#KetchupTalks: These photographers tell us how the pandemic has changed the narrative for photography

Sakshi Sharma
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This pandemic has brought about a lot of changes even for photographers. Find out what Amoghavarsha JS, Arjun Mark, and Raja Jain have to say about this.

A lot has changed over the last year and a half thanks to COVID-19. It took us forever to get used to the idea that the situation is not in our control and adapt to WFH and basically come to terms with the new normal. While we've been dealing with our own struggles, we had the opportunity to talk to some talented photographers via Canon about how the narrative surrounding photography has changed because of the pandemic.

The Canon EOS Ambassador Program brings together industry experts across various genres like wildlife, wedding, fashion, filmmakers, and these award-winning professional photographers are helping Canon India spread the photo culture across the country. These ambassadors bring to the table unique first-hand user knowledge encouraging the community to adapt and support the art form. While they help us with user insight, we enable them with the best technology for their art. Through an array of workshops, seminars and webinars, our ambassadors have helped create educational content with over 350+ live interactions and 10,000+ social media posts to date which secured an astounding 2.5 million organic views.

The three photographers that we got a chance to talk to about the topic are 

Canon EOS Ambassador - Amoghavarsha JS (Wildlife photographer & cinematographer)

After completing his bachelor's degree in Computer Science, Amoghavarsha joined Amazon as a Software Engineer. He quit his job in 2008 to pursue his passion for wildlife photography. Then he started his own media company, Mudskipper in 2016. An eye for capturing stories of the natural world and his deep roots in technology make Amoghavarsha a unique voice in telling stories of Earth and its inhabitants. Having worked with National Geographic and BBC, his work has been exhibited and appreciated across the world and he's won international awards for the same. He is one of the makers of the first-ever Wildlife Documentary ever to be released in Indian theatres. His work on climate change has been showcased in the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Paris) by the Indian Prime Minister and the French President but also at the UN general assembly (New York) amidst a gathering of world leaders. He has been invited by various international forums to present his work on the use of media and technology in conservation including the University of California (Los Angeles) and the Australian government. Amoghavarsha believes the greater journey for him is to build bridges using these portals between consciousness, thus fading the separation between humans and their fellow beings.


Canon EOS Ambassador - Arjun Mark (Beauty & Fashion Photographer)

Arjun Mark is a photographer based in Mumbai with a bold and modern style of capturing Beauty and Fashion. His imagery is known for its originality and nonconformity. He has been selected as Lurzer’s Archive's 200 Best Ad Photographers Worldwide for the third time, and also has been awarded 1st place at the Lucie Awards in the Advertising & Beauty category in 2017. His body of work includes covers, fashion features for editorial publications like GQ, Vogue, ELLE, Bazaar, and advertising campaigns for mainstream Indian and international fashion and beauty brands. Arjun is an avid sport fishing enthusiast and an athlete in shooting sports. When he is not shooting, you will find him on his boat, fishing.


Canon EOS Ambassador - Raja Jain (Wedding Filmmaker and Photographer)

Carrying forward his father’s legacy of seeing things differently and capturing them through a lens, Mr. Raja Jain has completely taken the Wedding Photography and Filming Industry by storm. Celebrated for awe-inspiring innovations in photography and videography ever since their company’s inception in 2002, he is now one of the most sought-after names in the domain. The first ones to use Cine Alta Cameras for wedding films back in 2005, Delhi-based dynamic brothers specialize in cinematic wedding films and photography, not just in India but across the world. Having shot around 1000+ extravagant weddings in over 25 countries, today he is reckoned amongst the top and most preferred wedding photographers in the world. The foundations of his years to come were etched while working alongside his father at a tender age of 12/13 years. He used to assist his father and his team while being still in school and learned the intricate details of the business back in early 1992. These were the years when the fascination towards the camera grew, mesmerized by its ability to capture the entire world. He was working with leading broadcasters like BBC, NDTV, APTV, CNN, Doordarshan, etc. and alongside his father, he got to be associated with renowned shows like 'World This Week' hosted by none other than Pranay Roy.

In 2002, when most of us just knew the concept of ‘Shaadi ka video’, he shook the industry with their unique sense of creative photography and filming. This not just got him name & fame but also made Badal Raja Company an official media partner for capturing family weddings of some notable Who's Who like Mr. Sunill Mittal (Airtel), Mr. Sameer Jain (Times Of India), Mrs. Shobhna Bhartia (Hindustan Times Family), Vikram Chatwal (American Hotelier), Shilpa Shetty (Bollywood Actress), and many many more. Mr. Jain while speaking on their HNI clientele says, “Having shot the weddings of Bollywood celebrities like Esha Doel and billionaires like the Hindujas and even royalties like Shree Arvind Singh Ji Mewar, King of Udaipur, it is imperative that he respects and guard their privacy the most.”

While we got to know a little bit about them, we wanted to know what drives them towards their respective fields within photography.

Arjun says, "Photography was a good medium for me to showcase my art. And I gradually started to work with some photographers for a few years and eventually went on my own way. When I started off, I started with shooting people. I got into fashion photography because I liked my subject being people rather than products and hence started developing an interest in shooting people, fashion, and beauty as well. And that’s how I got driven towards fashion photography. It was so dynamic that I could do a lot more and the interaction with the subject was unlike any other."

Amoghavarsha says, "I work at a software company but you know how few things take you up completely and you end up where you are supposed to be. I was always interested in photography so predominantly I wanted to go wild so I started volunteering, roaming around, taking shots, and taking pictures outdoors. Slowly I realized I want to be more of this rather than my day job and the transition happened pretty soon. This is kind of how my journey started." 

Raja says, "Working with my father who had been working in Rajasthan since the 60s, and going on coverages, the power of cameras really fascinated me and got me interested. So just to try, I joined my father’s company, went on shoots with him, and figured out that I really wanted to get into this as a profession and business, not just as a hobby. So my passion converted into bread and butter for myself and I'm happy to have reached here and have a camera in my hands. But this is just a small part of how it all started."

We've all tried to click photos but there is a vast difference between a layman's photos and how a professional photographer shoots. And while we've all heard the term “eye of the photographer”, what does it truly mean?

Here's what Arjun said, "So the eye of the photographer, in general, is the vision of the photographer of how they see a scene or a subject a little out of the box and differently from what a layman or generally what others would see. Shooting a subject or a scene while thinking out of the box is what makes the picture interesting. While the picture needs to be different it still needs to be professionally interesting, that’s very important."

But what does the eye of the photographer mean in wildlife photography or wedding photography? Amoghavarsha and Raja explain this in detail.

Amoghavarsha says, "Especially in wildlife photography, you first have to be a naturalist, be in touch with nature, you have to be in sync with weather patterns, behaviors in nature. There is a lot more knowledge that goes behind each photograph. If you have to understand there are particular seasons, weather conditions and there is a pattern that nature has of its own. You also have to know about where to look as well, like if it's a specific species it would only be found in certain places. So when you go out for more niche subjects that nobody knows about and also in general wildlife is more about finding out more knowledge about it first and then also understanding what kind of behavior these animals are exhibiting. So if you are shooting a bird you just don’t go and take a picture of a bird you capture them when they are feeding each other or doing any other thing, so it’s important how and when you capture, and the key essence is patience. You have to wait out for animals and nature to be their natural state, then only you can capture a story. So just a picture of a bird would do nothing but when you go a few steps further to find that story that’s when it impacts." 

Raja says, "I have been doing wedding photography for the last 20 years now and this is a very ‘emotions riding on our shoulder’ profession. Family and friends and everybody mostly are relying on us to capture their best of the best moments and emotions. And weddings are not just about clicking photos of everyone, rather it’s about the story and emotions. We try to shoot it from the bride and groom’s perspective, how they were feeling, how happy they were, how their families are, it’s basically emotions behind each and every ceremony or ritual that matters. The sangeet, dance battle, Mehendi, Haldi, and every ceremony and the emotions behind it are equally important. It has to be done in a manner that even when they see this after 20-25 years later they should know exactly how things went and they felt. The very next day after the wedding just these memories, these videos, and pictures are what is left and memories also fade out after some time so the responsibility comes on us. For us, it’s really important to capture moments about how a couple felt."

While we now understand the 'eye of a professional photographer' phrase, we still want to know about the changes that have occurred in the photography industry because of COVID-19? And how has that impacted different genres?

Arjun says, "A lot of people are figuring ways to adapt and settle the drawbacks so as to keep on doing what we were doing, we kind of figured out a way to do things by digital advertising. Most of the things have gone digital now or I would say 90% of it has gone digital now. Earlier it used to be 50/50 or 60/40 types but now every kind of picture or video that involves any kind of fashion or beauty has gone digital now. It happened during the pandemic but it might go on after the pandemic as well. In terms of work that has changed as well, we now work a little differently. In terms of the format we were used to shooting in a landscape format but now it has become a square or vertical format to adapt to content. So photography now has moved from print to completely digital. So this is one way a pandemic has definitely affected photography though I don't know if this is a positive or a negative way that’s where we are right now. Also, there aren’t many shoots or rather any shoots happening so we are every day finding different ways to adapt to it. 

Raja says, "My ideology is simple that less is always more and what has happened because of the pandemic is the scale of the wedding has gone down in terms of guest list but the enthusiasm has gone up. So when you just have the core members of the family and friends then people really are just contemplating the event and having fun. The extra worries of who is coming and not, who is being treated, how, what is happening and all the hustle and bustle are not clouding the mind. It just simply becomes about the moment and enjoying that moment and that’s what my camera wants. Nowadays, in my pictures, I see more of happiness, joy, and more of attention towards oneself and this is all because of the pandemic."

Amoghavarsha says, "It’s really difficult for us and I am also not used to looking at screens for a long time but having said that you also figure out how to capture what is around you, cause that’s also nature. So I have a plant in the house and I experimented with it one day, so the same way you just have to find things and ways to capture the beauty everywhere. I also am more of a backyard-loving photographer, I like shooting stories that are closer to my living though I like to go to exotic places capturing exotic species I still find joy in capturing the common ones around me as well. So I have been photographing butterflies, birds, and stories around me. I think it’s more about not what you see but how you see it, everyone is dealing with this pandemic but it’s also about how you see the situation, this is what really matters at the end of the day. The pandemic in a way is a good reminder of what you can do with limited access, travel, and how you still pursue what you want to do."

Photography is a personal profession so one might wonder how they've dealt with this whole situation and still create something original and out of the box?

Arjun says, "To be honest we have not been shooting for the longest time. It was around February or March that we shot for a brand but otherwise, we have not been shooting. The only thing we can do is wait for a little for things to settle down a bit and the right time for our images. The other thing that is happening is that the clients are managing since the celebrities, the models are not shooting, nobody is shooting, and also because of the lockdown, we are not allowed to shoot. We did a little bit of shoot for some advertising when it got open in between for two to three months but otherwise, this is what it is."

Raja says, "We have been making wedding films and earlier the shoot used to be about for around 2-4 months but because of the pandemic that a number of shoot days have gone down. We have minimalized our shoots and hence we can give out the wedding film even faster than before. Earlier it used to take much more of the time to go back to the family and give them the videos and photos but now when we give them the very next day they are so overjoyed seeing what has happened just last night. And it does another thing, they can instantly share their weddings with people who could not be a part of their moment of celebration. We have been making Instagram wedding videos for the past four years now, so these are all new yet fun stuff that we get to do. So the place of wedding photography and filmmaking has gotten really interesting by being fast and minimal yet not losing on its charm because of the pandemic." 

Amoghavarsha says, "For me what is more important is the story. How we weave a story really matters, and in the pandemic I realized that most people are eager to go out. In the start, it was okay to stay at home and watch Netflix but now we don’t want to do that anymore, we want to go out in the fields. But since that couldn’t happen so we started living vicariously, taking pictures of the weather pattern, looking up at the sky, and same my whole pandemic filled with these pictures. Working on an ordinary day other people would have not noticed this beauty of nature and the fact that the people are just looking at the sky just stays with me. In the pandemic I have been living in a very special geographical area, typographically where you can see many birds in a square around 50 km from here. So I think we have flourished and the pandemic has brought people closer to nature without too much travel."

Considering all that we talked about, what is the future of photography now after this pandemic being a constant bout of changes and adaptation?

Arjun says, "Honestly we all are going through a lot of changes but i think everything else is just on a pause right now. All we can do is wait it out until the right time when everything resumes back again but till then everything is on pause right now. Supposedly if we talk about fashion, people are trying to take pictures and keep on churning for the digital media only and not otherwise but rest everything remains the same and we are just waiting because then it becomes too challenging to shoot while we cannot go out to shoot. We don’t have that many resources and travel has become almost next to impossible, so we are trying to just wait it out and achieve things later. Restrictions say like we could keep between 20-100 people on a shoot but because of the covid, it is riskier times so we also just did 2-3 shoots, and then we are not shooting but all will still resume. But once we come back and it is the right time we would go back to the way we were, I don't think much will change."

Raja says, "What used to happen earlier is that almost every wedding, especially Hindus ones used to have this huge space and there are some months that are fixed when everybody wants to get married but because of the pandemic this changed. Now we are not looking out for a huge space or a particular time period, a simple hotel is easy to do and with government restrictions whatever time is available and suits you is the best. Not much can be done anyway either. So the idea of just getting married to each other and having fun has taken centre stage rather than where, when and how. This way we have made the weddings a better place because it’s more about the people getting married and having fun rather than a whole ‘tam-jham’. So in this pandemic a lot of the families have adjusted to this new normal of weddings which is rather easy and figured out a way to do ‘shaddi’ in the best possible way while having fun. In the future I think people are going to understand this way more and take it seriously rather than getting a wedding in November or December."

Amoghavarsha says, "Photography has changed and it’s not just because of the pandemic but because people now have access to photographic tools. Personally, I think this high accessibility of enhanced photography tools to people has changed photography so much. Canon has a lot of cameras to offer in that space and this allows people to do pretty much anything and everything they want to do. You don’t need a huge setup these days like a tripod or something, these are all out because there is stabilization in-camera. So with these advancements, you see a lot of people doing photography and posting on Instagram which makes the job a bit more challenging now. I am not saying all these Instagram pages are professional photographers but they definitely make the job of the photographers more difficult and challenging. Though the most compelling way to do photography is not just to capture the subject but to build a context around it. You see a lot of photographers bringing in the story of the pandemic since it’s not easy to travel so you see local stories, stories that are surrounding them, stories that are real. So in a way, the camera has become a way of documenting the pandemic. There are people who are documenting the frontline workers, then there are those who are bringing out these local stories, there are also people who are capturing the huge flock of birds being seen. We are utilizing the one aspect of photography in the best way possible and that is measurement. Photography is capturing not just the changes in the outside world but inside of the world as well. So photography is being utilized as this provocative medium to tell the stories that need to be told and is the need of the hour. These stories of what we have and to capture it exactly as it is while telling a story is a great sign of the future."

These ace photographers had great advice to give to budding photographers who are starting out now.

Arjun says, "Right now things might be hard shooting wise but it is a great time for studying it up. Actually it might be best to utilise it and do a little bit of research, some homework. Make use of this time to make yourself efficient and stronger. Then maybe it might be a good idea to get hands-on the best knowledge. Because when the industry opens up then it will be a little easier for them to navigate through. And of course they need to be on their feet all the time and hard work is the key, there is absolutely no substitute for it. Young budding photographers just need to keep up their motivation and confidence to ride this pandemic out and we’ll get back on track again. Photography has always gone through change and keeps on going and nothing happens to it, we just have to stay positive." 

Raja says, "We started doing weddings in 2002 and there were hardly any weddings per say that we could capture or as such it hasn’t come up like today. So my inspiration always has been my father, my mother, my wife and my entire family cause they always kept pushing us. The scenario also has changed now it’s a huge responsibility. Earlier it was just about photographer hai to bas picture lele. Now people also realize what we are doing and so they call us, and respect us as an artist. To all the budding ones out there I just want to say that this is the best job but also the most responsible one because there is a family who is sharing their life’s most precious moments with you. You get to see the most beautiful setups, the festivities, the happiness, the fest of their lives and a celebration. So keep that eye open and think that you are the only one who is going to give them those memories and at the same time you have to be responsible but don’t forget to enjoy the moment as well. Just be in that moment cause it reflects and know what the family is expecting of you."  

Amoghavarsha says, "My biggest advice would be to follow the story and don’t worry about the camera. Any entry-level camera that creates an image works as long as you know what the story is. Don’t go running behind buying the most expensive camera, any camera works. Then another most important thing is to keep on clicking no matter wherever you are, keep on practicing. Even if you are just roaming around the house clicking pictures it’s important to keep the mental exercise going. For wildlife, it’s important to have a handy knowledge about the weather patterns, sun conditions, behavioral patterns to figure out the best shot. So make use of the time and study more about it." 

It's an age-long topic of discussion in the field of photography about when to press the button to capture that picture. Ever since the picture of a lady cooking in the kitchen while she was breathing through an oxygen cylinder came out and gained a lot of opinions. The topic of "politics of photography" seems like an important one to discuss. Here's Amoghavarsha's perspective on it and what it means in his genre of photography.

Amoghvarsha says, "There are different verticals to this whole ideology, for a war photographer it might be a difficult situation to capture the situation but they don’t do it, how else would you know about it and the same way it could be for a street photographer. In wildlife, though it’s quite straightforward you don’t disturb the subject because it’s the law of the land and second it is what it is. Because you want to capture the subject in its natural state in its natural habitat so you don’t mess with it. I don’t know much about street photography so I am not an expert on this but I feel any photographer or any journalist has the primary responsibility is to bring in the story. So if that photo of the woman was not captured and maybe she was helped after the photo was taken, the fact is that how else would we have been talking about it at such lengths and come to any conclusions about it. We need to reason with our own response towards a situation though I am not saying that be cruel and not help, but there are primary responses that we just to take. And also the fact is that we can’t all be doctors saving somebody in the war but we all have certain roles that we can play in the larger scheme of things."

With the grandness of weddings, there's a stereotype attached that the camera takes away from the importance of the wedding itself. We asked Raja for his take on this and whether the "camera" is what inspires people to opt for a big-fat wedding?

Raja says, "Weddings have these different generations to it so we have varied emotions. On one side we have a generation that has an emotion that they are giving their daughter away and now another generation has an emotion that they are getting a daughter into their family and also having fun. So then they are all completely in emotion and happiness is around. But yes due to this pandemic the hype has gone down and both sides just want to enjoy and be joyous of this moment. And the family knows that camera is always there even when we are not in the middle of the group. What we are trying to capture is moments while being unseen and we get to see that, their moods. So when they see a camera and then they would only dance, no that does not happen. They are just in that moment and want to feel that emotion. And the camera doesn’t come in to decide whether you choose to go grand for a wedding or not. It’s the feeling of giving their daughter while receiving a son and vice versa for the parents and that is what is moving around. Their emotions give us a push to capture something extra that caught them in the moment. It’s rather the people that inspire the camera than the camera to the people." 

We also did a fun Q & A with these photographers. Here's what they all said!

What will one find in your camera bag? 

Arjun- "There is this one lens that I have used since forever and cannot do without it, is this Canon 85 mm lens."

Raja- "It always has my Canon camera and my two lenses which are my lifesavers, 35 mm and 85 mm. Because I am always on the run, these two lenses keep me running and keep pushing my limits to take in something crazy happening around me. Even if I am not doing anything I keep on taking some pictures. I use Canon R5."

Amoghavarsha- "The primary is my chargers and batteries cause you never know when you need them but other than I always carry a weather map, my phone is always there you never when you need it too, the lenses that I am shooting with."

One favorite location or session that you remember fondly

Arjun- "This one has to be a shot for Liril which we did in almost freezing temp on the border of Vietnam and China. This was in a waterfall and it was quite breathtaking. It was huge and enormous."  


Raja- "There are two locations that are my absolute favorites. First is going to be Udaipur which is also my most favorite location and another has to be London where I have done lots of couple shoots, family shoots, and styling shoots."


Amoghavarsha- "Western ghats have always been special to me. It’s kind of where my eyes opened up to a different style of photography and I truly remember that. I photographed a different frog and it's very interesting because the golden color and the eyes are strong blue, the only thing about it is that it is only found when it’s raining and only at night and I found it when it was raining, night and in the rainforest, all three things combined and you have to walk."


We hope you enjoyed reading this absolutely insightful interview about photography just as much we enjoyed doing it!

Also Read: #KetchupTalks: Yoga instructor, Rohil Jethmalani talks about yoga as a lifestyle

indian photographers photographers Arjun Mark Covid-19 pandemic Amoghavarsha JS Beauty & Fashion Photographer canon Canon EOS Ambassador changing narratives of photography cinematographer Fashion photographer Raja Jain Wedding Filmmaker Wedding Photographer Wildlife photographer