A piece of Paradise

Cannot describe the location and peacefulness of my family’s home at Ketti as anything but paradise. Maybe idyllic would make a good second choice of words. A piece of land that is reached only by a dirt road that tests your driving skills to the max. Unreachable during the rains due to bad road conditions, this house sits perched on the side of a hill with a sweeping view of Ketti Valley. Along the perimeter, runs the tracks of the Nilgiri UNESCO World Heritage Train. The lands surrounding it covered with vegetable terraces and tea plantations. The house itself is a labor of love. Tended with utmost care by my mother and our 76 year old gardener/watchman. Its a bountiful location and a bountiful house that yields peaches, plums, lemons, carrots, potatoes, beetroot, peas and beans.

If you are willing to brave the cold mornings, with a cup of tea, the sit out is the perfect arena for natures own concert of songbirds. Words cannot capture the peace and marvel of creation that we ,city dwellers, take for granted. Birds you would otherwise never see, fresh air like you have never breathed before, and pin drop silence!I’ve tried my darnest to capture these on camera.

We also managed to take an elephant safari down at Mudumalai , which was by far the most disappointing thing I have ever had to do. The park rangers are out to make money by the minute so the safari turns into a ride! You hardly get to see any wildlife and the crowds that are on the van safaris are by far the worst behaved people on earth. Every time, they spot an animal you can actually hear their loud cheers and jeers echoing through the forest. Despite all this, the sight of elephants, monkeys and sambar deers – just makes it all worthwhile!

Enjoy the pictures, my in-eloquence with words should be offset by some of the pictures in the set below. As usual, please click on the picture to enlarge. Do not use any of the pictures or words without prior permission.


A piece of Paradise

My first guinea pig

I’ve been incognito for a while and I have had good reason to be. I got my first client – can I call her that , considering she is a really close friend of mine? She wanted some good portraits of herself for her website and asked me to help her. I jumped at the opportunity hoping to get a thorough learning experience. Let me assure you, that I bit off more than I could chew. Firstly because, I am not truly pro yet -which when translated means that I do not hold studio equipment such as softboxes, reflectors and so on. I was meaning to shoot this using entirely what god has given us – natural light, shadows, sunsets, twilight and all those beautiful little elements that nature offers on her own. Two, I don’t even own a fill flash and work with my kit lens! Three, I am absolutely inexperienced and shooting someone who is posing for me is completely new to me – considering my philosophy and comfort zone has been of people in their natural state.

Having complained about the lack of so many things, I felt it was a challenge to come up with some of the best shots I could. I admit that I’m only halfway through my assignment and still have one more day of shoot left. The good parts are that I was shooting a friend – our comfort level and rapport were a huge, huge, huge bonus. We were shooting at her house – so she was much more comfortable in her own setting. Finally, she is a pretty woman ! I am reminded here of something photographer Kalyan Verma said recently at a talk – “Beautiful things are easy to photograph – they will always be beautiful no matter who shoots them” – that is very loosely paraphrased.

From the moment I fixed a date to shoot her, I started preparing. I frantically started reading up everything I could find on shooting portraits. As the date approached, I slipped into a panic stricken comatose, worrying that I would just be wasting my friends time and effort. I have , what I think to be a very unique problem – I never think my work is good enough no matter how many people appreciate it. I brush them off as bias – bias because they know me and don’t want to hurt me, or worse still diplomacy. On the day of, I decided I had freaked myself out enough and figured if I ruined this I will just get a good portrait photographer to shoot her on a later date and just take this as it comes. All through I had tried to picture in my mind different scenarios and shots I could shoot her in.

Like I said earlier – it was a fun shoot. It started a bit wonky, considering there was the initial “camera in my face” fear in her and the “oh my god , what the hell am I doing” fear in me. But put two women in a room and camera or no camera, once the gossip starts, things just relaxed into a beautiful rhythm. It helps to have conversations while shooting, because the smiles and laughs are far more genuine. Oh and did I mention, that by the time we started shooting , we were all out of natural light and I had to contend with artificial recessed lighting in her living room!

There are things I have learnt from the shoot :

  • Having a conversation about the general direction required out of the photographs is absolutely essential.
  • Working with your client on what they want to wear, how they want to pose, what makes them uncomfortable is critical.
  • As the photographer – IT IS YOUR job to relax the atmosphere and make it light, easy and breezy for your client/model.
  • Experiment – shoot from above, below, side, through a thin veil or any other way you choose – because sometimes they make the best shots and one can’t always know which works best , right off the bat.
  • Wardrobe choices matter – color of clothes vis-a-vis light source – makes or breaks shots . So take time to think about background, colors, wardrobes, props – THEY MATTER!
  • Go with your gut – if you don’t want your model to pose and want to capture them whilst they are in conversation , then so be it!

At the end of it all , it was a “funtastic” experience for me. Would I do things differently now that I know? Hell, yes! Would I not have taken up this shoot at all, knowing what I know now? Nope, I would still do it. My biggest takeaway is not written in any book – if you don’t actually physically get your hands dirty, no matter how many times you have read it in a book, you will never learn what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. I learnt a lot of things I could have done better and I learnt a lot of things about my own capacity and knowledge. Practical knowledge is in my opinion, the most important aspect of learning.

My biggest thank you to my fearless friend Divya – for giving me the opportunity to shoot her and for spoiling me for future models( I am going to expect the same ease out of them!). Like I said, you are my ‘pillayar suzhi’!

As usual, all photographs and written material belong to the author – so please DO NOT reproduce without prior permission. It might be of use to you to know, that some of my uncles, cousins and friends are lawyers!!! :))


My first guinea pig