Most of the time when I want to travel or indulge in photography, I prefer to hit the hills. Somehow they never fail to attract me. Armed with my camera, I just need a reason to escape to the hills. I started early morning on one fine day for one such trip. After photographing the first rays of the sun and a few landscapes in the crisp chilling weather of autumn, hunger struck me. Was it because I could smell something nice being cooked at a small roadside shack? Maybe that this was exactly what was needed for the famished photographer.
(f/8, 1/125 second. Micro Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 AI-s lens on Nikon Df body)
Like every region in the world, Kumaon also has its own wonderful cuisine. Locally grown vegetables cooked with spices and herbs! What caught my fancy at this place was the wood fired stove. In this age of a variety of electrical and gas stoves, I have seen coal burners too, but a wood fired stove was something really out of a Rudyard Kipling book.
The moment, I stepped into the shack, I forgot about my hunger. The hands itched to take the camera out again and photograph the relic being used. It was hand made stove covered with clay for insulation. The logs burned below with the smoke going out from a cast iron pipe at the back end.
I reached out for my camera. This particular stove was a challenge for exposure. Cream colored clay was coated with dark black soot at many places. The logs were the usual dark brown and the burning fire was bright red-yellow. Even the ambers from the wood were quite bright. From a glance, the scene seemed to cover approximately 16 -17 stops. Nikon Df does not have that kind of dynamic range. Maybe I should try HDR? But then, the fire was dancing around a lot. Getting the tripod out was also going to be another task.
‘Namaste, what will you have for breakfast?’. These words broke my chain of thoughts. With a puzzled look, the owner looked at me and my camera. I ordered some eggs and an assortment of the Kumaoni delicacies that he had prepared. After completing the order, I went back to my main business there. Where was I? Yes, to do HDR or not! Anyway, that could wait. First to capture a few shots and see what can be achieved.
Setting my camera to Evaluative metering mode (3D Matrix), Aperture Priority and Auto-ISO, with the Nikkor 50mm lens mounted, I was all set up. First capture turned out to be overly bright. The meter had considered the bright fire as the most important element in the composition and had metered accordingly. The impact was lost. The open fire seemed to be lacking something.
The owner was also amused by my photography. He went ahead and placed a dark soot covered vessel on the fire. This made the composition complete. Within a few minutes, the steam started to escape from a corner. Perfect! With -1 EV compensation (Exposure Compensation), I made the next exposure. This was a keeper.
Apart from the camera pics, I did capture a few with my old iPhone camera in the HDR mode. The phone captures did look nice after I had edited them a little in Snapseed app but the one clicked on my main camera seems far better after post-processing. (Phone camera for photography)
(Stove made of clay and cast iron burning wood. Photographed at f/5.6 with shutter speed of 1/50 sec and on Auto-ISO with -1 EV compensation. Post processed on Affinity Photo.)
By now, my food was served. It was delicious. The freshly prepared rotis (Indian bread) were being served by their kid daughter who must not have been more than 5 years of age. A very pretty little girl who was playing and helping out her dad on a Sunday morning. I wanted to capture a portrait of her but she was shy and ran away. I am still to improve my communication skills with small children.
A swallow flew in into the shack and made itself comfortable on a wooden log that sat on one side. No chirping, none of the usual greetings. It just settled down in one corner and went on with its scrutiny of the new person in the shack. I was the stranger here and the swallow, a regular visitor. Reminded me of the old granny who was my neighbor, at a house I had rented many years back. She was always suspicious of me whenever I walked out of my house early morning with my camera. Once I had clicked her photographs, after getting her permission, and yet she became all the more suspicious of me. Come to think of it, she had a pointed nose and resembled the way, the swallow appeared with her pointed beak while observing me.
The breakfast was followed by a hot cup of tea, with rich creamy milk and heaped spoon of sugar. The hill folk love their tea sweet and creamy. On a cold morning with chilled wind biting me, the warmth of the wood fired stove and a cup of hot tea was perfect.
(Owner of the shack looking out towards the road for any more potential customers. The place doesn’t even have a name. The owner is called ‘da’ by most which simply is a respectable way of calling someone brother. Some young boys also addressed him as ‘thul ba’ or uncle. Maybe someday on my next visit, I’ll have a chit-chat with him over a cup of tea and know his name.)
This is now going to be a regular stop whenever I travel this road again. Signing off, with love from Kumaon.
Corn Seller and the Monkeys
Old friends and photography