"If Your Pictures Aren't Good Enough..."

What makes a good photograph?
Is it the colours? The depth of field? The composition (of course)? The subject? 
Or the mere fascination of the world with a particular subject?
In the past few weeks, my news feed has been flooded with images from the Maha Kumbh Mela. As I casually flip through the photographs, it strikes me that I am quite bored and jaded of the images of the naked babas, the ash smeared babas and the matted hair man smoking ganja. I remember seeing these images first in a National Geographic magazine and being quite blown by it. I saw more such images on social media.
But it has been a while since the last Maha Kumbh and the world has grown in leaps and bounds in the meantime. Software engineers were still blossoming and nobody had the money to buy super expensive cameras. SLR cameras were still meant for professionals only, or the super rich. And travel was mostly meant to be done in a planned, organized manner to civilized places. Photographs and stories of such ‘exoticity’ were meant to be devoured only over the breakfast table or in a novel, possibly written by eccentric people you would not want to entertain in your house.
Okay, I’m going over board.
But the point is, about half the people on my friends list were at the mela this time. It seemed like this was the latest ‘in’ thing to do. I should have known that this was a disturbing trend when I read about sadhus arriving in SUVs at the mela. But I was excited about it and wondering how I could afford two weeks shooting the world’s biggest religious fair, so I did not pay much attention. I had to, however, take notice when identical photographs of naked / ash-smeared / matted hair babas began appearing on my feed.
Isn’t there more to this mela than just these ‘exotic’ creatures? Did anybody talk to them? Did they get their stories? A photograph, particularly in a situation like this, is not merely shooting the man from far. This is what separates the real photography enthusiasts from the hobbyists. Anybody can get a ‘good’ picture with the right equipment. But to infuse feeling into the picture… you need to get close. 
I know I haven’t done that quite often and it shows in my photographs. When I sit, late in the silence of the night, and casually scroll through my photographs, I can easily tell you why some photographs are bad. There are plenty of my photographs that I wish I could have shot better. There are a million other angles, possibly just a fraction of an inch to the side, that would have made it better. If I had only taken a deep breath before I clicked the shutter. If I had only paused and looked at the entire area before composing the frame. 
When you are shooting something like the Kumbh, and I shouldn’t even probably be commenting on this as I have never been there, but you should be able to caption you photograph with something a little stronger than ‘ash smeared baba holding a charas’. Who is he? Why is he there? What made him turn to this? 
It is a brilliant place to be and a beautiful story to tell.
I wish the Reuters Photographer who covered this year’s event had blogged more about. You can read what he wrote here. But what makes the difference in his photographs is the way he taught.
Maybe there are stunning photographs out there and I haven’t seen them yet. 
But it definitely made me think again about what makes a good picture. And reminded me ofRobert Capa‘s line – If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.
One of my favorite images from what I’ve seen so far – by Anindito Muherjee – EPA

2012 in Photos

2012 was a nice year for photography... not because I shot a lot, but I definitely learnt a lot. 

The most important lesson - You NEED to shoot to get better. There were a few other lessons along the way, related to the business of photography. And then there was a little bit of soul searching about WHY photography and how to handle the business end without getting frustrated and losing inspiration. I'm still figuring out the last part...


January was all about kids... I did a shoot for a Yearbook for a school, where the oldest kid was 6 years old. It was two days of constant fun, styling them in oversized clothes, allowing them to pick their favorite props and taking tips from them about how to pose. I also learnt about contracts, wording them properly and the importance of the art of negotiation. And I learnt that I sucked at the latter.


This was fun... It has been a while since I was commissioned to do an exclusive portrait shoot. This shoot, done for HT, was for Mr. Madhavan Nair, the ex-chief of ISRO. Quite glad the portrait turned out good, given the lighting... and also a first where I was exclusively the photographer while someone else asked the questions. There is definitely a sense of freedom when you can wander around shooting without having to rush to the interview as well.


March was all about celebrations. This is a particular favorite of mine... 4 years old and one of the few kids who hate the camera. He didn't want to pose. He didn't particularly care about the cakes and the sweets. All he loved was his train.

 It is said that an emotional connect to the subject shows in your photograph. This was when I realised how true that statement was. A close friend got engaged and knowing the person makes a huge difference to the way you shoot them. Or simply see them through the lens.


Have you ever been to a Baptism? I hadn't. Not till I had to shoot two Baptisms in a week. Two Sundays spent in Church, two very different kinds of Churches and ceremonies. One long, one short. The first photo is a particular favorite of mine, and an old client. I was quite flattered when she chose me to shoot her daughter's baptism, out of the many photographers she worked with.

April was also more portrait commissions from newspapers. Mr. Gaurav Jain, of the Mast Kalandar fame. Definitely a story worth reading.


Weddings have a strange way of drawing you in. Of all the weddings I shot, I was just learning to pay attention to the smaller details and yet not get lost in the details. The simplicity and the anonymity of this shot appeals to me... this could be any south Indian bride, waiting, taking her first step into matrimony.


The wedding season begins... and so does travel. This was a month of 4 weddings, which translated to about 15 days of living in the weddings... each wedding had something different... I wouldn't be able to pick one as my best shot... they each had something brilliant. 

Then, of course, there was the trip to Chennai... my first wedding in the city. A month of several first, including this beautiful bridal portfolio shoot. The groom went missing on some work a few minutes before the shoot... the bride decided not to pass on the shoot and said she wanted this to be 'the bridal shoot'. All her best buddies were there, together, perhaps for the only time. So 8 crazy girls on Chennai's most famous beach, jumping, screaming and posing... passers by stopped and stared, fishermen chased us away from their boats... but this is one evening she would never forget.



Ground Breaking Ceremony... I wondered what I could shoot when I was contacted for this assignment. The client was insistent that they wanted me to shoot the event. Definitely different. Definitely fun.

Women's Only Fitness Center rebranding their company all over India. Two days of a marathon shoot... with the members being the models. Styling, make up, posing and photography... one helluva time!


Mrs. Neetu Sarin - an expert in tea :-)




Definitely a good note to end the year on.

Here's looking forward to 2013!

The Photograph on The Wall

You wake up one morning and look at that photograph on your wall that you've loved through the years. Loved it so much that you posted it on your wall, so it would be the first thing you see every morning. There is another image as your screen saver, prints around you... so many images and so much vibrance.

But you wake up one morning and hate them all. You look at your work and you wonder why you are shooting. You do not want to touch your camera, yet are strangely drawn to it as if compelled and challenged to produce that image that has been haunting you in your mind.

There is a vast gap between the image in my mind and the ones I often produce. I know that is mostly because I do not take the time, the patience to frame a shot before I click. In a hurry, in a shell. 

Know what you are shooting, they said. These days it seems I often do not. I barely seem to know myself... I pass through days in a haze. 

If your photographs are not good enough, you are not close enough.

Getting close takes time. Research. Patience. Curiosity.

And it seems the last one is the only thing I have left.

At Church on Sunday

The past two Sundays were spent in Church. Not attending services but shooting two very different and beautiful Baptism ceremonies.

I'm not a particularly religious person. Long ceremonies are torturous. But this was the first time I was shooting a baptism. Weddings are usually what we are hired for, or engagements. 

The first ceremony was short. It was for a cute 4-month old girl, who absolutely did not want to be out in the heat. She wanted to sleep and so she did as soon as the ceremony was over. The after party continued without her.

The second ceremony was different... for a lot of reasons. It was Sunday morning and Mass was just finishing when I reached. I was surprised by the sheer volume of people attending Mass. They stood outside the church, on stools and prayed. One woman in particular looked so satisfied when she walked out of church that I had to wonder if there was something to be said about religious ceremonies after all.

The main event of the day - baptism - was longer than the previous one. To top that off, the entire thing was in Malayalam! Generally, Malayalam is a fast language. But the priest seemed to be speaking faster than usual... all I could catch was an 'Amen' at the end of each line. My fellow photographer confessed that he had no idea what the priest often said and he is actually a native speaker of the language! 

 The baby was surprisingly quiet and peaceful through the ceremony and promptly fell asleep during the hour-long Mass after. Yep, yet another mass... and I said this one out... 

There were two wedding scheduled to be performed after the Mass... so there were plenty of flower girls, cars decorated with flowers, at least six photographers, three videographers and two anxious grooms and their families milling around. I got some quick shots of the flower girls, who were quite happy to pose...

There was such a remarked difference between each of the flower girls... and such a beautiful blending of cultures. The brides wore white but in the form of a sari. The men wore suits - one black and one grey, but each with a red rose tucked in their lapels.

I didn't stick around for the ceremonies but judging by the sound, the music and noise... I figure it was like any other Indian wedding.

Here's to shooting one of these weddings soon!

Fashion Photography

So I began delving a little more deeper into the world of fashion photography. I guess I'm still trying to explore what exactly fashion photography means.  Some people I've discovered so far have such strong styles that I believe much of the Indian market would not even look at it. I find some of this work impressive.

But as a photographer still quite new to the professional field, which side should one choose? The traditional, commercial and sometimes predictable way to pay the bills or starve and follow what you believe is creativity?

When my bank account is a little flush, I believe in the latter. And then I realise I have no money for at least a cup of tea and figure sometimes, you have to sell a little bit of your soul.

The minute you attach 'commercial' to your photographer tag, you become a businessperson and an artist. In the 21st century, it is sort of possible for both to survive in the same person, though there is a lot of disgust, frustration and such things when you are wearing the business hat.

But back to the topic of Fashion Photographers, I found one woman among the names I scrounged from here and there.

Does a woman's interpretation of fashion differ? Of course it does! Duh!

Then why aren't there more women in fashion photography considering we understand and love fashion, what looks good on a woman, how to be sensual or sexy or funny or all those things. Or at least you will know it better when you start thinking about it. And as women, we constantly watch and judge other women as well, be it even in a cafe. We check out shoes, clothes, hair, makeup etc. But apparently such things do not translate more than a pastime.

Regardless of gender, the viewpoint of photographers from Europe or NY seems to be vastly different from their Indian counterparts. I have barely even scratched the surface of these huge photographer fraternities, but among Indian names there are probably a couple that spring to mind. And I've never been too impressed with their work.

Is fashion way too influenced by the movie perspective? Or don't people care enough about it to innovate and are happy to duplicate?

And is fashion photography, or just photography for that matter only about pretty people? Isn't there more of a challenge in capturing an interesting face?

I took photo of a very pretty friend a couple of years ago. When I posted it on Facebook, I got a lot of oohs and aahs... but I'd stopped trusting FB as a source of proper judgement on photos. So on Flickr, I got truly beaten. "Pretty face but what's interesting in the photo" was the common refrain.

There are people who I believe have truly traditional faces, faces that seem all angles and shadows that play beautifully in front of the camera. Of course, the model's attitude is really important too... but when you are shooting candids, it isn't about the person having a perfect skin tone, teeth or eyes. It is the story those things are saying.

And there I am, back to talking about candids instead of orchestrated photographs that tell a story. The challenge that lies there, working with all the elements, to tell the story you want to in a single shot. The shot that makes people want to be like the men and women in those shots. Dream and aspire. Is that the purpose of fashion photography?

Or is it merely... a tool for enchancing beauty? Work from the 50s would tell me it is the former... but more recent work I've seen makes me believe it is the latter.

Maybe it is time for innovation again.

(These are notes on my journey of photography. I'm still learning and there's a long way to go. My perspectives will change everyday as I discover my style, likes & dislikes and art forms. This isn't meant to insult anyone or anything... just an opinion that might change tomorrow, when I'm hopefully wiser. 

As I learn more, I think more... and I share, searching for some answers.)

Norman Parkinson

It was absolutely empty and the guard on duty reluctantly switched on the lights and the light sitar music.
The Norman Parkison Exhibition at Tasveer Art Gallery.

It had been a long time since I stepped into an art gallery. Exhibitions seemed a little boring, particularly minus the discussions, which I could never make it to.

I had not heard of Norman Parkinson before I heard about this exhibition. Fashion photography is not something I particularly lean towards, or least did not before today.

Parkinson's photographs were quite illuminating. At first glance, it might seem like you've seen it all.
And then you realise that these photographs are at least 50 years old, shot on an analog... 35 mm? and did not have the magic of photoshop. When you add that to your perspective, things change.

I still do not know much about him other than what was on the little notice board there and what little was available on Wikipedia. But I did realise that I liked his sense of humor in photographs and the juxtaposition of his models with the stark Indian background. In some cases, it made the photograph too studied, like the one with a white model, a dark, average Indian kid with temples in the background and white pillars. The contrast seemed to stark and too strong.

My favorite were Wendy and the Cow, it conveyed humor and a sense of a memsahib on her rounds on unfamiliar grounds. I wondered about his technique... and realised that much of that format is still being followed, even if with a harder edge.

Some of that belief comes from watching some recent episodes of Next Top Model. I watch that for the photograph and often wonder what is the point of such juxtapositions. Many models and situations do not appeal to me, yet they are judged the best. Maybe I have much to learn in that area yet...
What did I learn from Parkinson?

That humor is important. Sharp lines, clean lines, the importance of background and clutter. The unreality of a situation mixed with humor can create quite an impression.

True, I probably expected more stronger photographs. But are photographs of old women, young boys and huge landscapes the only form of real art? It is easy to see the strong wrinkles of the face of a Tibetan woman, the innocent smile of a young monk, the sweeping slopes of a desert and the sting of a scorpion in sharp contrast.

Juxtaposition takes a lot more thinking, I realised, even if it isn't my thing. Several people can think about placing objects against each other. But to create an impact, it needs to have the right amount of contrast. Not shock and awe. Just an impact. Perhaps that is what Mr.Parkinson was trying to do. Perhaps even tell a story... though I felt a little pulled back into the days of the Raj with his photos. These are posed and yet make you ask why is the woman there with the umbrella in what seems to be a market? Why is the woman there with the steps and was she overtaken by the young monks? Who are the people in the boat in the background?

Were these aspects that were planned and included in the photo or just happenstance?

My love for street photography invades some ideas here... and I have to remind myself that this is a 'planned' photoshoot. But if it makes one ask such questions, is its purpose achieved? Is the purpose of fashion photography merely showcasing pretty clothes and women or creating an impact, a sense of mystery and story in that particular image?

Even if I was not blown away by his work, it was intriguing enough to bring these questions to mind. And I guess that is purpose solved.

A Kid & A Camera

There is something acutely fascinating about photographing children. The kids of today are spontaneous, camera-aware, if not always friendly, and sharp. 

The last week was spent in the company on such children. The age group varied from 6-12 year olds, with the latter just a handful or less.

Many of us came into the world of photography later. We used film cameras and they were preciously hoarded. But the kids of today came into the world of cellphones, cellphones with cameras, digital cameras and iPads and webcams and all such visual things. They can operate a digicam better than their parents ever could.

Most of the kids asked me what the difference between an SLR and a digicam was and they could understand the difference much easier than an adult ever would. That doesn't mean they have no questions... with the world being their playground, they are so curious about everything. 

Different lenses, angles, lighting techniques... one six-year old could even direct me to shoot her with moody lighting. She set the stage, experimented and I was merely her hands. 

I tend to forget these days that I am actually shooting or talking to children. They make so much more sense than adults. Often, when I hear some slightly biased statement, I know I'm hearing the voice of the parent and not the child. That can be easily corrected.

In the tired zone that I was, many of the children started to look like adults to me. Their statements were.

In conversation about creativity and imagination, we were arguing about the existence of something. An 8-year old flatly said it didn't exist. She said in such a matter-of-fact manner that I was wondering how she knew.

"You search it on the internet and if you can't find it, it doesn't exist," she said flatly and shrugged.

Such is the wisdom on the netizen junior.

9 Moments Of The Day - Jan 12

So here we are with a new project... The aim is to capture 9 Moments from each day.

I'm not really sure if I am going to be doing this everyday... carrying a big bulky camera can be a pain sometimes, and I don't know how long I'll even be getting out. 

I started the slight lomo/instagram processing on these photographs. I'm not particularly sure if I like it. I know it looks awesome to start with and all that.... together, as small thumbnails mostly. But as full sized images, they sort of lose some of their characters. But is certainly is easy processing, even if I think it is lazy processing.

A Photographic Retrospective - Part 3

November & December - the busiest months so far. Hoping that continues... but in the meanwhile, it was just so not possible to pick one or two or even three images as my favorite. Perhaps in each category I could... but to make up for not uploading many photographs for a while, hoping you enjoy this selection.

Happy 2012!

(Part 1 and Part 2)