When I lived in Delhi in 2011, I knew I needed a better camera. To me, my point-and-shoot just didn’t seem capable of capturing the speed of daily life and the rich colors of the capital. On a return trip to the US, I stepped into a small camera shop on Nassau Street near Princeton University.
I had done a lot of research and knew I could only afford a camera body and lens that was less than five hundred dollars. The store’s selection did not disappoint and I left with my first DSLR, sure that my photos would soon be vastly improved.
And, in a way, they were. But like many first-time DSLR owners, I actually never took the time to sit down and teach myself about what this expensive and mysterious contraption could really do. My dial seemed permanently stuck in “Auto” mode; I was too willing to let my camera take control of me rather than the other way around.
This finally changed one Diwali night in Mumbai when Ilana, one of the best photographers in our fellowship, told me I could change the shutter speed on my camera to capture the fireworks lighting up the night sky on Juhu Beach. This was the resulting picture:
I was floored. The rest of the night consisted of my pestering Ilana for every detail and explanation she could give me about my camera.
“What’s this ‘A’ letter on the dial for?”
“This plus-minus thing is exposure compensation? And that is what?”
For Ilana’s patience, I am exceptionally grateful. What followed was a newfound obsession with documenting the world around me: at work, in the field, with friends, during trips. I picked the brains of other photographers as much as they would let me. Evenings were spent reading photography blogs and tutorials, experimenting with ISO settings, and perfecting my bokeh (or as much as my kit lens would allow!)
Since then, I’ve trained the staff of my host organization on photography twice. Watching them practice with their point-and-shoot cameras I’ve come to believe that photography is infectious. You don’t need a five hundred dollar camera to care about composition, emotion, and color.
There’s a difference between photos and photography. I’m also grateful that I’ve come to this realization in one of the most photogenic countries on earth with no shortage of willing subjects, intense colors, and jaw-dropping beauty. Here are a few of my favorite shots from the past six months with many more to come!