From self-taught photographer to shooting snow leopards and a Bollywood wedding

Bangalore-based Ashish Parmar went global when he was featured in Apple’s #shotoniphone campaign. This is his story.

I’ve been dabbling with photography since I was 17 years old.

This year, I complete 24 years in the field of photography but back then we only had film. I ran a photo studio where not only did we take photographs, we also developed them right there. Since I’ve always been a hands-on person, I used to enjoy spending time in the dark room experimenting with my images.

It was much tougher to get a perfect image but when you did, the sense of achievement soothed away the exhaustion of the effort. The camera I favoured then was Pentax K1000. I bought my first digital camera in 2003, then upgraded to a DSLR in 2007 with a Canon 30D.

Today, I’m equipped with the fastest camera that Canon has ever made, the 1DX Mark 2.

From the day I started photography, I’ve never held back in shooting anything.

I hate monotony so I’m a strong believer that ‘I shoot everything that my camera can’. As well as lots of wildlife I’ve shot weddings, portraits, events, interiors, architecture, landscapes, food, music festivals, reality shows, sports and done aerial photography for commercial clients.

In my opinion, there’s no need for a good photographer to restrict themself to a particular genre. But only when you’re confident with your skills, will your creative juices flow.

I come from a belief that formal education can marginalise art.

Time and experience taught me more lessons than any institution or course could have. I’m a self-taught photographer and I teach photography on the field, never in a room.

I draw inspiration from different photographers in different genres of photography. My choices are never age or experience based.

I first used an iPhone in 2014. My friends kept goading me to try the camera.

My first iPhone was the iPhone 6S. I was impressed with the performance in low light conditions and the true colours that the phone camera captured. Since then, I’ve always believed that ‘the best camera is the one that’s in your pocket’. But I got recognition as an iPhone photographer when a photo I took was featured in the ‘Shot on iPhone 6S’ campaign.

It was the Diwali (festival of lights) of 2014…I’d been married for just a year and my beautiful wife Raina was helping my mum decorate our house. I was fiddling with my phone when she walked up to me holding a diya in her hand. The light from the diya illuminated her face in a warm glow. I switched the camera on and took a few pictures. I instantly liked one and posted it on Instagram with the #shotoniphone hashtag.

To my surprise, I received a call from Apple a few days later asking if they could use my image in their advertising campaign (pictured right).

Cut to a few months later, Raina and I step out of Mumbai airport on our way back from a trip to the Serengeti. Our phones start buzzing with all the messages we’d missed…then we look up and there’s this huge billboard right above us, Raina’s glowing face peering down.

“My iPhone picture was featured in billboards across 84 cities and 26 countries. We had friends across the globe taking pictures of the billboards and tagging us in them. Little did I realise that an impromptu picture of my wife would give me global recognition—I’m the first Indian to be featured by Apple on their ‘Shot on iPhone’ campaign.”

It’s entirely possible for a photographer to work professionally using an iPhone.

Every piece of equipment has its limitations and so does the camera on the iPhone. But using the iPhone, you can turn out brilliant images of portraits, landscapes and abstract photography; and print it any size. I got this confidence after seeing my wife’s picture on a 50ft hoarding! So if you were a professional, you could take pictures and sell prints or offer portrait photography services.

The image below was taken at the S.E.A. Aquarium in Sentosa, Singapore, and I was inspired by the new low-light features of the iPhone X. The result I got was just what I expected, I loved the detail, colours and dynamic range offered by the phone.

Since the iPhone has an auto-focus camera, I look for different perspectives to bring in the ‘wow factor’ rather than pointing the camera at something and taking a plain picture. To achieve a different perspective, I use a bagful of gadgets to enhance the pictures on my phone.

I don’t leave home without the contents of that bag which include a range of lenses, tripod, shutter release, LED lights, my Apple Watch to trigger pictures remotely and an iPad Pro powered with Affinity Photo to edit real-time pictures on the go.

One of my dreams was to shoot the elusive snow leopards in the Himalayas.

In March 2018, I went on this long-awaited trip. The biggest obstacles I expected were altitude sickness and harsh weather conditions, with the temperature around minus 22C—not to mention tracking and spotting a ‘big cat’ that was not only shy but also camouflaged very well.

The camp we stayed at had no cellphone connectivity and basic heating. Since the cats are nocturnal, we were out until late at night and went back early the next morning.

Although this trip tested our mettle, all the memories of the ordeal were wiped out when we finally saw a fully grown male snow leopard peering at us over a rock face, then slowly climb down the mountainside to reach the kill it had made the previous night.

Typically, tracking a snow leopard is done on foot and the vast expanses of the Himalayas are tough terrain. During the expedition, we had to carry heavy equipment (around 17kg) and trek for day-long shoots.

You can’t compromise on the quality of equipment based on its weight so to strike a balance between both, I used an iPad Pro instead of my MacBook Pro with its charging cables and hard disks for transferring images from my camera, and edited on Affinity Photo. That made it easier for me to share my pictures with the world.

I was honoured that Neha Dhupia picked me to shoot the most important day of her life.

I was on assignment for MTV India, that has a reality show called MTV Roadies. It’s a youth-based show that involves travel and adventure. The auditions are conducted by popular youth influencers and this included the famous Bollywood actor, Neha Dhupia. During the shoot, Neha and I built a great rapport and she always appreciated my style of photography.

Less than a month later, Neha called and asked if I could join her in New Delhi for a fashion shoot. She said it was a big brand so everything was hush-hush and she couldn’t divulge any other details.

Just before I got on my flight to New Delhi for the shoot, Neha told me that I was going to shoot her secret wedding. I was shocked! I had no idea that she was getting married!

Most of the time, I aim to achieve 80% of the picture I want in the camera itself. But since I’m also a graphic designer, sometimes I like to push my boundaries and flip the ratio so 80% is done in the app.

For a professional, Affinity Photo is an irreplaceable app for post-production. I love the fact that it supports the use of RAW files.

Apart from the regular tools like exposure, highlights, shadows, colour correction and so on, what really impressed me—and something I use all the time, with the Apple Pencil—is the freehand selection tool. Of course, the whole set of filters with individual controls is also very useful.

To see more photography by Ashish Parmar go to his Instagram page.


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John heads up our public relations and is co-editor of Affinity Spotlight, as well as being responsible for a lot of what we post on our Facebook page and Twitter feed. When he’s not trying to charm journalists into giving us more great media coverage, or serving as butler to an elderly cat, his interests include music, Cuban cigars and American whiskey. Get in touch with John if you would like to contribute to Affinity Spotlight or have any press enquiries.
Credits & Footnotes

All images by Ashish Parmar, used with permission