Through the photographer’s lens
Gallivanting throughout India, rummaging in its deepest, remotest corners helped Mayank Soni find his calling. A travel and documentary photographer, Soni journeys to unknown valleys, meets lesserknown ethnic groups, documenting their historical and cultural signicance. It’s a dream job for many.
On one such expedition, Soni stumbled upon the Konyak Nagas, the last surviving head hunting tribe of Nagaland. This tribe until recently severed off heads of their enemies and intruders and proudly displayed them outside their houses.The taking of a head was a great honour and symbol of courage indicating the power of the tribe. Although the practice stopped 30 to 40 years ago, the elders still have tattoos and brass lockets around their neck earned on taking an enemy’s head.
Not all his assignments are so fierce. Many of them involve discovering scenic and beautiful places off the beaten track. For instance, Soni is one of the few people to have visited the Gurez Valley in Kashmir, which was once the gateway to the famous Silk Route across Asia.
About a seven-hour drive from Srinagar, this picturesque valley is home to the Dard people, who are the descendants of an old civilisation known as Dardistan. Even today while the area is rifewith cross-border tensions, the people are uncommonly hospitable, says Soni.
“Thousands of tourists visit Jammu and Kashmir or the North-East every year, but how many of them can claim to have encountered such exotic places? I feel it’s my job to sniff out stories of endangered cultures and record them for posterity,” says Soni.
It took several years for Soni to discover his career path. A Mass Communication student, Soni worked as a journalist with several publications in Mumbai. But the wander bug in him would often force him to take a break from his day job to travel.
Soni invested in a DSLR camera hoping to capture atleast some of the beauty around him. Thus grew his passion for photography. “Love for travel developed my love for photography,” says Soni, who honed his skills on his own by fiddling around with camera controls and
Careers in photography branch out in dierent directions. Travel photography is one of them and has growing number of opportunities, as more and more people are developing an interest in travel, especially to less-explored places. According to the Indian Ministry of Tourism statistics, in 2016, approximately 1.61 billion Indians travelled within the country. This number is up from 1.43 billion the previous year. Similarly, the number of foreign tourists grew from 7,34,000 in 2016 to 7,88,000 in July, 2017.
Travel magazines, channels and photosharing websites may be one of the reasons for this trend. They have also opened up plenty of job opportunities in travel photography. As a professional travel photographer you can freelance for travel magazines, websites, resorts and government tourism departments.
To begin with you must pick a niche or an area of interest. However, if your interest is not commercially viable, you may have to take on other assignments to pay the bills.
“Most travel photographers like to strike a balance between assignments that align with their interests and those that are financially lucrative,” says Soni.
Once your networks are in place and you have developed a name for yourself, you may find it unnecessary to work on assignments that do not interest you.
“You need to have patience to work in this eld. Like in any other field, it takes time to develop your network and grow,” he adds.
Where can I study?
While there are many photography schools in India and abroad, Udaan School of Photography in Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata and Light and Life Academy in Udhagamandalam, are best known in the industry. Udaan School offers multiple short-termor long-term courses and workshops in photojournalism and commercial photography. They have one-year and two-year diploma programmes in commercial photography.
Short-term intensive courses are also available for those who want to learn basic photography. Perched on a mountaintop, Light and Life Academy, offers a PG diploma in professional photography with specialisation in travel, fashion, people, nature, food and beverage, and fine arts.
So, what are you waiting for?