Street Photographer Sumit Gupta: “5 Strategies To Take Stunning Photos”
Research about your subject before you come face to face to it. 10 minutes of preparation can save you an hour on the field later. For example — When I went to Budapest in September 2015, I wanted to make some good photos of the various bridges over the Danube. The green Liberty Bridge is located at the southern end of the main city center of Budapest near the foot of the Gellert Hill. The preparation for this shot began even before I reached Budapest. Seeing that there is a hill right next to the bridge in Google Maps allowed me to capture the bridge from a slightly elevated platform.
As a part of my series about “5 Strategies To Take Stunning Photos” I had the pleasure of interviewing Travel and Street Photographer Sumit Gupta.
While growing up, Sumit was often seen with his father’s old film camera shooting family events. Fast forward to today, he always has a camera with him and is a travel / street photographer based in Amsterdam. He has photographed extensively in Europe and India, and his photo essays from Kolkata, Paris, Amsterdam, Italy and from the Kumbh Mela 2019 have been widely popular.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Though I always had a camera with me as a kid, my love of photography started much later. I bought my first DSLR in 2010, but never used it enough. After my mother lost her long struggle with cancer in 2012, I picked up my camera again and through it connected with the world around me.
My camera started as a way to hide from the world, but it is how I express myself today. I hardly spend a day without photographing, and find the experience of walking around Amsterdam with a camera almost therapeutic and meditative.
I capture daily moments of peace and serendipity as they happen in our cities. I have been fortunate to meet and know many interesting people from all over the world as I traveled to photograph different cities.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The most interesting thing that has happened to me was that I got exposed to the field of photojournalism and street photography. Art was never my thing growing up, but somehow photography helped me get through a difficult period in my life. I have visited photography museums all over Europe now and can spend hours looking at a good photograph.
I have met various journalists and people from the media industry — some very well known names who have covered wars, famines and every major world event in the last 50 years. These are the people I would never have run into had I not picked up photography when I did.
That expanded my perspective tremendously and made me much more empathetic of the world around me. In short, photography made me a better person. I will always be grateful for that.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My funniest mistake is the same every enthusiastic photographer makes — diving too much into technical. I spent a few years trying to master my camera in manual mode, and understand how light is captured and a photograph is made. Perhaps that was the engineer in me trying to deconstruct the camera.
It was only much later that I understood and began to appreciate the creative side of photography. The art of composition, the endless walking on the streets, the discipline of preparation, and the timing of capturing the decisive moment — that is what has fascinated me in the last 5 years. Today I have a huge collection of photo books at home, and none of them is about the camera.
This is not to say that technology is not important, but we tend to focus more on the tool (the camera) rather than the skill of making photographs. The most important part of the camera is two inches behind it — you, the photographer.
For me, once I mastered my camera, I got the technicals out of the way to focus on making photographs. One reason I don’t want to update to a new camera I haven’t updated in 5 years now is because I don’t want to learn how the new camera technology works.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
As a photographer, it took me a long time to find my voice. I started out imitating the work of photographers who inspired me. However, in the last few years, as I have made photo essays in Kolkata, Paris, Amsterdam, and from the Kumbh Mela; I can see a unique style developing which I can call my own.
One story I distinctly remember is when I was photographing the Kumbh Mela last year in Allahabad, India. It is a huge religious gathering of 30 million people which happens once every 12 years. I photographed the event for 5 days, and for some reason I saw myself pulled towards making certain kinds of photographs more and more. It was then that I realised a mix of human emotion and humor is what pulls me towards a scene to photograph it.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
In the 21st century, photography can be a difficult field to thrive in financially, though it can be very rewarding socially and personally. Therefore it is important for fellow photographers to take care of their mental health, and to make enough space in life for rest and play.
For me, it helps to have a side income (as a software engineer) and that takes away the stress of making my living from photography. I have thought about moving full time to photography, but now realise that having it as a second career frees me up to express myself creatively with complete freedom in my photography.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
First of all I would like to thank my parents, without whom I would not be who I am today. They supported me all along to express myself creatively — first with computer programming, and later on with photography.
I also believe that I see from their “eyes” when I photograph a scene in the streets. Both my parents are very empathetic, and I think that is what pulls me towards empathetic stories.
Once recent influence has been the world renowned photojournalist Peter Turnley. I met him in Paris a few years ago, and we both love to photograph the city of love. He has photographed all major wars and crises of the last five decades, and to sit and walk in his presence was inspirational.
He has lived in and photographed Paris whenever he was not traveling in the last 50 years. He has published several photo books, but his photographs of Paris are my favorite, and watching him in action was very motivating.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
I continue to photograph Amsterdam almost daily, and it is one of my favorite places to photograph. I have plans to publish a photo book as my collection of photographs from Amsterdam gets bigger and more comprehensive.
I believe that the Amsterdam photo book is still a few years away, as even after spending 5 years in Amsterdam, there is a lot I have not photographed. I plan to fill those gaps in the next couple of years.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
After seeing the work of photojournalists like Peter Turnley and others, I have come to realize that life can be very fragile, and it often hangs by a thread. At the same time, life can also be amazing and fascinating at times, and our cities are the perfect backstage for all human suffering and joy.
My parents always believed in helping people in whatever capacity we can, and I hope my photography can show others that we are all human. Despite all the suffering, our cities show that there is also a lot of goodness and joy.
Our cities show that we are all connected and live very parallel lives. I have photographed in more than 20 countries, and have never been concerned by the ideas of nationalism. I would first and foremost prefer to be a citizen of the world, rather than of any one country.
I convey this human connectedness through my photography, and I hope the viewer also sees the same in my photos. I would be happy if one of my photographs touched and moved even a single person, just like I have been so profoundly moved by many iconic photographs.
Can you share “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Take Stunning Photos”. Please an example for each.
Although photography is a creative process and difficult to reduce to a formula, below are a few things to keep in mind if you want to take better photos.
- Research about your subject before you come face to face to it. 10 minutes of preparation can save you an hour on the field later. For example — When I went to Budapest in September 2015, I wanted to make some good photos of the various bridges over the Danube. The green Liberty Bridge is located at the southern end of the main city center of Budapest near the foot of the Gellert Hill. The preparation for this shot began even before I reached Budapest. Seeing that there is a hill right next to the bridge in Google Maps allowed me to capture the bridge from a slightly elevated platform.
- Know Your Gear — You should know about how to use your camera and how its various settings impact the image before you go out on the shoot. Practice in your home if you wish, but you should know about them at the back of your head. If you are figuring out ISO and shutter speed on location, then you have already missed a step.
- Composition and getting an unique perspective — Once you reach the destination, you need to innovate on the spot to make the best of the situation and weather which you have no control over. Getting a unique perspective makes all the difference. Making that extra 1% effort to get a view which others might not will give your picture the “wow” quality.
- Edit Well (or delete most shots) — I prefer taking multiple compositions on a photo shoot without worrying about which one is perfect. The idea is to select the ‘keeper‘ shot later when I upload the images to my laptop. The editing itself is a very strict process. Out of every 100 photographs I make, I only end up keeping one of them, deleting 99 of the rest. This way you only see my best work on my website. It takes a lot of discipline to do this, but it is highly rewarding as you build a portfolio.
- Post processing — Know what emotion you want the viewer to feel on viewing your photo. Then do only as much post processing as required to achieve the desired outcome. For example — In Budapest, my post processing created the mood that I felt that evening — of a rainy evening and a shiny bridge over water.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
My call for people would be to rise above Nationalism. While this idea of nationalism has worked very well in the 19th and 20th centuries, it could be a dangerous idea in the 21st century. I say that considering the very different realities of the world we live in.
In the past two centuries, the world was a large place and the speed of communication was slow. However, in a post globalization and always connected world of the internet, the same idea of nationalism can become dangerous and divisive.
As we start sharing our messages, including our thoughts related to nationalism, with the wider world, they come in contact with people from different nations, who have their own ideas of nationalism, creating tension and conflict.
We must all understand that we are all human beings first, and Indians or Dutch or Americans, Hindu or Muslim or Christian, and Men or Women later. We can still be driven and inspired by our nationalism, but let us not be identified and attached to it.
We must recognize the complexity of the ever connected world we live in, and understand that national histories, values and cultures change dramatically across borders and continents. As ideas cross these borders over the internet like they do today almost instantaneously, an idea that generates love and pride in one part of the world can generate anger and disgust in another.
Today, we need our humanity more than our nationality. Isn’t that a marvelous opportunity to have for the first time ever in history — to have a common connection to each other as citizens of this world rather than seeing each other in our religion, cultures, languages and nationalities?
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!