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Six Indians on shortlist of world's biggest photography contest talk about their stunning shots

The best photograph often is one that they weren’t looking for, they say.

Most photographers will agree that the secret to getting a great photograph is a combination of timing and sheer luck. Six Indian shutterbugs who are among 270 photographers shortlisted and whose images count among 2.3 lakh submissions for the Sony World Photography awards, 2016, tell us how they got their perfect shots.

While one photographer features in the professional category, which is judged on a series of images, the other five have been shortlisted in the competition’s many Open categories, which are judged on a single shot.

Prakash Singh: Professional Landscape Category (two photographs)

Singh, who lives in Dubai, began his career as a photographer in 2012.

Photograph by Prakash Singh/2016 Sony World Photography Awards.
Photograph by Prakash Singh/2016 Sony World Photography Awards.

[This photograph was taken] during a very quick trip to Oman with my friend. It had been raining and the chances of the wadi (valley) being flooded were high. We were told not to take the risk to go up to the mountains as the roads could be treacherous, and there were also chances of landslides. We decided to go ahead anyway and after two to three hours of roaming around in the unknown mountains, we found this awesome place perfect for camping. It was completely dark and I could see all these stars with my naked eye. It was such beauty. It was like staying at a billion star hotel. Luckily, I happened to have my Sony A7R Mark II camera with me and I clicked a picture. In photography that one decision of whether you take a risk or not, sets you apart from the rest.

Photograph by Prakash Singh/2016 Sony World Photography Awards.
Photograph by Prakash Singh/2016 Sony World Photography Awards.

This was taken in Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. I was there hosting a photography workshop. One morning, we decided to take a car and go out to catch a glimpse of a lion. Just a few metres from the hotel, we saw this family of giraffes. Giraffe sightings were considered normal enough since they came near our hotel often at night. We had almost passed when I decided to stop the car and take a quick shot. I took only three photographs. When I sat down to edit, of those three, this became one of my favourites. I simply love the natural habitat they are in. Sometimes the most easy shot can make the best shot.

Abhijit Banerjee: Open Travel Category

Banerjee’s photograph titled Gangasagar Fair is a stunning portrait of India’s second-largest fair, which takes place every year at West Bengal’s Sagar Island. The island’s southern tip is where the river Ganga meets the Bay of Bengal.

Photograph by Abhijit Banerjee/2016 Sony World Photography Awards.
Photograph by Abhijit Banerjee/2016 Sony World Photography Awards.

I had visited the Gangasagar Fair in 2015 with a couple of friends who were also photographers. On one of the mornings, I saw a group of sadhus taking a holy dip in the sea. I followed them into the water and was up to my knee [in water]. While waiting for them to resurface, I caught sight of this group of women to my right. They must have been around 25 feet away. I immediately turned and took a photograph from a low angle. This image made it to the shortlist.

Jaydip Bhattacharya: Open Smile Category

A high school teacher in Kolkata, Bhattacharya is a photography enthusiast who loves to photograph people, children and festivals.

Photograph by Jaydip Bhattacharya/2016 Sony World Photography Awards.
Photograph by Jaydip Bhattacharya/2016 Sony World Photography Awards.

I captured this image in a remote village in eastern India where the advancements in modern science and technology are yet to reach. The faces of these poor children – brother and sister – clearly reflected the joy of some newfound knowledge. The girl stood and watched while her brother rotated the globe with his fingers. They seemed to understand the fundamental phenomenon of earth’s rotation on its axis. When you learn a new fact and really understand it, it brings an innocent smile to your face. This is the true aim of education. When I looked at the smiling siblings through my viewfinder, I instantly realised that I was witnessing a perfect moment that can only be termed as the joy of learning.

Nikunj Rathod: Open People Category

Life on the streets fascinates this photographer and filmmaker who lives in Mumbai.

Photograph by Nikunj Rathod/2016 Sony World Photography Awards.
Photograph by Nikunj Rathod/2016 Sony World Photography Awards.

This picture is a memory that will never lose its colour. While cycling one afternoon, I came across some kids who were aiming for birds in the sky using a slingshot. I managed to convince them to demonstrate their shooting skills by aiming for an empty bottle. Surprisingly, the situation became quite competitive. This photo was taken then. I thought of capturing the uncondensed energy of this kid who looked so vigorous and heated. At that time, I was also working on a short film, Tendulkar. I was searching for a child in the same age group as the one in the photograph to feature in the film. He agreed, and we decided to meet the next day for a workshop. In Tendulkar, his role was appreciated the most.

Anasuya Mandal: Open Travel Category

Mandal grew up in Chandigarh and is pursuing a PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She began travel photography as a hobby three years ago. Her stunning shortlisted image captures the Bryce Amphitheater in Utah, US.

Photograph by Anasuya Mandal/2016 Sony World Photography Awards.
Photograph by Anasuya Mandal/2016 Sony World Photography Awards.

Bryce Canyon is at an elevation of about 9,000 feet. The wind chill is insane at such a height, bringing down the temperature to about -17 degrees Celsius. Still, we somehow managed to steady the tripod, set up the camera and shoot as the sun was peeking out over the horizon, illuminating the hoodoos (a type of rock formation). This particular picture was taken about half an hour after sunrise – the red, gold and yellow of the sandstone columns below caught the sunlight at different angles. I think my fingers were numb at this point because this was the first time I was shooting in such chilly conditions. I was totally not prepared for the frigid onslaught. We went and bought hand-warmers and an extra set of gloves for ourselves for our hiking and photography endeavors for later that day. That morning stands out as one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

Sanghamitra Sarkar: Open Low Light Category

A neurosurgeon who doubles up as an amateur photographer, Sarkar is from West Bengal. She is interested in documenting festivals in India and abroad. Her shortlisted image was shot in the state’s Nadia district.

Photograph by Sanghamitra Sarkar/2016 Sony World Photography Awards.
Photograph by Sanghamitra Sarkar/2016 Sony World Photography Awards.

I took this picture on All Souls Day (November 2). I came across nuns offering candles and prayers at a friend’s grave in a cemetery. The silent respect towards the departed soul and the sorrow behind the silence compelled me to capture the moment.

A record-breaking 2,30,103 images from 186 countries – about a 33% increase from 2015 – were entered for this year’s competition organised by the World Photography Organisation. The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony in London on April 21. The shortlisted images will be exhibited at Somerset House in London from April 22 to May 8.

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