An Interview with Deepak Budhraja

“Deepak Budhraja”, an eminent photographer, is a big name in the field of still life photography – particularly food and advertising photography. Having toured with the Indian cricket team for over three days for a Samsung advertisement, his other clients include the Imperial chain of hotels (for whom he has done all their catalogues), Café Coffee Day, Lays, Sony, Pepsi, Tupperware, DT Cinemas, Restaurant Chin Mi, HBO, Compaq etc. In fact in Café Coffee Day, the famous pictures of the coffee beans and the white mugs with the brewing espresso have been shot by him. The Samsung ad of “Team India” is also his work.


To see some of his works, you can log onto


VP: What encouraged you to join this particular field, and not a profession which you knew would rake in instant moolah?


DB: Every person has his own calling. Being no different, I too always knew that I wanted to do something creative. My professional quest as a photographer began in 1992 when I started working as a copywriter with an ad agency by the name of Lintas Advertising. I shot for various in-house projects, including big names such as Xerox, Reckitt & Coleman, MasterCard, OWM Monte Carlo, Jai Prakash Industries, Honda Power Products and Surya Roshni to name a few. At that point in time, we did a lot of technical work for films. But then, instead of the technicalities, I became more interested in studying the visual aspect of photography. So after having worked with the firm for five years, I decided to move on. Any amateur photographer can go to a railway station and simply start clicking. But I knew, I wanted to do more, and so, I mastered the art of photography under a professional photographer for about two years.


VP: How did your experience at the ad agency help you further your career as an independent photographer?


DB: While working in the ad agency, I learnt to develop a clear work ethic and the ability to be instantly creative under impossible deadlines. The success of my initial projects led to a desire to break out and join the world of advertising photography on my own. In 1994, I set up my own studio in Delhi.


VP: Considering photography is not a conventional profession in India, more so when you joined it years back, how was your decision received by family and friends?


DB: Everyone around was pretty apprehensive initially. They warned me to be cautious, telling me that in the beginning, I might not even get paid by my clients. But then again, I knew that managing your business is very important – handling your finances, recovering costs, making the right investments. There’s no point in being overenthusiastic in the beginning and then subsequently losing interest. Keep a balanced head, and I guess that’s the way you should do it.


VP: How has your experience been so far in the industry?


DB: The experience has been great and I don’t think I see myself doing anything else. In fact I look forward to going to work. Since it’s not a nine-to-five regular mundane desk job, I have plenty of work for other creative stuff.


VP: Did you ever feel stressed out in order to get noticed?


DB: It was never very difficult to get noticed. Like I mentioned earlier, what is important is to market yourself well and have the right business sense. At the same time if you know your work is good, then there’s no stopping you. Anyone can become a photographer, but using your personal creativity and judgement becomes imperative in order to stand out – whether it is with regard to different lighting to shoot the product, styling it, using different angles etc. Today, with the revolutionizing internet facilities, you can simply create a portfolio of all your photographs and mail it to the best photographers and firms around. Rest assured that atleast two out of ten will reply with some feed back. Another way of getting your way through is publishing your work in magazines. Not considering big organizations such as Vogue, Cosmopolitan etc, any other ordinary magazine would readily hire young amateurs to bring down the costs. Since your name is always published along with the picture, you’re bound to get noticed if your work is good. Now with a home printer, it has only become simpler. Today you can just print out some of your work on your own and take it to any advertising firm.


VP: How has the industry evolved since the time you joined it, and where do you see it, say ten years from now?


DB: The industry has certainly changed significantly since I joined it. Earlier, there was this element of mystery and aura surrounding this particular job. But today, people understand photography. A few years back, people would see a photographer as someone who would enter a dark room with red lighting, doing some work, and then ultimately coming out with a picture. But over the years, with more awareness, people have realised that photography is not just about capturing moments, but is an art in itself. Today kids, as young as 6-7 years old, use their parents’ mobiles to click photographs. One sees youngsters doing wonders with photoshop. Transformation has been exceptional – from analogue to digital. Earlier, you’d have to take your work to post processing houses, which was cumbersome. But today, I have all control over the digital processing sitting at home! Ten years from now, I see less of shoots for newspapers and advertisements. With the internet, photography is only going to grow. I mean I won’t be surprised if I’m in a market, looking for a particular shop, and I receive picture messages advertising different stores. Visuals are going to increase, considering today you have laptops converted into mobiles with big screens.


VP: How different is still life photography, like wild life, fashion or landscape photography in terms of expertise, work profile and specialization? If you know still life photography, isn’t it that you know it all?


DB: In terms of technical expertise and specialisation, there’s hardly any variation. If you’ve done one, you can do it all. Eventually, you always gravitate towards what interests you. In the end it’s all about your sensitivity, which is something that is not acquired. Taking the fashion industry for instance, if you’re interested in being around that sort of crowd, if you have a sense of fashion, and you understand vogue, then you know you can go for it. It’s like you can go to Janpath and pick up the cheapest of clothes which even the top designers would envy, or you can spend a bomb and still look like a complete jerk! That’s why what is happening in the fashion industry today is that a lot of youngsters are simply jumping in, and within months, are simply tiring out. This is because magazines today are looking for fresh work. So in such an industry, you have to keep modifying your styles, in keeping with evolving couture. Similarly if you’re a gizmo freak, you know you can go into gadget advertising.


VP: You mentioned Photoshop as an implement revolutionizing photography. But don’t you think it can be misused to masquerade creativity and talent and camouflage flaws?


DB: There are two ways of looking at it. Firstly, there’s the ethical part of it where the question arises – Should I touch the photograph? In fact, I was reading in the news recently of war photographs being super imposed in order to sensationalize the masses. You can use photoshop as only a tool to make sure that the end product is flawless and so limit it’s use to post production work, or you can use it as a crutch, relying completely on it. Secondly, there’s the aim of photography – to bring out a picture which is completely appetizing. Enhancing something is not wrong, so long as you do it without indiscriminately using photoshop.


VP: Since photography is an art in itself as you mentioned, how rampant is plagiarism in the industry? Have you personally encountered it ever?


DB: All around the world you have some excellent art directors doing some fantastic work. Today you can simply type in the name of one in a search engine, have some 2000 works of his on your PC, and then hold exhibitions, endorsing them as your own. But now, with expanding media agencies and then the global photographic community coming closer, it has become much easier to catch the crux. With increasing globalization, catching advertisement related blows has become significantly simpler. Suppose you copy an ad of an international firm, and soon that very firm decides to open up its franchisees in your country, then it’s obvious that you’ll be held. One can take inspiration, but it should be done responsibly. Blatant copying will not get you anywhere. Fortunately, I’ve never personally encountered any form of plagiarism.


VP: Lastly, since you’re into advertising photography, don’t you feel restricted and bogged down by client specifications?


DB: The difference between a photographer like Raghu Rai and me is that he does not need to justify his work. He can simply go on doing his own thing, not owing anyone any explanation. But the deal with a commercial photographer is that you can’t just throw out your client’s visual sense. There are clients who give me the autonomy to explore all avenues within my scope of photography, and then there are people with whom vibes don’t match, and hence, there’s the presence of discomfort. But then no one stops you from doing it his way, and your way – the idea is to blend both. In the end, I guess one gets what one deserves. If someone comes to me with a closed mind only with his own concept, shutting himself completely to any external ideas, I will do it nevertheless. But if he gives me that freedom and flexibility, it’ll definitely be more value for his money.


Compiled by:
Ishani Kundu