Fieldwork - Shooting Swanand Kirkire
It is not every day that you are woken up by a phone call from a two-time National Award Winner.
I picked up the phone. It was Swanand Kirkire who has got a cult following for his song Baawra Man. If you have not heard this song, please hit the link now!!! He has also won the National Award, twice - once for Lage Raho Munnabhai and the second time for 3 Idiots.
He was headed for an interview and needed a picture really quickly. 15-20 mins is all he had to stop by at my place.
"I don't want it to look like a photograph-photograph, you know... like it has been shot!" he said."Now, how on Earth could a photograph look as if it had not been shot," I wondered. Before I could muster a reply, he asked, "What clothes should I carry?" "Uh... A white shirt and a black shirt and maybe...." I barely managed to say before he said "See you!" and hung up.
What aspect of a personality can you encompass in a photograph when he is a actor, director, writer and lyricist all rolled into one? I was still contemplating the "setting of the shot" but I was sure of one thing - I wanted to shoot him using just natural light. This was because he did not want the picture to look as if it had been shot.
We tried a few settings, like the one pictured above, sitting at a piano but we were not happy with it. He said it made him look "false" since he barely knew how to play the piano and I was not happy the way the warmer light was blending with the daylight. Both were different colour temperatures and they were not looking good. Though, I must add that there are no such hard and fast rules for mixing colour temperature or white balance.
Then I noticed he was wearing a red bracelet made of beads and that gave me an idea. I mustered up all the red coloured things in the house which could be at writer's table and made him sit on my dining table. I even got my goldfish bowl as a prop. There was natural light coming through the window (my favourite light source!) from the right side of the camera and I asked my driver (the only help available at that time!) to hold a small reflector from the left side of the camera.
Then I asked Swanand to write something, really write something and forget that I was there! He said, "How can I do that early in the morning?". I said, "The same way, I am shooting your photograph!" He smiled and set pen to paper and started writing something.
He got a phone call in the middle of the session and I asked him to take it, resulting in the above picture. He loved it but I knew that the magazine/newspaper would not.
The final shot that satisfied us both is the one pictured below. Here, satisfaction is the key word. I don't know if I could have shot a better photograph that day (I would like to believe, I could have!) but he and I, both were satisfied with the outcome considering the amount of time, I had to plan the shot, take it and actually deliver it to him right then and there. Also, I made him adjust the time in his watch to make it look like it was some time later in the day. Somehow, it just felt better to me. I look at this photograph often, planning what all will I do if someone walks in my door under similar circumstances with a similar request. I have made quite an exhaustive list - but that is material for another post.
The first picture at the piano became the profile picture of the Swanand Kirkire authorised Facebook page.
The real bonus was that he actually wrote a beautiful poem on my goldfish while he was sitting there. That was really a wonderful surprise.
Have you shot any portraits using only natural light recently? Share them with us. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments.
UPDATE: If you really love his work, you might want to click here to see an informal video recording I shot where he is singing Baawra Mann with Shantanu Moitra