The eloquence of light
Straight off…the heading for this post is not an original one. A few days back, while randomly surfing, I saw an announcement about an Ansel Adam exhibition, titled, “ The Eloquent Light” or rather, I think that was the title.
The two words, ‘eloquence’ and ‘light’ stayed with me.
Just two words. But they capture the essence of what photography was beginning to mean for me.
How to use light effectively…eloquently.
If you have good gear and with the plethora of post processing software at your disposal, it’s really not that difficult to have a decent picture.
Of course, there still is the factor of composition. That’s definitely a big deal and there definitely is so much that an interesting, elegant or dramatic composition can do to an image. The more you observe the masters, the more you observe images by other photographers, you learn, you get ideas, you get inspired by another composition to try something a little different. But, the opportunity to try out some really interesting composition doesn’t really come up all the time, even if the old adage that you create opportunities is true.
We were driving around and there were zebras around us. I looked back and I saw what could be an interesting composition. ( Pic taken in 2018 )
And, then, comes the handling of light.
A lazy web search would reveal that the etymology of ‘photography’ is “ Photo + Graphy” – or in other words, ‘drawing with light’.
Photography is after all, all about light. But how often do we make whatever light is available, wherever the source of light might be, our ally ?
My early lessons instructed sternly: take pictures with the light behind you. The subject should be well lit. Get the catchlight in the eyes of the bird. By the way, that’s a mandatory tick box for bird photography.
Well, that soon got a bit boring. Anyone could take a half decent picture of a subject in good light ( good gear makes it easier ) and if you don’t get the catch light, you could always use any software to get that in. ( The ethics of post processing is an altogether different subject which I might attempt to tackle at a later date )
Go online and search…there are zillions of clean, well lit, sharp pictures of a tiger portrait, of a lion lying down, of birds on perches.
Sharp. Well lit. Decent composition….But…what does it really say ?
How does one get to be different ? How does one create an image that stands out ?
Plus, in the wild, you don’t get ideal situations. The action might be happening between you and the light. There might be other vehicles better positioned.
Do you simply give up ?
The email said a trip to Kenya was being planned. Masai Mara, Amboseli. A max of 4-5 people to enable individual attention. Hmm…Amboseli and the Mara would make it too long. Mara had touched my soul so Mara it was. I had already planned a trip to Brazil so this would be the second international phototrip in a year, but I didn’t pay that much heed because of the sender of the mail.
I had been following Rahul Sachdev for quite a few years and was just fascinated by his images. The usage of light…simply breathtaking. I had also heard that his phototours are outstanding in the opportunity to learn.
I think I decided to sign up even before I reached the end of the mail.
Go, immerse yourselves here – https://www.rahulsachdev.net
You might not read the rest of this post once you dig in to that site, but let me assure you that, that would be time definitely better spent 🙂
The trip was, even in spite of the huge expectations, simply mind blowing in terms of what I could learn. Or, at least, get a glimpse of what is possible. Get a glimmer of an idea on how that could be achieved. It’s a long long road of learning that still lies ahead but it was just so fulfilling to simply get on to that road !
We created some lovely images. Yes, we were blessed by the fact that we saw some unbelievably intense drama and animal interactions, but if I had been alone, I am positive that I would not have taken even a single of these images. It was Rahul who was constantly seeing opportunities, suggesting positions, angles, recommending settings and demonstrating what patience could deliver. He constantly encouraged us to experiment and taught me the value of just two aspects which I had underplayed significantly – White Balance and Exposure.
Another stroke of luck followed.
I got an opportunity to spend a weekend at Bharatpur and it perfectly coincided with a phototour that Rahul had organized to Bharatpur. Two days are just not enough in Bharatpur especially when its your first visit there. But the chance to try out some of what you had recently learnt and learn more in the one place which has so many opportunities to experiment was God given !
It was such fun creating these images.
Hope you enjoy them 🙂
The evening spent with Selenkei and her surviving cub was unforgettable ( written here : https://chaistops.wordpress.com/2020/01/05/the-lil-brave-cub/ ), both for the intense emotions that all of us experienced at their situation and for the utterly selfish delight from the photographic opportunities they threw up.
We had stayed with the two through the afternoon drawn in by the drama at play and at the same time, hoping to get some good images against the setting sun.
It paid off.
I have got numerous images of a cheetah, but this one is special. The golden yellow light, her hair standing out and the slightly darkened body…so much more evocative !
We kept experimenting. Underexposing just by a third…underexposing by a full three points…and with the sun, peeping in and out of the clouds, the light that was thrown kept changing.
Underexposing a lot…captured the sleek body of the cheetah in a wonderful turn, with the sun kissed outline making the image a bit more interesting.
Photos should tell a story, make your imagination wander. Knowing that the two are searching for a missing cub, makes some of these images that much more poignant.
They just look so indescribably sad 😦
My favourite one…what I firmly believe to be a kiss that was reassuring to both mom and the surviving cub with the sun setting the horizon on a gentle fire
And, on our way back, lost though we were in our own thoughts about the ways of the wild, Rahul saw an opportunity to take a few of those famous Mara silhouettes.
“The golden rule of silhouette, is that the legs need to be clearly visible against the sky. You CANNOT break that rule”.
“Aye, Aye, sir !”
Does look like the poor animal is heading back after a hard day’s work, doesn’t it ?
I loved the way that piece of grass in its mouth has been captured…adds to the image, I think.
Another evening, again as we were heading back to the resort, we took a turn to check if there were a pair of mating lions still there.
And while they never mated and took a really extended break, Mardadi, the lion, proudly showed off his majestically royal profile.
Against the sun, of course. By now, shooting with the sun behind us was so passe ! 🙂
Lion on fire !!!
There was that split second when the sun burst out from behind the clouds, in a last hurray before it got eaten up by the horizon, and bathed Mardadi in such pure, golden light…just blessed to have been looking through my camera and click !
Often its just about having the vision of a potential opportunity. And the patience to wait for it. It was just after noon that we saw that Siligi and her six cubs were sitting, wonderfully perched on a hill, having the time of their lives.
And while just being there helped us capture some lovely, tender moments, Rahul pointed out that if the family stayed up there till sunset and if the weather held, we could get some stunning silhouettes.
They did. The weather did. And we did.
The outline that emphasises the sleekness of a cheetah…and those blades of grass…adds so much !
And if ever there could be a welcome for any parent…this is how it would be.
The scene then moves to Bharatpur. A place which gives one so many opportunities to get totally creative with the sun and the mist.
But not all usage of light has to be similar. Getting this beautiful yellow footed green pigeon with a matching background and perch was good enough but to have the light fortuitously fall on its face, I think, lifted the image that little bit more.
I must admit tho..if the sun had fallen a wee bit higher, I would have been even happier
But, its the sunrise that really throws up the opportunities at Bharatpur. And, I finally became bold and moved from Auto White Balance to manual and started playing with it while taking images.
Egrets are usually ignored if the light is really good. However, if the light is poor they make such fascinating subjects. Underexpose a lot, increase the WB and their sharp feathers look brilliant against the background !
Low light. Egrets. Lovely combination to have.
” You are waiting for the Sarus cranes to come closer and there are opportunities all around you that you are wasting away !”
True that ! There were opportunities galore right under our noses and we were missing them.
A slightly different WB, a slightly different exposure setting and a different image
As I said, the road is long, there is nothing called the final destination but these two trips with Rahul helped me get onto that road.