Learn from the Masters: Gautam Rajadhyaksha
On the occasion of our thirteenth anniversary in 2010, 13 great masters drew from a lifetime of experience to give you over 150 carefully selected tips on photography and ways of seeing. They debated the idea of ‘the perfect moment’ and share their personal practices. In this edition, the late Great Master Gautam Rajadhyaksha shared his tips for better photography.
Converse through the Camera
A portrait is a conversation between two people on either side of the lens.
Understand Your Subject
Remember that you are dealing with people. Great photography skills need to be backed up by efficient people skills. Speak to your subject, get to know him and then try to portray his personality.
Break the Ice
Conversation is a great way to get rid of any awkwardness. If you are shooting a musician, speak to them about music and ask them what style they enjoy most. This will help break the ice and also get you the required expressions.
Capture the Soul
Expressions and mood are the heart of portrait photography. They help you capture the soul of your subject.
Simulate or Stimulate
To capture expressions, simulate or stimulate—simply put, either tell your subject what you have in mind and make them act it out, or engage them in conversation and stimulate a reaction from them.
Anticipate the Moment
A good portrait photographer should know what to anticipate. Fortune only favours those who are prepared. Study the settings and the person. Observe the postures, expressions and moves—shoot only when you are completely prepared.
Use Different Settings
Before you shoot, understand what kind of depth-of-field you need, and whether your subject will be moving or not. Choose your aperture and shutterspeed accordingly. For instance, to capture the motion of Sachin Tendulkar playing with the cricket ball, I had to use a fast enough shutterspeed.
Avoid Direct Flash
Flash can be used to create a particular kind of look, but if used unimaginatively, it kills the mood in the shot. For instance, the direct flash fired by cameras in the Automatic mode makes the photograph extremely flat.
Use the World’s Best Light
Window light is the world’s best light for portrait photography. Open shadow is the runner-up for effective portrait lighting. The third best option is to use early morning light.
Play with Light
I love using natural light. You can adjust the intensity of window light by using curtains, and you can use reflectors to fill in light. This is particularly important with digital cameras as the dynamic range of digital sensors is lesser.
Innovate with Equipment
You do not need expensive equipment. Make do with things inside your house. For instance, a newspaper, thermocol sheet or even a white bedsheet can be used as reflectors.
Try Unique Angles
Always try to use new angles. Explore the unexpected. Even a slight difference in your point of view can make a picture memorable.
Technicalities Matter TooYour photograph must be technically strong. An unsharp image will not convey the strength of the portrait. Also, if an image is not technically perfect, it will remain in the back pages of your personal album and you might feel embarrassed to showcase it.
My Interpretation of the Moment
A moment in photography can be about action or emotion. Sensitivity and good timing will ensure that you capture the moment, and have something that can be cherished for a number of years.
Gautam Rajadhyaksha was a masterful portraitist and writer. He passed away on 13 September, 2011, leaving behind a legacy of timeless photographs and terrific insights into the world of portrait photography.