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I am Dabboo Ratnani, Celebrity Photographer in Bollywood, And This Is How I Work

I am Dabboo Ratnani, Celebrity Photographer in Bollywood, And This Is How I Work

He risked choosing photography as a career in the 90s, an unconventional choice at a time when the common drift was towards "lucrative" fields of medicine and engineering in India. He released his first annual calendar featuring Bollywood celebrities in 2000 and seventeen years down the line, Dabboo Ratnani is a brand in itself, calling the shots for most large-scale photoshoots and ad campaigns in the showbiz. He brings forth the most candid, spirited and unexpected side of the actors in his glamorous calendar. His goodwill is such that he even managed to get Priyanka Chopra to fly down to Mumbai to shoot for his 2017 calendar. In an exclusive interview, Dabboo Ratnani tells Ishita Blaggan a few of his photography tricks and the thought process behind his novel themes and unique compositions every year. This is how he works.

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What is the one word that best describes how you work: Versatile

What is the current project you are working on?
I am working on photoshoots for magazines and ad campaigns. I have recently wrapped up an ad shoot with Hrithik Roshan for Mountain Dew and a magazine shoot with Akshay Kumar.

Please share a few photography hacks with us
You should know all the rules but it is not mandatory to follow all the rules to the T. Try to break free of a restricted space. Experiment with lenses, lighting, angles and locations.

Go for outdoor shoots more often. Each shot looks different when you are outdoors. Pictures shot on local streets can be magical too, if executed well.

A useful trick while clicking a selfie is to look into the lens of the camera and not at the screen of your phone. Also, hold the phone slightly above eye level. Don't hold the camera too high or it will make the rest of your body look contorted. People who are really into selfies must invest in a selfie stick and use a 3 second timer for better shots.

A prime lens is better than a zoom lens but if you are a beginner who wants to set his hands on the camera, I would rather suggest you to use a zoom lens.

Your annual calendar is an extremely popular showbiz event. How has the process evolved since the first calendar was published in 2000?

When I planned my first calendar in 1999, it was more of a gift for a new millennium. The first calendar was published with 12 pictures I shot during my early years. At that point, I didn't think it would become an ongoing event.

The response to the calendar was phenomenal and from 2001, I planned and shot well in advance. I shifted from 12 to 24 pictures - 12 boys and 12 girls, and now, actors, too, dive deep and add their inputs to bring an amazing end-product to the table.

How do you think of a different creative idea every year?
When you shoot the same actors every year, you have to think of new ideas & concepts each year to add variety, and that becomes a benchmark to outdo yourself. Your own work becomes your competition. I keep jotting ideas and concepts that I find interesting through the year and convert them into a structured composition before the shoot.

By October-November, I have a set of ideas and concepts in place. Then, I figure out which kind of concept works with which actor and brainstorm to improvise.

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What are the apps, software, camera angles and other tools you love to play around with?
I use two softwares while shooting and processing images - Capture 1 Pro and Adobe Lightroom. The images are then sent for retouches. For social networking, my favourites include Facebook Mentions, Pinterest and Tumblr.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
I make great of the best you'll ever have. Sipping on a cup of coffee with a piece of dark chocolate in hand is my favorite guilty pleasure.

How do you relax or recharge?
I and my wife Manisha are big TV show addicts. We used to step out a lot more for movies before we had kids but now we prefer watching TV shows at home. We love Breaking Bad, Narcos, Sherlock, Homeland, Narcos, and Game of Thrones.

What's your morning and sleep routine like?

I sleep for 6-7 hours daily. I am an early morning person. I wake up by 6 am, wake my kids up and help my wife to send them off to school by 7 am. For work too, I prefer morning shoots to night shoots. You don't get many phone calls early in the morning and you can focus on work with full concentration.

What is the biggest lesson life has taught you so far?
Life has taught me that learning is an ongoing process. I treat every day at work as the first day at work. The day you feel you have learnt it all is the day your downfall will begin.

What's the best advice you've ever received?
To follow my dreams. My family is nowhere related to the entertainment industry. My father owned a Bombay Dyeing store and everyone assumed I will take over my dad's retail business. However, I was passionate about photography and right after class XII, I began assisting a photographer. My former boss and now good friend, Sumeet Chopra, motivated me to follow my dreams. My family supported me completely to pursue a career in photography, an offbeat career option back then.

Please tell us more about the entire process of producing a spectacular shot for your calendar.
I believe in team work for a great outcome. The first round of brainstorming starts from home with my wife Manisha. She has a sharp eye for detail and many-a-times points out a few things that I may have overlooked. We, then, approach the actors and use their feedback to improvise. We begin shooting for the calendar in November-December. Simultaneously, the work on post-production, layouts, artwork editing, color tones is carried out. It takes 8-10 days to put everything together and release the final product.

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What goes on behind the scenes of your calendar shoot
The whole vibe while shooting for the calendar is very different from other photoshoots. When we work with actors on commercial projects, we are supposed to follow a certain protocol provided by the agency, client and creative directors. However, the annual calendar shoot is held without any of the above controlling factors. It is a shoot for creative satisfaction. Since we not selling the calendar, it is more about job satisfaction for the artiste and for us.

The shoot involves me, my wife and kids, my team and the actors with their team. So, there are all known faces in the room and the actors are at ease. They don't have to keep their guard up. The actors shoot for the calendar pro bono and I respect their time. We keep the set ready before the actors arrive. We wrap up the shoot in 5-25 minutes.The whole experience is fun and exciting.

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(Image Credit: Facebook )

The How I Work series asks heroes, experts, and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces, routines, and more. Have someone you want to see featured, or questions you think we should ask? Email Ishita.

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