Monday, July 25, 2016

Sumit Basu | Time in Banaras

This review was published in The Statesman on July 31st 2016

Sumit Basu belongs to a rare breed of photographers who shoot black and white film and then processes and prints himself in his own darkroom. Painstakingly acquiring the chemicals and paper from select sources, Basu watches the image develop in front of his eyes like the masters of yesteryear – a far cry from the instant gratification of today’s digital technology.

Time in Banaras is Basu’s first book produced after spending more than two decades shooting in the city.  Mainly working with a Leica and Kodak Tri-X film, a photo- journalists favourite,  Basu has spent many days and nights wandering the lanes of Banaras.  He often uses a wide angle lens which gives greater depth and a different  perspective to his photographs.  The book has an engaging foreword written by the art historian Partha Mitter.

Though Banaras is a much photographed city, Basu’s images steer clear of picture postcard views.  The evening aarati, sunrise and sunset on the ghats, boys diving into the river, which are the clich├ęd images of Banaras do not find a place in this book.

Instead Basu focuses on the day to day cycle of life capturing the complexities of everyday living in dark and sombre tones.

A man lying on a ghat with a pet monkey for company is set off against a wide sweep of the river with a boat just leaving the frame. Another image, photographed way back in 1998, shows a  dog and a man perfectly balanced between the steps of a flooded  ghat. A young boy walks away from Gwalior Ghat leaving a circle of pigeons behind him, while in another frame a large Thums Up bottle painted on a wall is set off against a man cradling a cup of tea.

 In  Basu’s own words  “Black and grey were my colours as I wandered the streets in different seasons following the sun as it moved south and then north again after the spring equinox”.

Using the power of light and shadow to his advantage Basu is able to convey the impact of life and death in this holy city. A particularly poignant photograph shows a priest towering above the flames at Manikarnika Ghat while at Mukti Bhawan a couple awaits the death of a relative who hopes to attain salvation.

Many of Basu’s photographs capture the timelessness of Banaras like the cover photo which shows a woman praying on her terrace above the ghats while the daily chores of existence  carry on next to the river below her.

Patterns form an important part of Basu’s composition and he photographs the steps of Assi ghat with sleeping pilgrims and a line of boatmen awaiting passengers. Using  a top- down perspective , Basu captures an old woman climbing the stairs of Gwalior Ghat which  stretch down to the water below.

An interesting aspect of Basu’s work is that the subject is often  unaware of  his camera and the photograph is over in a fleeting moment.

 Some of the images are though provoking like the one of a white horse looking out from an old house where a bicycle is parked. One cannot help but wonder whose horse is it, who rides it and what is it doing there?

The last shot in the book shows in concluding finality, spent lamps strewn on a broken river bed,   possibly after an “aarati” the evening before,  which captures perfectly the pulse of this eternal city.

The Afterword written by Basu explores how the photographer views Banaras and his interaction with the city and its people.

The book has been printed in duo tone and this has resulted in some of the photographs looking soft and muted.  One wonders how much richer the backs and the whites would have looked had the publisher chosen four colour printing.

Some links to the book are below:

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Photography Tips and Tricks

Some useful tips and tricks to  help you shoot better photographs!

Tip 1: Add people to a landscape
Add a subject to the foreground of a landscape shot to give depth to the photograph.  An example of this is given in the shot above and below:

Tip 2: Use fill flash in daylight
When shooting people, in strong noon day sun use the pop up flash or even a speedlight to fill dark shadows especially under the eyes and bring out details. This ensures that the background is also exposed correctly and not washed out. An example of this is given below:

Tip 3: Kick the “I’ll fix it in Photoshop habit”!
You need to ensure that the photograph is taken in the camera not fixed in Photoshop – so white balance, exposure, lighting, focus etc all need to be bang-on! If you are not sure of the exposure bracket! Check the histogram on the LCD display to ensure that exposure is correct.

Tip 4: F8 and be there
Basically this famous photography axiom asks you to be ready to shoot. So rather than adjust white balance, aperture,  shutter speed , metering modes, focus modes etc  before taking a photo, you to need to set all this before hand. On a normal sunny day, I will usually set the following before I start out: WB auto, ISO auto set to maximum of 800, aperture priority around f8 or so, and matrix metering, AF-S for single focus. This allows me to shoot in most situations provide the light is reasonable. And, if I have time I would  bracket three to four exposure either by using auto bracketing  or manually -0.3, -0.7, -0.1, +0.3, + 0.7. This usually nails the photograph right in the camera.

Tip 5: To reduce noise at high ISO make sure your exposure is bang on target!  
Modern day cameras allow you to shoot at very high ISO’s like 1600, 3200 and even 6400 on top end models. However, the major drawback at high ISO is noise. So, one way of reducing or minimizing noise is to make sure your exposure in spot on. If you have underexposed even a little bit there will be ample noise in the shadow areas which is always difficult to get rid off. So try to ensure a correct exposure by shooting, maybe, a number of photos at different settings so that at least one is correctly exposed. This is an example of a photo shot an ISO 1600 but due to correct exposure there is hardly any noise:

Tip 6: On a tripod turn VR or IS off
This is a mistake which I have made a number of times. If you have a camera on a tripod you don’t need to switch on VR or IS as the camera is likely to be rock steady and does not need any vibration reduction.  Often in a hurry we forget this and shoot with VR or IS on.

Tip 7: For critical photos use RAW
When you need to use photographs for magazine stories, prints, exhibitions etc raw is the way to go. You can convert raw files using the correct version of Camera Raw with Photoshop and with proprietary converters like Capture NX2, View NX for Nikon.

 Tip 8: If you can, take along a small table top light weight tripod
Ideally most photographers would recommend a full heavy weight tripod but is difficult to carry around and also in some situations difficult to set up. So I have a small Slik table top which can also fit into a jacket pocket which I use when I need support. The Joby Gorilla pod is also an option and has the advantage of flexible legs!

Tip 9: Don’t put the camera away at dusk or at night
On the subject of tripods if you have one with you then photography at night and at dusk becomes a distinct possibility. Long exposures makes the world look a lot different and details in the dark night sky can often produce stunning effects.

Tip 10: Less is often more!
The proliferation of social media and the free photo web sites have made it possible for everyone to post their photos on the net even if they don’t have their own web sites or blogs. However, in their enthusiasm to post photographs of a holiday or journey I often find a facebook album of a hundred photos or more. Similarly, picasa web albums sent to me to review have similar number of photos. Usually with so many images the impact is lost and the good images get masked by the mediocre ones. So it often helps to edit tightly, remove duplicates and similars, weed out all photos that are not in focus, overexposed or underexposed, badly composed and leave the best ones for the viewers! Most of my albums rarely have more than twenty photographs and the majority have between ten and twelve!

Happy shooting!  

For more of my photographs do visit

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Yellowstone | Geysers and Springs

Yellowstone is the oldest National Park in the United States and the area around Old Faithful, the most famous geyser in the world is dotted with geysers, hot springs and smouldering cauldrons of molten lava. There is a convenient board walk around all of these sights and some of the photographs from my walk are below:

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Calcutta | A River, A Bridge & A Monument

Last evening I was passing by the river in Kolkata when I stopped near the Princep Monument.  From this location you can see the monument, the second Hoogly Bridge and the span of the river. It had just stopped raining and the sky had been washed clean of pollution and haze. It was a typical early monsoon evening by the river. Some photographs shot on my Iphone :


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