Senthil Kumar is the winner of Asian Photography's most influential people award 2010

“There are stories behind each of these pictures; enough to turn into a book,” smiles Bangalore-based photographer Senthil Kumar pointing to a couple of ad prints stuck on a board.

“Take for instance the Hutch ad featuring a boy and a pug. The picture was conceptualised differently. We wanted the pug to sit guard as the boy was in the tub. However, the pug was curious and wanted to see what was in the tub. Somehow, the shot of the pug standing by the tub seemed natural and that was how the final product came about,” says Senthil. He has recently received leading photography magazine Asian Photography's most influential people award 2010.Asian PhotographyThis isn't the first time he has won an industry award instituted by the magazine, he was also a recipient of the magazine's best photographer of the year award in 2009.

“This is not an entry based competition where you mail in photographs which you feel will stand a chance of winning. Here, you don't even realise you are in the running. A panel of judges decide the awardees' based on their whole year's work,” says Senthil whose portfolio has a fine blend of Indian and international who's who of brands. There is Nike, Lenovo, IBM, Scullers, Himalaya, Ivow, Kerala Tourism Development Corporation's monsoon campaign…

An alumnus of College of Arts and Crafts, Chennai, Senthil was a student of applied arts at the college. “I was into sketching portraits when I was younger. However, when my elder brother, Sundar, introduced me to the camera, that was it; I was hooked. What took me hours to capture on canvas took just seconds on the camera,” says Senthil whose speciality is lighting.

“Lighting in photography is like a paintbrush while painting. I try to use as little artificial light as possible. Natural light is the best and it lends the picture a certain drama,” says Senthil who then starts bragging about his latest acquisition – a Breeze. “It is a flash light created by a photographer who wanted a play of light in his pictures. This camera helps me click pictures that are sharp in clarity yet soft in lighting; sort of a shadowy effect.”

Challenges

Ask him about the challenges in his field and he says that there are many. He narrates an instance while shooting for a Lenovo advertisement for the United States (U.S.). The photo shoot was in Bangalore. “We had to build a set. It was a house a la the kind you see in the U.S. It cost Rs. two lakhs to build. We had to find a firangi to play the role of the fireman and got the fireman's uniform stitched. As the scene required the fireman to flee a burning house with a ‘think bulb' [representing a laptop]in hand, we set the house on fire. What took days to build took just seven minutes to burn down. And we had to get the right picture within those seven minutes,” says Senthil, who goes on to add that in advertising photography, one has to create whatever the clients demand.

“The clients come with the ideas and you make it happen; it is rare that you get a free reign. While shooting for Kerala's monsoon campaign, one had to shoot in summer so that the photos are in time for monsoon. Artificial rain and light were used to create the ‘monsoony' atmosphere. Also pre-production is when most of the work happens and if everything is well charted, the actual shoot can be done in a couple of minutes, like the Hutch ad, for instance. As the boy could only shoot after school, we had the set, lights et al ready. It took just 15 minutes to complete the shoot,” says Senthil who adds that at times, ideas of the ad may change on the spot despite all the planning, due to circumstance.

Digital photography, he says, has come as a boon to advertisement photographers, “as you can see what you have shot immediately.” And while softwares like Photoshop, for instance, helps fine tune pictures, he is against overusing it. “Somehow the pictures don't look natural,” says Senthil who had trained under renowned photographer Sudhir Ramanchandran, before he started freelancing.

Having travelled across the globe as part of his work, Senthil's favourite places to shoot are Ooty and Goa. “There is something charming about Ooty; maybe because I was brought up in Coimbatore and Ooty was a nearby and favourite holiday destination. There are some places in Ooty that look straight out from Amsterdam. As for Goa, although I have been frequenting the place for the past 20 years, I still find something new. You have everything in Goa, backwaters, sea, IT buildings, greenery, wet green lands…”

Ask the photographer on whether he has a dream project and he says: “I would like to go into art photography; photos that capture images in my mind's eye. I have clicked a couple but would love to devote time to the field.”

City focus

Senthil Kumar was in the city as part of a workshop held by Applied Arts Department, College of Fine Arts (CFA). “It is great to share my knowledge and experience in the field with others. Most people are under the impression that photography is a scary field to be in as it expensive. I want them to know that that is not true. In ad photography, it is important that you be technically sound. It is best to train under a photographer as most colleges can't train you with the latest of equipment and expose you to real life situations,” says Senthil who adds that quite a number of students of applied arts from CFA are working in various advertising agencies in Bangalore.