Photographer of the Week is a five-part series in which we talk to five popular Instagram photographers about it all—their story, learnings, insights, what makes them photograph and all that goes into making great images.
Umesh Gogna is a professional photographer since 1998. He is known for his work in the handicraft, jewellery, hospitality and industrial sectors. A celebrated mentor, he has conducted over 250 photography workshops across India with Canon and Sony Alpha. He also organises personal expedition-based masterclasses and is a guest faculty in several Indian universities, including Allahabad University, Central University of Bihar and BITS Pilani.
Passionate about landscape, travel and astro photography, the 49-year-old has extensively documented Rajasthan’s rich cultural heritage and the majestic Himalayas.
Here he talks about the importance of photo-processing, how Instagram has drastically altered the way we see photographs, the role of privilege and networking in photography and the dangers of digital garbage.
How did you get into photography?
In 1995, I was a jeweller and a Phd scholar. I had to buy a camera for my research and it soon became my life. I am a compulsive traveller with a special fondness for hills. So in 1998, I finally quit the jewellery profession and became a full-time photographer.
A lot of people think that I earn from landscape, travel and astro photography but I don’t. I do it just for passion. Professionally, I do product, fashion, hotels, interiors and industrial photography, which is my specialisation and major source of earning.
Is it necessary to go to a photography school to learn the craft?
Not at all. I have become an expert by reading, properly implementing the findings and lots of practise. I don’t have any degree in photography but I go to colleges to train students. Photography is a skill which can be mastered even without a degree. Just practice, practise and practise. There is only one thumb-rule.
How important is photo editing?
Photo editing and post-processing are two different things. Editing involves playing with the composites—like changing the sky colour, removing people, adding certain other elements—messing with an image’s authenticity. It is great from a graphic designer’s point of view but not so much for photographers and artists.
Post-processing, meanwhile, is very important. It is the replacement of the darkroom, which was in vogue earlier to enhance colours when film was used. Because the camera, even today, cannot use a lot of its capabilities to full extent, post-processing becomes essential to utilise them fully.
Where do you edit your photos?
I usually use two softwares—Lightroom and Photoshop.
How do you think Instagram has changed the way we see photographs?
It has changed the game completely. Because of it, the size of the images we see has reduced drastically. Earlier we would still see photos on our desktops. Now we only see them on phones, where colours look different, making it easier to like all kinds of images.
Instagram has made shooting photographs look easy and accessible also because mobile-phones are producing good images now. Thanks to this, 90% of people with phones have become self-proclaimed photographers, which has killed authenticity.
Instagram has also made it really difficult to distinguish between a professional photographer and a hobbyist. It has blurred the boundaries between exceptional, good and bad work. Now all it takes is a few good images for anyone to call themselves a photographer. Photography has suffered a major setback because of social media. But since it has also opened avenues for everyone, it has made it easier for new talents to flourish.
What do you look for when clicking a photo?
How you recreate the feeling that you have while clicking a photo is of utmost importance. Before clicking any photo, it is necessary to establish why you want to take that shot. I put great emphasis on the content within the frame, lighting and composition.
You have an extensive following on social media where you regularly share your work. Is plagiarism not a worry?
I’d take it as a compliment if someone tries to copy my work. Now with such a massive explosion of photographers on Instagram, I’d feel lucky if someone copies me. I’d consider it as an achievement. It would show that I have been successful in achieving my purpose. It’d also motivate me to try do something new and different from what I have been doing so far.
What works best in building an active and dedicated following on Instagram?
For me, the primary reason has been my mentoring. I go to places, regularly conduct workshops all over India with at least 50 attendees in each. Most of these workshops are organised by brands and are therefore free. When you impart free education, your respect grows. However, you also need to be thorough and consistent with your work, and share it with people for them to want to follow you. It’s a combination of all these factors.
What does it take to sustain as a professional photographer for such a long time?
Consistency. You need to set annual targets—for example, of producing at least 50 good photographs in a year. If you’re not consistent, you’ll be out of the market before you know it. There are countless accidental photographers whose few images turn out well and are received well. They might even get awards for them. But if they’re not consistent, they won’t be able to deliver work satisfaction and hence won’t be repeated. Without consistency, those awards turn to dust after a point. You’re successful only if you have a repeat value.
Which photographers inspire you?
There is no one person. I try to learn technique from those senior to me and vision from the younger generation. They have such fresh ideas. Combining them both, I try to create something unique.
What is the one most important thing to keep in mind while shooting?
I think lighting is of paramount importance. Chasing light is the main ingredient in making good photographs.
How important are privilege and networking in photography?
If the field you are in has a lot of restrictions, then it is very important. From what I have seen, people with a good reach tend to get more successful, especially in fields like wildlife photography. Most people don’t have the necessary information or lack resources.
But you don’t need it so much if you’re pursuing other kinds of photography, such as travel, landscape, fairs and festivals. In fact, it works the other way round in these areas. The more grounded and invisible you are, the better you will do.
What would you want to tell aspiring photographers?
Learn to differentiate between passion and profession. If you’ve decided to make your passion your profession, first check its economic viability and scope. Whatever field you choose, give a few dedicated years to learn it, just like you do when studying for a degree. Build, hone yourself according to your craft. No one becomes a photographer by just practising for a month. It take at least 2-3 years to achieve anything at all and develop consistency. Just a few good photographs will not get you anywhere. Spend some time before you arrive at any decision.
Digital garbage has become a real problem. How can it be tackled?
We’re so used to clicking multiple photos of everything, we end up seeing nothing at all. And before you realise it, you have a massive dump in your phone with more photos than you can effectively deal with. This is digital garbage. This is why our phones first had 32 GB memory, then 64 GB, then 250 GB but it’s never enough. You keep wanting more.
Though clicking a lot is a great way to document, but choose your shots wisely and click only the ones you feel you’d want to keep. That’s the only way out of it.