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If you were getting married in India five years ago, chances are you would be resigned to the wedding photographer bullying you into awkward poses with your spouse on the wedding day.
Today you just hire a ‘candid’ wedding photographer. He does his job discreetly and you are left to enjoy your wedding. In less than five years there has been a sea change in how Indians want to get photographed in their wedding.
But what is ‘Candid’ Wedding Photography ?
The fact is, there is no such thing . In the west where wedding photography is a well entrenched genre - it will sound silly to call yourself a ‘candid’ wedding photographer or an ‘art’ or ‘contemporary’ wedding photographer – as some photographers have begun to call themselves in India. There if you shoot weddings you are simply a wedding photographer or a wedding photojournalist. In India wedding photographers give themselves fancy honorifics to differentiate themselves from the conventional wedding photographers.
Candid versus conventional Wedding Photographers.
To be able to make this distinction very clear is all-important for this new breed of ’candid’ wedding photographers. The reason is understandable. For generations wedding photography in India has been a very unique field indeed. A wedding photographer was not just the guy who shot your photos. Together with the priest he literary commanded the proceedings of your wedding. When to smile. When not to smile. When to stand up . How to sit down. Not to forget the photo-sessions where the couple was goaded to pantomime bollywood film-stars of the sixties.
For many photographers the distinction that they don’t do posed photos is good enough reason to call themselves ‘candid’ or ‘art’ wedding photographers. The truth is there is a lot of ambiguity about what a candid photograph is in the first place. If it is simply a photograph that is not studied or posed then it is like giving a camera to a child and telling him to press the shutter randomly at people. The photos you will get will be candid enough.
Those who look for ‘candid’ wedding photographers have seen the overly intrusive traditional wedding photographers harass their friends and relatives on their wedding day. They are simply relieved to have a guy who does not breath down their necks on their own wedding. They are not art-directors, photo-editors or professional aesthetes who can really make a informed judgement on the quality of the photographer’s photos. They are private individuals running a business or with jobs in the share market, banks, hospitals, universities or corporations and their brush with photography hardly goes beyond them commenting on their friends holiday photos on Facebook.
Dominated by Amateurs and Fly- by- night Wedding Photographers
It is no coincidence therefore that Indian wedding photography is dominated by amateurs. (In fact today it’s hard to think of any genre of photography that isn’t) I refer not only to photographers who just entered the profession. I am also referring to an overwhelming number of software-professionals, call-center executives, bank managers, copy-writers, disk-jockeys, etc who moonlight as ’candid’ wedding photographers.
There is no denying that almost anyone with a DSLR is shooting weddings in India. Of course most of them have no formal training in photography. The overwhelming opinion is – you don’t need it. The most one is willing to invest in is a weekend photography workshop. Why would you waste your time doing a photography course when the digital camera’s LCD tells you exactly what you have shot? If its not a good picture you simply delete it and shoot the next. Right? I, however disagree. I think at least a basic course in photography is a must even for wedding photographers. But then I can be a bit old-school.
With the Indian wedding photography awash with amateurs, no one can really say which way wedding photography in India is headed. The market however has acknowledged their presence. Magazines and event companies hold annual wedding photography prizes. The Wedding Photographer of the Year organized by Better Photography- a premier Indian photography magazine is angled at this army of amateurs. Hundreds of amateur wedding photographers apply and take a shot at winning the contest.
Can any Johnny with a DSLR do Wedding Photography?
This leads to the question. Is wedding photography in India that easy and something any Johnny with a DSLR can do? The answer is both yes and no.
The fact that people with full time jobs are doing weddings as a side-profession shows that indeed wedding photography is any Johnny and his second cousin’s cup of tea. What is easy is getting assignments and the reasons are mentioned above. You deal with regular people with little or no knowledge of photography. More often than not they are hiring you as the next best option to the traditional studio photographers.
Getting assignments may be the easy bit but shooting a wedding in India is not such a walk in the park either. The conditions a wedding photographer shoots in India are vastly different from his western counterpart. Indian weddings, unless they are Christian Weddings, usually begin after 7 pm. The photographer has to shoot in extremely low-light conditions. This is now not so much of a problem as there are cameras with highly sensitive sensors that work fine in dark-conditions. The videographers however pose the biggest problem. They switch their lights on and off randomly leaving you to toggle with camera’s settings each time.
Though amateurs have a big presence in every genre of photography now, I think the easiest genre for them to break into is perhaps wedding photography.
How do you find a good Wedding Photographer in India?
So who are the top ten wedding photographers in India? Unlike the West, wedding photography in India is only a few years old. It will require at least a decade for it to evolve and mature and for it to throw up top-notch professional wedding photographers. The fact is, very few professional photographers in India do wedding photography. And if they do, weddings are seldom more than 10 or 20 percent of their total work per annum. Therefore the best way to get a good wedding photographer for your wedding is to look at his or her other work and not just wedding photography. I think therefore its important to see what else the photographer can bring to the table and whether he or she excels in it.
Because not many professionals have entered this growing wedding photography market there is plethora of foreign wedding photographers filling the vacuum. Many of them park themselves in India especially during the wedding season (mid September to late January) . Some of them are great but they seldom get hired for their professional expertise. In an India obsessed with ostentation, there is nothing as impressive as a `gora‘ bobbing around the Puja Pandals shooting gloriously accoutered wedding guests.
What is then a ’Candid’ Wedding photograph?
This brings us back to the moot question. What is a ‘candid’ wedding photograph? It is certainly not the opposite of a ‘posed’ photograph. If that was the case, any photograph you shot randomly would classify as a `candid’ photograph. According to me a good photograph, ‘candid’ or otherwise, should communicate to you on many levels. It must have some story to tell you. It must be a moment that evokes some emotion, some response, some thought from the viewer. To give a few examples- a mother seeing her daughter in bridal dress for the first time is a moment that happens in all weddings. The mother’s expression on seeing her daughter is something to cherish forever. Similarly the glint of pride in a father’s eyes as he watches his daughter take wedding wows is an evocative moment as is a brother bidding farewell to his sister.
However not all wedding photographs should necessarily be loaded and poignant. There are more humorous moments in a wedding than an average wedding photographer would care to record. For example the bridegroom getting rubbed the wrong way during the haldi ceremony. Or a bride yawning during the course of her wedding. This is not so rare since Indian brides are so overburdened with the long marriage rituals that sleep deprivation inevitably shows up on their big day.
Much as I realise it is an important ritual , the Jaimala I think is the most boring event of any Hindu Wedding for a photographer. You are bound to get the most standard staid photographs. Unless of course you improvise and look for new angles and compositions. And then of course you can get a refreshing Jaimala garlanding shot.
Apart from the main rituals there are lots of side stories playing out all the time. For example the bride’s friend looking suspiciously at the make-up artist at the parlour with one eye. Or two bored wedding guests sitting as if waiting for it all to end so they can go home. Indian Weddings are full of such brilliant moments and the growing tribe of ‘candid’ wedding photographers are at the ready with their DSLR’s . Some miss them but many others are busy capturing them for eternity.