Exploring Tamil Nadu: Part 2 – Rameshwaram

We were supposed to be traveling alongside the river the entire journey to Rameshwaram. At least, that’s what Google maps said. Real life is a different story. There is a river, as seen by the basic overgrown with plants. But either lack of rains or a dam somewhere has stopped the water, making parts of the basin slushy and the rest barren.

Barren soon became the word of the day as we headed closer to Rameshwaram. The landscape grew flatter and more barren. There were long stretches where you could see miles on either side, and there was barely a bush in sight. Brick kilns were common, and progress was slow because the road remained a narrow two-lane ‘highway’.

Rameshwaram was a barely ignored ‘second-grade township’ in Tamil Nadu, and their sole claim to fame was the legend that stated Lord Rama built his bridge to Sri Lanka from here to rescue Sita, his wife. There’s also a place that Hanuman supposedly leaped from to reach Sri Lanka.

The town’s modern claim to fame is one of India’s most renowned personalities & former President, Abdul Kalam.


Salt basins and palm trees are common as you get closer to Rameshwaram, almost frightening in its starkness and flatness.

Soon, the road began to narrow again and we were on the famous Pamban Bridge.

The bridge was first a railway bridge only, built in 1914, connecting the island town of Rameshwaram to the mainland.

Rameshwaram is actually located on Pamban Island. The railway bridge was India’s first sea bridge of any sort, and the longest till the Bandra-Worli Sea Link displaced it in 2010. A road bridge was constructed parallel to the rail bridge in 1988.


I was super thrilled by the colours of the ocean as we got on the road bridge, and despite multiple “No Stopping” signs that every other car was ignoring, we pulled over to take photographs.

As I often say, a photographer sometimes just clicks the shutter. Nature does the rest. Right as I ran over to the side with my camera, a train was on the bridge. There are very few trains, so it was a stroke of luck that I got to shoot it, and in such awesome light conditions. The wind is strong enough to knock you back a couple of steps, so I had to struggle to keep my bandanna on and shoot at the same time. The ocean looks wild, with a multitude of hues of blue that I’d last seen on the Australian coast.

We then wandered over to the other side of the bridge, which looks like an entirely different world. The colours are still vivid and varied, but the ocean is calm and serene. Infact, it looks like a postcard, with fishing boats bobbing gently in the water, and quaint little huts on the beach.


The town of Rameshwaram is literally a back-of-beyond town in Tamil Nadu. Reading the stories of Kalam gives one a picture of the town about 50 years ago, and seems like it has only progressed a little since then.

Since the primary visitors here were temple devotees, who preferred simplicity, the infrastructure is built to accommodate that.

It means basic hotels, with mostly vegetarian restaurants.

I ended up signing up at the most fanciest place, since that was the only one with car park, and of course, we didn’t really want to rough it out.

The sense of ‘flat & straight’ continued past the bridge, almost seeming like we didn’t move the steering at all, except to avoid pedestrians crossing the street.

It was close to 4.00 PM by the time we arrived in town, and our first concern was to find a place that served something beyond the typical idli & dosa fare popular in the region. Luckily, we passed a “Sea Star Hotel” with a massive board sporting photographs of various indistinct dishes.

The hotel turned out to be THE fanciest hotel in the place, at least from the outside. On checking in, we realised it was still for the devotees who came to the temple but didn’t want to rough it out. The food was vegetarian, the hallways had the smell of incense and decorations of flowers, and our welcome booklet included the various times of aartis and poojas happening in town.

We had two destinations here: Dhanushkodi, located about 20-odd kms from Rameshwaram and the newly-inaguarated museum of President Kalam.

It was close to dusk by the time we started out to Dhanushkodi. The moment you veer out of Rameshwaram, the bleakness starts. Salt marshes on both sides of the road, and water that seems like land.

Dhanushkodi was declared a Ghost Town after it was badly hit by a cyclone in 1964. Exposed on all sides, there are little scrub bushes that offer no protection from the wind. The visibility is great, and the road straight & long enough to land a plane.

All the earlier research I’d done indicated that you couldn’t go right till the tip in a car, and would need to rent a jeep or a 4×4. But to our surprise, the road continued. Unfortunately, there are cops patrolling the area and no people are allowed beyond the point after 6.00 PM, and we had to turn back.

(To Be Continued)

Travel Tales: Exploring Tamil Nadu (Story 1)

Most of us know Tamil as a language. We know Tamil Nadu as a state in India. But if you ask a native of the land, they’ll tell you that Tamil is not just a language or state. It goes beyond geographical and language identities. Tamil is a culture. A culture that has a heritage of several centuries and has grown while keeping its inherent identity intact.

Most of my exposure to Tamil Nadu has been primarily Chennai, the modern capital of Tamil Nadu. And of course, a few tourist towns like Mahabalipuram & Pondicherry. I’ve driven past several other towns, not really stopping to explore. I’m familiar with the language, and some aspects of the culture – being a South Indian who has several friends from this identity – but the history is buried in the temples, the local lingo and the streets.

The first stop this time was at Madurai, the temple city of Tamil Nadu. The town had been on the list for a long, long time, especially the Madurai Meenakshi Temple.

The temple, which was supposedly built before the 7th Century AD, features in Tamil literature predominantly. The temple is dedicated to Meenakshi, a form of Parvati, the wife of Shiva. The temple was repeatedly plundered in the 14th Century by various Mughal armies, and had to be restored in 16th Century. There are a total of 14 gopurams, one of which is seen in the photograph.

Starting off:

It is Diwali, and we drive on the highway looking at cracker bursting in the sky all through. The streets of Madurai are empty, even though it is barely 7.30 PM. We wonder if Diwali is big in Madurai. For the night, on our agenda, are three important places:

  • Amma Mess – known for its bone-marrow omelette
  • Arumugam Mess – Known for great meat dishes
  • Chandran Mess – Ditto
  • Jigar Thanda – a sweet delicacy of the region

The hotel is just a few metres away from all these places (What luck!) and we are set to try out all these and more in a few minutes. Except, when we get there, the street is entirely deserted and everything is shut. Turns out, Diwali is big in Madurai and no meat-serving place is open (lesson for the future!)

The hotel still serves meat, we figure, and are about to turn back when we catch sight of the bright, LED lights of a shop! It says “Jigar Thanda – Since 1952”. We figure we could tick one item off the list, and grab two specials. The place was fairly small and crowded with families, so we figure we hit on the authentic place.

Except, there is another place a few metres ahead and they too claim to be from the 50s. A quick google search tells us that the sweet drink is old, and there are several such places. The drink itself – a mix of kulfi, with an extreme dose of sweetness. Google tells us it has almonds and a few other things but all I can taste is cloying sweetness!

Day 2: We check out early and head towards the Madurai Meenakshi Temple. It is barely 10.00 AM in October, and the temperatures are hovering in the late 30s. The streets leading to the temple are quite narrow, and mostly have small garages and mechanic shops. All the roads that maps tell us to take are clogged, and we eventually end up at the ‘designated parking lot’ – which is basically a large, empty plot. The car will be hot enough to cook mutton when we return!

We reach the East Gateway. Opposite to the temple complex is another large structure, which currently holds some shops. Surprised that these ancient structures are still being used, we wander around a bit before deciding to explore it later. They are, after all, just shops.


Tourism Boards have done their bit, and there are metal detectors at the entry of each gate.

There is also a free, safe service wherein you can leave your footwear, surrounded by notice boards that tell you not to tip the people behind the counter since they are paid.

We push our way through the crowds and leave our slippers and head to the entry only to be told that since I’m carrying a DSLR, we’ve to enter from the next gate.

Now, there were boards that said no cameras allowed but I figured I could tell them I’m gonna keep it in my bag. I wasn’t willing to walk all the way back to the car and dump in there, nor was I willing to leave my expensive gear at the footwear counter.

So, we head to the next gate, and head to the men’s & women’s lines respectively. I ask the cop on duty there if I can take my camera and that I won’t shoot, and he tells me to go back in and check it in the ‘locker’. The guy at the locker asks me if I have anything ‘important’ in my backpack and I say “Camera!”. So he tells me that I’ve to use the ‘special locker’ which costs 5 bucks instead of the simple ‘bag check-in counter’ that costs two bucks. Right.

The “Special Locker” is a tall metal locker with lopsided doors that even I could break with a firm push. The lady meticulously writes down the contents of my bag and asks me the value of the goods. Ummm… I’ve a fantastic DSLR + A couple of lenses, each worth a lakh and some basic accessories. Value? Maybe around 3 lakh rupees.

But, if I tell her the value is 3 lakhs, what if that’s cause for temptation? If I downplay it and lose it, what could be the flip side? In the end, I murmur something, collect my token, shout out a silent prayer to Goddess Meenakshi and head into the temple.

The difference is apparent the moment you step into the cool arches of the temple. The architecture, which has withstood centuries of travails, is built for the weather. High ceilings, heavy stones that can keep the stone out. The entryway has more shops, offering flowers, coconuts etc for the Goddess and other knick knacks.

The entry hallway is immensely long, and you can just about see the arches one after the other. The photographer in me in crying for a photograph, but I think one of the cops are gonna come & snatch the phone away. I get a couple of shots anyway!

We finally enter the actual Temple complex, with the Pond With The Golden Lotus and the wonderful gopura, only to see plenty of people happily taking selfies & photographs.

(Minor Rant: What’s the big deal about keeping cameras out in the age of super phones that have fantastic cameras? They don’t say photography not allowed. They only say “cameras not allowed.” One part of what I will call Tamil logic that eludes me!)

Tamil legends state that the pool could judge the worth of a new piece of literature. Authors place their works here. The good ones float and the poor ones sink.

The walls are decorated with beautiful scenes from Ramayana. If we had the time, we’d explore it panel-by-panel but I’m in a hurry to see the rest of the temple.

One section of the temple is locked (and as always, it evokes more curiosity). Different parts are dedicated to different Gods, and the sculptures / shrines of the smaller deities gleam like they were just carved & polished.

The Kambatadi Mandapam (“Hall of Temple Tree”) with its seated Nandi & a golden pillar has various manifestations of Shiva carved in stone. It also has the famous “Marriage of Meenakshi” sculpture. According to Wikipedia, the sculptures of Shiva and Kali are pelted with balls of ghee by devotees, which accounts for that fantastic shine. The tall golden pillar apparently signifies the human backbone.

We go back into the thousand-pillar hall, studying some of the sculptures. Each pillar is supposed to have a different one, and we find one with Vishnu (or one avatar of him) and several other gods & demi-gods. It seems like every single Indian god and their avatar has a place in this massive temple!

We choose not to go into the inner sanctum, because of lines that were longer than Black Friday lines. We figure we can live without having seen the actual statue, with a little bit of regret.

For more photographs, visit here.

Done with the temple, we hurried back, hoping that the food part of the trip could be completed and the mess’ would be open. No such luck. Everything remained firmly closed, and we had to eat at a smaller but pretty decent place right next door. The biryani was decent, so was the fish fry but it was no bone marrow omelette.

Thus done, we move to the next part of the trip – Rameshwaram with its famous Pamban Bridge, and India’s ghost town, Dhanushkodi – also the place from where Lord Rama built his bridge to Sri Lanka to rescue Sita.

In Search Of Inspiration – Photography

Through my years as a photographer, I’ve learnt a lot from various people. Some of them are photographers I know personally, some are artists, some are just random discussions with friends and some of them are just photographers on the internet. My explanation of photography and interpretation has changed over the years, with every shoot.

There have been highs and lows, the fun of photo walks have translated into solo journeys with my camera and I’m still learning.

One of the photographers who inspired me was Brandon Stanton of the Humans of New York fame. I’d been shooting random strangers and getting pieces of their story, but Humans of New York put a name to the project. It became more focussed and I met many more interesting people and stories.

But ever since I got the HONY Coffee Table Book, I’ve begun to feel that this is not enough. A portrait on a street, where they are looking straight into the camera… that isn’t really what I want to say. I’m not sure what I want to say through the photograph but this is not just it. There’ve been periods when I was hunting for faces for my city’s project when I felt… a little tied up. Perhaps I became too focused on what HONY was about and followed the same path, down to a T, instead of defining it my own way.

I rejected photographs from Humans of India because they were too random… just photographs of street children, laughing. They looked pretty but when you stripped them of the captions, they were just similar images of laughing children. I looked to Humans of Mumbai and that too seemed insufficient. That was more an anthology of Mumbai, and not a very strong one at that. I’ve seen better, untitled projects that captured the spirits of Mumbai better.

So what remains? What is it that drives me a photographer to tell a story? Strangely, I was not able to find the answer to that. Perhaps it is the commercialization of what I do… all the pitching, and marketing and mailing… but the answer seems to have faded.

I wanted to tell stories of people. But the photograph needs to speak for itself, and should not require captions. It should be defining features, should be poignant or funny or whatever. But should not require a caption. At least, it should be able to create a story by itself, awaken imaginations.

I find the work of David Terrazas suddenly compelling. I find Danny St Photography’s project of #100Strangers compelling. The focus is on the face, the eyes. The entire story is told in that little space.

Yet, it isn’t enough. Should I add props, do a studio shoot? I would love to convince people to give me ten minutes, loosen up and portray them as they are… but that is not always a possibility in this fast city. Besides, the world is changing and people are always suspicious of those random weirdos who walk up to you with a camera and say “I want to take your photograph”.

So what is the alternative?

There are fabulous stories, if we only had the time to break the ice and get people talking.

My favorite photograph remains of Diana… I ran into her in a mall in Australia. She sat down next to me to rest her feet, enclosed in those high high heels and began chatting. She was a busker… posed as Marilyn Monroe every evening on the main street.She told me stories of the people she met, and said she was a singer too. She dreamed of going to Paris someday, where she could eat good food and sing. And she posed for me, Marilyn Monroe-style, despite her aching feet.


Her pose, her dress… it evokes the question – who is she? You make your own story about her, or you read about her.

If I were to shoot her today, I’d probably do it a little differently. I’d probably frame it better, be more visual and capture little details about her separately.

But what do we do in this fast, fast world?

Charging Your Gear

I came across a blog post recently where the author was explaining why photographers charge as much as they do. I’d written a similar post earlier (never published, though) but one of the points in this one caught my eye.

The photographer / author in question listed out various costs associated with the photography equipment. Cameras, lenses, bags, memory cards, laptops / desktops, software, flash, batteries etc. Though photography has become accessibly to many in the digital age, being a professional photographer still involves a lot of money. 

Now, there are various reasons to pay a certain amount for a photographer, but it made me wonder if a photographer’s gear is a reason to charge more? 

Every profession requires a set of equipment. A printer, for instance, invests crores into the machines. A mechanic invests millions into a garage. But if they charges us more than what their skills were simply because of the amount of money invested in the equipment, we would definitely throw a tantrum. 

I often get annoyed when potential clients ask me a list of my equipment I’d be using. Some of them are “amateur” photographers and are disappointed that I use the same camera that they own. By that simple factor, they expect my skill level to be the same as their own, though they marvel how I’ve taken photographs they would never be able to. Most of them do not understand that it is the time, experience and skill they are paying for and not the equipment. 

I choose my equipment for a shoot when I begin planning for it. I sketch out a rough draft immediately after I’m booked for a shoot. I choose my equipment anywhere from a week to a couple of days before the shoot. In this period, I could decide to go for a different camera, or perhaps even own a new camera. The lenses again are a matter of choice, based on the location, light and event. A mere list of “this is what I’ll probably be using” will never give the client an idea of the whys and whats, and I’ll probably never take the time to explain all of it, even if they have the patience to read through all of it. 

Actually, I’m getting a little tired of justifying costs and explaining things to people, either on the phone or via email. Most of the people who contact you are not professional enough to say “No thanks” if they’ve decided to work with someone else. The famous Indian “if we haven’t called you, we’ve gone with someone else” silence is what you face. 

I would have thought this happens only to photographers, but I’ve seen this happen even as a PR professional. You get an enquiry, you send them a proposal or costs and if it isn’t suitable, they just don’t bother mailing you back or calling you back to say “No, Thank You.” If you don’t work out for them, you aren’t worth the extra minute it would take to say that. 

The Snob

Perhaps, I am a Communist at heart. Or maybe I just have a big chip on my shoulder about not being able to afford fancy clothes and shoes. Or maybe I am more sensitive to the bitchiness of the “social upper class”.

A photographer is the fly on the wall. You hover around discreetly, using a telelens to zoom in on your subject. You are watching everyone intently, rubbing your hands in glee when you get the perfect expression.

But, most of us never think of ourselves as inferior. If anything, we have superiority issues, where we know we are making you look good.

It was yet another party, and a strong reminder of why I stopped shooting parties a long while ago. I was filling in for a friend, and hence had to be on my best behavior.

I’ve been jaded with parties for a while. The fake smiles, the stilted conversation, long pauses and forced laughter are hard to bear when you don’t have a glass of alcohol in your hand. Most of the people I know refuse to drink or even eat at these galas… we are waiting to finish our assignment, pack up and leave. We hit the cheapest drinking joint available, preferably a little dark and quiet where we can down drinks that cost 1/4th the price of the place we came from. It isn’t that we cannot afford the expensive booze. 

We prefer not to. We want to drown out the absolute human plasticity we faced with the other extreme.

Why did last night’s shoot irk me so much? It wasn’t the location… I’ve been there, I’ve shot there. 

It wasn’t the attitude of the hosts, which can be the case sometimes. They were sweet… even if a little insistent that I absolutely had to be standing around all the time with the camera on my face. Perhaps there are slackers in the field, but I do not know a single photographer who would just in the corner and not bother taking photographs. At the same time, you wouldn’t want to take a million photographs of a single person. Not even if they were related to you.

It was that one single person… there is one in every group. The one who thinks he is too good for the rest of the crowd and you just can’t be good enough. After making me feel responsible for packing up on scheduled time, insulting my efforts to help them out with another photographer, the man went on to suggest that he has a great camera and they would just use that. Politeness met its tragic end, I wished him luck and left. 

This isn’t about the money… this is about the fact that there is a certain set of people who do not see the others are ‘people’. These others being the ones who are not on the same plateau as them. The only way they will notice them is if there is something lacking in service. If the soup isn’t hot enough, if the drinks aren’t served quick enough, if the photographer leaves before the party is over, if the musician develops a sore throat. These are people hired to create ambience… good enough. But they are given the same amount of respect as the candles, the tables and the chairs set around. 

I shouldn’t be infuriated at this. I know there are instances I do this too… though I don’t think I ever treat anybody as furniture. I get pissed at their inefficiency, but there is always a goodwill with efficient service. 

But people like this man is what makes me wanna hit some people in the face with a chair. 

Beautiful Bodies

I’ve been following Jade Beall’s “A Beautiful Body” Project for the past few months. The photography project focuses on women’s bodies and the celebration of women’s bodies, just the way they are. No photoshop, no hiding the stretch marks or scars, no thinning, no lifting – just the way women are in every day life.

The photographer is a distant associate and has been shooting these for the past couple of years. Only the past few days, her work has begun to gain media attention. 

Just below the link of her recent article was a post from Vogue magazine about some cosmetic cream and it featured two nude women (the photograph and the content, surprisingly, was removed after a few minutes and no link could be found to it on their website either). But in the few minutes it was there, juxtaposition of the two images hit me quite strongly. Here is a post about tanning cosmetics using natural products or some such thing – no reason why there had to be two nude women (very artistically shot, of course) while another photographer is trying very hard to depict women as beautiful, just the way they are.

There has been a lot of debate about how women are depicted by the media and in the fashion fraternity. Some small circles even tried to get a law against using models below a particular age and weight. 

But most people who I know in the fashion world will object to using ‘healthy’ models. I’m not talking fat here. I’m talking about women who resemble the women on the street.

The reason – this is fashion and it is supposed to have an aspirational value. And these clothes do look better with the right make up and the right frame, which is the thinner frame. It is like it is hanging in your closet and it would look awesome there. 

Photographs by people like Jade would remain just that – a photography project. While scores of women around the world might appreciate the project and even volunteer to be shot, they go back to poring over the pages of fashion magazines and wishing they had better bodies.

We all wish we had better bodies, even the ones who say they are comfortable with what they have. There are moments when you look at a dress and wish you were a little taller, a little fatter, a little thinner, a little fairer, a little less hairier… And if you the pundits, they would say that “this is how it is supposed to be”.

Well groomed has come to include a whole bunch of things that are barely even relevant. Frieda’s bushy eyebrows made news and a movie, But bushy eyebrows were out of vogue and frowned upon till supermodels such as Cara Delevinge and a parade of actresses made it the ‘in’ thing for 2013. Tons of women around the world are probably cheering and throwing their tweezers into the fire. Everyone knows that one of the most painful things about grooming is getting your eyebrows done. You can live with the pain for your upperlip, but the eyebrow… that delicate, thin skin about your eye that is meant as a thin shield? But somewhere down the line, somebody who never had much eyebrow hair made it ‘cool’ to have pencil thin eyebrows. And the rest of the women around the world followed suit, eyes squinting in pain. 

It remains funny and a mystery how and why women follow these painful fashion trends so painstakingly and ignore their real selves completely.

Wedding Photographer

I’ve been a professional photographer for over 3 years now. By professional, I mean, the kind who will charge you for services because of the quality and time and effort put into it.

Most often, I’m asked why I charge so much for just holding a camera and shooting. Of course, there are plenty of jokes artists post that talk about why we charge. You wouldn’t expect a chef to cook for free, a mason to build for free, or driver to drive you anywhere for free.

Why then are artists expected to do things for free? For the love of it? 

Photography is an expensive business. Not to mention the amount of effort that goes into each shoot.

Every wedding I shoot, I run into at least two people with cameras almost as ‘fancy’ as mine if not more. They have several lenses and tell me that they too are ‘photographers’ and ask me why I’m carrying so little equipment.

I have to hold myself back from sarcastic responses that might get me thrown out of the wedding. What comes to mind is something along the lines of “I’m a professional and I do not need more than two decent lenses to capture this event. Not to mention the fact that I don’t have the liberty of stepping out when wanted to put away a lens or change it. And of course, since this is my full time job and I don’t have a job as a techie to be blow money on unnecessary equipment…”

So what does really go into a wedding shoot, for instance?

1. The equipment – Yes, photography is still expensive. You do get lower end cameras for a month’s salary but the quality equipment that helps you have better control over what you shoot still has a hefty price tag. 

Lights, lenses, speedlites, camera bodies and whatever else you can think of. And of course, maintaining all that equipment. 

You need to run, you need to get up, close and personal. You either juggle with two cameras – one with a telephoto lens and the other a fixed or a wide lens, or you choose a lens that offers you enough of a wide range and a zoom. Personally, I prefer shooting with one camera and a lens with a decent enough range. 

2. Research – Yep, there is a fair amount of research that goes into each wedding. It could be about the culture of the wedding, so you have an idea of what you expect and when to duck. And about the couple themselves. Knowing the personality of the couple always helps with better pictures. So you could sit down for a long chat with the bridal couple about their expectations from the wedding photographer, or if you want to be the snoopy kind, take a look at their social profiles. If you have common friends, have a chat with them. 

I prefer doing it the direct way. Have a talk on the phone, meet, get a sense of them as individuals and as couples. 

3. Paperwork – Any good business generates tons of paperwork. In this case, it would be wedding contracts, stipulating conditions for every little thing, making sure both parties understand what they are getting into. 

A wedding dossier, where you have your little notes about what the bride (and yes, groom) want on the day. Generally, a wedding enquiry comes anywhere from four to 26 weeks early. Details tend to get a little blurry in that time period. So you make notes about what you talked about, and refresh yourself before the shoot.

4. Shoot Time – Wedding photographers should get combat pay. Weddings, particularly in India, run all around the clock. They begin at unearthly hours and move on till late evenings. Other than the bride and groom, the photographers are the only constants at this wedding. The priest gets a break as well. The family take their breaks for food and entertainment. 

This takes a toll on your energy, thereby your photographs. Which is why most photographers work in teams. Of course, this also means man hours, which translates to money. 

5. After The Wedding – If you are an intelligent photographer, you shoot carefully, so there is minimal culling to be done.

Yet, any 3-4 hour wedding means at least 400 photographs. From which you do the first rush of selection – removing the ones with photobombs, bad lighting, blurring. Then you select the ones to be cleaned and edited. That’s about 3 to 4 hours.

Then you sit down again to edit the selected photographs. You crop, remove blemishes, brighten, lighten, do whatever the client has requested. This takes anywhere between 4 to 6 hours easily. Then you take a break and come back to it with a fresh perspective, making further changes.

You save the photos according to the various sizes promised to the client, make CDs/DVDs of them and go across town to deliver the photos. Or if you are lucky, put it in the mailbag. And then of course, the uploading of the images to clients who want to see them instantly.

Then you begin to design the album or the coffee table book, according to what the client wishes. If you are lucky and your design juices are flowing, this is perhaps a 4-hour job. 

Of course, the client has changes. Add another couple of hours. 

Print, pack and done. 

Roughly, a photographer spends about 24 hours (one whole day, or 3 working days of 8 hours each), excluding the shoot time on planning and executing the wedding. Bigger weddings take more time.

So when a photographer charges you 50 grand, it means they would be spending that much of time on your day, taking every effort to make it special.

Of course, I left out a lot of little things here. But this gives you the general picture. A photographer who charges less might or might not really invest this much of time and energy. The word ‘professional’ means this amount of time.

So next time you get a huge bill, ask why the bill is so high and perhaps you’ll know a little better about the sweat that went into the art.

“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 of Robert 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


Stranger Photos

It is a disconnected world. It is a world that looks more into their phones and computer screens than the people next to them. It is a world that rarely communicates, even though it talks a lot.

We’ve heard so much about these statements and the variations. We have even experienced much of these.

But in the past few weeks, I have come across photography projects that make me think that we are making an attempt to communicate, even if in baby steps. We might not really communicate with the ones we have to, but we have started to reach out to strangers.

It was in this attempt that I began the Humans of Bangalore project. It is a slow but steady start.

The inspiration, of course, was the Humans of New York Project, started by Brandon Stanton. And that started a whole new bunch of projects in each city like Humans of Melbourne, Humans of Sydney, Humans of India, Humans of Seattle etc.

And as I explored further, I discovered more such people trying to find the strangers around them.

100 Strangers, for instance. The project is described as “The One Hundred Strangers project is a learning group for people who want to improve the social and technical skills needed for taking portraits of strangers and telling their stories. The method is learning by doing.”

The challenge is to take photographs of a 100 strangers, with a small story about the stranger. It gotta be true. It is a little like the confidence building activities they made us go through once in school, but much more fun and interesting.

And then I discovered a whole new bunch of similar projects on Behance – Benoit Paille’s Stranger Project, Danny Santos II’s Stranger Project

These are among the few that I’ve discovered. But considering every photographer is approaching a 100 strangers or more, and perhaps two of them in that get inspired to start something similar… I guess, the network will get stronger again?

Too Focussed

Today was ‘shoot for yourself’ day.

So I took my camera and headed out to a local ‘flea market’ with a friend. The flea market is the upscale version of the old format, which means there are stalls rented by people who have Facebook pages and the prices aren’t anywhere close to flea market prices. The products… I’ll leave that up to you.

The day was dry and dusty but that didn’t seem to daunt people from walking around, picking up things at their whim.

The flea market is also a hot favorite with hobby photographers, like any other event with lots of colourful things. I am always surprised to see so many people walking around with black bags that generally say “Canon EOS Rebel” or some such thing.

After walking around the flea market and finding it a little too pretentious, I started watching the photographers. Most of them were focussed on the specifics of the colourful objects – the pointy tip of a feather earring, the top of a lamp, the row of lights etc. Strangely, words said by another photographer floated into my mind – The day you can compose a landscape to perfection, you can call yourself the master.

In the age of cheap SLR cameras, everyone has a Canon 1100D or a Nikon D5100. They even have fancy lenses. So why, in the name of everything holy, do they insist on shooting things at close range and those fancy focus point shots? This is a bright, vibrant, colourful space. There were people in all sorts of attire, children running, dust, dogs, wine and more.

True, it was quite chaotic to compose wider images but isn’t it worth a shot? I caught one photographer trying for a wider shot and he was the guy hired by the organizers to catalogue the event.

Does being able to use your focus points well make you a good photographer?

And the next time I see someone holding a really good (and expensive) SLR and shooting it on Auto, I’m gonna whack them on the head.

Buy. Learn. Shoot.