Beyond The Lens

February 1, 2020

I treaded the lane uphill from KC towards AB 5, consumed with the dread of attending an hour of class. I knew what came ahead—the teacher would drone on and on, the air from the AC would graze my face, and my eyelids would slowly droop. 

Entwined in a cocoon of thoughts, I looked up as though for a sign from the heavens—a sign of encouragement. The sky was breathtakingly blue, a fluff of summer clouds floating in its wake. 

Mechanically, my hand moved towards my jeans’ pocket. 

It’s not difficult to guess what happened next. With my phone propped in my hand, I was on my knees before I knew it. Of course, this enticed looks of pure contempt from passersby.

But I couldn’t possibly care. Everything and anything is worth the perfect shot—the shot that makes me pat myself on the back, right

The sound of hurried footsteps broke me out of my reverie. A furtive glance at my watch told me I was late—very late, according to my teacher. The thought of missed attendance can make a student do wonders. I ran till my lungs gasped for oxygen; my plight seemed like that of a fish taken out of water.

Relieved to have been allowed to sit in the class, I settled myself on one of the benches. Carefully adjusting my phone so it would be out of reach from the teacher’s scrutinising eyes, I tapped on the Gallery icon. I was quite surprised—the quick clicks turned out to be magnificent.

The first thing I wrote when I opened my notebook was: Heaven—the name of my upcoming Instagram photo series.

March 7, 2020

REVELS 2020. Those big blue-and-white letters stared back at me from the far side of KC. The energy in the atmosphere was slowly ebbing away; the decorations being cleared. Everyone suddenly seemed to worry about the assignments again. 

It was only ten days ago when I had stepped out of the room where my first official MTTN meeting was held, my mind already overflowing with ideas. The theme of the fest had loomed large in front of my eyes—Qainaat, A World Apart. I thought there was no better way to reflect the myriad differences in the universe than through the lens. 

Right from then, I had been thrilled with the notion of using the art of juxtaposition—play around with composition and colours to bring about contrasts and do justice to the theme. What had followed was the constant exchange of project suggestions, techniques, and conversations about cameras and lenses among the crew members. Would this make the viewer’s experience of scrolling through their feeds worthwhile? Would it be enjoyable for us, as well as those who follow our content? Questions had emerged, opinions had clashed, but within days—we were all set to experience the fest in all its glory. In retrospection, I think I enjoyed those few days of planning as much as I did in the duration of the fest. 

As a fresher, being in the centre of the activity—playing games, posing with props in the photo booth, swooning to the music, bearing witness to the performances of renowned artists or gorging on the delectable delicacies—is undoubtedly exhilarating. But being the one behind the camera, capturing it all for memories to cherish, is altogether different—a feeling unmatched. 

The four days went as quickly as they came by. I spent my days weaving in and out of the crowd, my camera held tightly in my hands. Walking under the scorching sun is usually not on my to-do list, but I barely noticed it this time. I can’t decide what I liked to capture more—people’s laughter or the mouth-watering food that was served. Or wait, was it clicking people biting into the crispy potato twisters or slurping the ice-gola? 

The number of “Hey, can you click a picture of us?” questions were far too many to count, but I gladly obliged to each one. I had made sure to carry extra memory cards; running out of space wasn’t an option.

As I scrolled through our Instagram handle and the photo album on our Facebook page, I heaved a sigh of satisfaction. The days of revelling—tiring, fruitful, and sublime—had finally come to an end. 

September 19, 2020 

It was a Sunday, so I naturally had a lie-in. It was only when my stomach began to growl mid-day that I finally decided to get up. I stretched, unlocked my phone, and was immediately bombarded with hundreds of messages. No, not from the family group but the Photography Department. Something had come up and needed to be fixed. 

Without even a second’s delay, I skimmed through the chat. One of the two photographers responsible for covering the stage play had cancelled two hours before the play began! We needed replacement—immediately. The junior photographers were dubious about volunteering for the spot. It was understandable; it takes effort and skill to perfect centre stage shots.

Thus, one of us—the seniors—had to fill in. Forgetting all about my lassitude and the growing pang of hunger, I volunteered. It meant that I had about 26 minutes to get dressed, fill my stomach, and reach the venue. Something I think I could accomplish, courtesy of all the 8 AM classes.

I planned to reach the venue at least an hour before the event began; there is always so much to do. I had to figure out how to adjust the angles, the lighting, and the lenses!

Throwing my bag over my shoulder, I ran to catch an auto. I should have taken only the necessary equipment; did I need all of my lenses? I doubted it. I caught the first auto I could find, pushing the people who had intended to take it.  Once I reached the venue, I shoved a 50 note into Anna’s hand without bothering to collect the change.

Fumbling with the entangled straps of my camera and the MTTN tag, I entered the auditorium. Spotting me, Nitya—the other photographer assigned—promptly made her way towards me. She showed me around the hall, relieved that I had volunteered to step in. Once we figured out our positions, I began to set up my camera. The lighting was excellent, and I instantly knew what this needed—ISO 400 with a shutter speed of 1/125 alongside switches between the prime lens and an 18-135mm.

It was dull work waiting for the auditorium to fill up, but I knew that I had to give this event my undivided attention. There was no room for error. I kept re-checking the ISO; it was already perfect for cancelling the noise. 

Three minutes were left for the play to begin. My nerves were getting the better of me, but I told myself that that would only hamper my work.

The play began and magically—my jitters vanished into thin air, and my restored hunger cramp healed itself. Moving around to get the shots, anticipating the approach of intense moments, and capturing the characters with varying expressions made me settle into the environment. Before I knew it, my instincts took over, and I went on generating beautiful shots. 

At the end of the play—when I was looking at the images—I knew that all the beads of sweat, cramps from sudden movements, and lumbago from awkward positions bore fruits of labour. The raw emotions captured gave me more joy and sparks of ingenuity than a lazy day in bed would have. 

February 21, 2021

Since the FunFair was held today—an evening of dancing, singing, and feasting in the very heart of MIC—an overwhelming amount of pictures greeted me from the almost-full memory disk of my camera. It was at 12:03 AM that I sat down to edit the shots—drained, yet motivated. 

As soon as I switched on my laptop, Adobe Lightroom opened up on boot— almost as if reminding me of the looming deadline. I set to work after carefully selecting the images that needed to be edited. 

Deciding to experiment, I tweaked an available preset to something that matched with my style. Hours passed as I adjusted the exposure, used shadows and highlights, applied gradient tools, and stroked light brushes. 

It was a long caffeine-powered night but the satisfaction I felt after comparing the ‘before and after’ pictures, was worth the effort. 

September 25, 2021

“What’s it like being a sub-head?” I had been asked this question when I had just taken up the responsibility. But, you never know it until you’re in the middle of the tension and excitement, do you?

It was by far the busiest day of the year; the first one working with the new recruits. 6 major events were to be covered on a single day. It seemed like a test, the moment you’ve been preparing for. 

Indeed, it turned out to be quite an eventful day. The photographers assigned to two events had to cancel at the last minute, the sudden rain hampered our movements, a photographer’s camera-battery died—we’d plunged into a giant muddle. 

Instantaneously, we set to work. Reassigning work or volunteering to do it myself was never as thrilling as this. My phone kept buzzing throughout the day as photographers eventually relayed confirmations of reaching the venues on time. We managed to keep track of the work being done in all events while snapping shots ourselves. 

As the day came to an end, I was exhausted but overjoyed—relishing the feeling of triumph.

April 12, 2022

I was sitting on the steps at KC when someone warmly greeted me. It took me two minutes to recall who she was—Akshara, a passionate applicant I had interviewed for the Photography department. She had indisputably been selected, but the results weren’t put out yet.

After the usual rant about Manipal rains, 75% attendance rule, and the perm time—she asked me, “So, remember how I had mentioned my interest in astrophotography during the interview? Do you know how I can begin working my way towards it?” 

My eyes must have lit up at the question as I could see a broad smile emerge on her face. She looked like she expected an answer; I didn’t have the heart to tell her to wait. I began rambling, while she stood beside me, listening attentively. 

Right from suggestions for choosing the perfect day and location to tips on exposure blending and recommending the best lenses, camera, and setting—I went in one go, without stopping to take a breath. We eventually ventured into the different styles of photography as well, till she had to go. 

I think it is moments like these that further intensify my passion. Helping Akshara today reminded me of the questions with which I used to bug my seniors. Little did I know how much I would learn, create and enjoy.  

I couldn’t help but smile. Conversations like these are what fill me with warmth—the same feeling that engulfed me many years ago when I first held my very own camera. As it was time for me to leave MTTN, those bittersweet feelings found a way to settle in hope—the hope that passion would always thrive and a new bunch of people would carry the legacy forward.

Photography is an art, the kind of art that makes you appreciate the beauty in this world a little more. While photographers catch shadows and lights, we get an opportunity to look at things with different perspectives. This World Photography Day, we thank the photographers of MTTN and all around the world, for giving us stories to recollect and memories to cherish.

Written by Tulika Somani and Lekhya Reddy for MTTN
Featured Image by MTTN Photographers 

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