Varanasi – IV(The last Arati)

There I was, on the ghat, with the 18-55 snapped on, and then I saw the spot I would want to be, to capture the priests in the way I imagined them! I was there waiting patiently and the light was slowly dimming and my enthusiasm was growing too. Am I in the right position, will I get my shots correctly, was relying on the kit lens a good idea?? I will admit, the camera settings, were last of my worries. I know my way around the settings and I like to believe, that I can handle them fast so I was not much bothered. As I was waiting for the ceremony to start, I saw a very pretty lady out there, hopping very energetically and snapping away. As she came near my spot, I asked her, in the techy-est way possible, what ISO she was using. She casually replied, that she was shooting No Flash! I thought, she didnt get my point, so I asked again, and then she actually showed me which setting she was shooting at, and that moment I immediately understood that what she was doing was the easy way in the situation. She simply said, experiments are fit in a park…this I ll remember for quite some time! I thanked her, and then shot the night in the No Flash Auto setting. Dear pretty lady, if by any chance, you are reading this, thank you once more, you taught me a very important lesson, I ll be grateful for your tip.

From my position, I could see all 5 priests, and these are what I caught and I am satisfied!

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During the arati, having goosebumps is a very common condition. You are bound to feel the energy there, the grace, the grandeur and the power! I will go back to this place, again, soon!

I ll sign off the way they did….

“…Jay Ganeshay Namah
Jay Gange Namah
Har Har Mahadev….”

Varanasi – IV (The Forts)

On the last day of the trip, we went to the Chunar Fort and the Ramnagar Fort!

The Chunar Fort was built on a very strategic point right on the bank of the River Ganga and its a perfect vantage point for keeping an eye out for attackers from all the directions. This was built by Sher Shah Suri and then the Moghuls took it over and then the British. Since the British, till date, the fort has served as a garrison for armed forces. But now, within the next 3 years, the fort will be handed over to the ASI for upkeep and maintenance. It is rumored that there exist secret tunnels to as far as the Red Fort of Delhi, some 700 kms away. There is also a big, rather huge 200 ft deep well, with provisions to go right down to the water level, used by the princess there. Jail houses and gallows are also present and the living quarters of the soldiers back then, are used as classrooms for the modern counterparts.

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These carving used to have diamonds and gems encrusted in them. Apparently, the British didnt like leaving the shiny stuffs behind while leaving!

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The 200 ft or maybe deeper well!

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A motorable, single lane pontoon bridge!

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Birds’ eye view from one of the walls!

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Now, the Ramnagar fort is more of a big house to a super rich prince. Within the fort are his cars, Ford, Cadillac were the ones I could recognize, just a few from about 15 of them. Then, there are galleries filled with guns, from smaller than palm to so big that it would need at least three people to fire them. Sadly, photography is not allowed within the gallery! This fort also oversees Ganga, but from the other side, beautiful and majestic none the less.

En route, from Chunar to Ramnagar, we came across shops selling these clay and stone stuffs. They are cheap, and can be used as souvenirs and for gifts. There are small toys, made of clay and glazed, they cost about 3 to 5 INR. Also, bargain here, you can get at 75% of the original asked price if not lesser.

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The balcony was the only part differently colored! Stood out!

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The Ganga and the other bank! Looks like much hasnt changed over the centuries.

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Found some local, friendly fauna!

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We left Ramnagar fort around lunch time! Giving me plenty of time to return back to the guest house, grab a hasty lunch and run back for one last shot at getting the shots I wanted of the Ganga Arati.
Check them out on the next part!

Cheers!!

Panoramic Sarnath

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Just found a panorama shot I took at sarnath. I am standing in the excavated section of a vihara and the Dhamek Stupa is visible on the left side of the photo! Hope you like this!
Cheers!!!

Varanasi – III (Ganga Arati)

Continuation of the third day, rather the evening! I reached the spot around 1730 and realized that I was a bit late. I managed to get a space near the steps in front of the the priests. From my point, I could manage to capture flawlessly, at max, 2 of the priests. So be it. I still have one more day, and I knew the vantage point I would need for the shots that I wanted.

Here goes the evening shots.

First, the small lamps are lit on the topmost step! This adds a nice light boundary.

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One of the fire carriers is basically a snake headed lamp and it looks simply amazing!

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Ladies, mostly the elderly ones, they lend their hands for the smaller lamps that are used as decorations.

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Once the preparations are done, at the decided hour, the prayer songs start and the so does the fire incantations…and once they do, except for being taken in totally by the grandeur and awesomeness, there is very little else that remains to be done! If you have a camera, then click some pics quick and then sit back and enjoy!

The conch shell sounds the auspicious beginning!

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Incense smokes follow!

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And then, the lamps!

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The effect is spiritual and spell binding!

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Fire Incantation

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Next day,  we travelled to two forts. The Chunar fort and the Ramnagar fort. And on the last day, I managed to get photos that made me term my trip a success! Coming up shortly!

Cheers!!

Varanasi – III (Sarnath)

The next day, was an eventful one. The first half of the day was spent at Sarnath and the evening at the ghats watching the Ganga arati once more.

Sarnath, situated about 30 kms outside Varanasi is a holy place for Buddhists. It is at this place, that Gautam Buddha, gave his first sermons to his five disciples post attaining enlightenment. At the spot where he gave the sermon, during 2nd century BC, Ashoka commissioned an built the Dhamek Stupa. The Ashoka Pillar and the Lion Emblem were both situated nearby.

During the ’70 s , the ASI excavated the area and found the various artifacts and they have been kept safely and securely in the museum situated nearby, a must visit place on your Sarnath tour plan.

Sarnath Temple
Sarnath Temple

At Sarnath, you will find school children out on picnics and tours very frequently and the tickets are pretty cheap. Also, there are numerous shops with wares which might interest a lot of people. Do check them out but before buying, do bargain hard. Often, prices can be dropped to about half of the asking price.

Buddha painting within the temple
Buddha painting within the temple

Photography is not allowed within the museum unless you have a Govt. Of India approved permit, but then, it doesnt hurt much not taking photos of the sculptures, the experience of viewing them and reading the related stories are pretty fulfilling.

The Idol within
The Idol within

The excavated site and the stupa have a boundary, ticket price nominal. There are lawns and lots of place to sit and enjoy the tranquil environment. Meditating monks are not uncommon too.

Here the excavation can be seen with the Dhamek Stupa in the background. While in the second photo a wall carving has been shown.

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Vihar wall
Vihar wall

Above: Carvings on the Vihar walls

Below: Carvings on the Dhamek Stupa

Carvings on the stupa
Carvings on the stupa

We retraced our path through the park and back to the main temple and before leaving, the prayer wheels, demanded attention and the respect!

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Post our return, we freshened up and I went back to the Dasashwamedh ghat for another arati viewing session. This time, I was armed with the  200mm lens! The arati covered in the next post.

Cheers!

 

Varanasi – II

The evening of the first day at Varanasi, we went for a boat trip from the Assi Ghat towards the Dasashwamedh Ghat with the intention to see the evening arati from the river.

The speciality of this ghat, and the one beside it, the Rajendra Prasad ghat is that they host multiple aratis simultaneously, 5 and 7 to be exact. And, for most of the time, the purohits conducting the arati do it in sync and hence it is a pretty awesome sight. The arati starts at 1815, but in the winter months, the place gets crowded by devotees and onlookers from 1700. So, if you want to grab a good spot, be there by 1715 . You ll find boatmen coaxing to take a ride to the opposite bank and back, charging around 40INR for the trip, pretty reasonable, but a bit of bargaining always helps. Also, found in plenty are photographers with portable printers who ll take the photos in poses of your and their choices and print and deliver immediately, at about 20INR per copy.

I realized that, from a moving boat, taking photos of people who are also moving is a pretty difficult job, hence, not many usable shots from that evening of the arati. But its an awesome spectacle. Once I understood that trying to take photos would be fruitless, I switched the camera off, and saw the aratis. It truly is a breathtaking sight and a memorable event. Night shots of boats on the Ganga, they came out good though!!

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Next day the destination was Sarnath and the evening I spent in finding a good spot to capture the arati from! Stay tuned! More coming up!!

 

Varanasi – I

Hi all…
I was out on a tour of the holy city of Varanasi. This city gets its name from the rivers Baruna and Assi, they meet with the holy river goddess Ganga in this city. Here there exist a number of Ghats, cemented banks that is. Home to a multitude of people from a wide spectrum of economy and religion, this city has a very rich cultural history and heritage. Apart from the religious aspect, here exists one of the biggest university in Asia, the Banaras Hindu University boasting 124 faculties including engineering, medical, arts, commerce and sciences and many more.

I spent 4 days here. My trip was very specific in nature. Specific in the sense, I went in with the intention of capturing Ganga Arati that takes place every evening. I also made a short trip to the Buddhist town of Sarnath and a couple of forts! I ll try to add in small bits of info also as and when suitable!

I woke up and started to walk towards the Assi Ghat at 0530! This is how the BHU campus looks at that hour!

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I reached Assi Ghat by 0630 and went straight to work with the camera.

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A very soothing voice came from the ghats. There was this man, named Bhomi, boat operator by profession and an amateur singer. I listened to him singing for sometime and then walked west towards the rest ghats.

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Birds are plentiful there…

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After walking for another hour, hunger got better of my will to continue and I turned back. Was lost in the alleyways and ended up having to negotiate right of passage with a big buffalo…luckily for me, he was an understanding one, and let me pass without much issues…no pics of him though…

Varanasi is a place frequented by Indians and foreigners alike , hence fooding and lodging accommodating multiple cuisines and cultures us present here. Streets are crowded and at times, they are not very clean!

This was the morning…the first evening coming up next! Stay hooked!

9. HDR Photography

Hi there…another post on photo techniques…
Today, I share, HDR Photography. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. Dynamic range, in a photo basically means the span of the photo’s lighting conditions from the
highlights to the shadows. Suppose in a photo, involving both land and bit of sky. On a normal day time shot, we can expect that the sky will be brighter than the
foreground, the land. Now, the question comes up, which brightness will be your benchmark. If you take the sky as the reference, then the foreground will be
underexposed and all dark, whereas, if you take the foreground as the reference, the sky will appear as a white sheet and lose any and all details.
One way to compensate this, is by using gradient filters, which act as a sunglass for the part of the photo with the sky and making the light levels comparable and
hence a cleaner photo. But, these filters, the good quality ones, they do cost, not heftily..but significantly.
The other way is the HDR way. In the HDR, what we do is, take multiple photos, same focus, same focal length, except, different exposure values. A sturdy surface or a tripod is must for HDR photos. Different exposure values, are attained by varying the shutter speed. I take Optimum plus 1 and plus 2 stop photos and minus 2 and minus
2 and one with the optimum. And then, I stack them up in Photoshop. Other HDR making software are readily available online. Do put special attention so that the frame doesnt shift between the photos or ghosting (multiple copies) issues come up and they do not look pleasing or artsy at all.
HDR photos enhance bits of details too but in a close up shot, as the one which follows, the difference is very limited though.
I do not take a lot of HDR photos, not because I do not like them or some biasness, but because after I bought my camera, I havent visited much places where HDR photos are warranted.
Check out these two photos. They are both correctly exposed. The first one is a optimally exposed photo where as the other one is the HDR rendition comprised of 5 photos.

Optimum exposure
Optimum exposure

 

HDR version
HDR version

Cheers!

Monochrome II

Hi there…monochrome fever is still on…and during this epic time fever…rolled in two of my old friends with their mean machines…and what followed was…little talk and lots of photos. These were the ones which stood out immediately!

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Cheers!

Monochrome

An ongoing trend amongst  the photographers is nominating each other for various different photo ops, recently, the black and white. I got nominated too by my brother..who is an awesome photographer himself. I put up my share of black and whites but today, I thought of trying to mix two of the classic shot techniques and styles. The black and white and the falling ink drop. I let one photo be in color, while the couple more in black and white. Its a good way to kill some time for sure. And the swirling patterns do make interesting shapes too. This set is from my first attempt….I ll revisit this and put up better , more dramatic shots soon.

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More shots and a very useful DIY coming up soon!

Cheers!

8. Close Up!

We love the insanely close up photos of insects, showing their eyes, or a tiny ant holding a tinier grain and truly, we are amazed by these shots. These photos are termed as macro photos. Actual definition is a big complicated thing that simply means, photos where small objects look way bigger, magnified, thats all.
All lens have some bit of magnification factor in them, but the macro lens, they are dedicated ones which have very little focusing distance, extremely high sharpness and they are very very pricey. Well, they deserve to be too.
Anyway, since my blog is all about the way I have met up to these challenges, I have opted for the easier way out…screw on close up filters. These filters are simple magnifying glass lens adapted to be mounted as a filter on the lens. They reduce the focusing distance and magnify the image. Available normally in packs of 3 or 4, these filters come in strengths of +1, +2, +4 and a macro lens (+10).

+4 lens
+4 lens
Macro
Macro

Now, you might wonder, if these screw on lens, whole set costing within 2k INR are available, why should I go for a 20k macro lens? The reason is a single word, quality! The quality of the dedicated lens are incomparably and invariably better than the screw on filters. These filters cause light loss on the edges, distortions and also vignetting. Plus, these are not the sharpest of lens at all. So, if you plan to go pro about the macro shots, or have very deep pockets, buy the dedicated ones. The screw on ones are fine for occasional close up shots!

Macro(+10) f/1.8
Macro(+10) f/1.8
Macro (+10) f/11
Macro (+10) f/11
The +4 lens
The +4 lens

Cheers!

 

7. Flash Diffuser

In my previous post, I wrote about flash photography. I hope you, my readers, have taken some shots using the flash. And also, I believe, you have faced the issue, where the flash felt very harsh. Skin tone has become unacceptably white and too much of the detail has been lost. No amount of post processing will help in these cases.
This is caused, when the flash is too strong and the light is very concentrated. Hence, our options are either to lower the flash strength or diffuse the light.

Lowering the flash strength is fine upto a certain level but beyond that, still photos do get blown. This is where the diffuser comes in.
First, what exactly does the diffuser do? Imagine the flash on your camera as a point light source, like a strong bulb. It gives out a dispersing beam allright, but the dispersion is not enough hence the subject’s details are getting overwhelmed by the light. Now, the diffuser’s work is to disperse the light even more, make it softer. This makes the subject retain the details and also gives your photo a balanced look. For a further enlightenment on the diffuser, feel free to check up on the web, but the nutshell description is the same.

Normal flash
Normal flash

 

Same settings, with the diffuser
Same settings, with the diffuser

Diffusers are generally not available for the onboard flashes, and a decent external flash costs at least 15k INR, plus the diffuser box is around 6k INR. Frankly, I dont have that amount of money at all, hence, a bit of improvisation (Jugaad, the Indian term) is all we need. Head over to the DIY section for a awesome jugaad that ll make your day.

Cheers!