Chennai based C.P. Satyajit is a multifaceted personality for whom Automobile Photography is much more than just a livelihood because of his undying passion for it.
Having started his career under the tutelage of renowned automobile photographer, Iqbal Mohammed, he went on to intern under Los Angeles based automobile photographic pro, David Lebon, before branching out on his own. He has independently executed assignments for leading automobile majors which includes the likes of Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Ford, Honda, Toyota, Royal Enfield, GM, and Ashok Leyland, and many more.
His mantra is that an automobile cannot be captured in its magnificent splendor unless it has not been driven and experienced. With his exquisite composition, he blurs the line between a machine and an evocative piece of art. With his enduring love for photography, he is currently engaged in computer based imaging solutions for the automobile sector, wherein he blends the possibilities of technology with creativity thereby raising the bar in creative excellence. Excerpts:
You’re a photographer who has covered everything about cars and bikes per se with a high degree of impact. Was this a lifelong passion for cars first, that got transformed into photography, or else how did this adventure happen in reality?
There has always been a keen interest in cars right from my childhood. I love to drive, be it a tractor, jeep, truck, plane, rickshaw…..anything that can move. It so happened that the first professional photographer I met and wanted to assist was an automotive specialist (Iqbal Mohamed). The first day I met him was also on the sets of an Ashok Leyland Studio shoot and most of the shoots he did during my tenure with him were auto based shoots. So it seemed to be designed for me that way. My interest to shoot automobiles definitely got a huge boost when I worked with Iqbal Sir and it was here that I learnt the basics of automotive shooting.
It goes without saying that in your brand of photography, the light and shadows, as well as rhythms are ab-solutely incredible. In short, what is your process and typically how long does it take for you to shoot a car?
Firstly, I like to drive/ride the vehicle. I would like to get a feel of the character of the vehicle. Then I study the salient cuts and curves that visually define the character of the vehicle. This is followed by an angle hunt where we try to establish the right stance and angle that needs to be communicated. We avoid angles that highlight odd proportions. Lighting is then meticulously planned to highlight cut lines and curves. Typically it takes half a day to light and shoot one shot. Sometimes, when we shoot black cars it takes even longer, since black reflects everything and lighting becomes very challenging. I like to have a painting method, where I light as per the cars features. I do not follow formula lighting where one light, lights all.
In your opinion, how do you com-bine the technical challenges and techniques into making a metallic car so absolutely brilliant in natural landscape? Do you prefer shooting a car in artificial lighting or else in the outdoors? Comment
Cars are outdoor subjects, we never see cars indoors, except in the showroom. I would prefer shooting outdoors and the car’s image and character is always enhanced by the location. The romantic idea of a car is always a long drive that takes you to beautiful places and through mystical journeys. So the selling point is the dream of doing that someday, although you are inching through peak traffic most times. So a car in isolation as a studio shot, is useful to showcase as a product for a product brochure. An outdoor shot provides the ingredients to create mind space in the customer.
Even while shooting outdoors we use artificial lights judiciously to blend with natural light. This helps highlight certain features that don’t show up in varying lighting conditions. The challenge with a studio shot is to create all the light yourself, whereas outdoors you have a lovely light source available to you on most occasions.
How do you always try new things in your work flow or else, have you found a niche of sorts and techniques that you really favour in your art?
I am always looking to do new things within the limited scope of work presented to us. Most experimentation requires time, if it has to predictably work. Some experimentations are a result of improvising, and will work if you are lucky! Every time I shoot, I approach the shot with great humility. I never assume that I have done this before. What this does is, it keeps you sharp and open to experiment and improvise. You don’t get numbed and stagnant by your own “experience”. ……and hence, my approach is not only technical, it is artistic too, and art, as you know, is process oriented. So the word “niche” is passing and transitory for me. It lasts for a season and then I try and move on……
Both cars and motor-cycles have different photographic perspec-tives. Which ‘everyday’ modern bike do you think will become a future classic?
The answer is in your question! The Royal Enfield Classic, though cannot be defined as an “everyday” commuter is already enjoying that status of a Classic. But we have to keep in mind, that this is an era of falling stars and reality celebrities. Predicting a future classic is next to impossible. The world is at a very volatile stage when things are moving faster than you would like. The “everyday” bike, like the “common man”, is hardly thought of. That doesn’t write off the common man, but people want new stars every day. So even if there’s one classic in the making, it may not last long. That said, one product that has caught my attention is, VESPA scooters. Scooters are functional everyday commuters and VESPA has styled their scooters very interestingly. They also carry a legendary association with the scooter. At some point we all thought Scooter means Vespa, like Bisleri is to water. So, if the target audience is not a foregone conclusion and if they are willing to break stereotypes and keep their target audience to some extent undefined, then there’s a huge potential for Vespa to break new ground.
What are the camera equipment and lenses that are a must for your brand of photography? What are your views with regard to post pro-duction and Photoshop in particular?
For a large part of my career I used the 35mm full frame digital cameras like the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark 1,2,3 series. This was partly due to the affordability factor and largely due to the adaptability factor. Since I shot outdoors mostly, and using motion rigs, a light and quick set up camera was very essential. However, after being told by a senior photog-rapher that I may have exhausted my capabilities in terms of what more I could get from my digital files, I moved on to the medium for-mat. The details and tonal variations captured are truly leaps ahead of the 35mm sensor. I can confidently say that in the last 2 years I have produced some of my best work using Medium Format, although there’s a meditative slowness that enhances my mood.
Having trained on Large Format film photography, it was always my dream to shoot using view cameras. Especially with cars, when perspective and distortions are in a subtle way, critical, it became more important to me that I shoot in a format that would challenge me in ways that yield impeccable quality to satisfy my eyes as well as for my clients. This led me to invest my life’s savings in the latest Phase One IQ180 digital Back with the new Linhof Techno. This I believe separates the “boys from the men”! The image making process demands a very high level technical prowess from the photographer. In a world where people are going for smaller and faster formats, I chose the one that is bigger and slower. The journey has just begun and I can already see how the format is changing the way I see things.
Post Production and Photoshop have currently become a very important part of image making. The reason I use the phrase “IMAGE MAKING” is because we no longer take one final picture. We blend, merge and layer multiple photographs to make one image. There are many reasons why this has become the order of the day.
1. Could be that today’s budgets and timelines don’t afford the luxury for us to spend many days attempting one photograph
2. Could be that it unleashes our imagination to be able to create visuals that otherwise, may have never been possible
3. Not every photographer is skilled enough to create at least a large portion of the photograph in one shot
There could be other reasons than range in between or a combination of these. For me personally, I would like to plan an image. Whatever the elements that make the ingredients, it needs to be planned and executed. I am conscious while using Photoshop, considering it only as a powerful tool to enhance my capabilities and not as a ‘cover up’ for errors (which seldom happen). Knowing the capabilities and limitations of ‘post production’, it becomes a part and parcel of shooting. This process ‘post-production’ is more a tool to unleash your creativity rather than just to cover up short comings…..and that’s where the difference lies!