Storytelling through a photographer’s lens
[dropcap]”F[/dropcap]or me photography has always been about capturing that one moment,” says Bangalore based Abhishek Anupam of Shot, Framed & Hanged. Abhishek recently put together a riveting photo story called ‘Naina’ that centers around the emotions of a young girl who is no more. Through Naina’s story, Abhishek takes you on a compassionate journey through his photographic lens.
The young and talented photographer speaks to Pandolin about the genesis of this unique idea, the work flow, technique involved and other intricate details of the making of a photo story.
How did your passion for photography begin?
I started with professional photography sometime around last year. That is when I realized that my real calling lies in photography. For me photography has always been about capturing that one moment. And I always liked being behind the camera than being in front of it. The prime instance that got me started with photography was when my elder brother lent me his SLR. But my first professional opportunity came in the form of Bangalore Fashion Week. A friend’s friend was participating and she needed a photographer. That is when one thing led to the other. And that worked out very well and the response I received for it online was also great.
What kind of photography do you enjoy the most? Which according to you is the toughest genre to capture through still photography?
Lately I’ve been trying to explore as much as possible; be it wildlife photography, travel or fashion. But given a choice I would like to do fashion photography for the rest of my life. The knowledge that is required to pull off a good fashion shoot, the effort that goes into it, be it lighting, make-up, hair or clothes, is what really intrigues me. The amount of understanding that you need to have for a good fashion shoot is tremendous. If you have a certain image in your mind and are able to capture it on camera, complete with the movements, lights etc, that is the biggest reward. For me this genre has an attractive element but at the same time it is one of the toughest genres too.
How did the concept of ‘Naina’ come into existence? Did you have any sources of inspiration?
The concept of Naina came to me in just a blink of an eye. There was no back story or inspiration. It was surprising for me too as it is a topic that talks about death. One fine day the concept just popped into my head and I began exploring it; what would happen if someone who passes away has some unfinished goodbyes to convey. I started working on this thought and the entire story started coming to life. So the basic idea was to capture the emotions of a girl who was taken away before time and has come back to bid goodbye to her precious belongings. From then on the idea blew like a virus. There were a lot of improvisations that happened on the way but they were more situational. The soul of the story remained constant throughout. Whenever I work on a story line I try to figure out and close all the open endings. For me a good story is one that has no loose ends attached to it.
[pullquote_right]I wanted to ensure that each photograph conveys the exact feeling of the particular moment. My idea was that the photograph should give away the story and not the write-up.[/pullquote_right]
What was the process involved in using still images to narrate a story?
The conceptualization was the first step. I came up with a tagline that encapsulates the whole story. From there on I started to explore the character of Naina. I kept asking myself questions – what would someone do in a situation like this, what are the things that held importance for Naina to complete the circle of her life and so on. As I went along, I started thinking from Naina’s perspective and worked accordingly.
There were things that I had locked on before we went on the shoot. For example, a photograph is something that Naina would see and recollect good times or a soft toy would bring back memories. This was all planned in advance. We were pretty clear about the flow of the shoot – how Naina would enter the room and gradually treasure memories through the various artifacts. And then eventually, it would strike her, this is it. Following which she would go beyond the rules of afterlife and write a letter for her parents. We wanted all these various emotions to come around for the character of Naina.
How did you choose the model for your photo story?
I was lucky to have found Aanchal, who plays the character of Naina. After completing the first two drafts of the story, I was pretty sure that only she could play the character. She has the innocence required for the character and emotes brilliantly. Infact, some parts of the story were written keeping her in mind and the name of the photo story also came along because Aanchal had these beautiful eyes. I had to wait for around 2-3 months to ensure that she was available to execute this project. But it was worth it.
You have mainly focused on the character and not revealed much of the background. Was it a deliberate decision?
I was sure that the scope of the photo shoot would be limited to the journey of Naina coming back and the leaving for good. The first few photographs do reveal how Naina had plans for her future but her plans were cut short. I chose not to emphasize on how she died because I understood only the character of Naina. What happened before that was beyond my comprehension as I had limited my story to just this point. I realized that pushing its scope would, in my opinion, have done injustice to the main character. My only focus was narrating the story of Naina and why she comes back.
[pullquote_right]Digital retouching is fine if you’re not trying to create something that you have not shot in the first place. Using it to make intense changes is not justified.[/pullquote_right]
What are the challenges faced in narrating a story through still photographs as compared to a running film?
There were two aspects – first, expressions on the model and second, the write-up. The write-up was something that I drafted 2-3 times before we went into shooting. What you read in the final post is very different from what I had first written. I wanted to ensure that each photograph conveys the exact feeling of the particular moment. My idea was that the photograph should give away the story and not the write-up. I was not trying to justify the written story by clicking a picture. I’m trying to be a good photographer first and a storyteller later. In terms of the emotions, it was a challenge to get them right. But since Aanchal was so brilliant, we did not have much of a problem.
What equipment have you used to shoot the images in Naina? Which is your favorite brand in lenses and one lens that is a must for you?
I shot the whole project on a Nikon D90. Two variations of lenses that I used were the Nikon 18 – 105mm lens and also the Nikon 70 -300 mm lens, which is a telephoto lens. The telephoto lens helped me generate depth of field around the character. I have been using Nikon from the beginning so I quite like it. Personally my favorite is the 50mm prime lens.
How have you used lighting as a key element to depict the various moods in Naina?
Most of these shots are taken in natural light. We had to figure a time in the day when it was perfect for us to shoot. The natural light was good enough to capture everything. Also everything has been shot indoors and the entire story is covered in just two rooms.
Do you prefer shooting in color or black and white?
I try and figure the mood of the photograph before I decide on whether it should be monochrome or color. If you can depict what you’re thinking using monochrome then that has an elegant feel to it. If given the choice I would like to shoot more in black and white as compared to color.
Have you used any post processing tools?
We used Adobe Photoshop 6.0 mainly to increase the noise in the picture. I was very particular about getting an eerie feel to the picture as a lively and colorful arrangement would not have worked for a concept like this. So we have just done some color reductions and adjustments.
What are your views on digital retouching techniques?
I don’t think post editing is a bad thing. Initially when I started off, I was of the opinion that my pictures should be exactly the way I envisioned in my mind without any retouching. But as I did more work, I realized it doesn’t work out every time. And if there is a way to do some alteration with the picture to get what you are looking for, that is priceless. Digital retouching is fine if you’re not trying to create something that you have not shot in the first place. If it’s just compensating exposure, some changes in saturation and so on, it is acceptable. But using it to make intense changes is not justified.
How much time did you take to shoot this project?
Since I had nailed the story well beforehand, I knew exactly what Naina’s character would do. I was pretty sure about how many shots I will take and how many different instances there will be. Some of them worked, some didn’t, but overall we completed the project in around 4 hours. We executed many of the shots in one go as Aanchal was remarkable with the emotions.
What was the response received to ‘Naina’?
The response has been extremely overwhelming. I knew that this is something that people will relate to but I was extremely surprised when people appreciated it so much. And that is what means the most to me.
Any more photo stories like ‘Naina’ in the pipeline? Would we see you making a film in the future?
I am already working on some photo stories. The tagline is set, in my mind the story is clear but I need to start putting it on paper. As for films, it could be a possibility somewhere down the line. For me this whole instance is about being a photographer more than just being a storytelling. But I do believe that exploration is a never ending process. So I will be working on stories and let’s see how it goes from there.
A glimpse of his work – https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.170672879753018.1073741826.107858779367762&type=1