Aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure, metering...the list goes on. The science of how a camera works and understanding the technical side of photography is, of course, important. But what makes photography such a fun, challenging and thought-provoking exercise is the art involved, and like any other discipline, mastering it is a never-ending process.
Here are a few basics you can apply to start thinking deeply about your photography and graduate in your journey as an artist who can paint images with a camera.
Chasing light or chasing subjects?
Picture a typical Indian wildlife safari. Early in the morning, the search is on as your vehicle races through the tracks looking for pugmarks or any other traces of a big cat. You are already two hours into your safari, but you are yet to pick up your camera. What have you missed in these crucial hours? Was it the subject or was it the light? Chasing after non-existent big cats, you missed out on the chance to create some beautifully lit frames, like that of a pair of dazzling antlers protruding from the tall grass or that of a langur with a glowing rim of light around its face. Light can make or break an image, and the day you change gears and start respecting light, you will realise that your field days have become more productive and rewarding.
Subject and the environment
Let's talk about tigers again. There are 3000-odd tigers in this country that live in and around the 50-odd tiger reserves declared by the Indian government. As a photographer visiting some of these popular tiger habitats, you would realise that unless you are one of the few who can recognise tigers just by seeing their markings, broadly all tigers look the same. What's not the same is the environment in which these cats live. It's imperative a photographer observes those fine elements of the habitat, which differentiates a Ranthambhore or Bandhavgarh from a Corbett or Tadoba. The next time you visit your favourite forest, lookout for these elements and envision how incorporating them into your frame can help in defining the destination, even without you having to mention the location. A word of caution – a good habitat image is one which looks nice and appealing even without the subject in the frame.
Be open to experimentation
Sticking to the tiger case study, think about those early morning tiger sightings when the light is too low. In your excitement to get a sharp image, you boost your ISO to numbers beyond the capability of your camera and you are left with a grainy image. How about changing your approach? Just lower your ISO and experiment with some motion blur. Use the opportunity to add something different to your portfolio instead of creating an image which may be sharp but grainy, and would later need to be dumped with a heavy heart.
There are plenty more scenarios where you can expand your creative horizons as a photographer, but to start with, it is critical that you start treating everything in front of you as a subject. Adrenaline rush and excitement are only natural in the field of wildlife photography, for nature can throw a surprise at any moment. As photographers, the onus is on us to quickly settle those nerves, in fractions of seconds, and give that moment the same treatment as we would to any other in the wild.