Thursday, October 10, 2019

Stroke, Slump and Revival

Slump in a photographer's life is not an unusual phenomena. Many photographers face the slump, which pulls their inspiration down to the lowest ebb, but hope persists and either it puts them back to their passion or they make a new beginning. Not only the reasons for a slump vary,  but also the way such a situation is handled.

I had taken up photography as a hobby over four decades ago  and it turned out to be a rewarding passion. During last few years  I disliked holding my camera, with which I had made hundreds of images. Never before I had virtually left active photography. Just to understand this situation, I read a number of blogs and other related material and finally reached a conclusion that it's a fall out of my hemorrhagic stroke which I had suffered in the end of year 2014. But that was not only a stroke, it was more than that. One fine morning while driving alone within the city, I  suddenly fell unconscious and my car hit a round-about with a big bang. I remember having heard a thud. As I was not conscious shortly before the collision, my right foot must have pressed the accelerator with immense pressure which resulted in collision and a near fatal accident. I have a fainted memory as if someone on road asking me what happened and I replied perhaps I fell asleep. Thereafter, when I regained some consciousness, I felt I was in an ambulance and being taken somewhere. I heard two of my cousins talking to me as they were accompanying  me. But what followed thereafter and what eyewitnesses told me is very shocking and disturbing.

As a result of this collision, my seat belt was further tightened  and because of its diagonal pressure  my ribs and sternum were fractured, spleen, pancreas and liver were ruptured and my right eyeball was dislocated. Also, my right collarbone got twisted thus locking my right shoulder. The impact of collision was so much that my face collided against the steering of the car which had no airbag. Later I learnt that some well wisher had called the Police  who took me to the Government Multi-specialty hospital where they take all accident victims.Not satisfied with their initial treatment, my wife sought help from one of her friends and rushed me to the Post-graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research where I remained admitted for a fortnight.

I cannot forget the kind gesture of a photo-journalist who happened to pass that way and recognized me. He immediately informed one of my senior colleagues who sent a message and a conveyance to my wife so that she reaches me fast.

After five days of treatment, I remember, the doctor had declared me out of danger, but my body below the waist was paralyzed, thus rendering me unable to sit or walk of my own. I had also developed some eye problem. Not only the right eyeball was dislocated, but also the vision became defective. Things kept in the hospital room appeared as if these were touching ceiling of the room. As internal bleeding stopped,  I was discharged from the hospital after a fortnight, but I was neither able to stand or sit of my own nor did I have proper vision. Much shocking is the fact that the doctors relied on CT scan conducted by the earlier hospital which did not reveal anything bad. Therefore, even after a fortnight of the ill-fated day, I was not diagnosed for a stroke. For them mine was a simple case of road accident which happened due to my sleep.
            While I was at home, my wife attended me with good care. It took me about a month to stand of my own. However, without telling anyone, I made a self commitment to stand and walk of my own within about two months. And I could achieve my goal.
Those around me had their own opinion  about my behaviour, physical appearance and way of talking. What was going on in my head and heart is not to be explained here. In those days I was a Mentor with Nikon School and used to conduct workshops within my native city and neighbouring states. I felt loss of strength in my arms. I thought it might be because  the right collarbone got twisted.
But life was never as was before. It became difficult to hold my Nikon D800 for a considerable time. It was a year later in 2015 that I went to the USA to receive the international honour of Proficiency in Photography (PPSA) bestowed upon me by the Photographic Society of America. My wife accompanied me to the USA,  but I left India only after the Neurologist permitted me to travel. My brother, who is settled in the USA,  arranged all our travel schedule thus making it a memorable trip. 
My right shoulder was locked which I thought might be due to the impact of the accident, but the doctor termed it due to the stroke. Since then, as I am observing,now my arms are not that strong thus making it very difficult for me to hold camera and long lens weighing about three kg. for a considerable time. It is unfortunate that the doctors in both the hospitals could not detect that accident was the result of a brain stroke.It was almost a month now and some friends were already accusing me of sleeping while driving which resulted in an accident. Among those who visited us in those days was one of our relations who is an experienced doctor. He was the one who emphatically said that I did not sleep while driving, but something else happened. On his advise my wife first took me to  an ophthalmologist so as to cure my visibility. After intensive diagnosis I was told that all appears to be normal with the eyes, therefore, this might be a neurological disorder. They referred me to the Neurology Department of the institute where the doctor asked for an immediate MRI. As I had walked to him, he said half of the battle has already been won, MRI will reveal exact situation. And the MRI showed a bleed in cerebral region. This diagnosis gave clue to the reason of accident. While driving alone I had suffered a haemmoregic stroke which resulted in the near fatal accident. And then started treatment for stroke, delayed by a month. When someone suffers a stroke, every second becomes precious to save a life.

That was about five years ago, but some neurological problems still draw my attention. I know, in this situation, recovery is slow and a natural process begins to cure. Unfortunately, there is not much awareness about brain strokes. I had have some questions about such problems and its not possible to visit the neurologist frequently. Therefore, I joined an international Stroke Survivors Group to understand cause  of my new  health problems and all that’s going on in my mind, my changing behavior  and even the taste buds.I discussed my various health issues thread bare with fellow members as well as care givers. It was there that I realised that after a stroke, in most cases, the body gets a  “factory reset”. There were those who, due to a stroke, were disowned by even their own family members and friends. There I got answers to my several questions and above all, I got a feeling that I am not the only victim. I had several others hailing from different parts of the world who encouraged each other and tried to redress common problems.
There were many who responded to my questions with immense care and with logic, perhaps because they had themselves either faced a similar situation or were care givers. Among the members  there was one who used to respond to various health issues with confidence. My curiosity led me to ask her whether she is a doctor or from nursing profession. She made a very surprising revelation saying, “ None of the two, I am a care giver to my husband who had suffered a stroke, but still under treatment”.  She is Mrs Marie Fe V. Maximo who turned out to be a home tutorial teacher from Philippines , but had once aspired to join the nursing profession.
A majority of  stroke survivors get their body like a factory reset. In many cases they are not understood properly even by their spouses or family members. Therefore, for them the Stroke Survivors Group is like a common platform where the members share their health issues and  do not feel loneliness.
One of my major worries was lack of interest in photography. I discussed even this issue with fellow members of this group of survivors. I tried some means to overcome the slump in my creative photography. Interestingly, I noticed that only a couple of stroke survivors who themselves are photographers responded to my issues on slump. I have always described photography as a stress buster. This may be true because in my opinion not many photographers might have suffered a stroke. Now after about five years of suffering a stroke, its clear to me that the cause of slump in photography is ill effects of stroke. The best remedy is to accept the present situation and fight it bravely. My efforts have started yielding encouraging results and now I see revival.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Let’s Shoot Against Light !

Capturing backlit subjects, especially those with rim light  always fascinate photo-enthusiasts, but  at times photographs of subjects  like birds requiring details disappoint photographers because despite their best camera settings they get  objects like dark patches against bright background.  Similar is the case of shooting birds in flight or against bright sky. Some photographers try to resolve these challenging issues by altering their camera settings. They either change ISO sensitivity, shutter speed or aperture and there are others who blame their equipment for poor performance. There are many others who do not find it necessary to go through the camera manual.
Although exposure is an issue of personal choice yet the bird photographers are advised to shoot birds with sun to their back. This is a good suggestion, but the fascination for backlit subjects inspires them to continue experimentation with their gear. The solution to this challenging situation of shooting against bright light lies within their camera. When we set exposure (a combination of Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO Sensitivity), camera  evaluates whole of the frame and we get its average. In fact, we do not always need metering for whole frame. That’s why the camera manufacturers have devised different settings for metering. Therefore, often spot metering is recommended to shoot birds against bright light and centre weighted metering for birds in flight. Also, Auto Exposure Lock (AEL) can help in controlling the variation in exposure, especially when we have to shoot birds against bright sky. The AEL  can be used while reframing the image and prevent the current exposure from changing. Each metering mode has its specific functions.The choice for any of the above mentioned measures  depends on one’s liking and intensity of available light.
Apart from this, the challenging situation can easily be dealt with a small button bearing  EV +/- (Exposure Value ) and generally designed on top or the camera. Its commonly known as Exposure Compensation. This small feature has the ability to override the camera settings of semi-auto exposure modes, like Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or Programme. In simple words, EV +/- is used to alter exposure  so as to make photographs brighter or darker. Its not necessary that by setting exposure we shall get desired result. Therefore, exposure compensation plays a vital role in further guiding the camera in meeting requirement of a photographer.
In case of Aperture Priority mode we select aperture of our choice, but camera automatically sets shutter speed. When we change  exposure value in this mode, it automatically changes shutter speed. Similarly, in Shutter Priority mode, we set shutter speed of our choice and exposure compensation automatically changes aperture. In manual mode its entirely up to the photographer  to set exposure and in Auto Mode exposure is set by camera itself. The EV does not function in full Auto and Manual shooting modes. In Programme mode, it depends on camera to either change aperture or shutter speed so as to give us desired result. Therefore, the significance of exposure compensation cannot be ignored and it should be used wherever required to get exposure of our choice.
Those who take photographs with Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR)  cameras,  can immediately check the results in camera  monitor  after  taking a test shot  and set  the exposure  value, if required. On the other hand, those who shoot  with mirror less cameras, have the distinct advantage to directly set the desired exposure value without reviewing any test shot in the monitor. As we compose the image and increase or decrease the  exposure value, the preview in the monitor enables us to see the changing brightness or darkness and how would be the final  image.

--Subhash Sapru
Hon Excellence USPA, APSA, PPSA, AIIPC

How to photograph flying birds

“How to photograph birds in flight”, sounds exciting and simple, but its  challenging. The advancement in technology has made it easy for photo-enthusiasts to meet such challenges  with ease provided they understand their photographic gear.  To make photographs of birds in flight, we need a camera and a long lens plus the ability to acquire focus on the subject with lightening speed. But first how to hold a camera if you are not using a tripod. Learn to be steady. The built in stabilisation and vibration reduction technologies do help, but we should not depend too much on them. While  handholding the camera, try to get support  to be steady or lean against a wall or a tree or a nearby vehicle. To maintain balance, stretch your legs and keep your feet as wide as is the width of your shoulders, slightly bend your knees, right hand should firmly hold camera body and keep your left hand below the barrel of the lens. Both the elbows should touch the chest and keep your eye on eyecup to view through the view finder. Such habits help in critical situations not only in bird photography, but even others. I remember having photographed the magnificent Multnomah Falls in Oregon in low light using the same technique, but there I had also stopped my breath to avoid any shake. It became a life time experience of having  captured 611 feet tall roaring Multnomah Falls.
          One may begin with a DSLR and at least a 200 mm lens. For many its convenient to photograph flying birds with hand held camera. Therefore, their camera and lens combo is light enough to enable easy mobility to photograph birds in flight. Those who use heavy long lenses and camera bodies having considerable weight are advised to use tripod with gimbal or ball head.
Its always good to shoot flying birds  preferably at your eye level with the thumb rule of keeping eye of the bird in sharp focus. This needs good tracking of the subject which can be achieved with continuous focus mode. Some cameras   offer auto focus  area modes. If your camera does not have continuous focus mode or 3D tracking, you may apply sports action mode, if it has. You may set centre weighted or spot metering and auto ISO.
 Those who make images with high resolution cameras and longer lenses, should be careful as these  may magnify simple  shakes or motion blurs in your images. While focus issue will blur the subject, camera shake would  blur the image  in one direction. Remember the thumb rule which states that the shutter speed should not be less than  the focal length of your lens. If you want to isolate your subject, keep the aperture wide open. While capturing birds in flight, the keen birders very well understand the approximate speed at which birds of different sizes fly. On an average , the shutter speed should not be less than 1/1600 sec. However, it depends on your preference to freeze the birds with shutter speed as high as 1/8000 sec or show motion of  tips of wings by shooting at low  shutter sped.
          Its not necessary that you always need fast shutter speed to capture birds in flight. Those who have practiced panning on moving subjects, can use it while capturing birds in flight. The basic fundamentals of shooting birds in flight are tracking and panning. First focus  on the subject with central focus point or a group of focus points depending on your choice, press  the shutter button halfway down , continue to keep your eye on the subject  through the viewfinder and track the bird’s flight path by keeping it in the centre of the viewfinder. Your lens may constantly adjust  the focus. In case the  bird moves out of camera frame, try to reframe it. As the bird or flock of birds  fly  from one side of the frame to the other, move your body and the camera in the same direction, but maintain your balance. Maintain visual contact through the viewfinder at all times. Its not necessary that everything is sharp in such images. Practice can give you better images. Therefore, practice, practice and practice. I am of the strong opinion that keen birders observe that the bird who dares to fall, is the one who learns to fly.
          While shooting birds in flight, we often observe that flying birds quickly move through different light conditions. Therefore, its advisable to photograph them in RAW. Also, do not forget to check direction of the sun and that of the wind. Preferably both should be behind you, but this may not be always possible. Also, remember the golden rule of keeping the eye of the bird sharp. The whole frame may not be sharp from corner to corner, but the bird should have acceptable sharpness. We can also photograph in overcast sky and low-light  by adjusting camera settings accordingly.
          Take-offs and landings of birds against light , especially in water bodies make artistic  images.
          The flights of birds can be erratic and they can change direction any time.  Therefore, we have to  compose the flying birds with a lightening speed while anticipating their movement. Prefer to track your subject through the viewfinder  and not the Live View. View Finder makes it easy to move or control the camera. While composing ,try to  keep negative space towards the direction the birds are flying.

Subhash Sapru