Cloudless: The Journey Of Faith

“Have you ever tossed a coin or two into a fountain and made a wish? Did it come true?”, the Daily Post asked . . .

The verb “wish” is the love child of faith and desire. Slightly off topic, but here’s a little something on faith.

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The deafening roar of the hundreds of thousands of fans emanating from the stands threatened to overwhelm him. He stood there, right foot a millimetre or so behind a perfectly drawn white line: as he had done numerous times in the past. He felt the familiar buzz as adrenaline coursed through his every vein, drowning out the cheers resonating around the stadium, leaving him as it had always done in the past: alone. Completely isolated with only the sound of silence for company despite having the adulation of millions at his back; despite the incredible and unprecedented plethora of silverware around his neck; despite a lifetime of success.

It had been all too familiar up until that very moment, but something was different this time: a novel discrepancy, an unexpected paradigm shift. He felt a little something he hadn’t dared to admit even existed – a small nagging feeling he didn’t ever expect to experience, as he watched the slow arching rise of a solitary right arm out of the corner of his eye. As it reached the end of its seemingly arduous journey and a long index finger wrapped around the trigger, the moment froze in time and the nagging feeling transitioned fluidly into a jolt without any trace of warning. Fear had gripped its victim tight in its claws with no intention of letting go.

All his life he had been used to hearing the familiar crack of a blank round being spit out from the barrel of a pistol as his cue to sprint towards customary victory. It was as if life wasn’t even trying anymore, the obstacles habitually fading away as he approached. However in that very moment, he felt like a mere mortal, inundated by an inferiority complex of unprecedented magnitude as visuals of his insignificance threatened to annihilate his sanity, flashing before his eyes as the trigger finger tensed.

It was a cloudless day, the sun beating down hard onto the back of his neck, his 4 O’ clock shadow stretching out in front of him, the steady breathing of his five competitors audible from either side. Despite the warmth of the day, he felt a shiver run down his spine. He had been nervous before, sure, but he had never felt . . .afraid. His eyes scanned the mundane sky, quivering in an effort to search for some sort of solace, in search of some sort of respite from the dull and blunt force that was weighing him down. Throughout his life he had always felt invincible the moment he stepped onto the tarmac, all his inhibitions chased into oblivion by the slow and steady ebbing of adrenaline in his system. This time the feeling of invincibility was flooded by a river of doubt, insecurity and inferiority. He just felt . . . small.

Reflexively, he looked skywards for the first time in his life. He wasn’t looking at anything in particular, nor did he fully understand what he was doing. To his immense relief, he found a small break in the seemingly infinite sea of blue that stretched over him – a lonesome cloud battling isolation floating through all the desolation, and as he gazed at and empathised with it, the feelings of insecurity were replaced by those of humility. He bowed his head to a power he had never before known existed – a power that he now considered greater than his own – as realisation spread and the clouds of arrogance that had been blinding him dissipated with haste.

The moment unfroze and a familiar crack reverberated across the battlefield. A few moments later he was surrounded by his loved ones, drowning once more in the admiration of millions, tasting sweet victory. He looked skywards. The cloud had disappeared. Human faith had been swallowed.

A ridiculous stretch of logic, one that isn’t likely to make sense to most, but toss a coin into the next fountain you see. You never know. . .

The New York City Shot Story Part III

For Part I, click here.

For Part II, click here.

Before I get started on this final post in the series, a huge shout-out is in order for all of you, dear readers. Over a thousand views in less than two weeks since Part I went online was something I never expected. Thank you all so much!

Part III…here goes.

July 3, 2015

Just as I’m currently metaphorically on top of the world at the overwhelming response I’ve got to this series of posts, I was then physically and quite literally on top of the world, standing on the 86th floor of what was once the world’s tallest building, watching the day gradually transition into the night as the sun set on my third evening in New York City.

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That’s when I realised something really cool. A year or so ago, during my depressingly long summer vacation, I’d completed this 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a city skyline. As the night slowly but surely crept up on the onlookers on the 86th floor, the sight looked eerily familiar: something that had been split into a thousand frustrating yet gloriously time-consuming pieces not too long ago. I whipped out my phone and scrolled frantically through my gallery, searching for the image that would answer my question. When I found it, I smiled to myself. There it was… The New York City skyline staring up at me from two directions: a 5-inch version on my phone screen and a life-size version before my very eyes, both gorgeous in their own right. Some incredible foreshadowing, huh!

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I hung around for a while, taking in the significance and the magnitude of the scene. I dared not sit down in the fear that my quivering legs would give way. Yet, there was time for one last adventure. I grabbed a Starbucks coffee to go, feeling “American af” and took off towards downtown Manhattan and the West Village.

From the architectural wonder on West 34th Street, I set off with one goal in mind: Shawarma. Destination: Mamoun’s. It was a long walk and I’d love to tell you all about how much I enjoyed it, breathing in the city air and feeling the buzz of the throng of New Yorkers still out on the streets, but honestly I was far too tired to care about any of that. I have absolutely no pictures from here on out to show because I just didn’t have the energy to coerce my fingers into holding the camera. I remember passing the fairly famous Flatiron building and limping through Union Square on 14th Street where a live concert was in progress, but regular hunger pangs played spoilsport as my nose guided my further downtown towards 8th Street.

As I walked further downtown than I’d ever been, I noticed a gradual change in the personality of the neighborhoods. I’d left the incredibly tall skyscrapers of the business district behind and had walked into a completely different side of Manhattan. The roads were narrower, the sidewalks smaller and the buildings shorter. Only later I figured out that I was walking amidst the “campus” of NYU, roaming the streets the college kids did. I made it to 8th Street and found Mamoun’s, where I ordered the famous Shawarma with a side of Falafel.

This may have been the exhaustion talking, but it was the best meal of my life. (Actually, as we speak right now I’m digesting the new “best meal of my life”: a 14 oz New York Strip Steak that I devoured in the ‘Capitol Grille’ in Washington DC. But that’s a story for another time.) No offence to the classic ‘Empire’ Shawarma back home in Bangalore, but I honestly don’t think I’ll be able to look at those little slices of heaven in Shivajinagar in the same light after having eaten what New York’s finest had to offer.

Having licked my plate clean, I trudged back to the subway station and somehow found my way back to 1500, Bedford Avenue where I collapsed onto my bed and blacked out.

July 4, 2015

My last full day in the most gorgeous place on earth had dawned on me. Not exactly dawned, because it was the middle of the afternoon when I finally woke up after the previous night’s escapades, but close enough. Today was all about the 4th of July fireworks; everything else was relatively irrelevant. Batteries recharged, I headed to Williamsburg Park for the famous international food festival ‘Smorgasburg’.

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My first ever legitimate food festival and oh, what an experience it was. I ate Mofongo from there…

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And scotch eggs from there…

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Wait…what? What the hell is a Goa Taco!?

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I think I ate something to do with a duck from there…

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It was basically a plethora of culinary oxymorons that had no right to be placed together in the same sentence. It was outrageous. Outrageously beautiful. The icing on top of the cake was the breathtaking view of downtown Manhattan as the waters of the East River gently caressed the Brooklyn shoreline, making the moment resound as a symphony of perfection. It’s incredible how the human race with all its idiosyncrasies manages to blend the most unlikely combinations into something that makes life worth living; something that spreads that little glow of warmth through our systems we sometimes refer to as contentment. Yes, I was content.

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Confession: I had no idea what the significance of the 4th of July was until a few years ago when I heard the song ’21st Century Breakdown’ by ‘Green Day’; “…born on the fourth of July”. I mean, I’d heard the reference several times in movies and TV shows previously, but I’d never really bothered to look it up until Billy Joe Armstrong awoke my curiosity. I googled it and all of a sudden, life made sense! Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ made sense! (Yeah, I had an obsession phase with that song too.) It was one of those big “OHHHH, HOLY SHIIIIT!” moments.

Stomach capacity overrun, I headed off to my next destination: The High Line. Abandoned in the 1980’s, the High Line used to be the hub of the Manhattan industrial district. As if I hadn’t done enough walking as it is, I decided to walk the unique 1.45-mile-long linear park. A rather long subway-ride later, I reached a part of the city, the perfect description of which is “nothing but Instagrammable”. And that’s as accurate as it’s going to get. I mean, I looked around the place and saw it through Instagram filters on those wannabe photography pages with pretentious deep quotes accompanying it.

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See what I mean?

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As cliched as you can get with graffiti. But I loved every minute of it. Honestly, I’m a sucker for cliched.

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Here’s where I think I overdid it a little bit, I think. The Firework-window was swiftly creeping up on me, but I felt this urge to push the limits and risk walking the Brooklyn Bridge before making my way back to Williamsburg Park for the main event of my trip. I’m just going to skip this next bit because it was just a comedy of errors involving me getting completely lost and panicking. I did, however, manage to get to the bridge in the end but had no time whatsoever to stick around.

That’s when the coolest part of my trip began. I found myself nearly hanging out the door of a Brooklyn-bound subway enroute to Williamsburg Park and saw America for the first time in all her glory for what she really was. The generally spacious compartments were overflowing with people sporting the colours red, white and blue, the audible buzz of excitement palpable in the air. I suddenly had this flashback to “the good old days” of hanging out of the doors of the ‘401’ BMTC buses on the way back home from my previous school, quite literally clinging on for dear life from the slowly rusting bars, having the time of my life just being Indian. I’d never in my wildest dreams ever imagined that I’d soon be having a similar experience in what I considered to be a far more sophisticated place back then and I couldn’t help but crack up inside my head.

As the last stop arrived, the entire train emptied and I joined the throng of eager locals exiting the station. Only later, I realised I was one of 3.5 million people about to watch an incredible display of human creation, born out of unparalleled patriotism and passion. I made it to Williamsburg Park and saw this…

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Fireworks photography is deceivingly complicated and despite having pulled off a couple of decent shots earlier in life, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the intricacies of the discipline. However, I knew enough to be certain that there was no way I’d be able to get a clear shot from the ever-swelling crowd at the waterfront. On impulse, I turned around and walked out of the park, switching to my telephoto lens on the move, mind entering a state of photography overdrive. I jogged up the road parallel to the park until I found the perfect spot: a quiet corner about a half mile from the park across from a chain-link fence, with a decently clear view of the skyline. (Damn, I’ve started talking in terms of miles. Craaaaaaaaaazy!)

Normally, a tripod is a must-have for a fireworks-shoot. But owing to the stringent excess-baggage laws of international flights, and basic laziness of course, I had to improvise. I set my backpack on the hood of the conveniently placed car, propping my camera upright with the help of a water bottle and my wide-angle lens, plugging in my remote trigger and finally pausing for breath after hours of self-induced panic. My delicately poised arrangement complete, I settled in a cozy corner for the countdown and my mind wandered…

My Dad has always been the adventurous kinds. I mean, just last week he was somewhere in the middle of Vietnam, biking cross-country. Pretty cool stuff! Having taken a two-week long drive through the National Parks of Tanzania in the summer of 2014, the two of us arrived at a completely desolate and absolutely unexplored part of the country near Lake Natron. There wasn’t a telephone pole or a power grid within a 50-mile radius of the place. This whole trip to NYC would never have been as enjoyable as it was if, on that trip, I hadn’t climbed a series of treacherously slippery natural rock formations on the base of a cliff, a tripod strapped to my back, following a Maasai guide who didn’t speak a word of English, in search of an elusive waterfall, having left my Dad behind because he couldn’t make the climb.

That was my first experience walking into the unknowns completely alone in an alien land, with absolutely no idea what to expect. Must say, I loved every minute of it. Anyway, after an eternity of successive near-death experiences, with my Maasai guide waltzing along as if the deadly terrain was nothing more than a slight incline on the way to breakfast on a Sunday morning, we finally made it. Honestly, those few moments changed my life forever: setting up my tripod in a precarious position on the edge of a rock face and shooting my favourite image of all time…

A multiple award-winning typical long-exposure waterfall shot

A multiple award-winning typical long-exposure waterfall shot. Yes, I’m boasting.

By this time, quite a crowd had gathered in my corner, but none of them seemed to notice the little Indian kid sitting atop a car. At this point, loneliness struck for the first time. Everyone around me seemed to be with their families, holding beers and hot dogs, enjoying what looked like the happiest day of their lives. Not that I wasn’t having a wonderful day, but I just felt…alone, cradling my camera and waiting for the show to begin.

The moment the first explosion rocked the until-then seemingly endless bottomless pit of darkness over the Skyline, painting it a million shades of red, white and blue with one effortless swipe, all my inhibitions faded away, leaving me staring in awe across the East River.  Almost unconsciously, as if in a trance, I fiddled with the controls on my one faithful companion, squeezed the remote trigger and pretty much nailed it on the first attempt.

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These shots don’t, by the wildest stretch of the imagination, do justice to the spectacle I had the good fortune of witnessing.

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The display shattered all my unreasonably high expectations. It truly was incredible.

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It was the perfect finale to what had been probably the greatest experience of my life.

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As the sound of the final explosion reverberated across the islands and the last of the glorious lights faded away into the sound of silence, I realised with a curious mixture of satisfaction and disappointment that my journey of a lifetime had come to an end. I’ve come away from this trip with a lifetime ahead, a world to explore and an undying passion for travel. And that’s where I take my leave, dear readers. It’s been a pleasure.

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The end.

The New York City Shot Story – Part II

For Part I of my adventures in the greatest city in the world, click here.

Thank you all for the overwhelming response to Part I. I never expected over 400 views within a week. I hope you enjoy Part II.

July 2, 2015

I stood there completely paralysed with awe, staring at one of the greatest architectural achievements of all time. I was so engrossed that I didn’t even notice what is on the left bottom corner of the following image until much later.

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Heheheheeee

That was the view from Herald Square, at 34th Street and 6th Avenue, where I took a bit of a break and pondered my next move. It was actually getting dark now, and I really wanted to watch the sun set from the 86th floor of the Empire State, so I left it for the next day and turned my attention to the largest store on the planet, spanning almost an entire city block and rising 9 floors into the sky. Macy’s.

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Honestly, I just went in there because I really, really had to pee. Turns out, that was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made. I got lost. Bladder bursting, legs killing me, the inability to think straight anymore weighing me down, I walked around aimlessly and well and truly lost for quite a while. There were floors with racks stacked till the ceiling of everything you can imagine under the sun, but I couldn’t care less. My quest for the elusive bathroom had begun. Somehow, I landed up on the 9th floor without realising it, and just as I was about to give up, give in to the brutal thoughts of a painful and slow death, there at the end of the hallway, surrounded in a halo of divine light, was the men’s room. I’d made it.

By the time I’d relieved myself and walked back down to the 1st floor, actually taking time to look around this time, I finally saw New York City in all its glory for the first time: in the Illumination of darkness.

Wow...

Wow…

It was time to make my way up to 42nd Street, to the legendary intersection of Broadway and 7th Avenue, to the place where the world flocked to crane their necks to look up at the most famous screens in the world: Times Square. But before that, my phone decided that it was the perfect time to give up on me.  I felt that dreaded vibration in my pocket and knew that it was all over. My faithful companion had left my side. I would have to undertake this last leg of the journey on my own. I wandered up 6th Avenue and that’s when hunger struck. I’d been eyeing the lamb gyro in the street food carts all day long, but didn’t have the time to indulge myself. I walked up to a stall and ordered. That’s when I noticed it, a little glint of hope as I saw a little spark out of the corner of my eye: a phone charging point inside the cart.

I hesitantly asked the guy if I could charge my phone while waiting for my food. Honestly, he looked a little scary because he was at least a foot taller than me and had probably spent the last 6 years in the gym, while downing cans of whey protein. But, just as NYC had surprised me time and again, he gave me this wide smile and plugged my phone in. Apparently my accent is fascinating to a lot of people here because he asked me about it too. Once I told him where I was from, he told me that he’d always wanted to visit India but was never able to get a visa. He told me about how he missed his family back home in Egypt and how NYC had saved his life, accepting him like she did to so many others.

This conversation took place while I munched on the most gorgeous lamb I’d eaten in a long time, with the buzz of Times Square in the air, under the skies of Manhattan. Some things just can’t be captured in a picture. This was one of those things. I licked my fingers, thanked him (Unfortunately, I was so tired that I actually forgot his name. Ugh. ), collected my phone, and was on my way. I continued walking until I ran into Batman. Literally.

The Dark Knight stood tall, watching over Times Square.

The Dark Knight stood tall, watching over Times Square.

It was exactly as I’d imagined it would be. The low humdrum of conversation and excitement from the thousands that wandered the place, every single person looking up in awe unable to fathom that they stood in the most “happening” place in the world. It was the epitome of what Chuck Palahniuk described as “the bureaucracy of anarchy” in his book ‘Fight Club’; it truly was the definition of “organised chaos”. Fancy-sounding oxymorons aside, it really was gorgeous, and again, these pictures don’t do justice to it in all its glory.

It just goes to show how it all comes down to perceptions. From a completely linear view point, TImes Square is nothing but a bunch of television screens on steroids, but it has become what it is today – the epicentre of entertainment for the world where millions of people flock to and keep on their bucket lists as a “must visit” – because of what we have made of it. It’s simple, really. Things are exactly what we make of them. That’s the power of the human mind: the ability to glorify the most seemingly mundane occurrences beyond recognition into something that ignites an unforeseen excitement.

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I walked past Broadway, saw the massive poster of ‘The Lion King’ and thought to myself, “Hmm, some day..”

By this point, I was running on fumes. I had nothing left in the tank, and it is a grotesque understatement to say that I was dying. But I had one final thing to cross off my list. The Hard Rock Cafe museum. Let the pictures do the talking… 

George Harrison's guitar...

George Harrison’s guitar…

Paul McCartney's guitar...

Paul McCartney’s guitar…

And on a totally contrasting note…

Adam Levine's guitar!

Adam Levine’s guitar! Sugar? Yes, please!

If I was a little less tired, I’d have enjoyed the place so much more! But now, it was time to go home. Phew…

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I don’t remember much of what happened after that, but I think I blacked out on the train back to 1500, Bedford Avenue. Thankfully, I made it back safe and fell asleep almost instantaneously.

If it wasn’t for the anticipation of experiencing another day in that little slice of heaven, I wouldn’t have ever bothered getting out of bed. But I could faintly hear Manhattan calling out to me, gently cajoling me to roll out of bed and make some more ever-lasting memories. It was hard to believe I’d been there for just over a day because honestly, it felt as though I’d been there forever. It felt like home.

Disclaimer: I have a feeling I set the bar a little too high with my Day 1 adventures. On hindsight, it was practically inhuman – what I accomplished. So, cut my Day 2 and 3 a little bit of slack because they aren’t as mental as my first.

Anyway, here goes…

July 3, 2015

I was guilty of having a bit of a late start. I woke up early enough, having been still running nine and a half hours ahead on India time, but I just didn’t have the heart to relay to my feet that they’d have to go through a similar experience as the previous day again. Soon, however, I realised that I’d risked missing out on something that I didn’t even know existed until that very morning. But unfortunately, just like many things in life, this too had a time limit. I would have to get to 34th Street and 9th Avenue by 1:30 pm if I wanted to spend an hour in B&H: THE place for a photography geek. And yes, I woke up that late. Don’t judge.

This was a picture I took much later, but not much had changed. Manhattan was still ridiculously photogenic.

This was a picture I took much later, but not much had changed. Manhattan, specifically 34th Street, was still ridiculously photogenic.

I grabbed my backpack and hurried to the Franklin Avenue subway station. A depressingly slow ride later, I found myself at Penn Station on 34th Street, nestling right below the famous Madison Square Gardens which, interestingly, is nowhere near Madison Avenue. It was a gorgeous place, but I didn’t have the time for pictures as I was on a tight schedule. I pretty much sprinted the avenues until I reached the 9th. And there she was… B&H.

Normally, I’d have a dramatic picture here, but honestly, I was too excited to go in to bother taking a picture of the exterior. I walked in and – if this was one of those typical kids’ fiction novels – I “gasped”. I never really understood what a “gasp” of surprise was. It’s one of those weird words that only seem appropriate in books.

Anyway, I had the time of my life there! I won’t bore you with the details, but I joined in a conversation with a couple of semi-professional photographers about stuff like APS-C sensors on dSLRs. Honestly, I have no idea how and since when I knew about stuff like that, but the words just flowed from my lips as if they were destined to. There were racks stacked to bursting point with every piece of photography/videography equipment you could possibly imagine.

To summarise my experience in there, here’s something I did. I walked over to the Canon counter and picked up an EOS 1D MK III – yes, they have those babes just lying around – and pulled the trigger. The burst mode of 12 fps made me feel like John Rambo with one of his impossible machine guns that just never ran out of ammunition. I just stood there in the middle of photography heaven, firing an insane number of shots per second, feeling like an all-powerful Greek God.

I was one of the last to leave the place at closing time; it was time to move on. My next stop would have to be Rockefeller Centre. My legs already starting to feel numb after the previous day’s exploits, I walked it up to 48th Street.

I just had to, hehe.

I just had to, hehe. Incidentally, the first picture in which I found myself on the wrong side of the camera!

Having completed my long-time dream of saying “Good morning, Officer!” with a straight face, resisting the urge to offer them donuts and having walked around the place for a while, I began the long walk to my next destination. On the way, something pleasantly strange happened. Apparently I looked like a seasoned New Yorker, because some random woman walked up to me and asked me where Lexington Avenue was. I felt exactly like Carrie Bradshaw in the last scene of one of the episodes of ‘The Carrie Diaries’ after showing the woman which way to go: this had become “my city”, so to speak. Of course, I didn’t have to run after the woman as Carrie had, because unlike my latest actress-crush, I had sent her the right way. (Yes, I am currently undergoing an unhealthy obsession with that show. God damn it, Netflix!)

A rather uneventful, yet painful, walk later, I found myself staring at the building in which some of the most important diplomatic decisions, albeit unfairly and somewhat inefficiently some may argue, are made: the headquarters of the United Nations.

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It didn’t look like much, but the aura of its significance was palpable despite the slightly disappointing fact that all the flags weren’t up.

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Squinting down at this picture, I figured that it was approximately about time that I headed off to the main event of the day. I still hadn’t completely figured out how to tell the time of day by looking at the sun; it was impossible because the fiery beast just refused to set. But I still couldn’t help but run into things I’d just seen in movies or read about in books. That’s the thing about Manhattan that will never cease to amaze me: you can walk down a completely random street and bump into something comfortingly familiar, as if you’ve known it forever like the back of your hand, despite the fact that you’ve never actually been to the place before.

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The Chrysler building peeped out shyly at me from a distance. The first, and only, time I’d seen that architectural wonder before was in this little 3D puzzle I’d completed as a kid. I have no idea why I remember that; my memory of my childhood is grotesquely pitiful. Oh wait, no! I read about the Chrysler in ‘Percy Jackson’ too! Something about a giant ripping it out of its foundations and swinging it like a bat… Aah, fiction. The possibilities are endless. Just like in New York City.

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See? Ridiculously photogenic!

It was time to experience another landmark of a place in the form of the legendary Grand Central Station. But before that, I couldn’t help but notice how the new seamlessly blended in with the old everywhere I looked. Not only that, they truly complemented each other in a way I’d never seen before.

Classic vs Modern? Naw. Classic AND Modern.

Classic vs Modern? No. Classic AND Modern.

By this time, I realised that I was doing exactly what the little baby in the movie ‘Baby’s Day out’ had done, except minus a lot of unnecessary, yet hilarious, pain caused to a trio of intellectually-challenged kidnappers. I was fulfilling all my dreams by doing everything I’d ever wanted to do in the ‘Big City’, albeit in a far less entertaining and less chaotic manner. His ride in the “blue bus” was mine in a train out of Grand Central Station.

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A relatively short ride later, I found myself once again being awed by the structure on West 34th Street. But this time, I was planning to ascend the elevator to heaven and watch the sun set from 86 floors above the ground. I have this soft-spot for sunsets and sunset photography. Some may call it an unhealthy obsession because I literally don’t stop shooting whenever I witness one that’s worth it, so much so that Dad says I have enough to write a comprehensive thesis deserving of a doctorate. Dr. Adit Ganguly, PhD in sunset photography. I like the sound of that.

Honestly, I just enjoy it because it’s the easiest kind of photography and I’m just really lazy, contrary to the light this travelogue portrays me in. Like seriously, I’d rather just sit in one place and switch to my zoom lens and shoot rather than walk closer to my subject and shoot.

I grabbed one of those 99-cent pizza slices and made my way through the crowd to the Empire State Building. I walked in, and after a slight mix-up at the e-ticket redemption counter and a small wait in a meandering queue, I found myself in an elevator up to the 80th floor. I cracked up inside my head because I couldn’t help but notice that even in one of the greatest buildings in the world, elevator music was still pathetically awkward!

Once on the 80th, I settled down for a long wait to take the more elusive elevator to the 86th. But through some stroke of good luck, a few of us were offered the stairs if we wanted to skip the waiting. I was desperately close at this point and there was no way I was going to give in and wait longer. Legs threatening to give out under me after two days of nearly continuous walking, I jogged up the 12 flights of stairs trying to distract myself from the pain, dreaming of the view from the top, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ playing in my head.  “This better be worth it”, I kept thinking to myself.

It was more than worth it. The view that awaited me made me forget about the pain instantaneously.

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I was speechless. Well, it was a different matter that I didn’t have anyone to talk to, but…

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I was on top of the world.

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End of Part II.

Stick around for Part III in which I stand witness to the most gorgeous transition from day into night, eat some interesting food at an international food festival with a view of the Manhattan Skyline, walk the legendary High Line… and eventually find myself watching the 4th of July fireworks.

For Part III, click here.

The New York City Shot Story – Part I

July 1, 2015

It was something I’ve been dreaming of for years, having read the book ‘Travels’ by Michael Crichton back in 2012, followed by countless travelogues of solo-travellers in foreign lands. Usually, when something is that long over-due or is hyped up to that level, it somehow eventually fails to live up to expectations and ends up disappointing. However, my escapades in New York City effortlessly surpassed even my wildest dreams and absolutely decimated all my craziest expectations.

Having got my F-1 visa in the afternoon of the 30th of June amidst high anxiety due to the last-minute nature of its arrival as I was scheduled to take the 4:40 am flight out of Bangalore International Airport on the 1st of July, I took a minute to consider what would have happened if that stroke of good luck hadn’t brought me my visa on the 30th, and honestly, I couldn’t fathom the repercussions. To put it simply, that would have sucked. Big time.

Anyway, I got on the Jet Airways flight to Abu Dhabi which ended up taking off at about 5 am. My adventure had begun. Looking out the window, I witnessed the retreating lights of Bangalore City as the sun rose and felt a curious mix of apprehension and excitement – a feeling I’d like to get accustomed to. I blinked and the lights of the city had disappeared and were replaced by the contrasting miles of never-ending sand dunes of the Middle East, punctuated with the occasional man-made structure.

Soon, we were flying low over Abu Dhabi, and my first of many “holy shit” moments presented itself, as I saw this…

Good morning, Adit!

Good morning, Adit!

Following those gorgeous few minutes of flying over several landmarks that I’d only seen in those cool Middle East scenes in Hollywood movies, I walked into the chaos of Abu Dhabi airport. Those pre-customs and immigration lines took forever and I just about made it in time for my Etihad Airways flight to New York. 16 hours, 3 movies and a couple of muscle cramps later, I found myself walking into the hazy sunshine and breathing the air of the United States of America for the first time. Honestly, I felt like shit, having neither slept a wink nor eaten a bite of that godforsaken plane food as I waited for my bags at JFK Airport.

It didn’t take long for all that to become irrelevant, however, as I looked out the window of my Eastern Cab enroute to 1500, Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. My first impression was that New York is ridiculously photogenic.

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However, I couldn’t shake that feeling of how strange the place was. I mean, they drive on the wrong side of the road there! And everyone’s so nice! And the sun just refuses to set! And people actually follow traffic rules to the extent that no pedestrian will cross a street at any place but a zebra-crossing or even attempt to cross if the light isn’t green!

My cabbie was Hispanic. Armed with my novice, newly acquired knowledge of broken-Spanish, I attempted to make conversation. Apparently my initial “Hola! Como estas?” was very convincing, as he spoke nearly continuously for the rest of the ride, leaving me pretty much clueless, but I didn’t have the heart to break it to him that I didn’t actually understand his level of Spanish. So I stuck to my comfort zone – saying “Si, si” and “Hmmm” whenever he paused for breath.

By the time I got to the place I would be calling home for the next 3 nights, I was starving. There was this little Caribbean place called ‘Catfish’ just down the street, where I decided to try out shucked oysters for the first time. They’re considered a delicacy worldwide, but the very thought of them is kinda repulsive.

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They were brilliant, I loved them. Following that, I ate a full-on 3-course meal including Caribbean chicken, Mac and Cheese and Jambalaya – the Caribbean equivalent of biryani with every kind of meat imaginable.  By the time I got out of there around 9 pm, the sun had finally set! I don’t even remember climbing into bed that night, but i remember waking up the next morning more pumped than I’d ever been before. It was time…

July 2, 2015

After grabbing a quick take-out bagel breakfast, I set out with my camera bag slung over my shoulder, my phone with Google Maps open and functioning and an entire city to explore. I finally realised why the buildings in the neighborhood looked so familiar. They strongly resembled those in the TV show ‘Friends’! Hehe, that was cool!

“I’ll be there for you”?

I found my way to the Franklin Avenue subway station to catch a train into Manhattan. I took a while to figure out how the ticket machine worked, but after a little bit of fiddling I was on my way through the legendary NYC subway system. It took a moment to sink in as I looked around the compartment. The diversity of people in that little metal tube, hurtling across to Manhattan from Brooklyn,  was incredible – something that would never cease to amaze me as my trip went on.

I emerged at the ‘Bowling Green’ station blinking, slightly disoriented, because of the sudden transition to sunlight from the darkness of the trains. It took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the light and another to fathom what I was looking at. Well, it took more than a minute to realise what I was seeing because I had to crane my neck to see the extent of it. Another ‘holy shit’ moment followed.

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It was exactly as I’d pictured it – the New York everyone imagines in their head whenever it comes up in conversation. I walked down the street blind to everything else, gaze fixed to the tops of the skyscrapers I’d only seen in movies. Honestly, I was literally shooting vertically at one point, standing in the middle of the sidewalk. Anywhere else in the world I would have probably been judged to death by every passer-by, but the thing about New York, and this is something I realised over the course of my stay there, is that the city doesn’t judge you at all. You are accepted LITERALLY for who you are. It’s beautiful.

Without realising where I was going, I landed up at the Staten Island ferry stop. The first thing that crossed my mind was, “Holy shit! Statue of Liberty!” Now, you could either pay $50 and go straight to the Statue itself or, and this is what I did, you could take the free Staten Island ferry, climb up to the Hurricane Deck and get almost as good a view which is about a 50-minute roundtrip.

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She was every bit as majestic as I’d pictured, surrounded by the waters that gently caress the Lower Manhattan shoreline. On the ride back, I was lucky to witness this glorious moment.

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Lady Liberty seen guarding the shores of the Lower Manhattan Skyline.

I got back to dry land, feeling a sense of accomplishment flooding my veins, as I’d successfully completed my first goal. It was time to move on. I walked a couple of blocks and ran into possibly the most cliched New York scene, an image that most people imagine when thinking of the great city.

The intersection that represents the business district of the world.

The intersection that represents the business district of the world.

By this time, I was starving. And in my head, I think I did the most “American” thing imaginable – I bought and ate a hot dog on Wall Street. Sometimes I manage to crack myself up, hehe.

The Wolf Of...

The Wolf Of…

That’s when I came across something interesting – a line of bikes with a board on top with a little kiosk that said CitiBike. Turns out, if you have a CitiBank card, you get to use a bike for 30 minutes completely free of cost. Feeling ever so adventurous, I thought to myself, “Why not?”

So I saddled up and cycled off in the general direction of the 9/11 memorial museum. On hindsight, I was probably a road hazard because having been brought up in Bangalore, I am NOT used to any rules. I discovered midway through that there’s a separate lane just for cyclists!

Anyway, I was kinda lost. But the thing about Manhattan is that you can never be well and truly lost. Just look up and you’ll see where you are. Quite literally.

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See what I mean?

I dismounted and walked around the area guarded by the watchful grace of ‘One World Trade Centre’. On the surface it didn’t seem any different from the bustle of the rest of the city, but there was a subtle undertone of solemnity about it, paying homage to the dark memories of September 2001.

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“May we never forget”

I took a quick tour of the square because it was to head to my next destination on the day’s list, one that had a closing time, and one that I was really looking forward to: The American Museum of Natural History. I looked at the time and had a mini panic attack. It was already 2:30 pm. And the museum closed at 5: 30 pm. Also, the museum was up on 81st Street.

For those who aren’t familiar with the map of Manhattan, it’s arranged in a near-perfect grid-like pattern of streets, with Avenues (1st Avenue, 2nd Avenue, etc…) cutting through the land vertically and Streets (1st Street, 2nd Street – both West and East) crossing them horizontally, with the coolest street ever that follows no such rules called ‘Broadway’ that pretty much goes where it wants, criss-crossing its way through Manhattan.

Anyway, I had a long way to go. Frustration struck as my Maps app kept crashing and I couldn’t find the nearest subway station. When I was about to fling my phone at the nearest Starbucks – gosh, those things are everywhere – I found my saviour. The Chambers Street subway station. (Oh, apart from the simple numerical order of the streets, there are also a few exceptions like Park Avenue, Madison Avenue and Lexington Avenue; also Chambers street…you get the drift).

I took the Red Line up to 82nd Street and sprinted down to 81st, giving myself a solid 2 hours at the museum, a model of which I’d watched come to life in ‘Night at the Museum’. Oh, I had the time of my life! The exhibits are insanely realistic.

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And finally, I found what I was looking for. This made my day…

Larry Daley! Where are you?

Larry Daley! Where are you?

At this point I realised that I was literally thinking it terms of movies and TV shows, running on the longest adrenaline rush in human history. I collapsed on the nearest bench and felt the fatigue in my legs nearly overwhelm me. But I wasn’t down yet. I glanced at my list and there was yet miles to go before I slept. Next up…

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I quickly grabbed another hot dog and marched into Central Park on 81st Street. I dumped the camera in my backpack because I couldn’t bear its weight anymore. I walked through the most gorgeous park I’d ever seen – being passed by people on cycles, skateboards and roller-blades – all the way from 81st Street to 59th Street. I walked through the ‘Strawberry Fields’ – the part of the park dedicated to John Lennon and emerged at Columbus Circle where I stopped to rest, my legs threatening to give in.

Christopher Columbus watching over Columbus Circle

Christopher Columbus watching over Columbus Circle

What I really wanted to see next was the legendary Apple glass building. But I do get distracted pretty easily. A slight back-story to this next bit. I’ve always loved street photography, having been inspired many years earlier by Brandon Stanton’s ‘Humans of New York’ blog. I even took part in a ‘Humans of Bangalore’ Facebook page for a while. Despite having seen so much so far in the “city that never sleeps”, what I truly wanted was to run into my role-model. So far I hadn’t had any luck on that front, so I decided to do a little HoNY-ing myself.

Very close to Columbus Circle, I saw a semi-circle of people gathered around on the sidewalk. I got there and saw this…

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There sat a street artist who were making these on demand, using everything but a paintbrush to paint! Literally. I watched, and in about four minutes flat, he’d made another. They were gorgeous! I hung around until the crowd had completed their applause, collected their purchases, and left.

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World, meet Mahboob. A Bangladeshi artist who does this for a living. I spoke to him for a while and learned that his daughter was currently studying in Cambridge University, doing very well for herself. He also suggested that I add her on Facebook. After a decent conversation about how New York is truly the land of opportunities, he asked, “Where are you from? Your accent sounds familiar… India?”

“Yes, I’m from Bangalore”, I replied. “Wait, you’re from Bangladesh, right? Do you speak Bengali?”

He replied in Bengali and I lost it. I’d made a friend! We had a rather lengthy conversation in Bengali following which I bought one of his paintings – the one he’d done in front of my eyes. As I was saying goodbye, he quickly handed me another painting and said, “From one Bengali to another. And I’ve always loved India.”

I tried paying for it, I really did, but he insisted that I take it free of charge. Aah, New York City… I guess it brings out the best in us by celebrating our mediocrity. I mean, not all of us can be the next Steve Jobs, changing the world with a revolutionary idea, so there’s no point being upset at being average. Might as well enjoy it and make a difference to the people directly around us. That’s what actually counts.

I know it’s all deep and stuff, but all this was going through my mind as I walked away from that little canvas laid out on a street in New York City, clutching some of the best art work I’d ever seen, made by my best friend in Manhattan. I set out to find one kind of art in the form of the Apple building, but instead found another. On hindsight, I think I found the better kind.

But in the spirit of going everywhere possible, I just had to stop by…

Hello, sweetie.

Anyway, as I was having my Oscar acceptance speech-worthy thoughts on mediocrity, I found myself walking towards West 34th Street, down the famous 5th Avenue. I found myself in the middle of exactly where the who’s who of the world shopped, with the flagship stores of stuff like Zara and Forever 21 on either side of me.

By now, I’d lost all sensation in my feet, having reached a state beyond just pain. Also, it was getting late. You know it’s getting late when the sun begins to set in the New York summers, cuz there’s daylight forever otherwise. I quickened my pace and went all halli on the otherwise extremely sophisticated city, not bothering to wait with the rest of the pedestrians for the lights to turn green. I felt the Indian in me truly express itself as years of practise crossing West of Chord Road in the middle of traffic-packed Rajajinagar back home shone through. Before long, I had another “holy shit” moment, something I’d made a habit of. I looked up and…

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There she was… The Empire State Building.

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End of Part I.

Stay tuned for Part II in which I enter the world’s largest departmental store hunting for a place to take a piss, make friends with an Egyptian street-food vendor, get hopelessly lost as my phone dies …and eventually find myself watching the 4th of July fireworks.

To read Part II, click here.

Humans Of Bangalore – May to August ’14

“The annual problem for our generation is finding a good way to spend it”.

The Phineas & Ferb theme song aptly sums up every kid’s dilemma during summer vacations.

This time around, however, I had an extra three months to kill due to a change in course from the regular CBSE to the IB curriculum. So, as all my ex-classmates went back to school, I geared up for nearly quarter of a year of randomly roaming the streets of Bangalore. And now, as school begins in less than 48 hours, I can proudly say that I can compete with Google Maps when it comes to finding places in the city.

I was always fascinated by the legendary blog Humans Of New York. There are several of these “Humans Of…..” pages all around the world, so I decided to get in touch with Humans Of Bangalore – a Facebook page with around 8,000 likes in the middle of May. They graciously responded by saying that they would be open to outside contributions. And thus, it began…

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I wouldn’t say I’ve had an extremely constructive extended summer vacation, because I did sit around at the edge of my WiFi radius most of the time, but I can happily admit that I have experienced a lot – some experiences were captured on camera and some the camera couldn’t have done justice to.

Approaching a completely random stranger, speaking to them, and taking their picture in a country where street photography is still frowned upon is easier said than done. People giving you a strange look before walking away is difficult to deal with. But once you find that perfect subject to shoot, you find yourself in an intense conversation about issues like World Peace with a person you’ve met barely five minutes previously. Now that is something special.

As of today, Humans Of Bangalore has over 17,000 likes. Do check out the page!

Improving Your Photography Using ND Filters

Once you’ve gotten the hang of “Manual” (M) mode on your dSLR and gotten bored of shooting monotonous and uninteresting sunset pictures which formerly made you feel like a pro, it is time to invest in an ND Filter.

Neutral Density. It’s basically a sophisticated equivalent of shooting through a pair of sunglasses. It reduces light intensity by a few stops – depending on which grade of Filter you use – allowing you to increase your exposure time.

I bought the Omax ND-8 filter which is easily available on Flipkart.com

Omax ND-8

Long exposures work best when your subject is moving, but not moving too fast – ideally a water body or clouds; or even both together. Once you’ve found your subject, set up your dSLR on a tripod and screw on your ND filter. Using a remote-trigger to commence the exposure is recommended.

This was my first attempt. Not bad, but a longer exposure was required. If your image is over-exposed, wait for the sun to sink lower.

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Sankey Tank, Bangalore, India

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 18-55mm

Focal length: 18mm

Filter: ND-8

Shutter speed: 12 seconds (This kind of long-exposure in daylight is very difficult to pull off. Kudos, ND-8.)

Aperture: f/22 (Your f-stop should be at the highest value possible to minimize on light entering the camera.)

ISO: 100

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Play around with your composition and expose for longer.

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Sankey Tank, Bangalore, India

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 18-55mm

Focal length: 18mm

Filter: ND-8

Shutter speed: 30 seconds

Aperture: f/22

ISO: 100

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The following image was shot about 15 minutes after the previous one and edited using Lightroom 5. Notice in the previous images there was some sensor dust visible. That was edited out and some contrast was added to obtain this:

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Sankey Tank, Bangalore, India

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 18-55mm

Focal length: 18mm

Filter: ND-8

Shutter speed: 120 seconds (2 minutes)

Aperture: f/22

ISO: 100

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Of course, there will be times when – despite your perfect composition, impeccable settings and best efforts – your subject will refuse to move enough.

Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 18-55mm

Focal length: 18mm

Filter: ND-8

Shutter speed: 300 seconds (5 minutes)

Aperture: f/22

ISO: 100

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Don’t get frustrated. Keep trying until you’re satisfied with your shot.

Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 18-55mm

Focal length: 18mm

Filter: ND-8

Shutter speed: 420 seconds (7 minutes)

Aperture: f/22

ISO: 100

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Don’t use an ND-Filter on a cloudless evening. You’ll end up with a blank sky and you’ll have missed out on potential star-trails due to the reduction in light-stops. Scroll down THIS POST to learn how to shoot star-trails.

Waterfalls are perfect ND-Filter territory. So much so that it is now a cliche to shoot a waterfall through an ND-Filter.

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Lake Natron, Tanzania

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 18-55mm

Focal length: 18mm

Filter: ND-8

Shutter speed: 75 seconds

Aperture: f/22

ISO: 100

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Unfortunately, the above waterfall was shielded by towering rock-formations from the setting sun. So the image looks a tad dull. I used Lightroom to change the colour temperature in the following image.

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Lake Natron, Tanzania

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 18-55mm

Focal length: 18mm

Filter: ND-8

Shutter speed: 75 seconds

Aperture: f/22

ISO: 100

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Neutral Density. Remember the name.

Wildlife Photography – Do’s And Don’ts

An African safari is the pinnacle for any wildlife photography enthusiast. They’re usually referred to as “a trip of a lifetime”. I’ve been on two in the past two years. (Thanks, Dad!)

Anyway, here are a few tips to help you get the shots you so desperately want.

Requirements: 

1. dSLR camera (Optional, but recommended)

2. A wide-angle zoom lens – a standard 18-55mm works perfectly.

3. A versatile telephoto lens – ideally a 70-300mm or higher.

4. A secondary camera – preferably a high-end point-and-shoot with a versatile fixed-lens, because switching lenses can be a real pain in the midst of all that dust.

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Make a start. The following shot was my first ever shot of wildlife. I honestly had no clue what I was doing. Trust your instincts – they’re usually right.

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Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 18-55mm

Focal length: 55mm

Shutter speed: 1/250

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 100

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Pictures of the “Big Five” will always arouse a decent amount of interest from your viewers, but don’t don’t miss out on interesting behaviour of other animals.

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Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 18-55mm

Focal length: 55mm

Shutter speed: 1/250

Aperture: f/8

ISO: 100

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Maasai Mara, Kenya

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 18-55mm

Focal length: 55mm

Shutter speed: 1/100

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 400

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Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 70-300mm

Focal length: 125mm

Shutter speed: 1/500

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 100

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Take diverse images.

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Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 18-55mm

Focal length: 35mm

Shutter speed: 1/250

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 100

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Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 70-300mm

Focal length: 250mm

Shutter speed: 1/320

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 100

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Compose your shot. Nice the group of zebra grazing in the background, between the branches – subtle, but awesome.

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Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 70-300mm

Focal length: 200mm

Shutter speed: 1/500

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 100

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Maasai Mara, Kenya

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 18-55mm

Focal length: 55mm

Shutter speed: 1/320

Aperture: f/8

ISO: 100

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Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 70-300mm

Focal length: 250mm

Shutter speed: 1/125

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 200

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Don’t be afraid to push your telephoto lens to its limits.

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Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 70-300mm

Focal length: 300mm

Shutter speed: 1/250

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 100

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Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 70-300mm

Focal length: 300mm

Shutter speed: 1/500

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 100

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Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 70-300mm

Focal length: 300mm

Shutter speed: 1/800

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 200

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Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 70-300mm

Focal length: 300mm

Shutter speed: 1/500

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 200

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Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 70-300mm

Focal length: 300mm

Shutter speed: 1/800

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 100

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Then again, zoom out for some perspective.

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Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 70-300mm

Focal length: 70mm

Shutter speed: 1/800

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 100

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Take advantage of the “Golden Hour” light.

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Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 70-300mm

Focal length: 150mm

Shutter speed: 1/250

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 400

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Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 70-300mm

Focal length: 200mm

Shutter speed: 1/500

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 200

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STAY ALERT! Don’t miss any of the action.

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Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 70-300mm

Focal length: 125mm

Shutter speed: 1/500

Aperture: f/7.1

ISO: 100

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Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 70-300mm

Focal length: 250mm

Shutter speed: 1/1250

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 400

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Place your subject off-centre.

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Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 70-300mm

Focal length: 300mm

Shutter speed: 1/320

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 400

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Keep your Aperture and ISO constant, if possible; fiddle around with your shutter speed. And, of course, practise. I probably should’ve listened to my 9th grade Math teacher when she insisted, but PRACTISE!

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Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya

EXIF Details:

Camera: Canon 500D

Lens: 70-300mm

Focal length: 300mm

Shutter speed: 1/250

Aperture: f/4.5

ISO: 200

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