We caught up with one of the top wedding photographers in India, Arjun Kartha, to learn more about his passion for photography and his experiences so far. Here’s what he had to say:
From computer engineering to a career in advertising, to full-time photography. Can you tell us a little about your journey so far and how you ended up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?
My journey towards photography wasn’t something that I planned. It was something that just happened!
When I was in school (during the nineties), I was more interested in what happened outside the classroom than with art. My dad used to dabble with some amateur film photography, so that was pretty much the only exposure I had to something ‘artsy’.
When I was in my mid-teens, I remember being fascinated by how inserting a TP into a projector would result in a large image on a wall, depicting fascinating places and people. I never really thought about what went into making photos. To me, the concept of developing film was beyond my childhood faculties and more within the realm of ‘grown up’ activities.
When I grew older, my mother bought me my first camera – a 1-megapixel digital point-and-shoot that had no brand name (probably made in China). Being able to shoot an image and immediately view it on a computer changed my understanding of photography.
Downloading the first images I took (admittedly of a rather garish looking plant and a few obliging neighbourhood dogs, who posed sedately for me in return for biscuits) and seeing them come alive on an ancient computer had me hooked.
Fast forward a few years and I began experimenting with my dad’s old cameras (which he surprisingly allowed me to use). I also started reading every book on photography I could lay my hands on at the time. In addition, I learned how to develop film the old-fashioned way (and nope, back then we couldn’t “google” it!).
When I finished my schooling, a career as a photographer just wasn’t logical, even though I was interested in photography. To be frank, I never really thought pursuing a career in photography was even possible! Career counselling and similar avenues of career guidance just didn’t exist at that time. So, like everyone else, I dreamt of a career in computer science and went to study the same in Bangalore. However, the one thing I took away from that experience was that I DIDN’T want to be a computer engineer. Period.
I caught a lucky break and landed a job in an advertising agency, during which time my latent passion for photography resurfaced – this is when I actually met with REAL, professional photographers and went on various REAL shoots that opened my eyes to the world of commercial photography. I started saving up, and before long was able to buy my first camera – and became a real photographer!
How difficult was it in the initial days? Did you, at any point, regret/rethink taking the road less travelled at that time?
I’ll have to admit that it wasn’t easy at first.
When I first started out as a wedding photographer, it seemed a little strange to almost everyone I met since it wasn’t a traditional career choice. My parents would still pass me off as someone who worked in a ‘good company’.
Money didn’t grow on trees, and the list of cameras and lenses I wanted to buy just never seemed to end (in fact, it still doesn’t). I don’t think I ever regretted the decision though – being in a creative, professional field makes you passionate about what you do. It reminds me of the old adage – turn your hobby into your profession and you’ll never work a day in your life!
How did you prepare financially when starting out?
I’m terrible with money. With me, money is like water. I try and hold on to it for dear life. But, it’s usually gone in the blink of an eye.
I tried to save up as much as I could. But, being a footloose bachelor, my list of expenses was never ending. There never seemed to be any money left, although the few bits and bobs that I managed to save went straight into my bank account.
In retrospect, I admit that my reckless approach towards money wasn’t the best plan. I should have made sound financial decisions that would have provided me with a steady allowance during the lean seasons when there weren’t too many assignments floating about.
Who’s better at managing money – you or Praerna? Why?
I’d like to THINK the answer to this question is me, but then I’d be lying to myself!
Without a doubt, Praerna is the wiser one! She secretly stashes away little pockets of money without telling me about it. And I think this works fairly well for us. I spend the money where it needs to be spent and Praerna stashes it away for a rainy day!
How was it getting your first assignment? Could you tell us a little about it?
When I was starting out, I had a couple of wedding shoots under my belt that I did as a ‘friend’ to the bride and groom. This had helped me make a small portfolio, but I certainly couldn’t tell my first client (God bless her!) that her wedding shoot was my first “paid” assignment. I shot the wedding in a state of extreme panic. I took photos of everything that moved – and hey presto! It turned out great.
I still panic every time I go to shoot a wedding. I still have butterflies in my stomach on the morning of a shoot. But, I think this really helps me put in everything I’ve got into what I do (and yes, I still sometimes shoot everything that moves!).
What sort of prepping goes into a shoot? Tell us more about how you make it happen – meeting new people, building a rapport with them and making them feel comfortable, etc.?
A lot of what I do involves having great people skills. I sometimes like to think of it like the bedside manner of a good doctor who is able to break terrible news about ghastly diseases while still making the patient feel like they’ve won the lottery.
Of course, I’m not a bearer of bad news (which makes it MUCH easier). But, as a professional photographer, it’s my job to make my subjects feel happy and bright in front of a camera. Over the years, it has become a part of my persona and a lot of it involves reminding myself how much I hate being in front of the camera myself, and making the person I’m photographing forget that they have a camera pointed at them.
Kodak Wedding Photographer of the Year – 2011! Wow! How was the face-off experience?
Before the face-off, I never really “met” too many other wedding photographers, let alone worked closely with them. Shooting with five other super-talented photographers helped me learn a lot about techniques and styles while helping reaffirm that I wasn’t quite as bad as I made out in my head either.
This experience was integral to why I’ve always advocated collaboration within the photography community, and made me start the Wedding Photographers Association of India (do check the website!) this year to help bring the community closer and help set the bar for photography in India.
Food photography or wedding photography – which do you think is the tougher one in terms of conceptualising and getting the perfect shot? And which do you like more?
Food photography and wedding photography are two completely different genres – and are worlds apart from each other.
I’d have to say that both are “tough” – but food photography involves a lot of conceptualisation because of the nature of the genre. Food involves creating something from scratch that is based on a certain brief by the client.
Weddings are much more photojournalistic – where a photographer looks for stories within the existing framework of a wedding. I usually have very limited control over a wedding – and create stories based on how I see and experience the wedding I’m in.
I’d say that this makes weddings tougher in general, but in terms of conceptualisation – food takes the cake! (Pun intended).
Big fat Indian wedding or All-you-can-eat buffet? Which would you rather be present at as a guest?
Well, I certainly love attending weddings as a guest (which unfortunately happens very rarely) – but I usually eat very little at weddings I’m working at. When you’ve attended a line of weddings back-to-back, there’s only so much butter chicken and butter naan you can possibly eat. So, it’s much better to stick to the basics and have something that’s light and easy to digest (hint: the salad bar!).
Anyone who works at weddings usually swears by the daal! Though I’ll admit, I get more enthusiastic about the dessert counter.
A little birdie told us about a copyright infringement issue with a certain hospitality start-up. Could you enlighten us? How often have you had your work stolen/plagiarised?
Wow, you’ve really done your research!
Unfortunately, we have to deal with copyright infringements on a very regular basis. Most of it is unintentional (read, a lack of understanding of copyright laws and how intellectual property works), but every now and then someone comes along who really makes us wonder what’s going on.
There was this one time when someone copied our entire website – yes, the ENTIRE website – and just changed the logo. This meant that in one fell swoop, this enterprising photographer from Chandigarh, who will go unnamed here, was able to download our entire portfolio and pass it off as his own!
Most of this is due to two factors – one, as I mentioned earlier, is a lack of understanding of photos as someone’s property (yes, Google images aren’t free!). The second factor is easy accessibility. When you can find literally any image you want with a few clicks of your mouse, and the chances of being caught so remote, you wouldn’t mind lifting them without permission or giving due credit. Even large organisations do it these days.
What sometimes worries us is knowing that the cases we’ve caught are just the tip of the iceberg; there are probably TONS of instances out there where our images have been used and we just don’t know about it. We’ve really stopped letting it bother us though – pirates will be pirates, and what goes around – comes around!
We also heard there’s a story about your quashed musical aspirations as a child. Do tell us more about that.
Oh no, this is one story that was supposed to stay buried!
All right, here’s how it goes. In the days before I discovered I knew a thing or two about making pictures, Mother Kartha used to worry that her precious offspring was an utterly talentless lout and needed to be taught a thing or two.
During this time (when I was probably ten), all I wanted for my birthday – like most boys my age – was a Nintendo video game console. However, in her wisdom, my wonderful mother decided to get me what she thought was a useful present; a Casio synthesizer. On opening the box, and realising that this odd instrument couldn’t possibly be a video game, I was righteously distressed.
However, on being egged on to try it out, I realised what I must have known all along – I didn’t possess a single musical bone in my body. Still unwilling to admit defeat, my mother signed me up for “music lessons” during S.U.P.W classes in school.
During my first class, the music master took one look at me and assigned me to what he must have felt was the instrument I could do the least damage with – the tabla. Not to be outdone by other, louder noise-makers, I religiously banged away at it with glee until I was unceremoniously kicked out and told never to return. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I never picked up a music instrument ever again!
What does the future hold for thoda-strong.com and the Karthas?
I wish I had a crystal ball. If I were to think about what I’d LIKE the future to hold, all I can say is that I hope it’s full of happiness, fun people, and inspiration.
People often cite money (or lack of) as the root cause of failed dreams. Do you have any financial tips to help photography newbies chase their passion instead of giving up on them?
Here are some tips for young photographers starting out:
- Education in photography isn’t very expensive. When you compare the cost of a degree (or diploma) in photography with the cost of an MBA, you’ll see that it’s actually not that bad. Spend money on a good foundation that will help you for years.
- Invest in quality. Take a loan if needed. While buying cameras and lenses may seem expensive in isolation, compare it with other relevant professional costs – like how much it costs to become a pilot. Buying flight time costs a bomb and young pilots need to spend tens of lakhs on getting themselves the experience needed for a license.
- Save money. While it may seem difficult at first, always try and set aside 10% of what you earn as your rainy day fund. Photography is a seasonal business, and you may go through a dry spell when you don’t have any clients for weeks or months on end. This is where your savings will help you ride out the difficult period without worrying too much on how to exist.
- Have a financial plan and run your photography career like a business. Make sure you pay your taxes and have a healthy balance sheet. Being financially healthy is VERY IMPORTANT as an independent professional. You’ll need it for so many things, like applying for a loan, or a visa, or a Credit Card.
Finally, what do you think your epitaph and/or title of your memoirs would be? 🙂
Woof. Click. Burp. ~ A short story, one picture at a time.
Thank you very much for the interview, Arjun! BankBazaar.com wishes you success in everything you do.