Photography's Photographer of the Year contest. Unfortunately, I didn't end up winning, but it feels good to be nominated at least :-).
Here is a link where you can see the nominees and winning photographs - betterphotography.in/2012/01/31/poy-2011-nominees/
This is the photograph which made it to the nominee list.
While growing up in the seventies in India, Kashmir was the only hill station that one knew of, & this beautiful state was showcased to the hilt in the romantic movies of Shammi and Shashi Kapoor. Kashmir was engraved in all our minds forever as a heaven on earth thanks to the immortal lines uttered by Jehangir - " Gar firdaus bar rue zameen ast, hameen asto, hameen asto, hameen ast" translated as "If ever there is paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here!". After almost twenty years of trouble, Kashmir has seen a rare summer of peace this year. We were lucky enough to be able to take advantage of this, and paid a short visit to Srinagar last week. It is the fall season there now, and the entire state is currently a riot of colours. From a pre-dawn shikara ride to see the floating market, to plucking luscious apples from orchards to horse rides in the lovely meadows of Pahalgam, we tried to squeeze in as much of the state as we could in the three brief days of our stay there. And the state totally lived up to its reputation. Lovely weather, beautiful landscapes, friendly and beautiful people - Kashmir is all this and more. I hope that Kashmir remains peaceful from now on so that the people can prosper after so many years of strife. And of course, I do hope that we will be able to go back to visit this beautiful pace time and again. Hope you like the photos of Kashmir that I have loaded on this site. Look forward to your feedback.