I had a chance to hang around watching Sameer Belvalkar at work once; photography maestro this man. Obviously, I jumped at the chance to interview him one-on-one. Not only is he a genius lensman, he’s a lot of fun to talk to! Here’s our conversation:
AB: Did you always want to be a photographer?
SB: I never wanted to be a photographer. It was absolutely never on the radar. I am qualified in Chemistry and also have an MBA degree. We used to have a camera at home and one day, I started clicking away just to show my sister that I could click better pictures than her. I have never let go of a camera since. It’s been about 11 years now.
AB: Oh! Did you study photography then?
SB: I never attended a course, if that’s what you mean. I taught myself. I used to work in an IT company as a graphic designer then. I subscribed to photography magazines, scanned YouTube for lessons and soaked in millions of photography-related pages on the Internet. It wasn’t common to have an Internet connection at home in those days, so I’d finish my daily office work as soon as I could and then make the most of their connection.
AB: What was your first paid photography assignment?
SB: Once I became a camera junkie, I’d carry it around with me everywhere. It became an addiction. I’d shoot everything in sight and accumulated plenty of decent shots. I started sending them to magazines and they were happy to publish them. This became a monthly project and it was good money.
AB: Who has been your most exciting subject till date? That is, which shoot made you feel that “Boy, I think I’ve arrived!”
SB: My shoot with Kareena Kapoor and Ajay Devgan/Devgn for Filmfare magazine. Undoubtedly!
AB: Were you nervous?
SB: Oh, I was terribly nervous. As a photographer, I’ve always been in awe of Kareena Kapoor and wanted to work with her since forever. And, it isn’t like the nervousness subsided after some time into the shoot. It was there throughout. But I couldn’t show it, you know. A photographer has to keep up the façade of confidence at all times; no matter what’s going on inside. Otherwise, the subject, especially stars, will walk all over you.
AB: You’ve mentioned somewhere that you learn something new all the time. Without getting into technicalities, what was the last thing you learnt?
SB: Oh that was just during my last shoot and it happened 2-3 times when even I surprised myself. We were shooting for an ad campaign in the middle of the night. The client had given me a reference shot wherein a woman is in a swimming pool, her face illuminated with underwater lights and you can see twinkling lights from sky rises in the backdrop. I was really worried about the shots. The initial ones I took were hideous. I started to feel petrified. We even tried fairy lights! But then, after giving it a few tries with the props we had, the end result was stunning. I think I got better pictures than the reference shot from the client. So you see, learning something new raises the bar each time. It keeps things fresh!
AB: What are your other passions?
SB: I’ve recently gotten into biking. I’ve also been teaching myself the guitar since the past 6-7 months. I can even play a few songs now. I love playing tennis. And recently, I’ve been trying my hand at golf. Also, I gym like a beast and run like a horse
AB: Wow! How do you make time for all of that?
SB: Well, in my profession, there’s a sowing and a harvesting period, as I like to call it. The sowing period involves only meetings, fixing schedules etc. This gives me a lot of free time. It’s the harvesting period that’s a crazy time. It involves shoots that go into the wee hours of the morning; a couple of hours of sleep and then more shoots the following day.
AB: In the future, if there ever comes a time when you aren’t a photographer, what would you be doing?
SB: I’d be doing something related to it. Maybe teaching and guiding budding photographers or sourcing talent even. But I’d never leave this industry. The money in it is too addictive (huge grin).
AB: Lastly, which camera do you use?
SB: I have a Canon 5D Mark II as well as a Mamiya 645 Pro TL.