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Behind the lenses: Gaurav Sethi

Koral Dasgupta @KoralDasgupta

Updated: February 16, 2016, 2:56 PM IST
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So you thought photography is just about a camera and Instagram or may be a mobile phone in hand and fashion photography is the same in the presence of hot models, no?


In the well-crafted studio of Goregaon West, Gaurav Sethi sits talking to me about his journey as an artist who expresses through camera and about the place we grace, which demanded his blood and sweat while setting it up. It is probably one of the biggest studios in market, close to 2000sq feet which takes from his pocket a six figure rental every month. “Had it been Andheri or Versova, I would have paid double this price for half the area.” He tells me. “I wanted my own place to work hasslefree, chasing my pursuits. Otherwise it gets very messy when you keep hiring places for your shoots. You may have booked a place for four hours in the morning and next six hours are booked in another studio because of unavailability of slots! And if you don’t finish in those six hours, you have to book again and wait if that is not available immediately. Your time management goes for a toss and you are miserably running around trying for your ends to meet. And I am not even talking about getting the art directors to install everything and prepare the ground for my exclusive job to finally start! Having your own studio means you are much in peace and aren’t hitting your head on the wall before those 14 or 16 hours schedules actually start.”

Most of you haven’t heard of Sethi. But you have certainly heard about Jaqueline Fernandes or Zarine Khan or Esha Deol or Soha Ali Khan and many such models, the photographs of whom you can’t stop staring at and some of those may have been shot by Gaurav. His list of clients also include Irrfan Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Emraan Hashmi, Pavan Raj Malhotra, Amyra Dastur, Neetu Chandra, Minisha Lamba, Pulkit Samrat, Urvashi Rautela, Shama Sikander and others.

The plunge into photography of course didn’t happen overnight. The passion grew over time. Coming from a family where the father has been a well-known producer of films, brother is an actor in television, sister is a fashion designer, it was perhaps natural for Gaurav to step into the media industry and pick up his career from the myriad options available there. He started with brief stints with production teams and even worked as an assistant director, his job description ranging from all technical requirements of the profiles to serving tea or cleaning actors’ shoes on the sets. Soon though, cinematography caught his attention and he stopped at photography. Initially he trained with Rakesh Shrestha. But photography still remains for him, an unique learning experience where he trains every day with each new assignment; this, even after years of dedicated professional contributions to the fashion industry!

“Take for example, the models who come to me for portfolio shoot. At times I have to educate them on the body carves and help them explore their own beauty. Those who have been there for a while and are professional, are of course easier to work with because then I concentrate only on my expertise. But for newcomers who trusted you with their dreams, time and money, you have a bigger responsibility. Maybe a shot from me will get them their first break! I am being paid to give the best and I can’t compromise on my output, even if that means I have to invest some extra efforts on them.” Says Gaurav.

The photographs displayed on his walls talk about a world of talent. The interplay of lights and shades, the props, the planning signify not just a random shot but a few special moments of beauty which would have disappeared, had the shutter not been pressed at that perfect time. But yes, there is a long prelude to attaining that level perfection with expressions, angles, light and lenses. Explains Gaurav, “Props are usually rented but planning and set up is mine. From behind the camera you have to bond with the lenses. While training with Rakesh Shrestha, I learnt a lot. He made me do almost 90% of his work and constantly supervised from beside. He would be guiding me on the length and breadth of the lens; he would teach me how to understand and adjust the eye level and decide upon the lenses and magnification. A 50mm lens can afford only ‘x’ degree of magnification. Go wider, and the model looks taller. Zoom it or take a knee level shot and she looks shorter. For myself I have 1ft tools, 6 inches tools, bean bags, etc. to sit on so that I can adjust the lens with the distance from the model. There are also other technical stuff we have to keep in mind. For example, a model 5’4” tall can be made to appear as if her height is 5’6”. But if I make her look like 5’8” then she will not get work later! And yes, light. We create sunlight in studio and play with that. What I cover or show depends on the features of the model. But playing and experimenting with light and darkness allows us to attain that dimension in the final product.”

Are the shots planned before the shoot? Or is it impromptu; decisions being taken on the spot depending on what works and what doesn’t on a particular day? My questions get Gaurav to differentiate between his first-time clients and repeat clients. “When you have already serviced someone before, she is a top of the mind recall and you know how to do her appropriately or even better. But when you work with someone for the first time, you have to experiment with yourself and understand which is the best positon for the photographer as well as the model. In both cases though, some background preparation helps. End of the day you are left with your imagination and the tools in hand to give them shape.”

How secured is the life of a photographer? This last question I have always hated to ask, but conversation with a creative person is never complete till this has been covered. Says Gaurav, “Being a freelance photographer, at times I don’t have work. Sometimes I plan and schedule myself well; and then there are times when I run without work for 10-15 days at a stretch. No speculations or calculations would work. Then there are defaulters who would delay payments. The PRs hired by my clients too sometimes have their own tie-ups with other photographers. Securing myself is mostly about some loyal clients who would come back to me. That list needs to increase. I try to ensure that when they compare my work with some others, they see the difference sharply. Maintaining that relationship with agencies and PR firms is also a part of the game. When work speaks, agencies bring more assignments and engagements can go up from 2 to 6 in a month. I have to constantly connect with the right people to stay afloat. Otherwise, in this world photographers even do free work to build their market.”

Guess at some or the other stage, every creative person faces that isolation where there is a gross disconnect between his art and the value or respect it receives from the takers. And yet, artists work because they are slave to the satisfaction that touches the soul. Here’s wishing more power, and more beauty, to the lenses of Gaurav Sethi.
First Published: February 16, 2016, 2:56 PM IST