I miss the magic of photography


Cameras are everywhere. A concert, a dinner, a picnic or even a gym workout is not complete without cameras to freeze those not-so-precious moments. These modern gadgets don’t care about vantage points or lighting. Quality is not a priority as mobile phones, tablets, SLRs and handy cams jostle for space at every occasion. The overwhelming desire to capture images is understandable. These pictures can be viewed later or shown to relatives and friends. And of course, it has to go on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Technology has been a great leveller. And digital revolution took the mystic out of photography. It’s aim and shoot. Click and view. That makes everyone a photographer. Photography has never been easier, never been more popular.

But I miss the film. I miss the suspense: the time between image capture and printing. I miss the elation, when the prints came out the way I imagined. There was magic, there was mystic. Photography was an exhilarating experience. And photographers were only hired to capture weddings and other such precious moments.

Those were the times when photography was the domain of highly skilled professionals. Enthusiastic amateurs with their SLRs and home labs in bathrooms passionately pursued their hobby.

Photography was a blend of art and science. You needed an artist’s eye to find the right composition. A bit of physics helped calculate the exposure and depth of field with the combination of aperture and shutter speed. Then there’s the small matter of film speed.

It didn’t end with the capture of images. The film had to be processed and the negative images transferred onto photographic paper. That’s where chemistry came in. The exposed paper travelled through trays with developer, hypo and water bath. This was for monochrome.

Colour pictures followed a more complex process. Mercifully, machines made it easier. It became affordable too. Along came aim-and-shoot cameras thrusting photography into the hands of common man. And the digital dawn killed films and made instant viewing a reality. Photography underwent a seismic change.

Life became easier for amateurs and professionals. But there were some downsides as well. I catch myself shooting randomly. Gone are the days when each frame was carefully considered long before the shutter was released. Film was expensive, each of the 36 frames counted. With high capacity memory cards, shoot now and tweak later became the mantra.

Imaging software can rectify most mistakes. If the composition is askew, use the crop tool. If the picture lacks punch, bump up the contrast. Underexposed? Don’t worry, enhance the shadows. These are just basics.

Digital may have spawned a new breed of photographers. But the haunting images and pictures that leap at you come from the soul of a thorough-bred professional. Remember Eugene Smith’s pictures of mercury poisoning in Minamata (Japan), Nick Ut’s iconic image of napalm bombing in Vietnam and Steve McCurry’s portrait of a green-eyed Afghan girl in a Pakistan refugee camp.

Phone cameras and even DSLRs are good for hobbyists. They shoot fine selfies and help flood the social network. That’s it.

Well, look at this way. It’s your daughter’s wedding. Would you trust your nephew or hire a professional? My recommendation: If your nephew is not a professional, get one!