A force to be reckoned with, this talented photographer, has had quite a journey since starting photography at the age of 19. He has ventured into street photography, fashion photography, and finally wedding photography. He has expertise in multiple styles of photography, and he is an experienced professional.

Meet Anirban Brahma. Coming from a humble background, when Anirban went to Delhi at the age of 18 and begged his father to buy him a digital camera for the trip, he did not know he was going to find his calling. Since this trip, he has managed to build a career for himself in the field of photography spanning over a decade. Anirban has managed to turn his passion into his livelihood and made friends out of colleagues. He has a roster of happy clients, and albums full of their smiling faces to account for it.

In a conversation with Ragini Puri, Anirban reveals his intricate journey from a 19-year-old amateur street photographer to a well-established and highly renowned candid wedding photographer. He gives us a glimpse into his creative process and how he communicates his vision to clients. He also discusses the challenges of navigating the business side of art and shares some words of wisdom about the same.

What motivated you to get into photography at the age of 19? Has this been a lifelong passion or something you stumbled into?

Anirban Brahma

Anirban with wife Rashika

It was never my intention to become a photographer. I remember going on a trip to Delhi with my mother when I was 18 years old. At that time mobile cameras were not that popular and even digital cameras were owned only by a few people here and there. I come from a middle-class background, so I remember begging my father to buy me a digital camera. After immense pleading, he gave in. I read the entire manual on the way to Delhi and tried to learn as much as possible. There was a website called Flickr back then, which was used to share photographs, and I uploaded mine on to it. Somehow, people noticed my pictures and started commenting on them. This was the first time I had ever done photography and all the appreciation coming my way gave me a huge boost of confidence in my capabilities.

As I continued taking pictures, my shortcomings started coming forward and I realized I needed to train myself. There was a very prestigious institute that I wanted to enrol in. Unfortunately, I could not afford to do so at the time. I ended up learning from other institutes in Calcutta where they taught photography almost free of cost. Although extremely knowledgeable, these institutions had a slightly old-school approach, and they were still shooting on film cameras. This was a great learning experience for me. But, I also used Google and Flickr on the side to pick up some modern techniques and skills.

“I am a very dedicated person, hence once I decided I wanted to learn photography, I left no stone unturned.”

You were awarded the Better Photography Photographer of the Year award in 2010 and today you are one of the most sought-after wedding photographers. What has the journey been like?

The journey has been one of many changes, learning, self-assessment, and self-modification. I used to assist Daboo Ratnani, and at the time, I wanted to become a fashion photographer because of the “coolness” that surrounded it. However, it was my street photography that won me the
Photographer of the Year Award in 2010. It was also my street photography that got me into photographing weddings in the first place.
A lady from the UK had seen my street photography and did not want any ordinary wedding photographer. That is how I got my first contract. I was so nervous because I had never shot a wedding. It is something that happens only once, and it is the most important day of someone’s life. There are no retakes, it all happens in one go.

This lady had come to me in 2008 and it was only then that I started shooting weddings. At the time, wedding photography was looked down upon. My friends and relatives made me feel very bad. Of course, once I won the award and started gaining some success, people did double back. However, back in the day, people would use me as an example of what happens when you do not focus on studying. This only motivated me to work harder and prove myself.

After this particular wedding, I printed the pictures and went to deliver them to the clients in Park Street.

“I handed over the pictures to the couple and suddenly the bride got emotional. The husband stood up on his feet and I got a bit nervous, so I stood up as well. He gave me the tightest hug in the middle of a busy restaurant. That was a major turning point for me.”

Everybody was staring at us, but I did not care because I felt so appreciated. It was better than receiving an award. This is how I got into wedding photography. This wedding was a very well planned and beautiful wedding, hence I decided to only photograph quality weddings. I was not interested in taking any and every assignment that came my way. I wanted to ensure my work was good and hence I stuck to quality over quantity.

What makes your style of photography unique among wedding photographers?

Better Photography Award

Better Photography: Photographer of the Year, 2010

Firstly, my style of working is to keep things as natural as possible. I tried black and white photography, but I realized shooting in colour works for me best. This is because Indian weddings are so colourful, that you do not any extra editing to make the pictures look vibrant. Secondly, I am more focused on capturing the reality of a moment as opposed to its grandeur. My pitch to clients, in fact, is, “you get exactly what you see.”

My background in street photography and fashion photography taught me very different styles of photography. I like to combine both of them in my wedding photography so that I can get natural pictures, but also well-shot images. I believe that presentation of images is as important as the process of taking them. One can be either be an arrogant artist and believe that their style of working is the best and then refuse to adapt. My approach, on the other hand, is to use my own style but in a way that a vast number of people can understand.

Keeping the human element alive is crucial for me. This is why I make sure I personally meet each client before bringing them on board. It is their wedding, after all, and they have to be in sync with my vision. I certainly cater to my client’s needs, but I am not somebody who can be told to imitate. I have spent hours of my time and hordes of my money on developing my skills as a photographer. This is why there has to be an understanding between me and the client so that both of us feel respected in the equation. My meetings with clients always go on for an hour or two. I tell them to pick any wedding from my portfolio, and then they have to go through all 700 to 1000 images from that wedding. If I wanted, I could show them the typical wedding canopy shots, the romantic couple shots, and be done with it. Everybody puts up their best work on Instagram, but the human elements are what stay in the album. The image of an uncle crying in the corner, or a bride laughing with her friends, are the moments I want to capture for my client.

Over the years, your spouse joined you in this business and your team has grown substantially. Please take us through how your working style and business evolved. What have been the lessons, learnings and challenges along the way?

When I started doing wedding photography, I was not charging as much as I should have been. I was barely doing 4-5 weddings in a year as opposed to now when I do nearly 25-30. I am not only a self-taught photographer; I am also a self-taught businessman. When I started to turn my photography into a business, I was utterly lost. This is why my business model has always been honesty.

“I found that going to bed with a clear conscience is the ultimate driver of productivity.”

When I started off, I used to take my dad with me to weddings. He would take care of the equipment, while I shot the wedding. Slowly my team grew. Rishika, my spouse, came on board when I met her at an institute where I was giving a lecture. Up until this point, I did not consider myself to be a businessman. If anybody asked me about the “photography business,” I retorted by claiming that photography is an art, not a business. 

One day, I met a gentleman from the business who told Rishika and me that we are greatly skilled photographers but bad at business. He also added that he was an average photographer, but a great businessman. Then he went on to ask me, “Who do you think will survive?” I was furious at his statement and I remember ranting to Rishika about it. However, within a year or two, I realized the relevance of his statement.

At this point, I thought to myself, “Why can’t I be a good photographer AND a good businessman?” After this, I changed my entire business model.

The first thing I did was outsource a lot of work. I hired an editing team and slowly started developing a back-office team as well. This may seem fairly run-of-the-mill; however, it was a big deal for me since I have grown up around the mentality of hoarding wealth for one’s own needs. However, I realized that in my case, outsourcing my work and bringing more people on board will actually help me expand my business. It is impossible to do everything on your own. Having a team helps you achieve a lot more work in a lot less time.

Another thing that has become a crucial part of my business over the years is to not overstep on anyone’s work. I have a separate team of editors, cinematographers, videographers, etc. and I never ask one team to do the work of another team.  It is important to keep people in their own space because if you ask people to do multiple things they will mess up. My business model is basically sharing profit to increase profit. By helping each other grow, we help ourselves grow.

The human element is a central part of your photography. How do you ensure that your team is aligned with your vision?

Teamwork

Anirban’s team – Creating memories

I only shoot one wedding at a time and I work with the same team. My team is like my family and we have mutual respect for one another. If I am eating in the street, they will eat with me and if I am eating in a 5-star hotel, they will also eat with me. Everything that I do for myself, I want to do for my team and more. This is what helps my team understand my mindset. Every photographer has a different requirement and I’m sure my team works differently on different projects. For me, it is enough that they understand my vision. After that, I will never impose a particular style or technique on anyone. If I am hiring a creative professional, it is because I like their work, hence, I want them to use their own creativity. I don’t want to be a creative blockage in their head.

Throughout your career, you have partnered with various camera, lens and laptop brands. How did these associations come about and how do you approach them?

The first brand that I worked with was Tokina and if I am being honest, to date I am not quite sure how that association came about. Initially, I met them with the purpose of fixing a lens for them. I do not know what it was about the meeting that made them like me but in the end, they gave me a bunch of lenses. They told me to try them out and send them the pictures whenever I could. That was how I got my first brand deal. There was no contract, nothing official, plus I was a young photographer who was just starting out. I worked extremely hard on the pictures and after seeing them, Tokina started featuring my pictures monthly. This was a huge boost for me as it was at such an early stage of my career. This is also how other brands found out about me and by the time I was 21 years old, I was the brand ambassador for almost 3-4 brands. As I have mentioned, my business model has always been honesty and authenticity, so I guess that is how I got these endorsements.

Camera and love

Surrounded by lenses – Anirban’s son Aadved

The real issue I had was when Sony approached me in 2014. Do not get me wrong, this was a huge opportunity and I got to meet some of my own gurus who had been ambassadors for Sony. However, this was the first time I was working with such a prominent company, so I was a bit apprehensive of their strategies. I was determined to work in an honest and transparent way like I always do. Luckily, Sony worked with me and understood my approach to photography. Instead of focussing on promoting Sony as a brand, we designed a campaign where we focused on the features of their products instead. I had a similar style of working with Acer when they approached me. If I had to sum up my approach, it would be, “keep it as simple and real as possible.”

Where do you want to take your passion for photography and the brand you have built for yourself as a candid wedding photographer?

I am very active right now, so I want to continue shooting. When I am at a stage where I cannot physically shoot myself, I will take a backseat for sure. I hope to open an institute at a later point because I love teaching. I do not believe in sharing bookish knowledge, rather I think our experiences have a lot to teach one another. I do not think I want to ever let go of wedding photography because I understand this space very well. However, nobody has seen the future. As artists, we have to remember that there could be changes in technology or aesthetic sense, and our whole business can transform. We have to keep updating ourselves. I guess the most important thing for me is to keep an open mind. I do not want to put any limitations on myself because you never know what the next chapter in life holds.

Our Interview Takeaways

See Anirban Brahma create magic with his photography @anirban_brahma_photography or visit him on his website anirbanbrahma.com!

Published On: April 2nd, 2021 / Categories: Art, Culture & Lifestyle, Interviews /