Teaching Photography – A Humble Start.

So it finally happened. Thanks to Priyanka, for her leadership and the just do it attitude that we successfully conducted our first photography workshop today. It was a humble start. About 8 people showed interest, 4 registered for the course, 2 finally turned up :). Yes! there were two instructors and two students. In the end there were 4 satisfied souls. If you are reading this blog because you like photography – here is the pdf for the Photography Tutorial ppt (~8MB/88 slides) for you. We decided to make the presentation available online. Most of the content is self made, but we have taken some content from here and there, most of which are cited at the end. If you are interested in photography workshops – Yes, we are going to conduct more of them in future. Please email us if you are interested and we will keep you updated on it. Perhaps, you are here because you like reading what I write :D, if that infinitesimal probability event has happened then please read on.

Imagine standing at a beach. Seeing the waves hitting the shoreline, you want to get into the water. But the water is cold. Not freezing cold, but cold enough to be a deterrent. You know once you get in, your body will get used to it, but thinking about the first few steps makes you shiver. The workshop started on a similar note for me. I knew four of them had registered (over the phone) but since there was no registration fees, I was not sure how many would turn up. Priyanka was managing the registration, so I asked her, picking her up, how many are coming. She said Suraj called to say that he is. Atleast one was coming :)! …and that she is positive about Vijay too. That makes it two! Last night I had a feeling that one would be one too less for the workshop, so the figure of two was perfect. We started at around 10:15 in the morning. The first half hour went into introductions and talking about what is photography, its history, some nice anecdotes. Enough to warm us up. The pleasure of teaching kicked in. It was nice to see that they seemed happy to hear these tid bits about photography. Next, we started of talking about compositions. The basic guidelines in composing a shot – lines, shapes, angles, perspectives, color, etc. Its always fun to analyze aesthetics.  Aesthetics being at complete odds with logic in general, the idea of “analyzing aesthetics” is an oxymoron itself in my opinion. Nevertheless, there are certain basic guidelines that somehow work on average. This was kind of evident when the participants got back, after an hours worth of shooting, with the shots they said they had taken keeping these concepts in mind. Some of the shots which broke those rules, the participants themselves found to be little unpleasant.

It was getting a bit too hot and the midday sun being a bit too harsh we decided to head to Studio Chhavi for the rest of the session. The next part dealt with knowing the camera. Having being using the camera for the past six years, I had become quite comfortable with the basic concepts. However, teaching them transported me back to Spiti valley (Himachal Pradesh, 2004) when I first used an SLR camera. It was a completely manual camera, with the light meter broken.  So all the shots I took I had to ask Vishnoi and Archisman (who knew these basics) to tell me what setting they think would work for the given scene. Some of them worked some didn’t, but the joy of using a camera that had no battery, the joy of controlling the ISOs and the Apertures and the Shutter Speeds was a joy in its own right. Something similar happened at the workshop. Vijay and Suraj had heard these terms before but were completely unaware of what they meant. Once they began understanding them, their joy of understanding photography was clear in their enthusiasm to experiment with their cameras. For the next three hours we kept on going around the fundamentals. I realized that there was much more in the presentation that we could have covered today, so we decided to move about half of the material to an advanced class. Having a strong foundation in the fundamentals (Compositon, Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO, Focus) is the most important aspect of the basics of photography in my opinion. So, we concluded with some knowledge about post-processing and how its not “cheating” to post-process the images (really its not, upto a point you think its not). Some display of our work and we ended on a note which felt like they were interested to come back for the advanced class. I think I like teaching.

Changes to Confusionart – Going semi-professional.

Several changes has happened in my life in the past few months. Time has come to share the joy of change with ConfusionArt. Any change is a gamble but I guess time has come to play this one. Ok, first of all this post might be interesting to you only if you are interested in making a portfolio based website, or if you are too attached to ConfusionArt (like me :), or else if you are one of those to whom everything seems interesting.

To begin with, I have felt the need to change the way I showcase my photos on this website. It was becoming too time consuming to add photos to www.confusionart.com/photoblog (PB) and then write a post about it linking the thumbnails from there on to this blog. Moreover, PB was meant for a-photo-a-day philosophy and as you might have noticed, my posting habits were quite different. So summarizing, there were problems with the existing photoblog (List A), although it addressed some other issues (List B),

List A

  1. It was too time consuming to add photos to the photoblog.
  2. The photos were stored in low resolution. Lately I had started uploading 1200px pictures
  3. The whole idea of storing photos in my own database was risky.
  4. It was slow to retrieve the photos from my own database.
  5. The whole look and feel was of a blogger and not a semi-professional photographer.
  6. There was no way to show photos in a full screen mode.

List B

  1. It was free to build and operate (I have a lifetime account with textdrive so dont have to pay for the space everyyear)
  2. Not much time was spent in customizing it.
  3. I have a good commenting system in place.
  4. Its integrated with confusionart blog.

So I started looking for alternatives for building a photography website. These were my options

  1. Stick to wordpress and look for a theme that solves the above problems, such as core, delight, etc.
  2. Start looking into professional photo hosting websites such as www.smugmug.com, www.zenfolio.com, www.500px.com, etc.
  3. Start looking into professional portfolio showcasing websites such as www.viewbook.com, www.carbonmade.com, etc.
  4. Look for content management system designed for the task of portfolio showcase such as www.indexhibit.org, staceyapp.com, etc.
  5. Or look for something else completely different.

All of the above solutions, except #5, had issues.

  • #1 did not solve issues (A1, A3, A4) and partly (B2). I was okay with a small one time investment of $30.
  • #2 did not solve issue (B1, B2)
  • #3 did not solve issue (B1, B2)
  • #4 did not solve issue (A1, A2, A3, B1, B2)

So basically after tying for a couple of months I was not able to come to a conclusion on what to do. For me the most important issue was the photo management. I do not want to manage storage, retrieval, resizing, thumbnail creation of my images. So basically I wanted to outsource my backend. Well an obvious solution was to use either Flickr or Picasa to manage my backend. The second most important issue was that I did not want to pay a monthly or yearly fee for the service. So although smugmug, zenfolio and the likes solved the backend problem they are quite expensive for the pro option. Flickr and Picasa again came to rescue, with Picasa taking the lead as I can store unlimited photos less than 2048 x 2048 pixels plus they also give free 1GB for bigger images. Enough for me for the next couple of years. So this became my #5 solution – to look for systems that can be integrated with Flickr/Picasa. I could not use them for the frontend as they do not allow much customization and have poor look and feel.

So thats what I was doing for the past month – looking for solutions to use Flickr and Picasa as the backend. There are a  bunch of tools available out there that provide such an integration. They can be categorized into two categories. First, the ones that use wordpress as the front end – such as www.picasna.com, and others. Second, the ones that used jQuery to build a front end – such as galleria, supersized, etc (note that there are a bunch of other jQuery based fullscreen photo portfolio tools but they do not provide integration with Flickr/Picasa). So the problem with wordpress based solution was again look and feel, and I always felt wordpress to be a bit slow. This narrowed down my choice to using galleria or supersized. Of these, galleria supported both flickr and picasa, so I chose it. In short the combination of Picasa+Galleria seems to be an optimal solution. It solved almost all of the above issues, except (B3, B4) which I think I will be able to find a solution in some time. There is an active group of developers supporting Galleria.

This is my first attempt to showcase images from Rashmi’s wedding – http://confusionart.com/clients/rwa.html using the new solution. If you have been able to read this far, I would request you to please have a look and give some feedback as to what do you think about the solution. I still have to have a good commenting system in place, and think of ways to integrate it with confusionart. Also note that you will need to know some programming to install/integrate it (although I shall be happy to share the knowledge I got in the process of building it). Once build, its not much of a work updating the photos / adding new albums.

Photography Workshop at Chhavi

Its been over 6years now (before starting writing this post I had 4-5 years in mind, but a quick check puts its at 6) — that I started taking photography seriously, or should I say I started taking serious photographs. I bought my first camera, Nikon FM 10, in Dec 2005. It served me good to take the first steps into photography. The next camera Canon 30D is closing in on its fifth birthday. It was bought in May 2007. Over these six years, I have been taking photos, although not very regularly but regularly enough to get a good grasp on the basic techniques, a good command over basics of aesthetics and an confidence that I can teach these fundamental to whoever who is willing to learn. Yes, I am ready to teach the basics of photography. I along with Priyanka (art teacher at Chaavi) am going conduct a workshop on photography. Here are some details:

Workshop Page: http://www.facebook.com/events/363373767006329/

Workshop Details: The aim of the course is to introduce Digital Photography right from the basics with lessons on

1) Composition – Photography as an art – Understanding Light – Camera Angles, Rule of Thirds, Framing – Abstract photography

2) Basics of Exposure – Shutter speed – Aperture – ISO

3) Camera Operation – Understanding camera modes – Focus, Focal Length – White Balance, Depth of Field

4) Post Production – Contrast, crop, color correction

5) Group II will also learn – SLR operations in detail – HDR, Panning

Age: Group I: 10-16yrs, Group II: 17+

Classes starting: Group II: 10th March, 2012, Group I: 7th April, 2012

Time: 2-5 pm, Saturday, 10-1pm, Sunday, total 5 classes (3 saturdays and 2 sundays)

Fees: Rs 2,000

Priyanka (9901256222)
Nikhil (9845778738)

Return to India – Why did I?

Now the post title is a big clue as to what this post is about – my returning to India. Lets get some facts out of the way first. I was in the US working on my doctorate for the past six years two months and few days. I am in India right now. Its not been even 24hours that I arrived.

My decision to come to India probably happened sometime last year. I dont know the exact date or even the month, as it was a gradual thought forming process, but by the end of last year I was pretty sure I wanted to come back to India. After that it was more of what I would be doing in India and getting that sheet of paper that says that I am done with school in US. So another fact is that I graduated and will be joining Yahoo Labs as a Scientist in Bangalore. I will start on the 5th of Dec.

But this post is not about facts, its about fact finding. The genesis of this post was probably few minutes before landing in India. I happen to have a seat besides Sabine – a student from Denmark who was doing her studies in psychology and religion living in Benares. That and the ever pressing question that I had to confront these past few months – Why are you moving back to India. Well, you must be wondering how does Sabine come into the picture. Not much relevance, just that in all of my air travels, ever, this was the first time I had an interesting neighbor to talk to, which I wanted to document itself and that she also reminded me of my reasons to come back, which is when I thought that those reasons need documentation in a blog.

Now, the simplest and the truthful answer to the question – Why am I returning to India is – I just feel like it. It truly is just a feeling that is bringing me back, not a concrete laundry list of reasons. But me being me, I cant allow myself to think that I just acted on feelings alone. So this post diggs into that feeling giving/finding reasons to legitimize it.

Let me start the first reason with a quote.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
–T. S. Eliot

Before elaborating on this, I have a disclaimer – this is a romance which is being presented as a reason, and I fear being judged, by you and by myself, on not being able to fulfill the romance in future, but then that is the reason for this post too, a constant reminder for why I acted against the flow. So the romantic reason behind the feeling is India itself. Growing up in India, everything was assumed to be the norm. The culture, the thought process, the people, the strife, the joy, the food, the sights, the everything – to me, as I saw it, was the only possible way it could be. I did not have a perspective. Its like I was in a maze, the way out I knew, but did not know the beauty of the maze itself. That you realize only when you see other mazes and start to appreciate the subtle differences that sets them apart. Earlier for me India defined the only possible maze. But then looking upon India from a view of being in the US, made India much more interesting. As T.S. Eliot puts it, I have come back to know the place for the first time. This ‘should’ manifest itself into reading more about India, its history, its current culture and traveling to more places to see, maybe the similar sights that I saw before, but now in a different light.

The second reason, is that I feel India at heart. No, that is not from a patriotic point of view. I do not wish to defend India, or argue for it, it simply means is that I am more comfortable and can relate to the culture of India. I tried molding myself into the American culture, but America for me just remained a learning ground. It taught me things that I would have never learned in India, infact for that matter anywhere else in the world. But India I think I carry it everyday. I feel that I belong to the unorganized, the chaos of India. I know it comes with its added disadvantages – the traffic, the pollution, the adulteration, the social chaos, the information chaos, the wannabe chaos – and frankly this is what I fear might turn my decision sour, but then I am depending on getting used to it in a while.

The third reason — now as I write it, I am not sure if this should be made public, but its more beautiful and more truthful to share it, so be it — is that I can get more for the same amount of hardwork in India than in America. Now, lets be academic and accept it is all about demand and supply. In America the demand for Phd’s is quite high, so is the supply, with the latter being in excess. In India, the demand compared to America is much less, but then the corresponding supply is much less further still. So, being a Phd in India puts you at a better balance of the demand and supply seesaw. Yes, its a bit of escapist attitude, but honestly so.

The fourth reason, without the need to elaborate on, but still requiring a mention is, family and friends.

So begins Incredible India! Reloaded!