“When you get good results, all the stress you go through is worth to live for”

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Tell us about your journey from the day you started as a photographer.

As a kid, I loved drawing and painting. I used to accompany my elder sister, who also is an Artist from J. J. School of Art, to annual exhibitions. So studying Applied Arts was a somewhat conscious decision and I completed my graduation with photography elective which I loved.
Looking back, I strongly feel, if I wasn’t in India I would have definitely landed for Masters in photography rather than doing Applied Art with Photography Major. It was unlike what we see in London School of Fashion(UK) or Brooks(USA), where one can study full-fledged photography and dedicated schooling options are available to do post-graduation. One gets to learn technicalities, market study, approach, software which is a key. Art schools in India treat photography as a medium to execute advertising and not as a complete subject. Fortunately, when I was studying, Digital was just getting introduced and was an expensive luxury. So I learnt all my basics on Film that gave me immense satisfaction, knowledge and made my basics of Photoshop strong. Though there was no training of studio work, commercial work, client marketing etc. the process was making sketches, getting visuals approved by staff and shooting those visuals on films, getting it processed by using manual processing techniques and work on prints with colours and brushes. It helps when your foundation is solid. Many people have complimented me for visible colour grading in my work and I think that is because of my applied art background.

Pic Courtesy : Shweta Walavalkar

Pic Courtesy : Shweta Walavalkar

Did you undertake any formal training in photography and what role has it played in your growth as a photographer?

Post my graduation, I wanted to study photography in-depth, more about equipment, pre and post production and much more. So rather than going abroad, I decided to apply for an internship and that is how I landed in Vikram Bawa’s studio as an assistant Photographer. I assisted him for two years. After a year of working with Vikram Bawa, he allowed us to take up freelance assignments as well. I started out by doing small portfolios and shoots for some designer friends and slowly started getting small editorial assignments. Meanwhile, I did some test shoot for one of my model friends. Pictures turned out nice and I randomly submitted to W25, a UK based magazine. They published entire story which proved to be a really good start and gradually a lot of my work got published internationally. Then I did a collaborated shoot with a salon and that story got picked up by Hair Magazine for cover. That was my First cover ever! After that, I did many beauty shoots for Indian, International brands with some top-most people in the industry.

W25 UK / Pic Courtesy : Shweta Walavalkar

W25 UK / Pic Courtesy : Shweta Walavalkar

What is your workflow pattern right from planning to execution for any assignment?

I insist on being a part of brainstorming sessions, choosing models for the project and selecting the location. After that, whenever I start working on assignment my workflow preparation contains reference sketches, colour palate, look-feel mood charts which are ready on the day of the shoot. These are a must and help me visualise the final output. It helps me and my client to be sure and enjoy the entire process with no confusion and chaos around. Being an art student I get into colour detailing so much that I think I do take little extra time for that. There are people who do photo retouching for photographers but I like to do it on my own as I am the one who visualises the final output.

Pic Courtesy : Shweta Walavalkar

Pic Courtesy : Shweta Walavalkar

Why Fashion Photography? How is it always working with new stylists, models and designers?

A major part of my folio contains fashion and beauty work which has received more appreciation. I love working with creatively driven people. After spending some time here, I do have my preferred set of stylists, designers and team which is kind of like minded. Still, for every new shoot, I try to work with someone new. There are many talented people in the industry and they are up for doing experimental work.
But my work is not limited to only fashion. In fact, my photography career stared through an art project. It was with a Mumbai-based Artist initiative and it was for the very reputed Busan biennale, Korea. After that, I have worked on many product shoots, Interior/Architectural shoots. I love shooting portraits, people and shooting babies is my new found love. For me, I like the camera as medium and I would love to explore as much as I can.

Pic Courtesy : Shweta Walavalkar

Pic Courtesy : Shweta Walavalkar

Typically, what does your camera kit contain?

My current set up contains Conon 5D Mark II with EF50mm f/1.4, EF24-105mm f/3.5-5.6, and EF70-300 f4-5.6. I use Wacom Intuos for my retouching. For retouching I use Photoshop CC and Lightroom.

Hair First Cover / Pic Courtesy : Shweta Walavalkar

Hair First Cover / Pic Courtesy : Shweta Walavalkar

Which has been your most challenging/memorable project and why? 

I think my most challenging work is yet to come but memories have been created already. Many projects have been memorable for different reasons. Like for example, my first cover shoot where I worked with an amazing stylist duo from the salon industry, Zido Salon. We had eight hours to do twelve looks. When it is hair and beauty shoot, one needs to be very precise with the look. The shoot turned out to be very beautiful. My first international fashion spread which we shot in Mumbai summer heat was another experience. I shot with Actor Omi Vaidya for an advertising print campaign. It was typical advertising shoot where we got fifteen minutes in between TVC shoot and we had to create around 8 to 10 visuals. When you shoot with a celeb, a lot of planning is needed. A really tiny room was allotted in a construction site where we set up our equipment and waited for almost 5 hours to finish TVC shoot so that we can start ours. Also, we did a shoot where the stylist wrapped our model in lots of colourful drapes and we hit Madh Island at 6am just to not miss the sunrise. We started shooting in natural light. We were only four people including model, and the cop caught us. Cops started following and telling me that they will confiscate my camera. We were little scared but then we kept shooting by running away from them and clicking quick frames. Those were two unforgettable hours. That story got picked up by Doux magazine, Argentina. All efforts were worth taking. Like I said when you get good results, all stress you go through is worth to live for.

Doux Madh / Pic Courtesy : Shweta Walavalkar

Doux Madh / Pic Courtesy : Shweta Walavalkar

Which photographer inspires you and what keeps you motivated to create such great imagery?

I always surf though internet and keep checking good work out there. It is like an exercise and there are lot of photographers and stylists who inspire. But to name a few from the younger lot, I like Amanda Diaz, Lara Jade, Zhang Jingna’s work in fashion and beauty. I love Akif Hakan’s use of colour and grading. My all-time favorite is Annie Leibovitz.

What challenges do you face in the photography world?

Fortunately up till now I have seen only the good side of this industry except for a couple of bad experiences. Twice, looking at my age, clients have negotiated on the cost post shoot and delivery, even after a pre-decided estimated cost. Initially on the sets, production people, light men did try helping me or giving me hints about how to do light stuff but now inputs have become scarce. Most difficult part was managing the physical, emotional, cultural distance between Dombivili and the fashion industry. I have always noticed people looking at me with doubts concerning my fashion quotient, which has changed now after my work at the international level. Overall these experiences only help you grow.

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Pic Courtesy : Shweta Walavalkar

As per you, what makes for a great fashion photograph?

‘TEAM WORK’
Making a great picture is only possible with a well-coordinated team where photographer, stylist, MUA and hair stylist, models and designers, everyone is well aware of the result they are aiming for. Some homework and referencing definitely helps one make achieve what he/she wants.

What advice would you want to give to the aspiring photographers?

Photography is very competitive Industry. Achieving what you dream for requires a lot of dedication, hard work, commitment and some good luck with the right timing too. There is no short cut. Understanding fashion, assisting someone whose work you look up to, doing test shoots and light experiments always helps. You need to be prepared for not getting paid or getting paid very less initially to make your own portfolio up to the mark. Always remember it’s kind of an investment. Don’t ever compare yourself with other contemporary photographers. Always remember everyone has their own unique style. Don’t give up. Good luck!

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