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Shivam Maini: ‘I felt the longing for photography and living in the hills’

Dr Shivam Maini is a photographer and photography coach based in the beautiful village of Natadol, India, overlooking the Himalayan peaks.

After starting his career in the medical profession, Shivam took a leap that so many of us have dreamed of—he quit his day job to follow his true passion—photography. Since then, he has never looked back.

Following his recent submission to 100 Days. 100 Commissions, we caught up with to Shivam to find out more about his work and how he got to where he is today.

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you first get into photography?

When I was around nine or ten years old, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. My grandfather maintained a small library in his living room. The lowest shelf, the one that I could reach comfortably at that age, had some beautiful books on it. One of them being an encyclopaedia of photography, which for me was the most captivating book on the shelf that I would spend hours trawling through. It had some full-page prints of some of the best photographs from around the world. There were reprints of works by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Irving Penn, Robert Capa and many others.

For years I dreamt of capturing similar images. Eventually, I was given a simple camera that used medium format film. I was supposed to capture family moments but I’d find myself capturing things that interested me instead.

It soon became an expensive hobby, so one day I simply stopped loading the camera with film and instead I would just take the camera out, compose my shots and dial in all the settings then shoot with no film roll inside.

Later on, I got to use a TLR, a rangefinder, and then I finally settled on a 35mm film SLR.

During my college days, I did some professional assignments, mostly for my own university but some for other organisations too. This funded me with enough money to buy filters, film rolls and other accessories, and once in a while, I could splurge on a lavish dinner in a fancy restaurant too.

I converted to digital photography quite late on when it became hard for me to get hold of supplies for film. Learning digital was not too difficult since my darkroom was no longer dark, and since the photo-processing software that I came across had most of the usual terminologies. The dodging and burning still did what they used to do in the darkroom.

Talk us through the panoramic shot that was selected for 100 days. 100 commissions. How did it come about?

It is the view from our home in the village of Natadol, in the state of Uttarakhand, India. These days we run a homestay there. The snow-capped peaks are visible whenever the weather is clear.

For the panoramic shot, I used a Nikon Df camera with a Zeiss 135mm f/2 lens. It was evening time and the sun was setting which helps light up the snow-peaks from warm yellows, to deep reds, depending on the time of the evening and one’s luck! The camera was mounted on a tripod and set to manual mode. Aperture f/5.6, shutter speed 1/25 sec, ISO 100. Based on some previous shots and the camera’s meter reading, I decided on these settings. They gave me an exposure of about -1EV. The files were saved as raw and the subsequent shots for the panorama were made by turning the ball-head on the tripod with ample amount of overlap in the shots. I took these shots in a matter of seconds. This was to avoid any change in light conditions across the shots.

For post-processing, I used Affinity Photo. The first step was to use the panorama creation tool. It’s simple and straight forward. Using the ‘New Panorama’ option, I selected the raw files and let the program do the hard work. Soon, the panorama was ready. It needed some cloning and healing to remove artefacts. Later I adjusted the curves and finally applied some sharpening and saved it. With Affinity Photo, it is very easy to create a panorama like this.

“This is the view from our home in the village of Natadol, in the state of Uttarakhand, India. These days we run a homestay there. The snow-capped peaks are visible whenever the weather is clear.”

How did you first discover the Affinity apps and what impressed you about them?

I discovered Affinity apps about four years back. Before Affinity Photo, I used a couple of other programs but found them to be not too user friendly. I tried Adobe products too, but their subscription model was not something I liked. Affinity Photo had what I wanted and expected. A clean interface, powerful tools, everything that I needed was there. The concept of personas was superb and the way of developing photos was almost too easy. Within a week of installation, I was doing what I wanted to with my photos. Today, after four years of use, I am still amazed by its capabilities.

What inspired you to make the move from the medical profession to photography?

I guess that the passion for photography was always there in me. I opted for the medical profession due to what I saw people around me doing. Even during medical school days, I did photography as a hobby. Later on, while working in a health-care setup, I felt the longing for photography and living in the hills, and I could not get this idea out of mind so I took the decision to quit my job. Now I run a homestay and do photography.

Who or what has been your biggest inspirations as a photographer?

Initially, it was the photographs from the book that I mentioned earlier, and now the works of some of the famous photographers like Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier Bresson. I like the way Ansel Adams used shadows and light in his images to bring out the best of the landscapes. Henri Cartier Bresson’s capture of the drama in his street photographs, when it could stir the maximum emotions, is well known. Some of the famous painters also inspire me with their rendering of lights and shadows.

What do you hope people get from viewing your photographs?

A feeling of awe at first glance and then the photographs should have something to hold their attention. I hope that my photographs will stir some kind of emotion. They should tell a story.

“I hope that my photographs will stir some kind of emotion. They should tell a story.”

How would you describe your photography style?

I don’t know. I click whatever interests me. Looking back at the photographs that I’ve captured, I see a lot of landscapes with some street photography and street portraits too.

Sometimes, to market my homestay, I venture into interior photography, food photography and even wildlife!

In your opinion, what makes the perfect shot?

A shot that conveys what the photographer visualised and experienced. The feeling has to be there. The viewer has to experience the same thing that the photographer experienced and wanted them to feel. If a shot is successful in achieving that, I consider that a perfect shot.

How would you like to see your photography evolve over the next ten years?

Maybe, someday people will call me an artist who can stir emotions and feelings by his images.

“Maybe, someday people will call me an artist who can stir emotions and feelings by his images.”

You’re a photography coach as well as a photographer, what made you start teaching and what do you enjoy most about it?

I call it coaching and not teaching. What I do is help people improve their visualisation and ways to convey their feelings. I understand that anyone using a camera and trying to capture an image has a feel for the subject in front of them. I help them express their feelings through their photographs.

Very rarely has it happened that I had to teach a person about the basics of exposure or regular photography stuff. That, in my opinion, can be easily learnt by attending professional courses (even online ones), reading books or by experimentation. What people find difficult is how to capture and present what they want to, using the equipment and knowledge they already have.

Initially, I went on trips with fellow photographers and observed their photography. Sometimes guests at our homestay would try and capture photographs, but many weren’t achieving their full potential. I couldn’t hold myself back so started helping out. But I also realised that such unsolicited free advice was not always welcome. Now, I help out only those who are truly interested and serious about it.

What would you say is the best advice you’ve been given?

Do what you love, put your full efforts into it, satisfaction and money will follow!

Do you have an all-time favourite photograph? What makes you so fond of it?

This is a very hard question for me. There are lots and lots of photographs that I am fond of. Naming one out of many would be an injustice to others.

What is your proudest achievement to date?

Getting selected for 100 Days. 100 Commissions. This came at the time when I was in a financial crunch and feeling down. The initiative from Affinity is commendable. Affinity helped me showcase my work to photographers and other like-minded people from all around the world.

What advice would you give to other photographers first starting out?

Don’t fall for fads. Extremes of saturation, structure, adding artificial-looking vignettes, social media influenced filters… avoid all that. Learn to show your own photography rather than trying to mimic what others are doing. Also, a large number of likes on social media is an endorsement of a network, but it is never an endorsement of photography skills. So, don’t lose yourself to the flood of mediocre images, instead, develop your own style and let your work speak for itself.

You can see more of Shivam’s work on Instagram or by visiting his website and blog.

Artist relations

Jess is part of our artist relations team. When given the luxury of peace from an excitable toddler Jess loves nothing more than curling up with a trashy novel, a family-sized chocolate bar and a G&T.

Credits & Footnotes

All photography in this article is copyright © of Shivam Maini and used with permission.