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Shooting stars shine on school horizon

A picture isn’t just worth a thousand words, it’s also worth a tiebreaker answer in a hard-fought game of dumb charade.

ISC student Rupsha Bhadra has a set of pictures she has just clicked on her Nikon D5000 to convey the name of a best-selling book to three teams from Loreto House, La Martiniere for Boys and Modern High School for Girls competing in a photography-based contest.

One picture is of two sticks and there are another three depicting the different states of water — ice, liquid and vapour. And the answer is….Chetan Bhagat’s 2 States!

For Rupsha, the ability to say through pictures what others do with words and gestures is a gift that goes beyond the privilege of using a DSLR camera while still in school.

Photography isn’t just a hobby for this student of Modern High, it’s a passion (and maybe her vocation later in life).

Rupsha isn’t the only one. Students across schools are wielding the camera to click and share more than just pictures of family holidays, weddings, outings with friends, flowers and cute pets. Almost every reputable school in town now has photography club where young girls and boys talk about depth of field and diffused lighting with the air of seasoned pros.

“We advise students to get DSLRs instead of those point-and-shoot toy-like cameras. With DSLRs, students can play around with aperture, shutter speed and compose a picture rather than just click away randomly,” said Swapan Ganguly, adviser to the photography club at La Martiniere for Boys.

Members of these clubs are taught basics like composition, focus and use of lighting before they graduate to special skills like portraiture, macro and black-and-white photography. The standard method of teaching composition — perhaps the most important skill in photography — is to ask the students to take a picture of the same object from different angles and distances.

“We instruct them on the use of natural and artificial light in the same composition. A key assignment is to document one’s immediate surroundings, starting from home,” said Shankar S, a photographer and animation expert who teaches at Calcutta International School.

Competition has also meant students aspiring for — and sometimes getting — cameras that many professionals can’t hope to own. Class XII student Pramit Debmallik owns a Canon 5D Mark III, a brute of a shooting star in the pantheon of high-end DSLRs.

“For four years I owned a Canon 500D, but the 5D is unmatched for its colour reproduction and fast shooting,” said Pramit, who roams the streets of Calcutta every weekend with his father to capture on camera stories that only pictures can tell.

Experts say that photography makes a person more observant.

“A congested, dirty stretch of road that you might think would make for an unattractive picture could be a very interesting subject for someone with a photographic eye. That’s what we call the ability to look beyond the mundane and spend more than a few moments observing something which others might just pass by,” said a veteran in street photography.

Rupsha knows what observing is all about. She does it every moment, irrespective of whether she is holding her camera. “On my way to school one day, I saw through the window of our car a bus where everybody seated on the window seats had dozed off. It was such an interesting scene, though I could not capture it because I wasn’t carrying my camera,” she recalled.

In topical photography, students often display imaginative thinking that leaves even veterans surprised. At Mahadevi Birla World Academy, an assignment on the topic “circles” threw up images as simple as they were stunning. One student came up with a picture of something as commonplace as a keyhole shot in an interesting manner.

Modern High organised a festival of photography, filmmaking and programming that saw students from eight schools participating. The school has over 40 members in its photography club, against 15 when it started in 2009. La Martiniere for Boys has 20 students and Calcutta International School 16.

At Apeejay School, Park Street, a club of 30 has been “going strong” for over three years. Mahadevi Birla World Academy has an equal number of students in its photography and film club. The Heritage School club has 20 members.

La Martiniere for Boys has had its photography club since 1982, when the physics laboratory doubled as the dark room. With film making way for digital sensors and memory cards, the way photography is taught has changed, too.

“Earlier, we followed a trial-and-error method. Unless the film roll was developed, one didn’t know the result. Digital cameras allow you to improve in the next shot itself,” said Ganguly of La Martiniere.

Several schools display pictures taken by their students at various events on their websites and even hold annual exhibitions. Lakshmipat Singhania Academy has gone a step ahead and put pictures clicked by its students on the school calendar. It’s an idea that has clicked.