If you thought Amrita Samant was your average shutter-bug who photographs babies and expecting mothers, you probably have slow internet or maternity and babies are just not your thing! But if you adore babies, then Samant’s story will inspire you and open a window to a genre of photography which is fairly new in India - maternity photography! Quite frankly, her shots of babies made us want some of our own! We catch up with Samant, who fills us in on things like her first photograph, starting Mommy Shots By Amrita, choosing child and maternity photography, and much more. Read on!
Let us start from the beginning. Tell us a bit about growing up in Chennai, things you might remember and things that helped your artistic insight?
I was born and raised in Chennai and moved to Bangalore a couple of years ago. I have a mixed cultural upbringing, of being North Indian and growing up in the South. I grew up in a family full of entrepreneurs – business and creativity pretty much sums up my DNA! Irrespective of my education, the one thing I consistently pursued throughout my life is art in some form or the other, be it photography, dance, theatre or writing.
I was like every other kid, I doodled a lot and I used to try to sketch everything my mum and siblings did. I think the artistic inclination came from my mum who is a well-known crafts and culinary expert in the city. (Veena Samant – better known as Veena Daawat for her culinary classes, Daawat).
How did your love affair with photography start? What are your first memories of the art form? The first photo you (willingly) clicked?
It started back in the days with film cameras, but that was definitely more of a fascination than a hobby. College was really more about pursuing art forms than programming (yep, that’s my background) and that’s where photography began. To view photography as a profession came from my best friend, Rakesh Prakash, a renowned wedding photographer today.
My first picture, as far as I remember, was taken using the ‘family vacation film camera’ to capture a touristy picture which honestly, no one liked! (laughs).
You told us earlier that you quit your job at a multinational company and took to photography and soon Mommy Shots By Amrita was born. Any reason why?
I don’t think I chose photography as a career consciously. I was your quintessential low risk-taker, but with a strong desire to pursue art, and that’s what brought me here professionally. Thankfully, being an entrepreneur teaches you how to make even the toughest situations work and today I’m really happy pursuing a lucrative art form that is dear to me.
You specialise in newborn and maternity photography. Any particular reason why you picked the genre? Why not other genres like fashion, wedding and more?
It’s a given that I love babies and kids, and have all the patience for them. I started out with wedding photography and soon after, brides (whose weddings I covered) came back asking for their baby’s portraits. Given that they came with certain expectations (set with wedding photography) forced me to think beyond the traditional baby portraits done in India and try something new. Newborn and creative baby photography is a huge concept in the West and I saw a big market for it in India.
This slowly paved the way for me to carve a niche and capture a newborn/baby/toddler’s personality and not just their portraits, making these images personal and special for the parents to treasure.
I just knew right here that this was an amazing way to combine two of my favourite things – babies and photography – and thus, Mommy Shots by Amrita was born! I do experiment with other genres, but mostly out of curiosity. I think I found my calling with newborns and babies!
You have various things you offer at your firm, but we were intrigued by what you call ‘Bump To Baby’. Can you tell our readers what it is and how do you prepare for this particular one?
Our ‘Bump to Baby’ is our biggest service and is called ‘Growing Up’.
It captures the baby’s first year through recurring shoots every three months, effectively capturing his/her progressive phase from lying on their back to turning on to their tummy, to sitting up, crawling, walking and running! We do use a lot of props, themes and accessories to storyboard the images, making it special to the parents and baby. Each image has a story to tell, one that is personal and special.
Preparation here is mostly a collaborative discussion with the parents to understand their history, meet the baby, understand the baby’s personality, likes/dislikes and accordingly plan the shoot. Most setups are about putting the child in a fun environment (for instance, toddlers in baby pools) and capturing that glee. We shoot on location for younger babies and venture outdoors as they grow older (6 months and above). ‘Stories with happy beginnings’ – that’s what I believe in.
How do you prepare yourself before a shoot – things you do to keep yourself on your toes?
Preparation starts from the time I meet the baby/child. I’m constantly thinking of new ways to capture them after understanding the baby’s personality and the parents’ backgrounds. I come up with ideas, collaborate and discuss what we can do differently and plan from there on.
Each shoot requires a different level of preparation. Children have endless amounts of energy and I make sure I go prepared. With toddlers, it’s pretty much a cardio workout and this also gives me my best images of them!
I’m generally an obsessive planner, but with babies, I plan my shoots to a small extent and do allow for improvising as my little clients are unpredictable (smiles). I adapt completely to their rhythm and go with their flow for the most part of the shoot.
Three most important things/aspects you keep in mind while taking pictures of kids and moms-to-be.
1. I really focus on capturing kids playing and doing natural things they would do at home. I ensure to provide them with setups that are familiar to elicit the same reactions. This is one reason why I choose to shoot in a familiar environment, such as their residence or outdoors at a park, where a child enjoys playing. While shooting mums-to-be, it’s the most natural thing for them to hold their baby bump, feel their little one getting comfortable inside and engaging with them through the day. The maternity shoot thus becomes a true reflection of who they are and the excitement for their little one’s arrival.
2. Needless to say, I stay alert at all times as babies/kids move fast and expressions are quick to change!
3. Lastly, I try not to make this a task or an exercise for the family. I aim to make this a fun activity where parents get to bond with their child and discover their child’s traits. Bonding happens when you are ‘doing things together’, doesn't it?
What are the challenges of maternity and kid photography?
Maternity and kids photography are two different setups, as we’re dealing with adults in one and children in the other. Maternity shoots are fairly easy, given that we know what we want to do and improvise along the way while shooting.
While capturing ‘little humans,’ no shoot goes as planned, and the biggest challenge is thinking and improvising with what comes next. I shoot during their routine playtime and sometimes timings can be challenging, as this changes each day as they grow. For example, 3-month-old babies generally fall asleep in the middle of the shoot! At this point, I adapt and capture pictures of them while they are sleeping in tiny little poses!
The challenges you faced while starting out as a photographer.
One of the first few challenges is that, in our country, photography isn’t treated as a proper profession and this comes with your time, effort and creativity being taken for granted. There is a huge amount of risk involved in this business and you have to constantly work on creating your own unique style and keep pushing the bar to build barriers around your business.
The other challenges are centred on how to keep the business and the artistic element alive simultaneously.
It also takes time to find quick tricks and must-dos to break the ice with babies and kids of all age groups at every shoot.
Photography is all about stories of people and how they react to situations. Could you share one such story, from one of your shoots, that’s close to your heart?
There was a time when I was shooting a toddler who took her first independent steps during the shoot. The parents were stoked! And I, even more, to manage capturing the after moment for them! A lot of my other stories feature babies falling asleep on my extra soft eskimo-fur fabrics in the middle of a shoot!
Travel is one of my biggest sources of inspiration. I travel as often as I can to keep my mind fresh, and sure enough, what I bring back with me from each trip only accelerates my productivity and creativity. Foreign language films are another strong influence.
We might be judging, but the number of female photographers in India is growing especially in genres like weddings and maternity. Any reason why?
If we’re connecting the dots, it’s definitely not the emotional connect with motherhood nor it is about a woman capturing true emotions at a wedding. This is like any other profession, it's gender neutral. So I am not sure why this is being highlighted/judged. There are women doing fairly well in different genres. It’s just that some genres are less noticed because other genres have picked up more visibility in the recent times.
In terms of equipment, what things do you use to shoot maternity and kid photography? What’s your gear like?
Canon 5D MIII. Lens: 24-70, 85mm, 35mm. My go to lenses for baby shoots: 50mm macro and 100 mm macro. And the 70-200 for toddlers who move quickly.
What are your shoots like? Tell us a little about your style and the themes that you follow.
My style is to keep it simple, since my focus is so much on human emotions. As I mentioned earlier, my style and theme is also very client-specific. We either storyboard or go natural. Sometimes it’s just a picnic for the family and I tag along and shoot.
I consciously work with natural light, which adds to my style of keeping things simple. Variety comes with various babies I work with. I simply adapt to my little humans’ personalities, likes and hobbies, and create scenarios to capture them, making each photoshoot unique from the other.
Plans for the future?
There are big plans for Mommy Shots going forward. However, like my little clients, I am enjoying taking baby steps to pace it all out. I’ve discovered my unique style to capture newborns (0 to 15 days of age) and children and want to continue growing internationally too. We’ve also started baby videography as it's only videos that can bring you back in time to those moments where your baby cackled with glee over something!
We’ve also worked on ad-shoots for baby e-commerce firms and are doing more work on this front. I want to continue working on the biggest challenges women and subsequently mums face and hope to make a difference through my photography projects with the same.
Anything we missed that you want to add?
Only that a lot of attention is paid to safety and hygiene while working with babies and kids.
Rapid fire round:
You dream camera you always had an eye out for?
My dream camera is something I can take out of my pocket and instantly snap a picture. For me, it’s the Apple iPhone camera that does the job splendidly!
Your dream photography shoot would be?
Definitely capturing the Royal Baby (laughs).
Your favourite genre of photography other than kids and maternity?
A best-kept secret?
I’d like to believe that babies love me back!
Planning my next trip immediately after returning from one!
If you had a superpower for a day, what would it be and why?
In my profession, it would be the power to understand baby language. Baby photography would be soooo much easier!
The subtle force behind Mommy Shots by Amrita
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