I often get asked this question when I am in my workshops and talks, on how did photography happen to me. Needless to say that it has been an integral part of my life for the past decade. So much so that what started as a hobby turned into a passion and now it has become a parallel career for me.
I think my love for photography was deeply influenced by this site that I would see every morning for close to 11 years, from my dormitory window, in boarding school. The mountains had cast its beauty spell on me and I was always in the mood to capture timeless beauty.
The sad part however was that till I was in Darjeeling, I never owned a camera.
The first camera that I had was a Yashica MF2 super, point and shoot film camera, which I got when I moved to another town, Ranchi. I used that mostly to capture events, trips and class farewells.
The best part about this camera was that it was super easy to use and gave amazing results. But this was a bit bulky to carry around.Yes I was trying early morning shoots from high rise (8 storey) buildings, eating the sun photos, etc back then itself.
Following this I got a Kodak KB12, that was actually a prize that I won in college. Very handy to carry around and for the price tag that it came with, I thought it was a great camera.
I then moved to a Vivitar 3800N with the money I managed to save out of my monthly pocket money that I got while I was at IIT Guwahati. I loved this camera a lot and this was the one that actually was responsible for most of my learnings. Every month a considerable part of my pocket money would go in purchasing films, and then getting it developed. Even today when I go back home, I still have a cupboard full of the film negatives and the prints and flip through them every time I go home.
Being in a design department at IITG, where Photography was a part of a curriculum helped in my endeavors. At any time, I always had a camera body, a couple lenses, and a tripod issued out on my name and I kept experimenting. I learnt printing and developing in the dark rooms too and brushed up my knowledge on the history of photography etc.
In the third year of college (2004) I had a chance to visit Canada on a summer internship project and made a trip to the Canadian Rockies. This event was a life changing experience in my photography life. I just wanted to capture more and more of these nature beauties.
Being in a picturesque campus, surrounded by the blue mountains and the majestic Brahmaputra river (which would also later be a backdrop for my documentary Madhushaala) further helped in my cause. Trips farther into the north east got me more engrossed in this beautiful art. Till this point however I was mostly into nature and landscape photography.
I still love film cameras, but I wanted to experiment a lot more and try out a lot more without having to depend on getting prints. Moreover I was not sure if I wanted prints of all the shots. So I then got a Nikon D70s with 18-70 mm (whom many know as Netra, from my early blog posts) from the savings from my first job. A digital SLR camera in those days (early 2006) was so expensive, that I did not tell the price of the camera to my parents for a good six months.
By this time the junoon of photography had me totally in its grip. Every weekend would be spent in shooting and Monday mornings, was always photographs editing time. My circle of friends grew around Bangalore Weekend Shoots group on Flickr. Flickr and Bangalore Weekend Shoots was perhaps the two biggest factors in helping me hone my photography skills. It is in these two forums that I understood what it meant to learn from the peers and have discussions around photography. Countless discussions over tea, and in online forums made me understand photography from a very critical eye, which I would have not got to, had I been all by myself. The more I read, the more intrigued I was. The more I saw, the more I wanted to try it myself and experiment.
The groups also introduced me to interacting and clicking photographs of people. I had slowly started to interact with more and more people and realized that I was genuinely happy when I saw a smile on a person's face when they saw their images after I had shot it. Somehow language never was a barrier in the relationship I shared with my subjects which ranged from children to senior citizens, from people on the streets to people in posh office locations.
I got a 50mm f1.8 lens and shot portraits only for a while. The best part about a fixed focus lens is that it strengthens your composition skills like nothing else. You do not have the flexibility of a zoom and hence you are forced to compose by moving around. What it also does at times, is give you a totally different point of view to things that you may not have earlier fathomed. The 50mm also allowed you to go closer to people and take their pictures. What it also meant was that you could not hide and take pictures.
When I moved to the US for my masters, another change happened. Here it was just the reverse of what I was used to shooting. Anyone would be offended if you pointed a camera directly at them and try to take a picture. So I got back to my kit lens of 18-70mm and shot extensively with it.
It is here that I fell in love with wide angles. The fact that in a wide angle shot the number of elements in the frame increase, allows for a story to build up. So my focus then shifted to composing shots in a way that it told a story. I would often wait for long minutes; for my subject to come into the frame, so that I could take the story that I had in mind.
The constraints and limitations with the camera and lenses allowed me to understand composition, light better.
It was only after I was planning to go professional in Photography sometime in 2009 that I decided to get another professional camera. A Nikon D300 joined my kit in May with the Tax refund that I got in the US.
I have been shooting assignments, taking workshops and giving talks on photography. I like to share the little knowledge I have, as I know that I will learn further in the discussions that would follow.
Photography has been an integral part of me. It has helped me, cheered me, and motivated me at all times. I only hope that this goes on for a lot more years to come.