Who is Tejal? How did you get started? What inspires you and what are your current goals and position?
PATNI: I am Bombay born and graduated from Sir JJ Institute of Applied Arts art school. I started very early in my career as I was blessed to work with key creative people during my art school days. The reason I got noticed was only because (I had very little knowledge of light) I knew how to capture what looked good to my eye, so I started pushing black and white films to the max-3, 200-6,400 ASA and shoot my friends who posed as models under railway station (Mercury) lamps. I experimented a lot with those lamps and became quite an expert at shooting high contrast pics. Maybe that is one reason, my pics still remain dark.
Inspiration – I still borrow a lot from life around me, movies and books. One thing I really enjoy is when Art Directors show me illustrations/sketches of their briefs, as it shows everything in its skeleton form, and it forces you to start from scratch. It helps you do better research and achieve a fresher perspective in the end, unlike layouts presented with photographs. Art Directors, the client and myself have a good idea of what it will end up looking like!
Current goals and position – I am a struggler by all means; which means every year I try and meet my goals or more and then I keep moving on to the next ones. I love to struggle as it keeps me going. I am currently working on a “No Smoking ” project which could translate into a book and an exhibit. I am trying to work on commercials/films and short films too and updating my website, which remains the most important goals of all. I thank my Art Directors and Clients for their patience.
Your style is very deep, emotional, and most of your photos seem to involve a fair bit of photo retouching. How would you describe your style and could you share a little info behind it?
PATNI: Over the years, when I do fashion campaigns and editorials or in my personal work, I keep discovering I like layering it with a story – just in my mind – it just helps me understand my model and my brief. Sometimes I discuss it openly and sometimes I keep it like a little secret between myself and me. Idea in a picture is very Important to me, therefore I constantly think of crazy ideas. Sometimes I fail, but sometimes it works! Also the key is to form a team of people you like working with. I am a loyalist, its important to build up a relationship. I often use the same wardrobe stylist, hair and make up team. We are a family who know our talents and our weaknesses too.
I mostly use Capture one while shooting, most of the exposure, color correction is done live while shooting. Digital retouching is mainly only done to the overall picture to bring out more depth, skin & color.
Developing your own style is a tricky thing to do. How have you developed yours and who did you look up at for inspiration?
PATNI: To be honest, it will take me some years to say “yes this is my style”. Ok there may be some “Tejal Patni Look” that exists in my pictures; but it is quite a difficult task to achieve. I will get there soon. Pardon me for mentioning such great names as I might be repeating a cliché but I love and envy them for their perfection & vision: Guy Boudin, Gregory Crewdson, Steven Klein, Steven Miesel, Helmut Newton, Vincent Peters, Coen Brothers, Darius Khondji, Roger Deakins – the list is endless.
You shoot primarily in India and UAE. How is the business there to say compared to LA or New York? And have you ever thought about moving to a different country?
PATNI: It’s as good as anywhere else hungry to absorb and professional – the only thing that affects your work is the understanding of the audience, but again it’s a global phenomena where the advertiser always underestimates the consumer’s understanding. When I last updated my website I approached some 60 different agents and I got 10 positive responses from New York, Miami, Spain & Berlin. I was very excited about moving at that time, and had I not started making films as well, it would have been easier. The commercial market in India is very good therefore I would love to hang around this side for a bit more.
What’s in your camera bag? What do you primarily shoot with?
PATNI: Mark 2 1 Ds, 24-110mm lense & a fire wire cable-that’s it!
You’ve started getting into films. What is your interest there and how does that process differ from photography?
PATNI: I enjoy making films. People always say the two are interlinked but funnily enough I treat the two differently. My friends in the industry advise me to bring my style into the films but its been very difficult and I am struggling at it. In photography you almost control everything. In film making there is an army involved, from DOP to the spot boy and lets not forget the client and the agency – everyone has a say, and everyone’s view has to be respected. Of course the Director leads the team, but a whole lot is at stake and the risk factor is greater. I have yet to get there so for now it could purely be baby steps for me.
What are some of the clients you work for and what is your process in getting them to notice you?
PATNI: To name a few clients: Bur Juman Mall (Dubai), Harvey Nichols (Dubai), GQ (India), Wrangler Jeans (India), Levi’s (India), Stephan Brothers (India/London), and L’official (Dubai). Advertising agencies include: JWT, Y&R, D’Arcy, TBWA, Fish Eye, Lowe.
I generally like promoting myself, so when I update my site, I often do a personal mail to each; it’s also been word of mouth publicity for me. I often shoot a lot of pro-active campaigns, which might not have enough budget but barely enough to release, this sometimes helps in winning awards and getting yourself mentioned in various award-winning books.
I really love the shots with the damaged car and the fence with the red headed model. What was your inspiration behind this and would you care to share some detailed information about the lighting techniques & setup used?
PATNI: I studied film making in London, during my film school days. Students were often taking part in various contests and one of them was to do a music video for a band. Shortly thereafter the Crash Car idea was born – the visual idea was through the video the camera captured the singer singing, but you could not really tell where she was, in the end the camera turns 360 and tracks back to reveal she is in a Crashed Car and you see the rescue team around the car and a few people witnessing the accident. This was purely inspired from the film “Crash”. The scene between Matt Dillon and Thandie Newton is one of my favorite scenes from the film and this film is a work of genius. This is how things inspire me. The scene I saw from a film or in real life, could be 5-10 years ago; I try and connect the same way with my subject – simple! To make the long story longer, I shot the video and it sucked as I had shot it on video, as a student I could not fund it. The mini DV tape stills sleeps in my locker. I went ahead and recreated a minimal set, got a crashed car in my studio and shot it where the lighting was simple – a lot of back light, to add to the night feel and a few fill lights from the front all shot on 800 asa.
When traveling, how do you pull together your makeup, hair, stylist gear and assistants?
PATNI: Most often I have a team of people who are based in that country where I travel and shoot – often it’s the same people that I request for, sometimes if they are busy then I opt for someone else.
Can you share how you go about your day after you get a call for an assignment? Where do you start to finish with beautifully mesmerizing photos?
PATNI: Once I get brief, I start doing a treatment note which will explain the basic look and the reason to do so. I often involve my stylist and make up artist very early in briefing stage as they always have valuable input.
How often do you test new techniques, gears, models etc.?
PATNI: I totally enjoy and love trying out new lighting & camera techniques. I get quite bored of working on a known formula – I do shoot a lot for my self and always enjoy coming up with new, fresher attempts. Example: I have custom-made strip lights made of tubes, they are the poor mans “KinoFlos” but they do the job for me. I also made some so-called T-shirt Lamps. They are naked tungsten lamps with a round rim. I sometimes hang my grey, white t-shirts to create a nice “Chinese lantern effects” and they create beautiful overhead soft lighting. Once we had no blue gels on my shoot and I needed to create a blue effect on a white wall – I borrowed a blue t-shirt from my wardrobe artist and put it on my strobe and it worked great for the intensity I needed.
Looking at your shots of the black horse, how difficult was it to get the horse to cooperate and not frighten off due to the flashes? Were there any special techniques used?
PATNI: Shooting the horse in a studio with flashes was very easy. I had my fears in the beginning but I kept on checking with the trainer and she advised me not to start using all three strobes in the beginning and let the horse get used to the flashes and then build up. The horse was quite a model.
Where do you go or what do you do to relax?
PATNI: I love going to the pub in the neighborhood. My favorite way to unwind is often exchanging ideas with my girlfriend who is a Creative Director and she understands me. I also love watching B movies. They relax me.
Do you have any advise for up and coming photographers? Where should they start to get to where you are today?
PATNI: My friendly advise is to keep looking at things around you: people, objects, nature and observe light in its real form both outdoors and indoors. Talk to your camera – it listens! It loves the photographer too, use the lenses to your advantage. If you own a zoom lense, always shoot portraits between 50-70mm. If you shoot fashion then 50mm and below. Its only cause that’s what your eye sees in reality. To be honest my journey begins everyday and I, till this day, am nervous before any shoot. Just be honest to yourself and keep clicking and make mistakes! Life in general is not perfect so your pictures shouldn’t be.
What can we expect to see from you next?
PATNI: New improved “Tejal Patni” website with some film work too. Thanks.
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