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What is common between farming and photography?

During our recent trip to Africa I found myself drawn to farming. I took a lot of interest in projects that were dealing with farming – everything from how to increase yield to helping farmers find markets for their crops. I took pages and pages of notes. I could not figure out why I was so fascinated with farming. I couldn’t figure out why farming would be so compelling to someone like me, a city-dweller from America who is an engineer by profession.

Then on our second day at the Serengeti, after we finished our hot air balloon ride and were on our way back to the visitor center, we came across a leopard. There were 20 to 30 other tour vehicles around the leopard all juggling for a good position to get a good picture of the leopard. We waited around for over 30 minutes trying to get the best angle to catch the spotted animal. That’s when I realized that I was drawn to farming because it was similar to photography.

Photography is all about getting the perfect shot. It is about tweaking all the various factors like lighting, exposure, film speed, etc., and combining them in a particular way to get the perfect picture. It takes many years of practice to understand how these various factors work with each other. The ultimate goal is not to only get one perfect picture, but to be able to replicate that quality over and over again for every picture you take.

Farming is not that different. Farmers spend years trying to understand how the various factors like rainfall, season, sunlight, amount of fertilizer, harvest time, etc., can be tweaked to give them the maximum yield. Their ultimate goal is also not just one great harvest, but to be able to take the learnings from one great harvest and replicate it for every season.

The trial and error aspect of farming along with the ultimate goal of perfection makes farming very appealing to me. If we can figure out how some of these lessons can be better shared across communities, then we can help accelerate this learning process. There is some great work being done already, especially in the mobile space (e.g. receiving weather updates on phones). And I imagine we will see a lot more innovations around sharing farming knowledge in the next 3 to 5 years.

This series of four photos is my attempt at trying to capture a perfect shot of the leopard.

All photos are by Adnan Mahmud.

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