By Siddharth Birla
From being stuck in a dead end sales job to winning the prestigious Ramnath Goenka Award for Photography, Ritesh Uttamchandani has come a long way.
His photographs perfectly capture the innate quirkiness of everyday India, making him one of the most followed Indian photographers on Instagram.
In the first entry of our series “How to Make It Big on Instagram,” Siddharth Birla chats with Ritesh to understand what makes his photographs click.
Follower Count: 99.5k
First Post On Instagram: 20 September 2012
Gear (Camera/Lens/Mobile): iPhone/ Nikon D750+
How did you first get into photography
My first job was in Dubai and it was as boring as it gets. I wore a tie to work every day and sold ad spaces for a living. One day, I stumbled upon a couple of National Geographic documentaries. One on Reza Deghati, the Iranian photographer and the other one on David Alan Harvey.
I saw these films and thought to myself – “Man, this is what I really want to do.” That’s when I decided to be a photojournalist. It’s been 17 years since and I’ve never looked back.
Did you join any professional course to supplement your passion
I did join the postgraduate course at the Xavier Institute of Communication. But I found classroom learning way too restrictive and dropped out midway.
Then, I started training under photographer A. Srinivas. During the initial months, he would call me up to distant locations early in the morning. And he himself would turn up hours later. Just to test if I had the patience and commitment required to be a photographer. Since then, I have worked with the Indian Express, the Hindustan Times and the Open magazine.
Nowadays, I am freelancing and happily making pictures for anyone who pays. A picture book on Mumbai is also in the pipeline.
DSLR or Phone? Your choice of equipment for Instagram
Ritesh was one of the few photojournalists who covered the 26/11 Mumbai attacks./Full Excerpt On Instagram
I try to limit SLR photos on Instagram. Although phone is restrictive in terms of functionality but it gives me the freedom as I don’t have to worry about the nitty-gritty’s of aperture, shutter etc.
But I do share DSLR pictures too. I was one of the journalists who had covered the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. I had written a 2000-word photo story for a magazine at that time. A couple of years later, I wanted to say the same story on Instagram. So, I divided it in 200-word snippets and posted two pictures everyday day in the week leading up to 26/11 that year.
They stories ended up receiving a lot of appreciation and engagement.
One advantage Instagram has over other mediums
When you work in organisational setups of newspapers and magazines, you work within certain boundaries.
On Instagram, there are no such rules. I have total control over my content. It has kind of become my voice. It has given me a chance to experiment and push myself in terms of composition and layering.
You also have the opportunity to help people through photography. I’ve done some stories on people in distress and they instantly reached an audience that was willing to offer help.
Plus, it introduces you to a lot of creative people — writers, photographers and designers who are putting out amazing content every day.
Do you post at a fixed time and frequency
I don’t think marketing parameters like optimal time, frequency etc. apply to photojournalism. I am sure there is some mathematics to it but it might be of more use to people who are catering to a niche audience. Like fashion or food bloggers.
I post my photographers whenever I feel like it; it maybe 2 in the afternoon or 2 at night. If someone finds my pictures good, they’ll see them at any point of the day regardless.
Thematic or random. How do you prefer to keep your feed
Broadly speaking my feed is full of photos from the streets of Mumbai and other parts of India. But I try to keep it as random as possible because I find thematic stuff pretty boring.
In fact, I feel one of the biggest reasons behind Instagram’s popularity is its randomness.
How important is the caption for a photograph
As journalists, we were used to writing captions that were very surgical in nature – who, what, where, when, and how.
On Instagram however, there is more freedom. Some of my pictures have quirky one-liners, for others I write detailed accounts. And some pictures don’t even require a caption.
List a couple of hashtags that you frequently use
I don’t usually use hashtags for visibility. But I do use them for archiving my photos.
I have created a couple of hashtags #TheBombayBook and #TheIndiaBook that help me track and edit photos for the books I am currently working on.
As a freelancer, has Instagram helped you make some money
Yes, it has. But I don’t like doing the usual product showcases. No one comes on my feed to buy a Smartphone or a watch. They are here because they want to see something interesting. So, I create campaigns for brands where I subtly plug their products in the narrative.
This solves the purpose for both of us and my feed is not compromised.
FAVORITE apps for editing pictures
I don’t do any extra editing except for minor tweaks in brightness, contrast, and basic color correction.
An interesting pattern I have noticed these days is the use of vignette. In earlier days when we used to work with film, photographs were rejected if they had vignette. It was considered a flaw.
Now, photographers use vignette as an effect.
How important is engagement with followers and fellow photographers
Very Important. The feedbacks I get on my pictures are very valuable for me.
In fact, some of the comments and observations have helped me shape the edit of my book.
One photograph on your feed that worked the best with your followers
My most appreciated photograph is the one I shot during the Nepal earthquake./Full Excerpt Here
One photograph on your feed that you personally like the most
My personal favourite is one that I shot at Mahim Beach during my father’s illness.
He was admitted to Hinduja Hospital in May 2014. The photo is shot while I was standing at the same spot that I used to sit at when I was a child. Dad and I used to come every weekend to Mahim beach.
People say that the crow is an embodiment of one’s ancestors and family members. This crow’s flight is a metaphoric indication of my dad, who passed away a few months after, and smack in the middle of a photo is a man looking back at me with a camera.
This photo is like a mirror.
Three Instagram accounts that inspire you
Anushree Fadnavis – @anushree_fadnavis
David Guttenfelder – @dguttenfelder
Theron Humphrey – @thiswildidea
Any other platforms you actively share your photographs on
Only Instagram and my website.
One advice you’d give to photographers on making it big on Instagram
Be open minded and more receptive of things.
If you want to be a good photographer you have to be as observant as you can. Have different sources of inspiration besides photography. Read more, watch more stuff because that’ll refine your observations.
It’ll make you more sensitive, more understanding and will help you react to situation in a better way.
And don’t copy others so much that you end up losing your originality.
Any project that we should be looking forward to
Ever since I turned a freelancer, I’ve been open to new things.
I’ve shot weddings, proposals, been an on-set photographer for a film. I’ve also acted in ad-commercials which gave me a newfound respect and understanding for actors and producers.
But my biggest aspiration is to make books – on Mumbai and other parts of India chronicling our local culture.
Featured Image: Vipurva Parikh