This week, we interviewed, Mumbai based photographer , Sangeeth Sivan.
Thank you so much for taking time out to speak with us! Please tell us a little about yourself.
Dad, Sivan, is a self taught photographer from a small village Haripad, Alleppey, Kerala. He slowly worked his way up from scratch, and built Sivan’s Studio about 54 years back. He soon forayed into Films and has also produced and directed films in malayalm and is a National Award Winner for Best Cinematography B & W for the film Yagom, produced by my Mother. Dad married Mom very young and she was the pillar of strength for all of us till her demise a decade back.
I was the eldest of four children, the other being Santosh Sivan, Sanjeev Sivan and my only sister Sarita. Did my schooling in Loyola and College in Mar Ivanios, Trivandrum.
We grew up in a house where there were all kinds of cameras and it was up to us to learn to use it. My dad never did teach us photography as such but he made sure that there were numerous books on the subject at home. We were free to experiment and he would give his views if we took a pic to him. Since we had a studio, we had basic knowledge of portraiture and dark room work. Though I used to take pictures, i was not a serious student of the same, then. I was more into studies and sports but was quite knowledgeable about photography and passionate about Films. The turning point happened when photography went Digital. I remember my first digital picture was taken on a Sony camera with a floppy disc. I could never enlarge that picture. I felt that this was not going to work at all. Around the same time, i made my mark in films and got very busy with that and photography completely took a back seat. I was busy making my life through films. Years later I had made my move to Mumbai and was working on my second hindi film when I chanced upon a Nikon D70. I was wonder struck. The digital medium had grown so much and I was absolutely ignorant of it! Felt ashamed and lost no time in buying myself a D80 immediately. As destiny would have it, i had a serious health issue which forced me to be at home for over a year. During that period I got on to learn basics of photoshop and tried out various techniques. I used to spend hours on You Tube trying to learn as much as possible. I was rediscovering my passion, so to say. Today whenever I get an opportunity I click pictures and devote some time for the same. My family consists of my wife, Jayasree, a daughter Sajna, who is a photographer and my son Shantanu who is doing his HSC.
How did you get started with photography and when did you start taking photos?
I don’t really remember exactly when I took a camera in hand. I am pretty sure it must have been very early. I remember me using the Rolleicords, Rolleiflexes, Yashica, Zenith, Canon AE1… There was a progression, in the sense that I started with field cameras that used cut films , 120 film black and white, tried my hand at flash bulbs (Sylvania bulbs, if I remember right) then electronic flashes (Metz) 35 mm, colour, then finally Mamiya RB 67. I was lucky to experience and be a part of the transition process from films to totally digital both in photography and Films.
Did you take any training in photography (you are a self-taught photographer – any online referencing)?
I am self-taught photographer. In the beginning it used to be books and later on it has been via the internet. But mostly it is the mistakes that I have made that have helped me learn. I always tell photo enthusiasts that there is no better way to learn other than to click and click pictures. During the later years, an important development has also been the social networking sites. In the old days we used to take pics and no one used to see them. With the advent of face book, twitter, flickr and 500px, photographers have a platform to showcase their art. That was a huge fillip and also gave an opportunity to interact with other photographers who were keen to share their knowledge of the craft, unlike in the past where it was a closed group who held on to their knowledge.
Describe your photographic style?
I am still trying to develop a distinctive style. As of now, I click everything and anything that catches my eye. I am still like a child trying to experiment in all genres.
What all does your camera bag carry ?
My basic kit is a Canon 7d with 28 -105 zoom, a 70 -200 zoom, a 11 -16 tokina, a 50 mm 1.4 and a v old 70 – 300 canon zoom.
Share your happiest moment while doing photography?
I am usually a much tensed person, very hyper. The only time I am relaxed and completely at peace with myself, with no care in the world, is when I am with my camera. I love travel and meeting people and recently portraiture is something I am finding very interesting
Which would be your all-time favourite shot from your style? Tell us something about your recent photo shoots?
About two weeks back, I had gone to Wayanad, a tribal district of Kerala, to conduct a workshop for school children. Wayanad is truly blessed by nature. Verdant forest with running streams and thankfully conserved. Whilst walking through the forests with the students, telling them the importance of environmental preservation, we chanced upon this small brooklet. There was a beautiful back light filtering in and one of the boys had asked me the importance of shutter speed. It suddenly struck me that the flowing water and the back light would be a good place to experiment. Luckily this one brave girl, Navmi I think her name was, volunteered to be the model. We clicked a few with different shutter speeds and this was the result. The awe and wonderment of the kids had to be seen to be believed. Later they told me they never knew that there was so much going into to make a good picture 🙂
Rate Editing v/s Original photos what’s your style?
I am not too much of an expert on Photoshop but I insist on doing it myself though. I am a firm believer of utilizing any technique i.e available to enhance your picture. Even during the good old days, we used to do burning and dodging in the dark rooms. I quite like the feel of this portrait of a Moopan, taken during an earlier visit to Wayanad. Here I had used two canon speed lights (for the first time) to light this portrait during day time.
What is your suggestion to newbie photographers, what is the good way to learn, suggest some resources (websites and/or books)?
It’s your interest and passion i.e most important. Everything else takes a back seat. In today’s world if you are ignorant about anything it is only because you choose to be ignorant! There are many numbers of websites and tutorials available freely where one can pick up and hone your technique. Even lack of equipment cannot be an excuse, for all you now need is a mobile phone! So go out and give it your best.
Some special tips you use ?
Mostly I try to do my studio portraits with one light. I prefer that, but am equally comfortable using many strobes too.I hardly use Tripods, I love to be mobile all the time excepting when I do time exposures, which i think i have done twice up to now 🙂 Till about 1/8th of a second I get away now with a rock steady hand held shot! I am a big fan of slow shutters and love the abstractness it provides.
Who would be your inspiration and why?
My inspiration right from my growing up years has been my father and my younger brother, Santosh Sivan. They are the ones who taught me to understand and see light. I understood light then but did not see the light, until much later. Today I see it and that has made a whole lot of difference to the way I approach my photography. Whilst growing up, I used to keep a small book where I would jot down things I liked in a film. In the last ten years I have made folders of images that I have been inspired by – be it on the net or a magazine. When time permits I study them and try to understand how the image was made. It opens up my dead brain cells sometimes 🙂
Along with your dad, who else you would get your insipration from ?
When young I used to be fascinated by Ernst Haans, so could be that influence. Another photographer I am inspired by is Bruno Avellian, his technique is something I love and am slowly getting the hang of it.
What’s your “Katha” behind photography?
To be able to show others how you see a particular scene or object is a great high. It is something not many are blessed with. And everything that we do is what Nature Teaches or Shows You. All you need is to be Observant. In our quest of life, we let things pass by – a sunrise, a sunset; the way a light falls on an object, the shadows it creates – a zillion things. If only we could pause a while and observe!
Some of my work is below :
You can see more of Sangeeth Sivan works here :
For more learning you can directly follow him on twitter @sangeethsivan