Ashima Narain – Documenting Life’s Challenges

by Ashima Narain

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Ashima Narain

Ashima Narain is a documentary and portrait photographer from India. Ashima was awarded the Ramnath Goenka Nature & Environment Photographer in 2006 and the Commonwealth Photographer for South Asia in 2004. Her work has been published in National Geographic Traveller, GEO, Vanity Fair, Foreign Policy, Die Ziet, and Vogue.

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1. Tell us, what is your photography style and why have you chosen this as your specialty?

I am a documentary and portrait photographer, and I merge the two into environmental portraits – as I find it an efficient and effective way to give context in the storytelling process.

Alpha 7R II | FE 24-70mm 2.8 GM | 70 mm | 1/100 sec | F2.8 | ISO 125

2. Tell us more about your photographic journey. What got you started? 

When I was a teenager, I met a Chilean photographer who was in Mumbai to document education in low-income communities. It opened my eyes to the power of visual communication and stoked my desire to become a photographer. I began my career in a lifestyle magazine, and then moved into making wildlife documentaries on flamingos and bears. Through my travels, I experienced many avatars of India – the economic disparity, the multiculturalism, the different environments alongside many simultaneous levels of development and it pushed me towards photojournalism.

3. The world has been enriched by the diversity of photographers today. What are the key challenges you face at work, and how do you overcome them?  

For me, the key challenge is juggling the duties of being a mother and a working photographer. I have three young children so balancing their needs and my time can be tricky. During COVID, I spent a lot of time photographing my children, so I guess with every challenge, there are also opportunities.

Alpha 7R III | FE 24-70mm 2.8 GM | 47 mm | 1/60 sec | F2.8 | ISO 3200

4. Tell us about the photos you enjoyed capturing?   

A few years ago I visited a mangrove restoration project in Myanmar run by Worldview International Foundation, which cultivates mangroves and seagrasses as a means to sequester excess carbon dioxide from the environment. I envisioned an environmental portrait that I knew would be both creatively and technically challenging. I used an underwater camera housing, and had to balance the light below and above the surface, and consider the time of the low tide so the water would be just above the sea grass. It is rewarding when your vision aligns with multiple elements!

RX100 IV | 8.8-25.7mm F1.8/2.8 | 24 mm | 1/800 sec | F8 | ISO 500

Recently, my daughter found an injured bulbul outside our house. When I shot this image, I was looking at how clumsy her application of nail polish was, yet how carefully she was holding the bird.

Alpha 7R III | FE 85mm 1.4 GM | 85mm | 1/320 sec | F3.2 | ISO 2000

5. What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?  

Find your interest, and if you have many, like I do, pursue them, slowly, one by one.

Use the internet to find images you love, understand why you love them, and why the photographer made them, not how.

Most importantly practice, practice, practice. No amount of workshops or online seminars or networking will make you produce better work. 

6. What’s in your camera bag and why? 

I love the Alpha 7R III because it is great in low light, has great colours and fast auto focus. Almost 90% of the time, I use it with the FE 24-70mm G Master, because it gives me the flexibility to compose for both documentary and portrait images.

The FE 85mm F1.4 G Master is excellent for isolating your subject with it’s shallow depth of field. It is sharp when wide open, and melts away the busy background into a beautiful bokeh.

7.  How has Sony Alpha cameras and lenses helped in achieving your vision?

Sony has consistently used feedback from photographers to come up with newer, better and more user-friendly cameras. For me, the customizable buttons, joystick for flexible focus, low light capability and vibrancy of the colours help to make my photographic process more intuitive. I can trust my equipment and focus on getting the shot right.

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