Sudhir Shivaram: A Real Life ‘Farhan’ [3 Idiots!]
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A lot of people are enthusiastic about photography. It is clearly one of the most emerging passions. Yet, it also remains widely misconstrued. Rarely, people do something serious about it. Sudhir is one of them.
Sudhir Shivaram is the one of the top three most influential persons in photography according to the Asian Photography awards since the last two years. A native of Bengaluru, the 45 year old photographer got involved in wildlife photography from the age of 21 while he was studying engineering. He is widely known for the live coverage of The Great Migration from Masaai Mara National Reserve (Southwestern Kenya) through his Facebook page.
Team imd1 had a chat with him a few days ago, read on to know him further!
Photography was a very niche profession during the time you began. We"re really keen to know, how did your photography journey begin?
It all started when I was studying engineering in Malnad College of Engineering in Hassan, Karnataka. I became a part of MalnadAmateur Photographers" Society (MAPS) and moved on to being the official photographer for all the events in college. Around the same time, we started to go trekking in the Western Ghats during our spare time. KumaraParvatha was our favourite spot. It was at that time thatmy love for nature and wildlife photography began. Later, I moved to Bengaluru and delved deeper into wildlife photography in particular.
Food I Love
Idli, Dosa’s, Bisibele Bhat, Vangi Bhat; basically, authentic South Indian food
Food I Hate
I avoid non-vegetarian food
Had I not been a Photographer then
Would have continued as software engineer
Like Vacations at
Home or Switzerland and of course, Indian jungles!
Favorite Pass time
Whatever you want to do, don"t do it for money do it for the love of it.
DDLJ – watched almost 20-30-40 times
Favorite Actor / Actress
Everyone has a success mantra. What"s yours?
I never intended to go after money, popularity or even fame. It was just passion that got me really involved into photography. One should try to be as simple and as down to earth as possible. According to me, it is all about dedication, even if one is doing household work. I make sure I have full interest in whatever I do. Doing something just for the heck of doing it is just not me. So, yes - passion, dedication and the love for the art are my mantras for success. .
Of course, life is not a bed of roses and in your case, it was the road not taken by the majority. Tell us something about the hardships and hurdles that you encountered in your journey and how you were able to overcome them?
I was an engineer before I actually took up full-time photography. Despite being busy in my corporate life, I tried to give as much time as possible to photography. However, after a while it got really difficult to manage. Not just this, my personal life also suffered. My friends and family often complained about my not being able to spend time with them. There was no room for leisure after long hours in front of the computer in the IT"s corporate culture. I even suffered a lot of health problems due to stress and tension. But, as time progressed, I became a pro in the balancing act!! Photography and corporate life started moving in parallel. Photography as a hobby became a source of calmness and as a result my performance in the professional space improved too.
The biggest support system all this while has been my wife, Vasudha. She made me realize that I should quit my IT job and take up photography/photography teaching as a profession. I always was apprehensive about not being able to gain enough financially to provide for my family, paying bills, and repaying loans. The battle was obvious - quitting the high-paying corporate job vs. the passion for photography. At this juncture, Sandeep, my friend, helped me figure out my finances and plan them in such a way that even if my photography (teaching) didn"t pay me for the latter two years, I would still have enough for our basic expenditure. Again, this took a lot of planning and saving up initially before I mustered up the courage to quit my job. My parents and siblings were also very supportive of my decision and have always been my support system. This unconditional love and support enabled me to cross all the hurdles that came my way.
Success is incomplete without its share of failures. How should one overcome them to move on?
Failure always proved as a learning experience for me. The journey of life is bound to have ups and downs. We can"t always think just positive but, it is extremely important to have a positive attitude with all the things. One should always take the opportunity to learn and improve upon failures. Another important thing is acceptance. One should always accept what comes their way and not regret it. It is all a part of life. Never blame yourself for anything. Decide whatever you feel is right and even, if it fails, do not regret it, accept it as your decision and try to work upon it. So, the clear funda is learn, improve and carry on. Life is too short to worry about failures.
Apart from a career goal, do you think photography is helpful and has an aesthetic appeal in a person"s life?
Absolutely! When a person learns photography, there is a certain kind of peace and calmness that he can feel. The kind of lives we lead in cities and corporate jobs is full of tension and stress. Photography is the perfect weekend delight for people like software engineers who have a hectic life on weekdays. Just taking the camera and going to a place to try out any kind of photography - be it street, landscape, or any other zone, can make one feel happy and peaceful. After a great Sunday session of photography, Monday is full of energy and peace of mind because that one day, the mind got a good break from the routine work. It is like recharging oneself. This is exactly what I did in my corporate life. Photography served as a major stress buster and it had nothing to do with making a career in it. It can be just a refreshing and revitalizing hobby in one"s life.
Everyone has an influencer. Who has played this role in your journey?
My guru in wildlife/bird photography is Vijay Cavale. He exit his high-flying corporate career to pursue bird photography on a purely non-commercial basis, as a hobby. When I first met, I was a much younger IT professional. We later travelled together to various places, which is when I picked up the rudiments of bird photography from him. He was one of my earliest inspirations to take to full-time photography.
Which was “that” moment when you considered yourself as “I am the 1”?
When I made the decision to take up photography as a profession, I had given myself two years to start making regular income. If things didn’t work out, the plan was to go back to my IT career. However, once I started out on my own and announced the first set of tours, workshops, and webinars, the response was tremendous. All of them were sold out. So was next season of workshops and tours. The need to wait for two years never came. In the first three months itself, I could see it working and I knew this was the thing for me and I am the one for it. I didn"t ever have to turn back to that corporate life.
Tell us about the journey of your coaching in learning photography?
Back in 1996, when I started learning photography, we didn"t have internet or any other digital platform. The journey to learn the art was hard as there was no one to guide me. I had to figure out everything on my own, and in that sense I like to think of myself asa self-taught photographer. Also, because of my technical and electronics background, it was easier for me to understand the technical part of photography. Then, I referred to a few books related to photography. Finally, when I started teaching in 2004, I knew I had to keep my basics right. Gradually, I started developing on that content. I didn"t want others who were passionate in photography to face the hardships I had to. Sharing my knowledge gave me the ultimate satisfaction. Through live streams on my Facebook page, I just keep sharing all that I know, without expecting anything in return.
A systematic training and the presence of a coach is crucial in any skill. Is photography any different?
Absolutely, not! The presence of a coach, a teacher is crucial. During our times, there wasn"t any content available. But, in today"s times, when novicephotographers look up “photography” on Google, thousands of search results popup.They don"t know where to begin from and whether or not the source of knowledge is verified and credible. This is where systematic training comes into picture. A hand-holding guidance is very helpful, be it physically or virtually.
Are there any prerequisites like age, fitness or a particular type of mindset required to pursue photography?
Honestly, there are no prerequisites to learn photography. All you need is willpower and passion. One of the eldest persons who started attending my workshop to learn the art from absolute basics - Mr. Roy, is 74 years of age. Another person, Sudhir Hasamnis, started attending after his retirement. Both of them are my regularparticipants. So, I believe there is no age for learning photography, or any learning for that matter. On the other hand, one of my youngest participants is 8 years old. He comes with his brother who is 10 years of age. The love for the art is enough.
Technology and scientific training have been changing the way people get trained in Photography. What’s your take on this?
Obviously, technology has brought a lot of changes. Facebook had just started when I started teaching, 10 years ago. Social media didn"t have a prominent presence then. People who wished to attend my workshop came to attend it, physically. Times evolved and this gradually changed to online workshops.
All I have to do now is sit in my home office-studio and start a live video on Facebook or Youtube. People just need to follow me and learn photography by asking questions through the comments on the live video. I was probably the first person in India to launch the subscription model for video tutorials. I teach them, guide them and solve all their queries about photography.
My Facebook Live sessionshave a viewership of more than 15,000 to 20,000,and all I have to do is connect the camera to the PC and go live. Technology has definitely taken training to another level.
How can one select an ideal ‘Guru’ for getting formal coaching for Photography?
Choosing a "Guru" is not an overnight task. You basically have to know the person and his attributes well enough. Moreover, you need to have a certain respect for him and his ways of work to be able to accept him as a guru. The way he communicates matters a lot. It would help to do a cursory background check.
There is always a scope for improvement in coaching of any art form. What about photography coachings in India?
I"d say, ‘a little’ knowledge is dangerous. People learn about a few things on the internet about photography and then, start teaching themselves. Take the analogy of a new restaurant, you can go and experiment a meal there but, if you don"t like the quality of the food, you will never go there again. Similar, is the case with photography. The teaching fundamentals have to be very clear and strong. The confidence of the teacher also matters a lot. It is my experience in the field that can make me answer any question about it with full confidence.
What do you suggest for better accessibility of Photography in remote parts of India?
Accessibility to internet is a major asset for the country in today"s times. Pick any corner of India, you"ll find people using smartphones, Facebook and WhatsApp. Access to the web has certainly proven beneficial. This proves that online education is definitely the way ahead.
In your opinion, what are the basic traits apart from formal coaching that make “imd1”?
It is all about passion and the love for the art.
Your piece of advice to parents and new generations?
People often go after fame and popularity and wish to become experts overnight. This cannot happen. All I would say is that they need to invest a lot of time in the art and not hurry up. Take the instance of Morgan Freeman. He received recognition at the age of 55. There are 10th and 12th standard kids who quit studies to get into photography. This is all in the influence of social media. They tell me that they want to travel around the world with the long lens too. What they fail to understand is the hard work that goes behind it. I"d say give it time. Success can"t be achieved overnight. There is no shortcut to success. They need put the effort and forget about competition. Just love what you do and do it in the best manner possible.
How can one identify and encourage talent in the family?
In the current scenario, parents guide their children by telling them about some career option which they feel is good. But, when it comes to talent, parents show their children"s skill to the community and ultimately, it is enforced upon the children. This brings a tremendous pressure of performance on tender minds. What actually needs to happen is just encouragement. Children need to find their talent on their own and take the decision on their own. Fundamental education has to come first anyway.
What is the downside of your dream?
I don’t see as a Downside and in fact I see as a Upside – “I don"t have to report to anybody except my wife.” (winks!)
Any other thoughts you want to share?
Just be passionate about your art and love it the most. This will surely make you successful. Here’s something I often quote: “Life is not about what you couldn’t do so far, it’s about WHAT YOU STILL CAN. Life isn’t about finding yourself, Life is about CREATING yourself.”