At Light and Life Academy, we teach various specialised fields of photography. It’s fascinating to see how each of our students forge their own paths with this knowledge and progress in their careers. In our series Alumni Connect, we look back at some of these stories.
This time we interview Sathish Kumar Raju, one of the leading automobile photographers in India and LLA Batch 2006-07 alumnus. He has done shoots for brands like Royal Enfield, TVS, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota.
What’s life like as an automobile photographer? Tell us what you’ve been up to.
It’s a hectic life shooting commercial automobile shoots. But I enjoy that whole process. Right from the time the client comes in with a long list of images. I especially enjoy the pre- planning phase that could easily go on for a month in which we pay special attention to every detail of the scheduling and production for the shots. There’s a lot of back and forth with the client as we make our way to the shoot. Every shoot comes with its own quirks. Last minute changes in specification, personnel, weather, you name it. To be able to deliver in spite of all these challenges is what makes automobile photography exciting for me.
In a recent shoot, we faced an interesting problem. We needed models who looked 35. Unfortunately, there was a glaring mismatch between what age they looked like in their pictures and what they looked like on set next to the car. Everybody got their portraits done to look younger. You can imagine how the rest went.
The other main challenge with automobile shoots these days is that we cannot shoot outdoors. At the start of the shoot we have a background image selected and we have to light up the automobile in such a way that it can be added into that background seamlessly. We have to come up with unique solutions to make sure that the person doing post has the best possible option to work with. As you can see, it’s a very collaborative effort to get that final output.
You are currently one of only a handful of full time automobile photographers in India. What inspired you to enter this field?
I’ll be honest, I was not and still am not a motor-head. It all started when I was doing my professional photography masters in Light and Life Academy. I had already assisted Iqbal sir for a few years before that so I had been around many shoots. I was fascinated by the techniques of lighting. The most challenging lighting subject was an automobile and I wanted to crack that. I liked lighting up products, buildings and people too, but the challenge of lighting up such a large scale product with so many different types of surfaces in it really lit up a fire inside. I wasn’t getting my images right in the assignment and I was desperate to improve.
An automobile has it all – glossy exterior with paint, plastic, see through glass, opaque fabric inside, chrome headlights, bulb. I kept observing how light fell on any automobile on the road. It became an obsession and to this day I find that challenge is what pushes me. A recent addition to the type of images we shoot is the 360 degree image. You would have seen this on any of these car makers’ websites. You can scroll and look at the vehicle from all angles.
We have to keep the camera fixed and rotate the vehicle while keeping the lighting consistent across. That’s the kind of challenge that I love trying to solve.
What’s your idea of a perfect automobile shot?
Each photographer has a unique strength. My strength and vision is in creating imagery that has a balance of natural and fantastical feel to it. I like to photograph the vehicle in it’s natural setting but I would also add some elements to enhance the scene. What’s it we are all trying to do for the client? To show their product, in this case an automobile, in the best light literally and figuratively. We also want to form and emotional connect with the potential customer through the imagery. That’s my view of automobile photography.
Tell us more about what lies ahead. What kind of shoots are you looking to do in the future?
I think the automobile industry and as a consequence automobile photography is in an upswing in India. More brands are coming in and there’s a switch in the type of imagery waiting to happen. Just as it’s happening in the west, we will move from traditional automobile shots to lifestyle shots of these vehicles in their natural setting. Of course this will come with its own Indian flavour. We will see more images being shot with the vehicle in its natural setting with people interacting with in a natural way. Personally, I think India presents us photographers a beautifully diverse set of landscapes and cultures. I would love to take one vehicle and put it in all these diverse settings. That’s something I would love to do.
At a very early age I was totally inspired by my father who was a professional photographer and the proprietor of Omni Studio in Pondicherry. When I first stepped into my father’s studio at the age of nine, I recall standing on a high chair and looking through the viewfinder. This was soon followed by the magic of watching the image appear from under that warm flowing liquid of the developer. I probably decided from that moment, to become a photographer. I would do anything and make any excuse to be in the studio; sweeping floors, cutting prints, clean trays and handing over prints to the customers.
I later enrolled for a course in Loyola College at Chennai to study ‘Visual Communication’, followed by a few years working as an assistant with renowned photographers Iqbal K Mohamed and Satyajit. I also completed a full-time Photography course at Light & Life Academy, Ooty.
I am currently a practicing full-time automobile photographer and my clients include brands like Royal Enfield, TVS, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota.
Facebook: Sathish Kumar Raju