Éclat, Bollywood and a Very Long Journey – Dabboo Ratnani Gets Candid

Dabboo Ratnani is a name that is synonymous with celebrity and fashion photography. Celebrities swear by him and so do designers and fashionistas. His annual calendars are a thing that everyone waits for through the year and the who‘s who of Bollywood feature in them! We spoke to the brilliant and charismatic Dabboo regarding his journey of 25 years in the industry. Excerpts:

What do you think are the key learning that you have taken from your career over the years? You will complete 25 years in the industry this year. Are you thinking of something special to celebrate it in terms of photography/project etc?

Yes, this is my 25th year in the industry and it is going great. It has been an amazing run. I am still enjoying as much as I used to. I still take shoots like as if it is my first day at work. I feel that fire, the energy. I enjoy it as much as I used to in day one of my photography. So even when I shoot today, I always think ‘let’s try something new today. Let’s try something different, let’s try a new angle, maybe a new lens, maybe a new camera, a new lighting accessory, something that keeps me excited’. I feel that it has kept me going, something that keeps me really fired up with regards to my shoot, my profession.

One thing that I stress upon is that nowadays people have better access to equipment than what we had but that will not make you a brilliant photographer. It is not only about the equipment, it has a lot to do with the aesthetics of a photographer, it has a lot to do with how a photographer frames the shot, how he sees the model, how he is going to style the model. People are so worried about equipment these days – whether it should be a mirrorless or a DSLR, or should it be a medium format and so on. It has a lot to do with the vision of the photographer, the concept, the whole feel – everything is created by the photographer.

Having been in this field for so many years do you feel exhausted sometimes? How do you motivate yourself at such times?

It has been an amazing 25 years. I wouldn’t say I get exhausted, but I think travelling, watching movies or listening to music helps me to create and think differently every time. So, I feel that you need to inspire yourself. You need to find an inspiration, whatever that inspiration may be! It is very relative and may be very different for every person. I love watching movies, videos on the internet, I love watching TV shows. I get inspiration from everything and I think one must draw inspiration from wherever they can. So even something like walking down the street or at the gym on the treadmill – wherever I get some me-time, I am constantly thinking of concepts. So you should always be open. I think photography is pretty much in Manisha and my blood stream now! Our mind is always working around ‘Okay what can we do next for the shoot’. Every place we travel to, we are always looking- ‘Oh, we must come back for a shoot here’. It doesn’t exhaust me but if it does exhaust anyone, I think you need to find your outlet and inspiration.

What really goes on behind all the glitz when it comes to shooting and executing a shoot with a celebrity since most people feel it might be very glamorous?

Most people feel that shooting celebrities or a model or a fashion shoot, or a location shoot or an outdoor campaign, people feel that ‘Oh, wow! You travel to these exotic locations, you visit these amazing palaces, wherever you are shooting, you are really enjoying your life. It is so cool that you are hanging out with models, with actors.‘
But people do not realise the amount of stress and hard work that goes into it! Right from planning the whole thing, the whole responsibility, the pressures that we go through at a shoot – when it is outdoor – it could be the weather, it could be the sun, taking care of the whole crew, there is so much that goes into every shoot. Specially with celebrities, time management is very important. Photo shoots are just one of the things they do, they have so much more that they do in a day. You have to capitalise the maximum amount of time you get from them. There are times when we are time bound, there is pressure, there is so much going on. One has to be really really quick specially with shooting fashion and celebrities – you do not want to miss the moment.

In the last 2 years what is that one memorable shot (captured/viewed) that has really moved you?

I shot a photograph of Tiger Shroff hanging from a crane at a construction site which is one of the most memorable shots that I have taken in the last two years. The whole feel, the mood, the lighting, the impact of the shot and the way his attitude is, his body language, everything is completely beautiful in that shot. The response that I got when I published it in my calendar as well was incredible, because everybody, usually on a desk calendar, prefers to see more of close-ups and mid shots where you can see the celebrity clearly in front of you and in this case it was a full length shot and he isn’t even looking into the camera and although it is a full length shot, you can easily see it is Tiger Shroff. It was my first photoshoot with him ever, and he was a real sport!

Read the full interview in Asian Photography Magazine’s August Issue.