Priyadershini S. learns from Anilkumar K. that photographs of the wild must be animal-friendly

Birds in nests, a winning photograph? Not quite, according to Anilkumar K., one of Kerala's top photographers.

As part of the jury on photography contests, he rejects such photos of the wild as the photography usually disturbs the birds. It took him two years to shoot a fruit bat in flight, which he had trailed for months. The photo went on to win him international acclaim. At 53, and nearly 25 years into the profession, he discloses that it all began as a hobby in a disused dark room of his uncle's.

At a time when photography per se was in a nascent stage in Kerala and photographers not sought after, it was Devadas of Photographic Society of Kerala who encouraged him. “He used to print for us, send our pictures to competitions and take us to exhibitions to see better pictures,” he says expressing his gratitude. Today a leading professional in the field, Anil began his career by shooting wildlife. Sitting patiently in ‘hides' to catch the subject in action is what he did for years and he still yearns to capture a bird in flight. He longs to snap the kingfisher emerging from the pebbly riverbed with a fish in beak and the most elusive one being the cuckoo that lays its eggs in a crow's nest. “It is a known fact but has not been caught on camera,” he says and smiles at the unrealised challenge.

As the wild could not provide the young photographer with the means to a make a living, he needed to go commercial. Macro photography: insects and small subjects is another of his specialty. He was soon roped in by Sunil Elias (a photographer too) of AVT to shoot the tissue culture venture. He did industrial pictures alongside those. Photos for Spices Board followed and then his work was noticed by ad agencies. It was a turning point for him and soon fashion became his subject. Glamour pictures of models, fancy, stylised food pictures, glittering jewels with the right lighting, celebrities endorsing products … and Anil had arrived, as they say. Hotels and lifestyle pictures are his latest subjects.

“In Kerala you cannot specialise in one subject because the volume is not enough and so we tend to shoot every subject.”

The human element

From his wide angle format of subjects, it is the wild that is his favourite. But the human element in photos interests him. Among the celebs that he has shot, he says Meera Jasmine is sporting yet serious and committed. Mohanlal is a photographer's delight for he does not stop posing and perfecting till everyone is satisfied! “Even after a satisfactory shot, Mohanlal continues to give more poses, but Mammooty is just the opposite. If there is a satisfactory shot then that's it and no more,” says Anil. To him shots of people are satisfying as there is interaction but table top photos too are challenging, “because you create a picture from almost nothing.”

For someone who has learnt the trade on his own, by trial and error, he recommends a basic art course for new entrants. This he says will enhance their ‘eye.' And it is this art angle that probably is the reason for photographers commanding a high price. However, he feels that when compared to other professions the time spent on learning this skill and the money spent in buying the equipment photographers are over paid.

Anil was inspired by Ansel Adams in composing landscape photos while it was Stephen Dalton who encouraged him in capturing the wild.

It was about seven years ago that he turned digital. It was an unsure moment for him as he shot tender mangoes for a KINFRA ad on film, being watched by a seller of Digital Back. At the end of the shoot, the salesman asked him to try out the digital version. He did so, feeling every bit unsure and uneasy about the new product. The two results were sent for printing and it was past midnight that he received a call from the art director, Kumar of Fertile Isle, to see the visible difference. “There was difference in shadow detail, overall sharpness and the latitude of the image was fantastic,” he recalls with a gentle thrill in his voice.

He promptly bought the product at a whopping Rs. 12 lakh, being the second person in India to possess this high-end technology.

He has upgraded the technology further and says that it gives photography the cutting edge. “Digital image is first-generation image and there is no loss of details,” he explains

Fine art photography is an emerging field in India and photography is a blend of both art and craft. “A winning picture needs to be composed. It needs balance,” and it is when the balance is missing that the photo is poor.

“Some of the best photos of Kerala are taken by outsiders, precisely because of the familiarity of local photographers with the subject. We turn blind when it comes to Kerala. We tend to miss the picture.”

Black and white pictures are ‘forgiving' because they camouflage a lot of flaws. The challenge lies in colour, he feels. In its 25th year, the All-Kerala Photographers' Association has accorded him the Excellence in Photography Award, the viewfinder finally zooming in on to the right subject.