The art of photography

Many blogs and web sites teach you the craft of photography: focus, aperture, rule of thirds, leading lines. The art is something we have to puzzle out for ourselves. At some point I realized that one aspect of the art is not to show what you want people to see, but what you want people to feel. If it is a sense of peace and serenity that you are after, hide the details. Show fog.

We were off early in the morning to grab a hot paratha at a bazaar which had sprung up at a road crossing. The sun broke through the mist as we passed by Almora and hit the forest just beyond. Beautiful sight. As I took this photo, I knew it would convey a sense of calm and peace. The sense of rush, the craving for breakfast, that was my own. It did not express itself in the photo.

The Pearl river delta cuts up the southern coast of China into islets. The mega city of Guangzhou sprawls across it. From the top of Canton Tower I took a photo which shows Guangzhou at its calmest: the hour of sunset. Barges pass along the river, evoking a certain timelessness, which the misty look enhances. Guangzhou has the same weather as Mumbai, warm. What you see is not mist, but the sense the photo evokes is still calm. Hide the hurry, and everyone thinks things are calm.

This was a morning when I was calm and content. Sitting on the deck of a hotel floating on the warm waters of Lake Inle in Myanmar, I was thoroughly relaxed. A chai in hand, camera at my feet, I wondered how to convey that sense. Evoke fog, my head told me. So I took a reflection of the clouds in the waters of the lake, broken by the lily pads that grow around the hotel.

Annoyed? No one will know. A day of bird watching in the mountains of Darjeeling district was interrupted by fog. The only things I saw were drongos, too quick to photograph in the bad light. But this barred jungle owlet (Glaucidium radiatum) sat placidly in front of me and preened. You want calm and serene? Take photos of an owl. Better still, one of an owl in fog.

I had come down from the Philosopher’s Walk, crossed the Neckar, and was making my way to Heidelberg’s railway station. I had to get a coffee and a roll before my train rolled in. I was in a bit of a hurry, and sweating mildly under my layers of warm clothes. But the tree on the other bank looked wonderful. A pair of European Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus) flew by as I took this photo. Lazy, calm, gliding circles, quite unusual for this squabbling and greedy species. That’s all you see here, not my need for a coffee. The art of photography is to exclude yourself and your own momentary feelings from the image, to retain only what you want to remember after many years.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

26 comments

  1. You seem to be a very calm guy.

    Because for me, the photo from Almora evokes fear. Rushing through an unknown forest, chased by assassins who know the area better than me. And now the sun comes up. Too fast. Because I still haven’t found a good spot to hide. Yet, I feel the energy leaving my body. I am becoming slower, I feel cold, and I know that sooner or later, I will make a mistake.

    Or Guangzhou: A population larger than many a medium-sized country. Rush hour, noise, traffic, people doing dubious things in offices, other people getting stabbed in alleyways. As I look down from Canton Tower, I might as well be looking down onto Gotham City.

    And the Neckar, well, I stumbled across something rather peculiar there just this week:
    https://andreasmoser.blog/2021/12/19/nuclear-power-plant/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The first thing to remember about Indian forests: there may be leopards, but a shop selling chai and paratha is always in reach.

      Similarly, about China. Tourists should be happy about continuous surveillance, because that means that street crime is basically non-existent.

      I’m not going to argue with you about how dangerous Germany is.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thinking of chai and paratha, I guess the gravest danger in Germany is starvation. There are whole villages without a shop or a tavern. And where there are shops, they are closed for lunch (which I always find a very strange timing for shops selling food), in the evening and on Sundays.
        Seriously, I have sometimes gone hiking for a whole day in Germany without finding food. (For water, you can at least go to cemeteries.)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I know that. And in the bad old days shops used to be closed from Saturday noon to Monday morning. I’d figured out that you could get a bockwuerst at train stations on Saturday nights.

        Like

  2. I so enjoyed your approach to this post, focusing (pun intended) on how to capture mood in photos, not just sights. Anyone can record what was there, it takes a good eye and good imagination to record what it felt like. All the photos are great, but push me to choose a favourite and I’ll opt for the Inle Lake reflections, because that shot in particular shows a different aspect of a much-photographed spot.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree I.J., a layer of fog adds a layer of serenity to an image although Andreas’ comment is also true that it can add a level of discomfort as well. Perhaps the emotional state of the viewer determines the emotion as much as the image itself. In either case, I found your images this week very serene and calming so job well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So strange, after all these years and all the changes, I recognized Guangzhou immediately. These are all very lovely photos, a perfect collection to show what you mean. The reflection of clouds in a pond of lily pads is amazing. Very evocative.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very wise thoughts on our emotions vis-a-vis what we convey to others in our photos. I find that I can’t take good photos when I’m in a bad mood! I just don’t see what’s interesting or beautiful. I’m too preoccupied with my feelings. But apparently you can take great photos even when you’re hungry! I love the peacefulness of the fog in these images. I think you’re right. Fog does convey serenity. A beautiful, peaceful collection, IJ.

    Liked by 1 person

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