No more of those formal albums and videos. There’s a fresh crop of shutterbugs that's redefining wedding photography, says Shonali Muthalaly

Smile. You’re on candid camera. As the Great Indian Wedding morphs into yet another Bollywood production, brides and grooms are discovering new ways to capture memories. Formal, posed, clichéd wedding albums and videos are being unceremoniously pushed aside by a new breed of fresh, feisty, fun photographers, who are enthusiastically redefining wedding photography.

Vinay Aravind, like many of these young professionals, changed careers after a wedding shoot he did for a friend went viral. “I was unemployed, I had a new camera and I happened to shoot a friend’s wedding. I had literally learned to use my camera in February, and shot in March. Perhaps it was beginner’s luck. But they loved it, and I started getting more work.” Even though he only bought his first camera two-and-a-half-years ago, he’s already shot around 90 weddings, from Delhi to Chennai.

Switching professions

Explaining why most of the new crop of wedding photographers tends to be people who have switched professions, Vinay says, “The basics of the craft are very straightforward, it's fairly simple to get your shutter speed and exposure right.” The challenge is standing out in an exploding market. “The more time you spend, the more you study, the more you explore, the better you get. I feel the whole idea of ‘talent’ is a slightly bogus thing — you can create something really good if you spend a lot of time and a lot of effort. Of course, you must have some sort of eye for aesthetics.”

Varun Suresh, of ‘Shot Stories,’ one of the first of the ‘candid wave’ says convincing people to move away from those time-honoured posed pictures was his biggest challenge when he started shooting weddings in 2008. “The parents always want a record of who attended. It’s there in our psyche. And the Indian wedding is still the parents’ wedding. The bride and groom merely attend!”

Lucrative

Nevertheless, Varun, an engineer, gave up a job at Cognizant to do a one-year course in photography in London. “I realised that a single wedding assignment earns the same amount of money as one month of sitting behind a desk at a conventional 9 to 5 job.” Good wedding photographers can charge anything from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 5 lakh a day… “As a result, it’s now a gold rush. Everyone’s doing it… You have a fancy camera with a 50 mm lens, Facebook gives you publicity and suddenly, you’re a wedding photographer.”

However, as Varun has found, it’s still not difficult to stand out in a chaotic, unregulated market. “It’s come to a point where even the guests have better cameras than us,” he grins, “But it’s post production work that sets you apart.” Subtlety is key. “Some people like it really purple, red and green. But you should change pictures just a little bit, to enhance them. Like makeup: If you can’t see it, it’s well done.”

As weddings get bigger and bolder, photographers are equipping themselves with all kinds of bells and whistles. Abhishek Behani of Jodi Clickers, which started just a year ago with two people now has a team of 18, since they offer a range of services, from a coffee table book to a photo booth, usually set up at the sangeeth for guests.

“We assign a copywriter to the couple one month before the wedding. So we get to know their stories. The writer also gets in touch with all the people in their life, from their chai wallah to their siblings. Once we have that storyline, we begin the shoot. With all this information, we create a coffee table book.” Abhishek says they began doing this in an attempt to “connect emotionally with people.”

His team’s ability to make friends is their greatest strength, he says. “Because we start the process a month earlier, we’re friends with the couple by the time the wedding begins. It’s not a client-vendor relationship. So even shooting till 4 a.m. doesn’t feel like work.” They even have a process for the now customary post-wedding shoot. “For example, one couple is just back from a honeymoon in Greece. So we’re taking them to a location close by, Aamby Valley, for the day. We book a car, pack a picnic, tuck in some alcohol and send a team. We pamper them. This way they’re relaxed when we shoot.”

A large part of the contemporary photographer’s job is creating an emotional connect with subjects. “The biggest barrier to quality candid photo is the notion that there is ‘A Photo’. The ‘deer in headlights’ format is over. You have to blend in,” says Vinay. Like many contemporary wedding photographers he refuses to do traditional portraits. “I recommend that the couple gets a traditional photographer for those. I am not a photographer of record, and I won’t take posed pictures.”

Making films too

‘The Wedding Filmer’ began three years ago when Vishal Punjabi and Zara Chowdhary got married. “Zara and I had a small, intimate wedding. And I decided to make a film on our wedding as a present for her,” says Vishal. “Since I was the groom, I only managed to get about 20 minutes, which I cut into a short five-minute film. Once she uploaded it, it went viral. It was mental! We started getting requests from all over the world.”

Their most popular film Heartbeats, shot during a wedding in Goa, has already been to more than 32 festivals. “It got over 11 million hits online.” Vishal adds. It also triggered off an industry of wedding films. “Now you have got about a 100 people doing the same thing. For all the out-of-work filmmakers in India, here is a good way to still make films and money.”

It’s a lucrative business, but they choose to do just ten films a year. “We get 180 requests a day,” says Vishal, adding with a laugh, “On a good day, we get 1000. On Facebook, Twitter, our websites.”

He says they choose weddings depending on the clients. “It’s never about the budget. Some people lend themselves to good films: If they are open, honest. If there is love, if there is hope. We’ve done an arranged marriage. We also did a really special wedding in a Gujarati village. In fact, it was after seeing the film we did on that wedding that Ayan Mukerji asked me to shoot the wedding scenes in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani."

Like most new age wedding photographers, Vishal loves the job. “When I do a commercial — that’s my day job — I end up shooting things like toilet cleaners. And the client’s always critical. Here, when my clients see the film, all they want to do is hug you and cry. The appreciation is overwhelming.