Since my childhood, I always thought Photography was a hobby cultivated by foreigners and tourists. It was only 5 yrs ago when I was in 11th standard that I had my 1st brush with photography. I had participated in an inter school competition as I was good in art and painting. I was shocked to see my senior (who had participated in a photography competition) adjusting his DSLR there. I requested him to let me handle the camera. I understood the basics in a few minutes and clicked a few photos. My Senior was quite impressed to see the outcome. For a person touching the camera for the 1st time, I managed my frames quite well and set the horizon in a straight horizontal line. This got me interested. And he motivated me to explore the art further.
I used to borrow his Canon 1100D for pursuing my hobby. It was quite difficult to borrow DSLRs then but I used to manage. As a child, my hobbies never lasted more than 6 months. My Parents were quite pleased when I pursued this one for a year plus and still continued to follow up. So they bought me my first DSLR, Canon 80D.
Initially it was only about clicking good pictures. Varanasi is a beautiful city so it kept me quite captivated in clicking pics. I tried travel and then documentary genres but I became fascinated by the street eventually. And that is my favorite genre now.
What I like about the street is that it is completely unplanned. You need to have an open mind, be observant and patient. Unlike travel where you can pre-plan your locations, situations and compositions, the street is spontaneous. It's the fishing and hunting equivalent of photography. Fishing, because you need to be at the right place and very very patient. And hunting because you need to shoot at the right time. A few seconds before and after, and you will miss it.
You have to be unnoticed as you go about clicking your subjects candidly. If you are noticed, it gets staged and/or the subject might get offended. In either case, the moment is gone.
Apart from an open mind, you will need your instincts to spot anything like an interesting subject or a pattern. This is the most important part of the street genre. Your instincts will develop and improve with experience. Streets are unpredictable and you don't know how people will react and situations will arise.
Street genre to me is the most easy and the most difficult genre. Easy to begin as you don't need any expensive gear, even a phone camera will do. Difficult and interesting because of its unpredictability.
I was once capturing the ghat in Varanasi at 4 am. Saw a baba there. He spotted me as soon as I started clicking his pics. I learnt that he was drunk, but only after a few foul mouthed expletives from him. He ran behind me to hit me. I was lucky to get away unhurt. These and many such experiences unnerve amateur photographers. But in hindsight, it is only a funny memory and not something you will ever regret. Also, it's very difficult to earn in the street genre. Fashion is monetarily rewarding. In travel, you get to visit new places and meet new people. The only reward in the street is satisfaction.
Street photography has also helped in my personal development. As a child I have been an introvert and probably took to art and painting as it allowed me to stay within. However, in photography, you have to interact with others. Your subjects, locals, viewers, clients etc. I think this has probably helped me break out of my shell. A long way to go but i am getting there.
Street also brings out the culture of the place. I find Kolkata and Varanasi somewhat similar. Overcrowded markets, bustling streets, lethargic people, but still there is a buzz. Something is happening every second and that's the beauty of these places that you strive to capture.
From the Fb days, where you struggled and waited to get your photo approved by Masters and posted in Photography groups to Insta where you get instant recognition and reach. Social Media has been a mixed bag for me.
For the rookies, I will recommend that you focus on quality rather than likes and followers. Those will follow eventually. Also, choose a good mentor. Someone who is true to the art form rather than an influencer. Someone who will ask you to go for quality rather than reach.
I have been lucky to have several such mentors who guided me. From photo walks with Radha Swami Sir and Sayed Wasi Haider sir to inspirational work from Rajesh kumar singh sir and Naveen Vatsa Sir, I have always picked a point or two.
Have earned a few accolades and awards in this short span of 5 years. Recently got the Siena International Photography Awards and was invited to Italy. This photo was also later featured in the Forbes official website.
As a NIFT student, my college professors have been very encouraging. The institute has helped me learn the business side of photography with exposure in fashion photography. I am now developing content on YouTube. I am also planning to conduct workshops and hope that the content will be beneficial for newcomers and peers alike.
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Written by: Harshita Sharma