I was just talking to a friend of mine this morning and telling him about my book Hamir: The Fallen Prince of Ranthambore when he asked me how I had honed my photography skills over the years. This is a question I have been asked on numerous occasions. But today, it sort of touched a chord within myself and I started thinking about it. And this is what I think —
Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with my camera, lenses or my travels. My secret is what I have learnt from the study of the work of great photographers from different genres of photography.
Over the years I have studied the works of master photographers like Nick Brandt, David Yarrow, Steve McCurry, Sebastiao Salgado, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Joel Witkins, Andreas Gursky, Michael Kenna, Irvinn Penn, Keith Carter and Josef Koudelka to name a few photographers whose subjects range from photojournalism, street photography to wildlife photography and nature photography.
I own dozens of coffee table books in my collection and spend hours analysing each image, questioning the photographer’s intention, composition, exposure choice etc. Would I have treated the subject differently? Is black and white better or colour? Close-up or long shot.
Benchmarking against the best has a humbling effect on me and inspires me to do better; to think out of the box and challenge my imagination to the utmost. To the best limits in my mind. That’s how I inch closer to perfection each time I pick up a camera to become a better photographer.
I question everything, even my own decisions! Take this image for example. I wanted to use it for my book Hamir: The Fallen Prince of Ranthambore. I had framed this image with the intent of evoking an aura of wonder and mystery. Everything looked perfect – but for the tiger’s tongue sticking out, which changed the entire mood of the image. I had framed this image with the intent of adding mystery but the tongue altered the mood. It was a painful decision but I decided against using the this image from the book.
As I tell every photographer who comes to me for advice, just because you make an image, does not mean you have to use it.