"A photograph speaks a thousand words!" said Professor Satyajit.
"The goal is to take such photographs that speak and convey the untold! Then there is the rule of the thirds, which states that if you divide the photograph with two horizontal and two vertical lines at equal intervals, the photograph gets divided into 9 equal intervals. The idea is to add balance and interest to the photo by aligning the subject of interest such that the most important elements in the photograph gets aligned along these lines, or be at the points of the intersecting lines. Nowadays there are some cameras which can even offer an option to superimpose a rule of thirds grid over the LCD screen, making it even easier to use. However, these are expensive and all DSLRs do not have them!"
He paused a while and continued, "Well, placing your main subject of interest off-centre, as with the rule of thirds, creates a more interesting photo, but it can also leave a void in the scene which emancipates a feeling of emptiness in the photograph. You can achieve a more balanced composition and even out the main subject's "visual weight" by including another object of lesser importance to fill the space. These are the techniques the photographers use to improvise! Use your head, to improvise, when nothing works!"
“What do you mean by ‘visual weight’ Sir?” interjected Ramesh, a student.
“Well, Visual Weight is a compositional device used in photography to attract your eye to a focal point. Visual Weight in photographs is influenced by a number of factors, like size, colour, position, texture, density, white space, saturation and visual balance which can be used to strengthen the focal point and create balance in your image. Warm colours move forward and usually more than cooler colours, whereas cool colours typically recede in the background. Red is supposed to be the heaviest colour while white is the lightest of them all. The more the density of elements in a space the more the visual weight attached with it! However, too dense elements in a photograph cause noise or clutter!” replied the Professor.
The students of the photography class who were listening with rapt attention included Somen Basak and Ritwik Chattopadhyay.
Unlike other Professors, Professor Satyajit always believed in guiding the students with practical examples. He now concentrated in showing some photographs with elucidating the rule of the thirds. Then the Professor went on the say, “When we look at a photo through our eyes it is naturally drawn along lines. By thinking about how you place these leading lines in your composition, you can affect the way we view the image, pulling us into the picture, towards the subject, or on a journey "through" the scene.There are many different types of lines - straight, diagonal, curvy, zigzag, radial - and each one of these can be used to enhance our photo's composition. Think of optical illusions created by some of the images for example! There are basically seven elements of design in photography, and they are line, shape, form, texture, pattern, colour and space! However, how you capture them through the lens is up to you!”
Then again, he went on to elucidate by showing some photographs.
The professor continued, “Photography is art! However, there are rules to be learnt to perfect the art. Here colour, depth, background, lines, symmetry, patterns both man-made and natural can be used with stunning effect! For example, symmetry and patterns can be used to create eye-catching composition, particularly in places where they are not expected! Another great way to use them is to break the symmetry or pattern in some way, introducing tension and a focal point to the scene. You should be also aware to think about where you will shoot it.”
Then again he continued, “Basically, I mean the distance from where the photo has been shot. A person’s viewpoint has a massive impact on the composition of the photo, and as a result it can greatly affect the message that the shot conveys. Angles from where you take the shot is also important. Rather than just shooting from eye level, consider photographing from high above, down at ground level, from the side, from the back, from a long way away, from very close up, and so on. Some people have created wonderful images by shooting images from the bird’s eye view or a worm’s eye view! Think of the video scene of the movie, Forest Gump, where the floating feather is shown and the scene below is getting vividly beautiful! That’s what the art of photography is all about!”
The professor continued, “There has been times in which you think you have shot a great photograph only to see that it has been destroyed by something in the background! The human eye is excellent at distinguishing between different elements in a scene, whereas a camera has a tendency to flatten the foreground and background, and this can often ruin an otherwise great photo. This problem is usually easy to overcome at the time of shooting - look around for a plain and unobtrusive background and compose your shot so that it doesn't distract or detract from the subject.”
“Is it always possible to do that? Finding unobtrusive background is difficult!” said Ritwik.
The professor replied, “I know that’s where the challenge lies! That’s why some good photographs are just not great!”
Again the professor continued, “Photography is a two-dimensional art form, one has to choose the composition carefully to convey the sense of depth that was present in the actual scene. You can create depth in a photo by including objects of interest in the foreground, middle ground and background. Imagine a range of mountains, when you capture them from a distance, there maybe foreground interest, middle ground and a background. Mostly foreground interest and background depth can be combined together to create good photographs. Another useful composition technique is overlapping, where you deliberately partially obscure or blur out one object with another. The human eye naturally recognizes these layers and mentally separates them out, creating an image with more depth. However, centred composition and symmetry can also be used to perfectly take a great photograph Sometimes, however it is also true that breaking some rules should be done to focus on the actual subject.”
Somen asked, “Sir, does framing of the photograph play any role in good photography?”
“Yes, the framing of a photograph is also very important. A frame within a frame is another composition that can attract notice for everyone. However, by placing the frame around the edge of the composition,one can help to isolate the main subject from the outside world with an equally stunning effect. The result is a more focused image, which draws your eye naturally to the main point of interest!” replied the Professor.
The Professor again started his discourse, “It is so often said, that triangles and diagonals add ‘dynamic tension’ to a photo. Think of the photographs of the Pyramids of Egypt, the sloping surface is considered a lot less stable than vertical or horizontal lines. This creates a certain level of tension visually. We are not so used to diagonals in our everyday life. They subconsciously suggest instability. Incorporating triangles and diagonals into our photos can help create this sense of ‘dynamic tension’.”
“Sir, can cropping play any role in enhancing the photograph?” asked Ritwik.
“Yes, cropping of the photograph is also of very important. The main object of interest can be lost due to clutter of other distracting objects around it. By cropping tight,one can eliminate the noise around it. But remember, to improvise always use your head!”
Then the bell rang, and the professor dismissed the class. As the students started leaving, Somen slowly approached him and said, “Sir, I have been placed at Ananda Bazar Patrika as a photographer!”
The Professor smiled and replied, “I am happy for you!”
Ritwik also intervened and said, “I too have received the same offer!”
The Professor winked at Somen and replied, “You too!”
Ritwik replied, a little bit embarrassed saying that, “You don’t have faith in my abilities, do you!”
The Professor replied, “What choice do I make if I am asked to choose between Sachin Tendulkar or Virat Kohli? Whom would you select?”
They all laughed on hearing this.
Then the Professor added, “Well, you two are among the class’s best students. Somen has an eye for the uncommon shots, unconventional yet has a very effective style, and Ritwik, you are a copy book player! Join Ananda Bazar Patrika as photographers and then make sure you capture the uncommon photos effectively! All the advice I can give is let the competition between you two be healthy and use your head while taking the shots. Best of luck for both of you! Hopefully you will make us proud!”
On joining the newspaper conglomerate, they were asked to expand the portfolio and they did so by clicking some equally stunning photographs. The photographic subjects ranged from the dying remnants of sun beside the Howrah Bridge, the Princep Ghats, the Second Hoogly Bridge, The Victoria Memorial, the despondent look of the lone hand drawn rickshaw puller, the street art of Kolkata, the festivals of Kolkata, the puffed rice hawkers on the local trains. The uncanny style of the photographs slowly started getting noticed and the newspaper business flourished and sold like hot cakes. Somen excelled like anything. Almost every day, the newspaper carried his photographs and he became more and more confident of his art. Unfortunately, Ritwik’s work always came second to Somen. This slowly started to instill a sense of despondency in his attitude. With each passing days, the frustration grew, yet he didn’t have an avenue to vent it out.
One day, while conversing over a glass of whisky Ritwik confided to Somen by blurting out, “I am too frustrated man! I try so hard to beat you but you always have the habit of making the colouring the front page of Amrita Bazar Patrika!”
Somen understanding that, Ritwik was a friend replied, “Remember what Professor Satyajit had said when we bid adieu to his classes?”
Ritwik replied, “Ritwik you are a copy book player!”
Somen replied, “Yes, he had said that, try in another way round, try using your head instead! Break the cliché and become what you can become! Don’t compete with me man, try competing with yourself! You are a very good photographer but use your head while taking the shots! Try to think out of the box! Rather than just shooting from eye level, consider photographing from high above, down at ground level, from the side, from the back, from a long way away, from very close up, just create different angles. Presence of mind is very crucial, apply it!”
Ritwik took the advice seriously and next day he started with renewed hope and zeal. Fortunately, that day, they had been asked to cover a political demonstration at a Kolkata surburban area. The two of them started and had almost reached the place when someone informed them that a local thief had been caught and the locals had started thrashing the fellow to vent their anger.
Ritwik said, “Everyone will cover the political demonstration, so you get all photographers there but lets make a detour and go to the place where they are thrashing the thief!”
By the time they took an auto rickshaw and reached there, the thief had been surrounded by a group of locals and they were beating him blue and black. There was a congregation of local people who had assembled in a field with a lone coconut tree that had bent over the field where they were thrashing the thief.
Somen said, “I can’t see the entire thing. I need an elevated place to have a good shot!”
Unfortunately, they couldn’t find an elevated place apart from the roof top of the auto rickshaw, as it was a huge open field. But Ritwik, found another way to do this and he said, “Wait till you see what I do!” Then he disappeared in the crowd. Somen didn’t know what to say, understanding Ritwik was hell bent in defeating him, so he waited with his DSLR, only to find that Ritwik, had slowly started to climb the lone coconut tree to get a better vision of the entire situation. Somen realized that Ritwik had started using his head. Somen smiled and waited till Ritwik and climbed the coconut tree that was inclined over the spot of the proceedings. Ritwik took the photograph. Somen also took a photograph of the proceedings but he was now standing on the ground like the others. But by then the police had arrived and had dispersed the angry crowd and Ritwik returned saying, “Look at this photograph man! It sure is a marvel” Ritiwk was so happy. Then they went to cover the mundane proceedings of the political demonstration. That evening both of them returned and submitted a photograph each to the editor. That day, Ritwik went home jubilant, thinking he had surely been victorious this time. He still couldn’t let go his zeal of competing with Somen. Somen gave a wry smile and left home as usual.
The next day Ritwik woke up early and went to office to check whose photograph made it to the front page. He drove and picked up Somen on his way to the office. The moment they entered, everyone started smiling, saying, “Ritwik you are famous now! Thanks to Somen!”
Ritwik couldn’t actually comprehend what had gone wrong, so he asked, “Why didn’t my photograph make it to the front page?”
Rabin one of their colleagues replied, “Well, both of yours photographs made it to the front page!”
Ritwik replied, “Both?”
Astonished as he was, he grabbed the newspaper, only to see that his photograph that indeed made it to the front page but, he was too surprised at what he saw!
On the left side was his photograph of a crowd of agitated men thrashing a hapless thief mercilessly. On the right was photograph taken by Somen. It was a photograph of Ritwik trying to take the photograph of the agitated crowd from atop the coconut tree! It was a beautiful photograph, because Somen had managed to take the crowd as well as Ritwik, who hanging precariously on the coconut tree and taking a photograph. It was a clear case of the rule of the thirds, as Ritwik’s trained eyes could understand. His camera and head was at the intersecting point of the first horizontal line from the top and the second vertical line from the left of the photograph aligning the subject of interest at the intersecting point of the two lines! Ritwik was flabbergasted and didn’t know what to say.
Somen said, “I didn’t think you would ever manage to climb a coconut tree and take a photograph.Sorry but I couldn’t help it. No hard feelings mate!”
Rabin interjected, “Look Ritwik, you are famous, courtesy Somen! Now people know what an arduous task is taking good photographs! Hats off to you fellows for taking such photographs!”
Ritwik and Somen along with their colleagues had a good laugh, so had the people who saw the photographs! It was after that Ritwik really started using his head to improvise and he started to compete with himself rather than competing and comparing his photographs with Somen. After all a photograph speaks a thousand words!