The Next Generation Project
(I am writing after over a month-long hiatus, but it feels like ages since I have connected with you all. I am happy to share this behind-the-scenes story with you. It is very close to my heart! I started writing this post in April this year but only recently got the chance to finish writing it.)
I get along with kids quickly but photographing them requires specific skills. I want to share an extraordinary project in which I photographed two beautiful girls for Canva.com’s next-generation series. This project aimed to build an authentic and raw library for showing kids in their natural environments in an original Indian setting.
This brief was essential to me as it meant that if Canva liked my work, I would end up with a one-year contract with them. I chose this brief for my assessment because I know I have loads of patience with kids while photographing them. I do enjoy the spontaneity and simplicity of kids. I have photographed kids several times for my family clients, Asha for Education and IIT Bombay grass-root projects.
Still, this project was different from my previous kids’ portrait work because the stakes were higher, and secondly, I got to choose my models. I was excited to work on a project that came with a clear creative direction. Thus, picking outfits and looks for the portraits was straightforward.
Here are some brief details I had to keep in mind for the overall look.
Photographic style: Canva required clean, photojournalistic, authentic, and raw portraits that show the beauty of Indian people through the daily life of the kids in an indoor and outdoor setting. I was glad the photographic style aligned with my own style.
Location: A rural Indian neighborhood was required.
Model casting: 1-2 children under the age of 7 years of any gender were required for the brief. I picked two cute dollies, Niyati (aged 4) and Isha (Aged 3), for this project. How did I find them? I used to hear from our household help, Sangeeta didi, about her little grandkid of a distant relative who also happened to be her neighbor. I had often sent bags of pre-loved clothes and toys for this kid. But I never got to meet her in person.
For this assignment, I had asked Sangeeta didi if her granddaughter would be allowed to model. They were happy to help. That’s how I found Isha. Niyati is also a distant relative of Sangeeta didi who stayed in the same neighborhood, i.e., Mahatma Phule Nagar, Powai. When I met these little kids for the first time, I felt grateful for their innocence and divine beauty. They were gentle and curious kids who soon became very comfortable with me. Niyati even came and sat, clinging by my side, as I got the model release forms out and planned the shoot with her mom. I could feel the unbiased warmth of their souls.
Outfits: The moodboard suggested picking 2-3 sets of colorful casual outfits in maroons, yellows, greens, and pastel pinks. I chose the outfits with the help of their mothers and got them approved by the Canva team a few days before the session day.
Model releases: I also needed to get the model release forms signed by their parents and submit them 24 hours before the shoot day.
Shot list: In addition, I also received a shot list that acted as a roadmap throughout the shoot and during the planning phase. I kept this list on my phone and checked off the required shots from that list. This helped in avoiding distractions and losing precious time.
It was early September of 2021, and the weather was still unpredictable. Most of the days, we saw heavy rains. I had to keep that in mind for planning the outdoor session.
How I planned for the weather: I had strategized doing the indoor session while it rained and catching the outdoors as soon as it stopped raining. If the kids liked the drizzle and their parents allowed it, I could capture some shots while they played in the rain and jumped on the puddles. In any case, it was not something to be afraid of. I tried to make the most of the weather conditions and not get nervous.
I had to schedule the shoot as per the availability of the kids and their caregivers. The kids return from school by 1 pm, and they would have been available from 3 pm. The light is usually beautiful during the late afternoon. So, I planned to photograph them from 3 pm to 5 pm.
The indoor session
I reached Sangeeta didi’s place at 2:30 pm to set up. As it was raining then, I planned to shoot indoors first. I used ambient light and a full-body reflector to maximize the lighting, as natural light was not too reliable on a rainy day. I was not keen on using flashes as a complicated equipment setup might intimidate my child models. So, Nikon D750’s forgiving and sharp higher ISO settings and an open aperture came to my rescue for the indoor part of the shoot.
The kids showed up, looking excited to explore my equipment. Two young girls, their cousins, also joined the kids to keep them stimulated and entertained. They also got some yummy snacks, so their tummies are full for the next couple of hours. I tried engaging with them the whole time. I focused on interacting with them, talking to them, and just ensuring they felt relaxed. Sometimes, being a little goofy and cracking silly jokes made them feel at home. Other times, I let them interact with each other and observed their explorations through my viewfinder.
The outdoor session
After some time, it stopped raining. To our amazement, the sun came out after a few days, on that very day! It almost felt like a blessing. We soon rushed out and took some happy and playful portraits. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the brightness, warmth, and the colorful backgrounds, including me. The cousins, grandmothers, and mothers were excelling at keeping the kids engaged and tending to their needs. The kids looked ethereal in the late afternoon glow. I was thrilled photographing them in the outdoors.
Chandan, my husband, had joined in between to assist. We were invited for some coffee at Isha’s place. At that time, the girls felt relaxed and happy because they got a big basket full of plastic toys of all kinds, kindling their imaginative world. I did not want to miss some beautiful moments, so I kept shooting passively, while sipping on a very flavorful coffee. Laughs were shared, and it felt like a good day.
The biggest challenge was to remain consistent with the white balance as light conditions varied a lot throughout the shoot. I tried to keep the editing clean, minimal, and natural. No retouching was done. I took great care in selecting the most unique and authentic shots. I also focused on images with compelling compositions, interesting expressions, and meaningful interactions.
I was touched by the sheer kindness of the families involved in this project. Even though they insisted they were not doing it for the money, I was still very excited to pay my models once the funds were disbursed. The mothers seemed so proud and happy. Isha’s mom said she was grateful that her daughter modeled for me. She also enlarged a few images to put up on her walls as earlier they had no good pictures of Isha.
Lastly, the Canva team liked the images a lot, and I was put on a one-year contract. After that, I met many interesting people and families as part of compiling a diverse, multi-cultural photo library for Canva.com. But, the first project with two beautiful souls felt the most meaningful and satisfying for me as a human and artist. I wish to do more such work in the future.