All these evocative colors are captured by a man known as Sriram Guruswamy.
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VFXY Weekly pick award – 26.5.2008;
Winner – TCS Shutterbug Award;
14 times featured as ‘Spotlight’ in Aminus3.com
Technique: Portraiture (Amateur)
Sriram is an IT engineer by profession who believes that photography is more than just the click of a button. A devotee to the fine art of photography, he excels in telling a story using the stillness of life. His urge to travel to the lesser known places in India has developed his body of work over the last four to five years. An avid fan of Indian classical music, he enjoys caricaturing and is a self-confessed foodie!
I tossed a handful of questions at him to understand what makes this man click on almost every single day.
Q. How did you get into photography? Was it a natural progression from travel and caricaturing?
A. I do still remember getting our automatic Yashica film camera in 1988 when I was around 8 years. But I never realized my passion until I started my IT career after my graduation as an Engineer. During this time, I got my first ‘point and shoot’ digital camera.
I always have an eye for ‘lighting’ in pictures of National Geography Magazine, GettyImages, or Webshots.com. The way these photographers approached the respective range of subjects is also interesting.
I also did realize that I was clicking a lot and is spending a considerable time in understanding the art. I started to look at the EXIF of every image that I liked. I started questioning myself on how the counterpoint of the setting might have worked.
I also started reading photography and equipment manuals. I came across a PDF file that was more about the philosophy behind photography rather than about the techniques. There were loads of arguments on whether photography is an art, how much it relies on technology and a beautiful idealistic conclusion.
Photography is what you visualize seeing a scene.
It made me realize that even a garbage dump yard can be captured true to life and aesthetically. A picture can express, communicate, tell a story, depict life in stillness and present nature in its purest form. And that is what makes Photography as a finer form of art.
One may lose a real photographic moment if he is getting too much involved into the technicalities.
I then graduated myself into buying a prototype SLR with fixed lenses. Without realizing, I made a seamless transition from passion to obsession! And of course, traveling helped a lot.
Since my younger days, I am always intrigued by faces.
I am a huge fan of R. K. Laxman’s The Common Man caricatures. All my school notebooks had a whole lot of caricatures in the last few pages! Yes, I should say, it helped me a great deal in capturing the essence of a face and building up my ‘portraits portfolio.’
Steve McCurry is a great inspiration. The kind of work he did in India, Burma and Afghanistan were inimitable and simply the best.
Steve’s work made me realize that photography is not just about capturing something that is already beautiful, but it is an honest perspective into those real moments of truth depicted in an aesthetic way. Thus ‘still life’ and ‘portraits’ became my favorite genres.
Q. What does your gear consist of?
- Nikon D700 and Nikon D50
- 24-85mm f/2.8-4.0D IF AF Zoom Nikkor Lens
- 12-24mm Sigma F4.5-5.6 EX DG ASP HSM
- Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 APO DG Macro
- 50mm Prime Nikkor f/1.4
- F1.8 18 – 55mm & 55 – 200mm Nikkor lenses
- A neat Manfrotto and a whole lot of filters!
Q. Among the many equipment you own, which one do you find yourself using most of the time? Why?
A. D700 with 24-85mm f/2.8 lens which is wonderful at low lights producing sharp images with a better Depth Of Focus (DOF) and vignetting control. It is a neat “all-purpose” combination even though I am looking forward to upgrading my lenses by this year end.
Q. Which one have you used the least? Why?
A. Of course, the Nikon DX lenses, as I use my full frame lenses for D700 (which is an FX camera) more frequently.
Q. Being a self-confessed foodie, why are there no “delicious” clicks in your portfolio? Does eating make you oblivious to everything else? 🙂
A. True. Before I realize that I am going to click food, I eats it! Haha 🙂 To be frank, I have not ventured into indoor photography of food or products with synthetic lighting. Hopefully I may click something in future.
I love to use natural light as much as possible.
Q. When you go for one of your travels, which lens/cam combination do you prefer to carry around? Why?
A. D700 with 50mm f1.4 prime is brilliant for portraits. D700 with 24 – 85mm f/2.8 and 12 – 24mm are useful for nature and landscapes. Over the time, I have minimized the use of my telephoto 70 – 300mm and I am looking forward to upgrade.
Q. You have always managed to be at the right place at the right moment. What’s the secret?
A. I think I am a blessed soul! For example, when I climbed up on the top of Athirapally waterfalls, it was cloudy at first. Then it started to rain. After the rain, there was this gorgeous yellow lighting in the sky. I took a wide range of shots in about a time-frame of 30 minutes.
Sometimes everything just falls into place. When we were traveling from Kibber (Spiti Ranges, Greater Himalayas) — one of the highest villages in the world — we gave a lift to a woman. Her face defined Spiti. Her eyes and the wrinkles on her face spoke volumes about the courage needed to withstand the storms, absolute chillness and extreme weather conditions. Capturing this moment in its truest sense is a very satisfying experience.
Q. Being a newbie, I’m always worried about my color balance. How do you manage to get the colors right in your shots? They remind me of the evocative colors produced by Steve McCurry.
A. I am so flattered when you say it reminds you of Steve McCurry. He is my biggest inspiration.
Attaining a color balance in a composition is extremely subjective. The basic parameters like the aperture, exposure and shutter speed should be spot on as the lighting can play havoc.
RBYGs can be balanced using the white balancing and bracketing techniques. I am also fond of sepia and monochrome shots. Again, the choice is very instinctive and subjective.
Q. How do you educate yourself to take better shots?
A. Magazines can help you to update on equipments and newer techniques while good blogs/portfolios can inspire you to do better work. For me, improvements are through traveling, searching and clicking! I try to be in a real photographic moment and just ‘snap it.’
Q. What is the major difference in your style of work that you can see since your start?
A. Earlier, I was more into Nature and Landscapes. Then I slowly got drawn to still life, portraits and raw moments. I think my framing of a moment has become much refined than earlier.
Q. How do you post-process your shots?
A. I use Adobe Photoshop CS3 and Adobe Lightroom for my RAW conversion, contrast balance, noise reduction and curve balancing.
I try to minimize post-processing as much as possible. I am not a big a fan of HDR.
I try to keep the photos less surreal as possible.
Q. Other than Steve McCurry, who else are your favorite?
A. Raghu Rai‘s work on people and still life. ChromAsia‘s work is totally new-age and I enjoy them although it’s got a surreal tone to it.
Being a huge movie buff, I love the framing of Januz Kaminski, Conrad Hall, Coppolla, Ray, Kurosawa, Santhosh Sivan and PC Sreeram. Santhosh Sivan’s works for Mani Ratnam films have always been poignant. I adore the work he did for the films Vanaprastham, The Terrorist and Iruvar. They are very inspiring works.
Q. What’s the one thing you wish you knew in your initial days of photography?
A. I never had the luxury of a mentor or of a formal training. My Photography style is totally self-taught and it took years to get evolved.
I realized late that photography is not just about capturing something that is already beautiful.
There is a bigger dimension to it as being an honest perspective into those real moments of truth depicted in an aesthetic way.
Although Sriram seldom gets enough time to shoot and manage a photography blog, he has plans to create forums and conduct workshops for newbies. Currently he is focusing his efforts on doing an exhibition of his photos around July-August, this year. We wish the man every success.