Breaking the (Auto) Mode

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:

DSC_0955

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!

Two members of the Nyay Samiti (justice committee) supported by Utthan discuss recent incidents of violence against women in Panchmahal District, Gujarat
Two members of the Nyay Samiti (justice committee) supported by Utthan discuss recent incidents of violence against women in Panchmahal District, Gujarat
Fellows Meghana and Gaytri in Shillong wearing traditional Khasi tribal costumes.
Fellows Meghana and Gaytri in Shillong wearing traditional Khasi tribal costumes.
A little women's rights activist at One Billion Rising rally in Ahmedabad.
A little women’s rights activist at One Billion Rising rally in Ahmedabad.
Enjoying our special costumes in Shillong.
Enjoying our special costumes in Shillong.
Tribal dancers at the One Billion Rising rally in Ahmedabad
Tribal dancers at the One Billion Rising rally in Ahmedabad
A tribal woman and son in Dahod district, Gujarat
A tribal woman and son in Dahod district, Gujarat
The corn harvest in Dahod District, Gujarat
The corn harvest in Dahod District, Gujarat
One Billion Rising rally in Ahmedabad
One Billion Rising rally in Ahmedabad
My two muses, Meghana and Gaytri in Shillong
My two muses, Meghana and Gaytri in Shillong
A baby in the slums near Gandhi Ashram, Ahmedabad
A baby in the slums near Gandhi Ashram, Ahmedabad

 

Girl on the way to school near Gandhi Ashram, Ahmedabad
Girl on the way to school near Gandhi Ashram, Ahmedabad
One Billion Rising rally in Ahmedabad
One Billion Rising rally in Ahmedabad
Flying kites during Uttarayan, the famous festival in January in Gujarat
Flying kites during Uttarayan, the famous festival in January in Gujarat
Feminists debate the future of the movement in India at the national Women's Studies Conference, Guwahati, Assam.
Feminists debate the future of the movement in India at the national Women’s Studies Conference, Guwahati, Assam.
Members of Utthan, my placement organization, hold a banner for One Billion Rising. It reads "I Rise Because I want women to become self-reliant and motivate other women to do the same too."
Members of Utthan, my placement organization, hold a banner for One Billion Rising. It reads “I Rise Because I want women to become self-reliant and motivate other women to do the same too.”

 

Visiting Ian, an old Hindi school buddy, who has started his own organization called Foster Care India in Udaipur, Rajasthan
Visiting Ian, an old Hindi school buddy, who has started his own organization called Foster Care India in Udaipur, Rajasthan
Children watching a humorous hand-washing demonstration on National Hand Washing Day in Bhavnagar, Gujarat
Children watching a humorous hand-washing demonstration on National Hand Washing Day in Bhavnagar, Gujarat
Famous Sun Temple in Modhera, Gujarat
Famous Sun Temple in Modhera, Gujarat
Jaipur Literature Festival
Jaipur Literature Festival

 

Liv's passion for gender equitable development and political participation began while she was living in New Delhi in 2011-2012 conducting independent research at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her research focused on the influence of national-level women's NGOs on public policy formation and implementation through the lens of the campaign against sex selective abortion in India. Through this experience, she also cultivated an interest in public health issues affecting marginalized populations, spending the last year in Bangkok, Thailand contributing to the research division of an international NGO working on issues related to HIV/AIDS and reproductive health across Asia. Liv is looking forward to returning to India and learning more about community-based approaches to resource management and gender development.

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9 thoughts on “Breaking the (Auto) Mode

  1. Hola Olivia,
    We are so happy to get this update from you. Your words and photos convey the beautiful and life changing experience you are having.

    I for one can relate to the strong appeal toward photography and the fun with learning new techniques.

    Warmest regards,
    Tia Marisela

  2. Great shots! But what i liked was your journey to DSLR and realisation of You don’t need a five hundred dollar camera to care about composition, emotion, and color.

  3. Liv ur photos are awesome! You’ve become quite the photographer. Thank you for
    sharing. Love U. ur aunt mary:)

  4. Beautiful photographs Liv!! Thoguh I haven’t got a DSLR but I have a semi DSLR. Do let me know how to utilize the best of it 🙂

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