How ‘Candid’ Wedding Photography has Robbed Indian Weddings of Desi Humour and much else.



Many years ago I wrote  a piece  about the phenomenon of  ‘candid’ wedding photography in India. I have candid in quotes because the ‘candid’ wedding photographer is  a species found only in India. In the West if you do weddings you are simply a wedding photographer or a wedding photojournalist.

When I wrote the article, it was written at the expense of the traditional wedding photographers also disparagingly called ‘studiowallas’ by the ‘candid’, ‘creative’, ‘contemporary’ , ‘art’ -and what have you- wedding photographers in India . (Full disclosure: I have myself occasionally wielded the camera  as a ‘Candid Wedding Photographer).

I wrote rather uncharitably about the studiowallas branding  them unruly and berated  them for being overly intrusive. I cribbed that these guys breath down your neck telling you when to sit, stand or walk and how they make you pantomime Bollywood poses of the 60’s.

Over the years I have been suitably chastened and am  now  of the opinion that  the studiowallas are a unique aspect of Indian weddings -as intrinsic to them as the shoe-stealing  or the rice throwing ritual.

Unlike the elite- Candid wedding photographers, studiowallas   contribute immensely to the exuberance and gaiety of Indian weddings spicing them up with their unique brand of humor and hilarity.

In a wedding I attended last winter the photographer (studiowalla) refused to take the group photograph because ‘bhabhi ji’ was not there.  He then lay a bet that she had to be at the ice-cream stall. Then he reprimanded  ‘bhaiji’ for not keeping an eye on her.  And when the rather corpulent  ‘bhabhi ji’ appeared with a largish ice-cream cone in her hand everyone greeted her with  peals of laughter.

In another group photograph he proceeded to tell ‘jijaji’ not to stand like Swami Vivekananda and chill a little as it was not his own wedding. He then helped an  octogenarian ‘phupaji’ on the stage and told off  Golu and Dimpi for running around the dais  and upsetting the flower arrangements.

In contrast,  the ‘candid’ wedding photographer works in the ‘invisible’ mode.  He leaves strict instructions that he has  to be ‘ignored’.  He can not only  tell a ‘phupiji’ from a ‘buaji’ but  wont  give a damn if  your  ‘tauji’ is the most revered member of the family. In the pursuit for good expressions (candids) he would rather do a series of photographs of that distant, albeit photogenic, relative who landed at the wedding quite by accident.

The  ‘studiowalla’ meanwhile is  all flesh and bones  and can be actually seen and heard. He makes sure his  presence is felt and  is as much a member of the family as the next relative. He not only knows everyone by name but is  aware who has a sweet tooth and who has  weakness for   ‘theeka’ pan.  Most importantly he is privy to the family politics and the pecking order and conducts his photography session accordingly.

The traditional wedding photographer is someone who has been photographing a family for generations. From a mundan, to a birthday party, to an anniversary he is hauled in for every family occasion.  And unlike the ‘candid’ wedding photographer  no multiple page contracts are signed.  No hefty booking advances paid. Everything works on trust. He is paid when he comes to deliver the photographs and there is always a good-hearted bargaining. Sometimes he is paid in part and told the rest will be ‘adjusted’ in the coming family event.

In many a weddings the studiowallas are consulted about the wedding rituals.  Not only  because they are  well  versed with their chronology but  also because they understand their significance. If the  panditji is a greenhorn, they pitch in,  taking the bride and groom  through the  various hoops of marriage  rites.

Candid wedding photographers in India on the other hand have absolutely no idea what they are photographing . For them its’  just another exotic mumbo jumbo which they must compose really well.

Notwithstanding their ignorance about Indian weddings, the candid wedding photographers  remain an overly pampered lot.  Nowadays they are the real VVIP’s in Indian wedding. Everyone wants to know  if they are okay and comfortable and if they need anything.  Everyone is concerned if they have eaten properly and if they can fetch them something to drink.  The bride in the mandap may forget to ask her half -starving groom sitting by her side,  but wont fail to ask the ‘candid’ photographer if he has tried the awesome gajar- ka -halwa.

When the couple is seen off  in their car, the all- important aunt is summarily shunted off from the front seat as that’s the seat reserved for the ‘candid’ wedding photographer.

The ‘candid’ wedding photography in Indian weddings began with the NRI’s seeking the same sort of wedding photos they saw of their friends in New York or London.  At first they flew in the wedding photographers from the West but in a couple of years the resident photographers began to be roped in and in a matter of few years everyone wanted ‘candid’ photos of their weddings.

What are Indian weddings if not pomp and show? And if one can book a   phoren wedding photographer it just adds to your prestige.  A  lot of wedding photographers from the West fly down  and  park themselves in India especially during the wedding season (mid September to late January) . In an India obsessed with ostentation, there is nothing as impressive as  a ‘gora‘ bobbing around the Puja Pandals. 

In this mad scramble for ‘candids’, the good old studiowalls are being pushed out of business.  In an effort to remain in the game they have now sadly  started to advertise themselves as ‘candid’ photographers, giving up their delectable antics at weddings.

Change is welcome  but this is just another example of cultural homogenization where one day everything looks the same (read American).  We have seen this in architecture ( steel and glass replacing our own Indian motifs). Indian weddings are a completely different beast  from the staid, solemn weddings you have in the West.   So if weddings  are shot in a different way in India,  it is just as well.

It will be a pity indeed if one day the  studiowallas, who not only understood all the nuances of Indian weddings and who added so much mirth and humor to them , one day became  ‘invisible’ .

29 Responses to “How ‘Candid’ Wedding Photography has Robbed Indian Weddings of Desi Humour and much else.”

  1. Soumya Bandyopadhyay says:

    Loved reading. we have quite a few wedding photographers here. would like to hear their take on this 🙂

  2. Shruti says:

    An interesting piece, Sanjay, and although I do agree with you about the studiowallahs being well aware of the family dynamics and politics in getting the “right” set of pictures for the family album, the main reason, I suppose, they’re becoming a fast-avoidable breed is because the traditionalists refuse to embrace modern technology and design style. Earlier, in India, tacky photoshopping, odd-dramatic poses were the norm, now people want something they look awesome in, where it’s not forced, and that can definitely be achieved even by the studiowallahs, should they broaden their minds to it. And I think that’s the catch… if only our traditionalists understood these requirements (as, frankly, some of them have, but not as many), candid photography wouldn’t have taken off as it has. In the West, they always understood the need for this balance, which is why there the culture of an official photographer and videographer is still going strong.

  3. Amit Sharma says:

    Another important feature of the candid photographer is heavy reliance on fast lenses and shallow depth of field gimmick.

  4. Sundreysh Sarup says:

    enjoyed the read, thanks for sharing

  5. Dinesh Khanna says:

    Another very well written and thought through article, Sanjay Austa . .

  6. Rajiv Iyre says:

    I might not be the very appropriate person to comment on this very contemporary ideology about Candid Photogrpahy v/s conventional style….but would like to put forward my thoughts having clicked at a few weddings…families are confused between the so called “stylish candid photographer” and the quintessential conventional studio wala photographer….depending upon the budgets and pressures they opt for the same and many a times merge both the concepts to come up with a totally awry combination….proper Candid Wedding Photographers who have made their mark in this Surging Industry (can call it so by the turnover it promises) include the studio wala photographer as a part of their package and handle that bit of responsibliity of capturing all the relatives on the stage in the group pictures….but as we step into the modern age and with knowledge of cameras (so much that phones are able to adjust apertures to get pics with diff DOFs) the bride and groom understand the aspect of getting clicked without being asked to and also from angles which they feel a (supposedly experienced) candid photographer might click them to look better than their usual…Juxtaposing colours and backgrounds and creating moments which are not otherwise captured…as as you rightly mentioned in your article…the BIG FAT INDIAN WEDDINGS (even the most meagre ones are more colourful than the ones in the West) offer a large canvas for the modern photographer to showcase and freeze moments for the couple who step into a totally new world…My idea is that the stage/group photo concept of families would never end but would get MERGED as a part of the Candid Wedding Photography phenomenon….cheers…

  7. venkatesh says:

    Nice one. Lot fun in the post with facts.

  8. Ashok Tripathy says:

    very very interesting and fun article. love the mention of “Studiowallah sabko janta hai”, the Buas, Phuphas and all. AWESOME.

  9. Chandra says:

    Wonderful article..something I could relate to very closely as one of those wannabe ‘candid’ photographers. But just that I have never preferred the ‘invisible’ mode. Its very important to know the who’s who of the families and invariably spending a couple of hours in the wedding venue socializing(sometimes before the main event starts) should be good enough. 10 odd pic of very photogenic relatives that land up accidentally, do not matter much in the 300 + pics..:)

    And one trick that I always find useful with studiowallahs (with all due respect), is, the first time he gives you that nasty look, smile back at him and tell him that his pics are more important that yours. The cooperation and interest he shows in your pics after that will be totally different. In that process you can also give him some ‘gyan’

  10. Manju Chopra Singh says:

    Enjoyed the article. So true, our family photographer goes about in the same fashion.

  11. Atul Tayade says:

    I have not read the article… Just the first paragraph.. You are not well researched… In the west there are traditional wedding Photographer… And lifestyle / wedding photographer… . The basic premise for this article itself was not in place… There will be tonnes of videos you ‘ll find… Where you ‘ll find if you look for them.. Start with Zack Arias video channel on you tube..

    Now completed the whole article… And guess what.. Many things are seriously not well researched… I think I ‘ll write a response to this article on my website… An other perspective of wedding photography.. Which as per my experience is true…

  12. Vivek Desai says:

    Hello Sir. I hope you are doing good. I am very much pleased by your article and inspired me alot. I have done one season of wedding photography with not soo much of hype and earning but I have learnt alot about it. So, I would like to know if it is possible to do both Conventional as well as Contemporary shoots simultaneously in the event ?..
    Take care and Goodluck.

  13. akshay says:

    Sanjay sir, Very interesting as usual. I feel This article impacts more on wanna be people and which is must in this time where every X, Y and Z conclude themselves superior which is supposed to be concluded by others if it has to be done. Recently one of my close friend told, people are starting as photographer but not developing or evolving as one, which is the ultimate truth. Also this kind of article may bring wrong conception to common people as they may not have any idea about the system.

    I feel its not being traditional or candid or artistic or any bull crap. At the end of the day, you are documenting something. And you document in your style irrespective of camera lenses, shooting in f1.8 or f14 or using strobes or without using it, whatever. The approach to what we do matters. And yes of course, nowadays many are misguiding common people saying this word CANDID !

    Thanks for the article sir.

  14. Mahima says:

    Dammits. I would still like a candid photographer to cover mine. In addition to the studiowale bhaiya. Know anyone cheap? 😉

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