All images by text by Subodh Shetty. Used with permission.
I am Subodh Shetty. Travel and street photographer based in Dubai, UAE. Being an Indian, there’s no surprise that I go back to my country a lot for photography. Most of my body of work revolve around people, culture, diversity of India.
I am also the founder of UAEs most active photo club – Photowalk Dubai. Having started it about 4 years back with a strength of about 12 photographers, today the group hosts close to 14000 photographers from UAE and Middle East. I host regular travel workshops for the group, where I take about 15-20 members to India and teach them photography hands on. I have been a Nikon School instructor / educator and have traveled quite a bit across gulf region sharing my work and experience with fellow photographers in the region. I have been one of the speakers at TEDx Dubai in 2015.
I have recently quit my day job ( its been 36 days 😉 ) and have opened my company – Photowalk Connect – which would cater to creating more travel workshops for photographers in middle east.
Work has been featured on number of channels including Nat Geo, Guardian, Singapore Airlines and more.
Why did you get into photography?
Back in school, while other boys were reading comics, I spent my time in the library devouring National Geographic magazines. The photographs made my jaw drop. But then, the fascination was more with the photographs and not photography itself. Those were deep impressions but without any knowledge of the process.
Full credit to the magnificent city of Dubai – it triggered an inner urge to explore the world of photography. To cut a long story short, the city kept beckoning me to capture its stunning cityscapes. Initially, long exposure photography was a huge fascination. But as the years rolled by, things changed and my focus narrowed down to the genre of travel and portrait photography.
What photographers are your biggest influences?
I admire and learn from the works of Steve McCurry, Raghu Rai, Raghubir Singh, James Nachtwey, Sebastian Salgado, Ed Kashi, Annie Griffiths, Jodi Cobb, Jimmy Nelson, Alison Wright. The list can go on.
Though I’m not a dedicated street photographer per se, but I do enjoy the work of Vineet Vohra, Rohit Vohra, Matt Stuart, David Gibson, Siegfried Hansen and more.
How long have you been shooting?
It’s been good 4 years of serious travel photography.
Why is photography and shooting so important to you?
Photography has changed my entire perspective towards life. Priorities changed, visions changed and as a person, I have changed from being a shy introvert to a more confident extrovert, I guess thats a good thing 😉
Also, travel and portrait photography feeds my senses in abundance. All my journeys are about people and not just the place. While traveling, I enjoy the process of initiating conversations with absolute strangers and the whole process of getting them to pose for me for a portrait is kind of pleasing. Photography is therapy.
Do you feel that you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why?
I would say a healthy mix of both. You got to create to document. I believe my images more or less bear witness to the world we live in today, in most realist and honest way. I guess that could be considered a documentation of present, for the future.
What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically?
As we are speaking of portraits, let me leave streets aside.
Technicalities aside, I believe, the first important aspect in making compelling portraits is to connect with the subject. In my case, I take portraits with full consent of the person and always have them look right into the camera. Eye contact is everything.
Which gets me to the main point –‘Connect’. Initiate a conversation, crack some jokes, be silly and lighten the mood before you actually make a portrait. It is very important to establish a rapport and gain the trust of the person before pressing the shutter.
The next important aspect is speed. I do believe in spending a lot of time in conversations with the subject. But when it comes to shooting their portrait, it does not take more than two to three minutes. The authenticity of the moment starts to lessen with every extra minute. Read the light, decide the composition and execute it without dragging the session beyond a point.
Want to walk us through your processing techniques?
I would be possibly the last person to speak on processing. All of my images run through Adobe Lightroom for less than 3 minutes flat. The basic RAW processing and corrections – contrast, WB, Shadows, Highlights and thats about it.
Tell us about the project that you’re pitching, or your portfolio.
There are a couple of projects I’m working on for a year or so now.
My most favorite one being:
Project ‘SHOOT THEM ALL’
Its a project which has a very strong point to prove – “Cameras are capable, are you”. Shoot them all involves me borrowing cameras of various brands from my friends ( crop / full frame / whatever ) – brand no bar – and walking the streets with the borrowed camera for not more than 3 hours and creating a stunning image. So far its been great challenge to come back with a keeper in 3 hours on a unfamiliar camera but the results have been very pleasing too. (quick glimpse on instagram @wayeyesee)
Project ‘Dubai Up Close’
Dubai being a city of the future, the staggering density of skyscrapers got me into this project. Its basically shooting Dubai using 70-200 @200mm zoom. I have been able to capture some stunning images thanks to zoom compression which works to my advantage. (quick glimpse on instagram @wayeyesee)
Project ‘Find Your Pattern’:
I am always fascinated by patterns and I love to play around and juxtaposition it against something totally unrelated. Check out my blog post.
What made you want to get into your genre?
Portraits – I am very much a people person. I love interacting when on travel with people of the land, they are the ambassadors of the land they belong to and it shows in their eyes. I believe portrait photography is my way of capturing their pride and their way of communicating the same to the world.
Tell us a bit about the gear that you use and how you feel it helps you achieve your creative vision.
My combo when I travel –
Nikon D5 + Nikkor 24-70
Nikon D4s + Nikkor 70-200
I do shoot a lot of low light images at very high ISO and thats a zone which is very well handled by D5 and D4s. 24-70 is my go-to lens for streets and portraits. Its convenient to have 24-70 and it gives me the flexibility to shoot both streets (@24mm) and portraits (@70mm).
Occasionally I do use Leica M240 + Leica Summicron 50mm f2.
What motivates you to shoot?
You need to keep the creative juices flowing all the time, if you really want to be a better photographer. I believe in practice and challenge. Being a Dubai resident, the city is my playground where I practice and learn from my mistakes. But Dubai isn’t an easy pitch to practice upon, especially, for street and portrait photography. But that’s no excuse.
I create personal projects as mentioned above, though they are not often posted online, they make me walk the streets of Dubai,practice and create. These projects keep my eyes busy and senses receptive. They keep me warmed up till my next travel. Keep shooting and learning.