SANTA ROSA, CALIFORNIA
We are truly honoured to have Nirav Patel featured on ARC. Named early in his career in 2012 in Rangefinder Magazines ‘Top 30 Rising Stars of Wedding Photography’, Nirav has since been a contributor to Kinfolk Magazine, Another Escape and Mindful. His work has been featured in C-41 Photographic Magazine, This is Paper Magazine, iGNANT and Escape Magazine as well as being seen on wedding blogs around the world. Nirav talks to us about his editorial, portrait and wedding work, the importance of finding your own voice and shooting from a personal place.
Interview by Sachin Khona // December 2015
Portrait of Nirav by James Moes
PHOTOGRAPHY WORK & PRACTICES
HI NIRAV! let’s get right into it .. When did you know you wanted to be a photographer?
I’d say around the summer of 2010.
I started shooting and teaching myself photography the summer of 2009. It was during this time that I had been laid off from my engineering position. I was having difficulty finding another job and was spending some time at my parent’s home.
Looking through family photographs one day, I found my parents wedding album. It was incredible to be able to live through these moments in my parent’s lives without actually being there. The images made me realize how important photography is and gave me a reason to start documenting moments in my own life.
Where is home for you and where do you work?
I live in Santa Rosa, California and I work out of my home office.
Have you always lived there or was there a conscious choice to move to Santa Rosa?
I’ve lived in a lot of places but all within California after my initial move from India at the age of two. My first engineering position out of college was here. I quickly fell in love with the area and decided to make it my permanent home.
In what way, if any, does your location influence your work?
Redwoods and oak trees surround my home. I love being out in natural settings, as it’s these locations that I feel most at peace and inspired. I’d say living here really puts me in the right mind frame to create.
Do you have a designated workspace or office? (Do you have a picture to share of that?)
I do, it’s a room within my house. I don’t have any images that I’d be proud to share haha. Maybe one day I’ll have it put together and I can get you an image ;)
What has been the most defining moment in your career?
OR Do you feel there was a turning point, monumental time, or series of events in your life that you were felt as though you were on the right path in regards to your photography career that bRought you to where you are now?
I don’t think there has been a big defining moment but I can’t tell you how much the responses I get back from my clients mean to me. They’re the reason I’m pushing myself and working harder every day to improve my craft.
At one point about mid way into booking weddings for the year, I was reviewing some of the information that couples had given to me about themselves. I realized that almost all of them were involved in the creative field in one way or another.
To have clients that are artists/ photographers themselves is an incredible honor. I think that’s one of the things that made me feel like I was on the right track.
What inspires and motivates you?
Music & film are my two biggest inspirations.
What creative training do you do outside of your work?
I do a lot of personal shoots and projects outside of weddings. Usually these personal shoots take a few days to complete, but I’m currently working on something that will be a much bigger production and composed of several shoots over the course of the year.
When you get stuck creatively, what is the first thing you do to get unstuck?
I do a personal shoot.
I get outside of the routine and do something completely different to exercise my vision and see things in a new light… literally.
How do you know when a piece of your work is finished and needs no additional work?
When I feel I’ve done everything possible to make an image the best version it possibly can be. Easier said than done I think :)
Are there any key lessons in your career that you’d like to share? OR Best piece of career advice you were ever given?
The best piece of advice came from my friend Erik Clausen who told me to trust in my vision. He told me not to worry about what everyone else was doing or what I thought people want me to do… but instead focus on the way I truly see the world. This way the people that hire me do so because they love what I do and not because I’m simply providing a service. This is what separates artistry & passion from simply doing a job.
I know we always hear the term “finding your voice” and how important that is.
I feel our voice is comprised of our life experiences and inspirations. These two things mold the way we see the world and it’s beautifully unique from person to person.
So how do you find and unlock this voice? You don’t have to find it because it’s already there. You just have to be willing to embrace it. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Over time, additional life experiences and inspiration will continue to help your distinctive vision mature and grow.
Once you start shooting from a personal place and stop trying to imitate other works and styles, your true voice and vision will come to life.
Do you have a photograph burned in your memory that you never took but wish you had?
Every time I go to India and there are too many to mention.
Can you share one creative tip that you use when you are working?
Don’t work the entire day through without leaving your computer. Take multiple breaks when you start to feel bogged down. Stretch, run, exercise, play music… whatever you need to break the cycle of staring at your screen. I’ve noticed that when I try to go the entire day without breaks my work suffers and I end up going back to re-edit anyway.
What are the 3 most important things in your personal life?
Jesus, family and friends.
Do you work in any other fields of business?
I was a civil engineer. I still have my professional license. I’m probably never going to use it ;)
Can you share a bit about your daily schedule? What within your work do you not like to do and why?
Daily schedule would be: –
Wake up and have breakfast on the balcony and answer emails before heading up to the office
– Begin editing photos
– Lunch and stretch break
– Edit photos until 5pm
– Shut down work mode and spend the rest of the evening with my wife and son
Sometimes there’s a shoot in that schedule ;)
I limit myself to only one event per weekend and a total of 20-25 wedding bookings a year so I can continue to balance work and family life.
Honestly, I can’t complain about anything. I take photographs for a living…
What was your hardest / painful creative failure to deal with and what did it teach you?
I don’t think it’s just one failure that is the most difficult thing. It’s the failures that occur consistently each day on every shoot. There are shots I wish I would have taken and others that I took that I felt did not work the way I had hoped. There’s disappointment that these experiences carry and build on you over time. I learned that it’s important to embrace these failures and acknowledge them because they are what make you better. It’s sounds cliché but the truth is you can’t get better without trying, failing, and learning from your mistakes.
What will you be doing (or hope to be doing) 5/10 years from now?
I think about that almost every day and still have no answer.
Can you share an image that you’re particularly proud of and tell us why?
This photograph was taken in the room of one of my dad’s childhood friends. He saved my dad’s life by pulling him out a river when he was drowning. I think you can imagine how grateful I am for his actions.
Can you describe your style via a series of photos that you feel define the work you’ve done in the last year and tell us a bit about why each one was included?
1. An image from one of my favorite portrait sessions I had the privilege of shooting. The model is my dear and talented friend Meredith Adelaide. She’s also the one I’m collaborating with on my latest project.
2. It’s always awesome when one of your inspirations is also a close friend and amazing human being. This image was from the first time Ryan Muirhead and I spent time together.
3. There’s a trend here… the people I end up shooting with all become amazing friends. That’s what I love most about what I do. The ability to connect with people and build beautiful relationships. This is my incredibly talented friend Alina Phillips (Oh Thumbelina).
4. Another one of my favorite images with Alina. One thing about shooting weddings is that it’s taught me how to work with almost any lighting situation and to embrace what would normally be considered harsh or unflattering light. This is very much a collaborative effort between me and the person I’m shooting.
5. One of my top 5 favorite images of all time with my friend Aubrey Janelle.
6. This is one the most memorable moments I’ve encountered in all my years of shooting weddings. It was a firm reminder of just how important photographs are. In this image, Genevieve is embracing her dad who arrived from the hospital to see her get married. He passed away from cancer the very next day and these photographs were the very last memories she had with him.
7. A reminder that good light is what you make of it. There was a dance studio next door but I preferred the single hallway light in this stairwell. It’s a constant reminder to me to get out of my comfort zone and trust my instincts.
8. This was the moment just after Garrett and Irene were married. I started to tear up just seeing how much these two love each other.
9. Quiet moments. I see these above anything else. I relate to them because of my childhood. My family and I lived in a not so great neighborhood for a few years. Our house was vandalized and I was constantly bullied. A few kids kept telling me they were going to burn our house down. I retreated to my room and built an imaginary world where I could be happy and forget about everything happening outside. I came to love these quiet moments. A lot of these feelings are what I try and convey through my photographs.
10. Using reflections is one of my favorite things.
11. Another peaceful quiet moment.
12. Shooting the wedding of another photographer you truly respect and admire is an absolute honor. Here is an image from Jakob (Nordica Photography) & Alexandra’s wedding.
13. One of my favorite portraits of a bride.
14. One of my favorite couples portraits. I really loved the light here on this rainy day in London.
15. I work best in stormy conditions I think. It’s rarely cloudy in Greece but apparently I brought the San Francisco weather with me.
16. Matt & Charity hiked through some crazy spots to get to this waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge.
17. One of my top 5 favorite portraits of all time with my friend Meredith Adelaide.
THE CORE // FOUNDATION
Are there any mantras that you live by?
Put GOD first, live by HIS words, and be genuine in all your relationships.
If you were no longer able to use a camera, how else would you express your creativity?
I’d definitely be a musician. I’ve been playing guitar for about 14 years now and have started on the drums for the last 3 years.
If you only had 24 hours to live, how would you spend your day?
I’d spend the day with my family and all my loved ones at my favorite spot on the coast.
If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?
To help people be conscious of the importance of the relationships in their lives and to not take the people they love for granted because life is too short.
Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?
Always. In these times of social media, it’s hard not to get down and compare yourself to others even though you KNOW it’s not something you should worry about.
To work through it… I just take some time to pray.
I think about what’s truly important in life and all the troubles seem to disappear. Then I regroup and start creating work from my heart and focus on doing the best work I possibly can.
A question that I haven’t asked but should have or something you’d like to share with others?
The questions I have for you are: what are the most important things to you in life? What are you willing to sacrifice?
These are a few questions I’ve asked myself time and time again. For me, there’s nothing more important than GOD, my family, and friends. Everything else can come and go, but I don’t ever want to lose sight of those things. I keep that very thought in my mind before making any decisions. Think about the things that are important to you and how the choices you make affects them. This is really one of the most important things I can share.
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS
Your favourite podcast(s)
Music // Share a Spotify playlist
Broken Social Scene, Pinback, Sigur Ros, Deftones, Russian Circles, Jeff Buckley, Nick Drake, 90’s R&B
Film / Documentary that is a must watch?
Short Term 12, The Tree of Life, The Princess Bride
Your favourite book // A book you are currently reading.
A website you regularly follow
Last place you travelled
Favourite photographer or photo project outside of your genre
Do you have a favourite poem or quote?
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late…to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
― Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Screenplay
Favourite (photography related) TED talk
Last gallery / exhibit you visited
Your favourite photography book
Alex Webb: The Suffering of Light
Links to your personal work // projects
Can you share a short assignment / project that has benefited you in the past OR create / describe an assignment that you feel can help those reading this interview?
The most important assignment I feel would be a long term project. Something that you take your time with and craft over a year.. two years. Most importantly, let it be something that you feel strongly about sharing/creating. Something very intentional. Something you can put your heart into. I think a practice in patience and building something over a long period of time is a beautiful process that helps you grow as an artist. I’m currently working on a project like this now.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US NIRAV!
You can see more of Nirav Patel’s work here // Web
And connect here // Facebook // Twitter
UP NEXT …
Stay tuned for an interview next week with English wedding photographer, living in Amsterdam Seth Carnill.
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Love that dude.
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