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The memory-makers

Wedding photographer Priyanka Sachar, 34, weaves her way through the crowd, her trusted Canon 5D Mark II camera in hand. The venue is a Gurgaon bungalow where a haldi ceremony is in full swing. As the bride-to-be prepares for the ceremony, Priyanka clicks away furiously not allowing a single candid moment to slip by.

Sachar, who has been on her feet for over five hours shooting poignant mother-daughter moments, the quiet (and clearly stressed) dad and the revelry ensures that nothing escapes her lens. “A fine-art wedding photographer doesn’t take standard stand-and-pose pictures but captures special moments artistically,” says Sachar. And when she’s not clicking wedding pictures, Priyanka loves to shoot Indian street life and architecture.

In an age where weddings are getting grander, photographing them has been fine-tuned to an art. So just take your pick: get the next wedding in the family (maybe yours) shot like a Bollywood movie, get a coffee-table book made instead of a boring wedding album or better still, publish a magazine complete with photographs and interviews of all the key players. The pocket-pinch: upwards of Rs 5 lakh for a 30-minute movie and above Rs 5,000 for the coffee-table book.

Sachar is part of a growing tribe of photographers specialising in new-age wedding pictures. Forget about camera-toting cousins and local videographers, as these experts turn their lenses to the finer nuances of the Great Indian Wedding Tamasha. And they aren’t just capturing the extravagance but also tears, laughter, sighs and even the odd yawns.

International wedding photojournalist Sephi Bergerson who moved to India in 2002 just to capture Indian weddings, says: “In the West this genre is big business and India has begun to catch up with young photographers giving it a serious makeover.”

Cut to Baroda-based wedding photographer, Prakash Tilokani, whose client list has A-listers of Bollywood including Shilpa Shetty and industri-alist Lakshmi Mittal. Tilokani shot Shetty’s wedding as well as a bash hosted by Mittal for his daughter-in-law’s sister’s wedding in Delhi.

Explains Tilokani who is doing 20 big weddings this season, “My pictures tell a story of fairy-tale glamour.” He also has a team of 15 assistants helping him along.

Their time and perspective is money. So these photographers charge anything between Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 2 lakh per day for eight to 10 hours.

However, there are cardinal rules that every wedding photographer must follow, says Bergerson, who’ll be holding a three-day workshop in Bangalore next year for aspiring wedding photographers. He says: “It’s all about the ability to shoot under pressure, think quickly and capture the best shot.”

Delhi-based Vinayak and Snigdha Das are just back from an Indian beach wedding in Hua Hin in Thailand. Before this, they were busy clicking a Pakistani couple in Glasgow. Just two years old in the business, they’ve already shot 73 lavish weddings. Says Vinayak, who along with wife Snigdha, runs Photo Tantra: “You need to be very fast to capture moments. A split second and you could’ve missed it.”

Before taking to photography, Vinayak was an IT consultant while Snigdha worked at a real-estate firm. They quit their jobs two years ago and now work as full-time wedding photographers. “The changing scene of Indian weddings attracted us and we just fell in love with the concept of shooting them,” says Vinayak who has 25 ‘dates’ this season. While he focuses on shooting documentary-style photos, taking in the overall mood, Snigdha’s forte lies in capturing the tiniest details from the bride’s conflicting moods to the bridal finery.

The couple loves shooting Bengali weddings. Vinayak recalls a Calcutta wedding of a New York-based couple that was full of funny moments. He says, “I took them to Victoria Memorial to shoot the couple portraits. On our way back, Peter asked Nayantara to sit in a rickshaw while he pulled it. The bystanders also enjoyed the sight and it made for a great picture.”

This urge to experiment is also evident in Bangalore-based Mahesh Shantaram’s pictures. Shantaram, 33, did his diploma in photography from the Speos Institute Paris. His first outing as a wedding photographer happened in 2006 at a relative’s south-Indian style ceremony.

Pre-wedding shoots and couple portraits are standard now. Shantaram who has now shot 80 weddings says that spontaneity is the basis of his portraits. For instance, he took a couple in Chennai to Marina Beach in a vintage car and clicked candid shots as they enjoyed the evening out.

Mangalore-based Vivek Sequeira is booked right up to 2013 and says that capturing fleeting moments is his forte. “I instruct clients to ignore me while I shoot,” says Sequeira who is now setting up his own studio in Mangalore.

These photographers find that poignant moments make the best shots. Sequeira waits for the father-of-the-bride to step into church holding her hand. Sachar loves the chaotic ‘getting-ready’ pictures, with moments like the mother-in-law applying kajal on the bride. Vinayak considers the vibrant Bengali weddings and shubha-drishti (the first look) the most challenging to shoot as eager family members crowd around the couple.

They also keep their eyes peeled for surprises. Tilokani recalls clicking Shilpa Shetty and Raj Kundra’s couple portraits before the wedding. “I focused on their intimate moments.”

Meanwhile, Shantaram’s piece de resistance is a photograph of the groom at a Bengali wedding in Calcutta who couldn’t stop yawning just as the ritual was about to begin.

Sachar recalls a moment when the bride’s best friend was helping her keep the lehenga away from the havan-kund while taking the pheras. “It seemed like all three of them were taking pheras and everyone was enjoying the moment.”

But a common grouse are the harsh lights at the venues. Says Vinayak, “Indian weddings see decorators setting up bizarre lights which create havoc with the photos.”

Sequeira, however, makes use of radio-triggers (an off-camera flash that works on radio signal and the transmitter is mounted on the camera) instead of a regular flash to shoot in low-light conditions. He says, “It allows me to shoot from a distance.” Tilokani uses LED lights (placed on a tripod) for ambient pictures as they add a glow to the faces in low-light conditions. “In comparison, a flash makes the face look harsh,” he says.

And what’s the latest in wedding photography? Thirty minute films complete with title are gaining ground. Mumbai-based Vishal Punjabi, who’s set up The Wedding Filmer, is a specialist who quit his job as head of the visual-effects department in Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment, to make wedding films for his well-heeled clients.

“The idea started at my own wedding last year which was shot using basic digital cameras since we didn’t get a videographer,” says Punjabi who has nine films to date, all replete with richness and vibrancy. “One can either choose to do a five-minute trailer or a full 30-minute to one-hour film. The film has a price tag of over Rs 5 lakh.

Some of his interesting films include Mumbai Marries Madrid, and Finding The Won. Punjabi who has just filmed a five-minute trailer of restaurateur Anjan Chatterjee’s daughter’s engagement in Mumbai has a wish: to film Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan’s much-talked about D-day next year.

Coffee-table books that come with a guarantee by these photographers are also a huge hit. “These are hard-bound books with pictures printed on special archival paper which won’t turn pale over time,” says Snigdha.

The photographers have much more up their sleeves. Next from Vinayak and Snigdha is ‘wedding reportage’ in the form of a magazine with good visuals and interviews of family members and organisers.

For each of these photographers, the medium offers a world of possibilities. And as Tilokani rightly says, “Wedding pictures have great sentimental value and the challenge for any photographer is to capture the excitement along with the emotions. It’s really about identifying the wow factor in a split second and freezing the moment for posterity.”