Swathy Sekaran is getting a strong foothold in the competitive field of commercial photography, one frame at a time.

If you spot Swathy Sekaran clicking away at a wedding with a DSLR, you can be forgiven for thinking that she is a friend of the bride or the groom trying to capture her buddy’s big day. She may be but the probability of her relationship with the couple being a professional one is higher. This up and coming Chennai-based photographer is one of the few women slowly but surely making her mark with an array of assignments ranging from fashion, portraiture, product, food and weddings.

This electronic media student from MOP Vaishnav College for Women hosted her first solo photography exhibition titled — A Frame Within Me — at Cafe Vanilla, during her final year of college in 2008.

Between her assignments, Swathy takes time to answer these questions with a flair that justifies her additional role as a “part-time freelance content and copywriter”.

Why photography?

I guess everyone tries to find that one thing they are passionate about, which will drive them to any length despite all the odds. Photography is what makes me go to any length. I don’t mind sitting in the middle of a street if I have to get that shot right; which I have done, by the way — from sitting in the middle of the street to climbing trees and giving up my precious sleep for a shoot!

How viable is it as a career?

As a career it is not an easy choice. It’s not like a regular monthly job where you’ll know how much you have in your bank. It’s more of an entrepreneurship; where you get how much you put in. You have to climb uphill, which doesn’t come with straight roads. Also it’s never an easy choice when you choose art or when you make a choice to do something different.

What are the challenges as a professional photographer?

There is so much competition in the field these days that getting a good project or a client is very tough. Even if you do get some work, there is a lag in terms of trying something new or to do something creative. Every idea is already tried and tested so you have to be extremely good to be noticed, which is not as easy as it may seem. Many think photography is an easy job. Just click pictures, do some photoshop touch up and you can have a good image. It is not like that. I remember while attending a workshop by Sharad Haksar, he was talking about how there are no good ideas in our country. How there is lack of quality because no one really understands what exactly you want and lack of inspiration. Hardly a few images stay in your mind. I guess that’s the biggest challenge am facing. To move away from the stereotype and do something which will remain in people’s mind. To do quality work, be good and sustain it.

Another big challenge is to get actual work. You give a quote to a client for a particular shoot; there is always someone else who is willing to do it for half the price you have quoted, so people opt for less expenditure and get lower quality work. The competition is so high and the economy is hit so badly that every industry is bearing the brunt, including photography.

What is it like as a woman in the field?

For starters, people arevery surprised and curious by your career choice. When shoot a wedding especially you’re probably like the only girl moving around here and there with a camera in hand along with a bunch of other photographers. Few years back probably it would’ve been looked down but now people are more open to it. Also one great advantage is during a commercial shoot you can get people to help you move the equipment’s for you! There are disadvantages too. Sometimes people don’t take you seriously. Not many think that photography is a great career choice for a girl in the long term. You know marriage, kids, family... I think, at the end of the day, it is all about the choices we make and how willing you are to strike a balance. Timings can be erratic at times. You need a lot of energy and stamina to shoot round the clock. Also if your parents are not supportive of your career, then it’s difficult.. It took a lot of convincing at my place. But once they saw that I was getting good projects my way, they were okay. Though they are still little wary about it, they have helped me with my choice and I am really grateful for that.

There are so many photographers now. Is it because it is easier now or increased awareness and opportunities or just a trend?

These days I guess people fancy the word photography and photographer. There are so many trying to break into the industry thinking that if you have a DSLR, and if you know Photoshop, you can make it big. But the quality of work is missing. Even I have a long way to go in terms of my work. But unless and until you’re serious about it and committed to be better you can’t do it. There is an increased awareness, which is a good thing, but I think one has to be focused to make it big here. There are a lot of people who have taken into photography with no idea whatsoever but there are few who want to make it big and I am hoping I would be one among that. The increase I guess is just a trend, a fad rather. Let’s see how it goes.

Do you think you will be able to sustain yourself in this competitive field? How do you distinguish yourself from the competition?

If you want to sustain in any industry you need to have a USP, work hard and be committed. So I am in the process of playing by my strengths and improving my work. My mantra is if you want something badly you get it by all means and work hard for it. So if I got to sustain myself I know I should be extremely good at it and also know to how to market my work. That is very important. Networking is the key to any business.

How I distinguish myself from others is through my work and the fact that I am very serious about my career choice. I try my best to deliver good work.

Are you for the use of Photoshop and other photo edit software to enhance a picture?

I wasn’t much in the beginning. I started out with film camera so the switch to DSLR itself took some time to adjust to. I’ve seen people shooting left right center with their cameras with no real idea as to what they want to shoot. I keep telling myself to not to over shoot. What’s the point in shooting some 200 odd images when you don’t even like one? So I try my best to keep it real. And in terms of photo editing, it was there even with film where people used to you do some techniques while processing the negative. Photo editing is here to stay with more digital progress. So you just have to embrace it and see how different you can compose an image while shooting itself. I hardly do much of retouching. In fact I don’t know to do the kind of retouching which will alter the original image so much that it not the same. But then you have to keep up with the technology so you have to do it. I still have a long way to go. Photoshop does help you and you can use to improve your image and your creativity. So it’s not a bad thing as long as it’s not too overdone.

How important is marketing yourself? How do you do it?

Very important. Unless your work is noticed, no one is going to come and give you work at your doorstep. You have to market yourself. Networking is highly important. Word of mouth can make or break your career.

I have a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/swathysekaran.in) and also network through contacts and word of mouth. It is very important that you keep updating and upgrading to keep up with the competition.

Your favourite genre…

I’ve been trying lots of genres but the few that get me excited tare food, street photography, portraiture and fashion. There are many genres and you have to find your forte. I am still figuring out mine. So as of now I am trying to do some good work and learn. It is important that you keep learning from every shoot.

Some projects you’ve done…

I shoot with Shilpi and another boutique called Darshini. I’ve done a food shoot for The Spring Hotel, Chennai, a product shoot for Reebonn Cosmetics India Pvt. Ltd and recently also shot the engagement of actor Richard.

Your favourite shoot…

Every shoot is important. You can’t just nominate one and think less of the other.