Career Launchpad: Photography 101

Education tips

If everyone could be a best-selling writer they would be. If everyone could be a well-renowned photographer they would be. That’s the thing with liberal arts. They are liberal enough to push you but excelling in it requires an understanding into the creative/liberal art of your choice. Photography is comprehensible/accessible to anyone with a camera/phone, but what tells apart the amateurs from the professionals is their understanding of the craft. No wonder that there are specializations in one of the most sought after professions now.

We think photography is serious business. Here’s a lo-down for all enthusiasts and aficionados alike into specializations in the field of photography and your step by step guide to picking a specialization in this extremely dynamic and popular field.

You could be the next Annie Leibowitz, Mitchell Funk, or Atul Kasbekar for all you know!

1. Wedding photography

If you have tried your hand at clicking pictures at your cousins wedding and got a patron, then you can perhaps think of wedding photography as a career option.

Shahnawaz Ahmed, a software engineer by profession is a wedding photographer by choice. Passionate about photography and clicking people at some of their best moments, Shahnawaz started shooting five years back.  He says, “Indian weddings are packed with intricacies and it’s fascinating to shoot them. There is so much around for you to capture that you just can’t resist clicking everything. Decoration, lighting, food, and the melange of colours, all set the mood.”

Shahnawaz uses Canon 5D mark III for videography and Nikon D800 & D600 for still photography. As for the lens, he uses Nikon 50mm f 1.8D, Nikon 50mm f 1.8G, Nikon 85mm f1.8G, and Nikon 80-200mm f2.8D.

Challenges and Tips:

Indian weddings have many sub ceremonies that vary according to religion, region, and caste, each having its own unique individuality. To start with, get to know about the ceremony in as much detail as possible and plan your shots and equipments accordingly.

According to Shahnawaz, knowing your client, his taste, and what he wants is a must. You cannot serve a person with Japanese cuisine if he is used to spicy food only and vice versa. Understand what are the must-click moments at a sit down with your client.

He talks of being selective and intuitive about clicking the right moments at the right times. For instance, you might regret missing the moment when the fathers of the groom and the bride embrace, as it may happen only once. It is extremely vital to be careful of those who engage you in taking their picture. They might ask you for one shot, but the number just increases.

Planning what to shoot in advance and keeping as much place for those defining casual candid moments, is important. You should not find yourself thinking at any time that you haven’t shot enough. Infact, visiting the venue when a previous event is going on to access the light, height and color of the ceiling, vantage point for tele shots etc will give you an upper hand when clicking. Check for electric sockets and placement if in case you may want to take the help of studio lights.

2. Product photography

With e-commerce sites swarming the market, product photography is more relevant today than ever before. Product photography means shooting digital images for both print and online media. It’s the photo which makes the viewer believe in the product and convinces him into buying it. In fact, the pictures we see in ads, online stores, (snapdeal, myntra, etc) are all shot by product photographers.

Nitesh Agarwal, a product photographer has shot incredible pictures thanks to his DSLR, Canon 600 D. He says, “I might not get the best quality picture with my DSLR but it is suitable for all purposes i.e. shooting landscapes, portraits, or products. Moreover, it’s the art you should have, even if the tools aren’t that great.” He uses 18-55 mm basic lens, 55-250 mm telephoto lens for zooming, and 40 mm lens with 2.8 aperture, to get a higher depth of field.

Challenges and Tips:

Not every amateur product photographer has adequate tools to give you the best shot. According to Nitesh when clicking with a basic DSLR camera, the common mistakes amateurs make is clicking without fleshing out the details of his/her shoot. One may have an idea in mind, but if s/he does not give it good thought before clicking, they will not get the best results. He suggests that one should shoot as much as possible, with different angles and then see the clicks on a bigger screen like a computer or laptop rather than on the DLR screen.

Tips: If you do not have tele-photo lens, it is better to shoot in the balcony in natural light with a white background. If the shoot requires reflectors, then you may use thermocol sheets to substitute the reflectors. If you do not have a light box, you can make one from a cardboard. Afterall, if Nitesh can think of such pocket friendly ideas, so can you.

3. Wildlife Photography

One of the most challenging genres of photography, Wildlife Photography requires one to be packed with skills. A good wildlife photographer is one who knows the fundamentals of photography like exposure, rule of thirds, compositions, meeting balance to ISO levels, and focusing points, etc, like the back of his hand. For a wildlife photographer, it is imperative to know his subject’s behaviour, living habits, daily routine, and seasonal variations as well. However, before you set out in the wild, you must understand and respect wildlife. 

A renowned wildlife photographer and ambassador for Canon, Sudhir Shivaram has always been fascinated by nature and greenery. A part of the Canon Professional Photographers Panel, Sudhir has also won the prestigious Sanctuary Asia’s ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ award for 2012.  When not clicking, Sudhir holds photo tours and workshops for aspiring and advanced photographers to teach them what he knows.  

For Bird Photography, he uses Canon 800mm f/5.6 L IS while he uses Canon 400mm f2.8 L IS II for Wildlife images. His photography tools also comprise Canon 17-40L, Canon 70-200 f2.8 L and 100-400 L IS. However, his favourite lens is Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS, as it’s light enough to hand hold if required and perfect for small birds. You may use this lens with Canon 1.4xIII converter as well without even noticing any drop in the quality of the image. You may also use the 80mm lens for wildlife photography and the bokeh effect you’ll get with this lens is way better than you’d get with any other lens.

Challenges and Tips:

According to Sudhir, if a picture doesn’t come out as desired, blaming the camera is not the solution, the problem lies in poor understanding of the fundamentals of photography. He points out the difference between making images and taking images and that for the former, one should take care of all aspects of photography. He suggests beginners or amateurs to join an institute, photography workshops or groups on social media platforms to nurture their talent. Also, a good mentor plays a crucial part in shaping your skills. So, if you can find one, you will definitely gain significant experience working under him/her.

Sudhir however, is strictly against undertaking online courses and classes initially. He says that not every video or online link provides authentic information and techniques. Hence, his advice is to explore the online resources, once your fundamentals are absolutely clear. “Just focus on the three basic but key fundamentals to hone your skills as a good wildlife photographer, i.e. be a naturalist, be good with photography concepts, and use the equipment at hand in the best way possible. In a nutshell, respect for wildlife is the first step, if you shoot with keeping that in mind, your pictures will come out better and richer.”

4. Landscape photography

Ever wondered who clicked those amazing desktop wallpapers you like on your computer/laptop? It’s courtesy extremely talented landscape photographer. With little or zero habitation, a landscape picture is pure unfiltered portrayal of nature. A landscape photographer is responsible for paying attention to natural details and thinking at macro level.

Landscape photographer R. Mahehwar Rao, has been in this industry for over three years now and started with canon 550D and a basic tele-lens 75-300. There is a common myth amongst people that a landscape photographer needs to travel extensively. However Rao disagrees, he believes that it is your perspective towards nature that matters while clicking a picture.

According to him, “One factor which should remain common for all landscape photographers is that everything in a frame is a piece of art. Every photographer should click with the aim of creating a picture which pleases the viewer.”

Challenges and Tips:

According to Rao, one should start by going around the city or nearby places, at odd hours of the day to capture natural scenes. Joining open photography groups on social media also prove extremely helpful in grooming your skills. There is a mix of amateurs and professionals, who take part in photo walks, share their ideas and liberate their passion on social media groups. He suggests that you should move on to a full frame camera only once you have a strong hold on photography techniques and concepts.  

For the beginners, he suggests to keep experimenting. “Never stick to any rules. If you make rules, you may constraint your creativity and imagination. Equip yourself with the right tools and lenses when you go for a shoot. Ensure that you use tripods whenever necessary.”

Also, a common question which often crops up is, should a picture be edited or not? According to Rao, “I would edit any picture to call it the final frame. It all depends on how good your picture looks. Infact, more than anything, it depends on how much you are satisfied with your picture. If you are not 100% satisfied, then it’s never late to go for another shot.” Remember, things will fall in place when you have the passion for it. 

5. Street Photography

Street Photography is all about timing, and being extremely observant while documenting your city in the most candid way possible. Street photography showcases everyday things or places, which otherwise go unnoticed in our daily hustle-bustle. It is an art to capture and unveil moments from streets which speak volumes.

For Swarat Ghosh, street photography is a medium no less than a ‘story-telling’ book. Ghosh says, “Streets unfold for me the mystery, random priceless expressions, and those fragile moments. It’s not just about timing and observation but it’s more of a continuous process and I have to nail it to perfection to get the best of the streets.”

Swarat’s pictures have been recognised and awarded across the country. He was given:   

Honorable Mention in Amazon India-Better Photography ‘India Through My Lens’ contest’ 14, was also a finalist in people’s category of Wanderlust Travel Photo of the Year Competition ’14, his pictures were a part of the Top 50 images in the category of arts and culture by Sony World Photography awards, 2013, and he has won Sauhard photo contest in 2013.

Challenges and Tips:

According to Swarat, you should try to capture every moment and emotion. Not to mention that you have to be always alert. Street photography demands alertness, a photo without emotion is dead. The best photos are the ones that are emotional– that have soul. You shouldn’t miss any moment; you should always be on your toes. Ensure that you capture multiple stories on street. Try to bind multiple elements with strong visual connection rather than a single moment. This will depict some story and meaning which a viewer can relate to. Also, Swarat suggests that one carries a single camera and lens on street. He encourages, “Don’t waste your time on street by changing or playing around with multiple gadget’s and equipments. Carry one single camera with lens. Most of the experienced photographers on street carry single body with 35mm fixed lens. In street photography, tool is not that important, it’s the way you see and capture uniqueness is what is important.” He also says that one should never share their bad images, but try to be a strong critic of their own work. Also, invest in books more than gadgets when letting out in the field of photography. “To end it all, shoot as much as possible to get better in photography in general. And finally purchase photography books not gadgets.”

Best Institutes for Photography:

  • Indian Institute of Photography, Noida
  • National Institute of Photography, Mumbai
  • College of Art, University of Delhi, New Delhi
  • Osmania  University, Hyderabad
  • The Light and Life Academy (LLA), Ooty
  • Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

Allow yourself to think out-of-the-box and chase your passion with as much delight as these experts have.