Click with your heart, not your brain, advises celebrated lensman Raghu Rai

Letter from New Delhi

Click with your heart, not your brain, said India’s most celebrated photographer, Ragu Rai. Speaking at a meeting of young photographers in New Delhi, he was sharing his experience of an assignment using a smartphone, Gionee Elfie E8. The photos he shot have been published as a coffee table book, ‘India Through the Eyes of Raghu Rai’. You can’t buy this book but can get it for free when you buy this smartphone online for Rs. 36,000 (US$ 545 approx.)

Raghu Rai travelled the length and breadth of India clicking with this smartphone in colour and black and white. An exhibition of his photos was mounted outside the auditorium by the mobile company that displayed enlargements of these photos up to 3 by 6 feet.

The audience lapped up his tips and experiences. Shoot with your emotion, your feelings, your being, he repeated throughout his talk. Use your sensitivity, your emotions while taking photos. If you have a great photo saved in your brain, forget it when you shoot something similar. Shoot for that particular moment, that special experience, that unique atmosphere. Most people try to focus on a central subject; but move away from that to capture the big picture, the background.

Some photos are better in black and white, even today, when colour is all the rage. If an event is sad, black and white is more suited to capture the occasion or the event.

Asked if he had a digital camera in the 70s and 80s, would his career been different, he replied that since he started using digital cameras from 2002 onwards, he found that it gave him more freedom to shoot more frames and instantly see the result. Yes, digital cameras would have helped him to shoot thousands of more photos, he said.

Using a smartphone is easier. He always used a professional Nikon camera and a 24×85 zoom lens. A smartphone is easier to carry than a camera and a zoom lens. The six-inch screen of Gionee E8 provides a much bigger screen than a normal camera. But he used a Selfie stick to handle the slippery smartphone. No, he does not favour Selfies as their zoom effect distorts faces unless a Selfie stick is used.

Sharing how he began his career in its 50th year, he recalled that he ran away from his home as his father wanted him to become an engineer and started to live with his brother who gave him a camera. He shot some photos and his brother sent one of them to ‘The Times’ in London where it was published across a number of columns. And the rest is history.

The newest book of Gionee E8 images has stunning photos in sharp detail and clarity with the trade mark Raghu Rai touch: a person or object in foreground, but not central, and the background setting the stage or the mood. For 21 days, he travelled from Kashmir, the most scenic state, to Kanyakumari he calls the feet of Mother India and all over the beaches and the temples, the cities, towns and the places he loves all across the land.

“It was the freedom and the ease which I got from this. I simply kept playing with it like a toy. For me at this point in my life I don’t want to behave like a serious guy. I want to play around with tools and things. This project was a fascinating affair with no responsibilities and no liabilities,” he told PTI on the sidelines of his book’s launch.

Confirming that he still looks at everything like a child who never gets bored, he advised the young generation to pause and let the heart take over before pressing the button. It’s not instant, like junk food. A great chef takes time; he carefully chooses the vegetables, prepares them delicately, takes his time and then serves a delicious meal. The same with taking a great photograph. Wait for the right moment, the right light, and the right angle.

Holding up his new book TREES, he invited everyone to shoot one or more trees for a book. Look at a tree in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening and at night. Or look at many trees from different angles. Take your unique photos, he said. With your heart, of course.

Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi



  • Published in print edition on 13 November 2015

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