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Lights, camera, don't pose

You no longer need to cringe when flipping through photos of your wedding album that have you posing awkwardly with a forced smile, as hordes of relatives and friends around you change in every frame. A new breed of documentary and street photographers will discreetly shoot the special and non-posey moments that make up your big day. The only question, though, is can you afford it?

It may be their big day, but most Indian brides and grooms will tell you that the wedding day is also chaotic and, sadly, stressful. There are never-ending to-do lists, tantrum-throwing relatives, unpunctual beauticians, caterers, decorators and family members to juggle. As if that wasn't enough, there's also the wedding photographer, who at various points of time would ask them to pose in eight cringe-inducing cookie-cutter poses. Not any more, however.


Pic/Satyajit Desai

To-be-wed couples, who don't mind shelling out a few extra bucks for a more creative, sensitive, and memorable rendition of their wedding are turning to a fast growing tribe of street, documentary, travel and fashion photographers, who are not averse to clicking candid shots of the bride and groom. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, and a candid one, we assume, would be worth much more.


At this wedding in  Dehradun in October last year, Priyanka Sachar
managed to capture the perfect moment, when the best friend of the
bride was helping her keep the lehenga away from the fire during the
pheras. In doing so, it almost seemed as if the three of them were taking
the pheras and the usually serious ritual transformed into a light-hearted
situation. Pic courtesy/ Priyanka Sachar


Guess who's trigger happy?
Delhi-based Priyanka Sachar, a 34 year-old IT professional, who took up photography as a hobby in 2005, admits as much. "I had an exhibition of my fine art work in 2010 and also managed to sell some of my work online, but street and fine art doesn't pay well."

Thirty three year-old Avantika Meattle and Mumbai-based photographer Vikas Munipalle agree. In fact, Munipalle, who started taking up wedding assignments two months ago, admits that he is not fully drawn to the idea. "There is still a part of me that isn't fully convinced, but these assignments pay really well," he admits. 

So well, in fact, that Mumbai-based Aviraj Saluja quit his marketing and business development job at software products company Directi in May last year to pursue his newfound hobby as a career. "I started off with gig photography, but it isn't financially viable as a career.


This picture is of a bride in a Hindu-Sikh wedding shot by Sachar in New
Delhi in February, 2011. Here she has managed to capture the verve and
energy of the moment through the hearty laugh of the bride while the
groom was being badgered for money in exchange for his shoes. Pic
courtesy/ Priyanka Sachar


The bands themselves are struggling to make ends meet, so you can imagine how much money a photographer can make shooting them," he says. What changed his mind? "I was paid Rs 10,000 for a wedding that I shot in November 2010." In contrast, Saluja would shoot gigs and wait till magazines contacted him for a picture they needed. Each picture earned him between Rs 500 to Rs 2,000. Meattle is frank. "Newspapers, magazines, travel photography don't even take care of your expensive equipment costs."

No retakes
Candid wedding photography has a fixed brief: photographers have to fill wedding albums with pictures that make up the whole story of the big, fat, Indian wedding -- the discreet glances, the laughs, the anxiety and the drama before and on the day. In return, they lay down one condition -- the mamajis and mausijis of the family aren't allowed to stand in a line and pester them to click pictures.


Priyanka Sachar

Candid photographers are not here to compete with the average neighbourhood studios, and often work on their own terms. Most, for instance, would refuse to click pictures of the couple with every guest on the reception stage.

"I tell my clients in advance that I don't click posed pictures. The ones who want such pictures apart from the candid ones hire a regular stage photographer to take care of that," says Sachar. A modest Munipalle sees himself as the additional photographer, paid to capture the "special moments".

"I am an add-on, not a replacement," he says. Saluja on the other hand hates the regular posed wedding photographs so much that he tries to convince his clients to do away with them completely. "Every time I look at a typical wedding album I tell myself that such work shouldn't exist. I ask my clients: 'Fifteen years later, would you like to remember your wedding through pictures in which you posed with evident discomfort?'"


A candid shot of Namrata Arya and Vivek Rawal clicked by Aviraj Saluja
just before they looked into the camera. Pic courtesy Aviraj Saluja


"I don't get people to tilt their heads, move closer, put their hands on each other's shoulders or to smile. In fact most of the pictures I finally give the clients are pictures of moments before and after they look into the camera," Saluja adds.

A lot of the photographers also take up wedding photography, because it challenges them to click extraordinary pictures, with no option of a retake. "People may think that wedding photography is easy, especially for street and travel photographers, but it's not a cakewalk. It's a mix of fashion, street, food and documentary photography. It's dynamic. Everybody is always in a rush, the lights keep changing and the most important part -- there are no retakes," Sachar says.

Another kind of challenge
While couples may need little convincing that candid photography is the way to go, their parents are more scared to experiment. "Parents are very difficult to convince. They don't understand the concept of candid pictures. They still want their regular studio photographer to click the stand-in-a-line photographs to make sure that everyone, who attended the wedding has a picture with the couple," says Saluja.

However, Sachar points out that while the wedding market has become bigger, people of an older generation are still hesitant to experiment with the photographer. Money is spent on item and mujra performances, while fancy hookah points are set up in the reception hall, but many don't put much thought behind the documentation of the big day.
 

Pic courtesy/ Avantika Meattle

"There have been times when the bride and the groom haven't been able to convince their parents to hire my services. They pay me from their own pockets discreetly and request me to not reveal my charges to anyone during the wedding," she says.

Even if the parents are convinced, how do the photographers deal with demanding and difficult guests? The unanimous answer is to politely refuse by pointing to the closest studio photographer. "There is no point getting worked up about it," says Munipalle.

Meattle, who often works with a team of three or four freelance photographers (depending on budgets) says, "You have to employ a stage photographer to deal with such requests. And despite that if you get such requests the photographers need to understand that it's a profession after all, so they can't get touchy about it. I've met several photographers who have shown me some excellent work, but I don't include them in my team because they can be extremely moody and temperamental."

Do they have an edge?
The new age wedding photographers definitely think they have an edge over the average studio crew, because they bring an eye for detail to their work. "Street photographers have a sharp eye. They can capture moments, glances, expressions, ambience, wedding paraphernalia, lighting and d �cor in ways that a regular photographer can't even think of or won't bother about," claims Meattle.

These photographers also have better equipment then the average wedding photographer. "I am very particular about the lighting and equipment I carry. I make sure that I visit the venue at least once in advance to understand the lighting and make sure it's perfect," says Saluja. 

And their professionalism seems to working. Namrata Arya and Vivek Rawal, who got married on December 6, 2011, didn't want to be troubled by photographers at their own wedding. They wanted shots of them laughing and talking to guests and exchanging glances rather than standing in a straight line throughout their reception.

"Aviraj (Saluja) had promised us that he would ensure that most of the guests at the wedding would be photographed, but in a natural and candid way and he delivered. When I uploaded the pictures online, even the most conservative and conventional families who haven't heard of candid photography complimented his work and asked for number. We were more than happy with his work, and so were others who attended the wedding," says an overjoyed Arya.

Are the studios threatened?
How does the conventional flash-using wedding photographer feel? Raju Makhija, who runs Daksha Digital Studio in Khar (west) insists that not much has changed. "We are not threatened. We also have big, well-known clients. It's just that these new photographers have branding and we don't," he says.

"They have increased the competition in the market, so we have upgraded our cameras and increased our quality," he adds. Sachar, however, has a different story to tell. There have been instances when studio photographers at a venue have not given her space to stand and shoot.

"At most weddings I've been to, the studio guys haven't been accommodating. In fact, at a Bengaluru wedding, the client apologised to me later for the behaviour of the studio photographers. They even start copying the style, the angles and the kind of pictures I take at weddings," Sachar reveals.

Makhija on the other hand claims that the "other person" starts aping his photographers. "The other person follows our cameraman, the angles, the style etc," he says. The entry of these "other photographers" seems to have increased the competition in the market, consequently improving the quality of wedding photography. The clear winners, here, are definitely the couples-to be.

How much do you pay?
Prices are subjective and vary greatly. One can hire studio photographers for as little as Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000 per day and packages of 'big studios' in peak season in certain cities can go up to Rs 4 lakh. Similarly, an amateur candid photographer may agree to shoot your wedding for Rs 10, 000 and the big celebrity photographer along with their professional teams may charge you as much as Rs 6-8 lakh a day.

"The price of wedding photography depends on the client, what type of cameras they want, how professional they want it, etc. For a normal shoot we charge Rs 6,000 to Rs 7,000 per day. The price also depends on the number of people. For bigger events, or if we have to take five people along, then the charges are between
Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000," says Makhija.

Saluja charges about Rs 2 lakh per day, Munipalle charges about Rs 35,000 (depending on the requirements), Sachar charges Rs 7,000 per hour,which for two small functions and a big function comes up to about Rs 2 lakh.

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