Think Outside the Box: Creative Photography with Arjun Menon
“My Alpha cameras are irreplaceable assets in bringing my creative vision to life.”
Distinguished commercial photographer Arjun Menon, known for his creativity in photography, has a lot of acclaim under his name. While he specialises in automobile and travel photography, his unique style in creating scenes from everyday household items has garnered a lot of attention and praise. The well-rounded photographer discusses his techniques, creative process, and camera settings on how he achieves his sleek-looking photos.
Despite his proficiency and experience, the professional photographer highlights that the challenges in photography are already integrated within the work. Each genre of photography has its own challenges, and photographers need to find solutions to address them.
“Different genres of photography come with their own specific challenges. For travel photography, it is of utmost importance that you consider the climatic conditions of your shoot days because it makes a world of difference in your final images. For example, heading to Antarctica in the summer will give you ample daylight imagery. However, in the winters, Aurora Australis occurs, and they can offer you an entirely different perspective since they are very rarely observed,” said Arjun.
Different times of the year or month would mean witnessing a variety of natural environments. He shared that whenever he works with tourism boards, the campaigns are usually planned around the harvest season to avoid possible unfavourable weather conditions.
“Meanwhile, for automotive photography, since you are photographing massive subjects from cars to trucks, it is essential that location permissions are gotten in advance. For imagery with moving vehicles, it is essential to have the right shutter speed and depth of field to make sure that the subject is in focus, as well as ample motion blur in the environment. To get rid of unwanted reflections especially in urban environments, I prefer using a polariser,” he said.
Another challenge he faces with automotive photography is shooting shiny metallic vehicles and capturing its colours accurately. Arjun mentioned that it takes a lot of time to carefully light up the vehicle in a way that the light source does not reflect on the car exterior. Since these are product images, it is important that the original colours of the vehicles are not tampered with. To ensure colour accuracy, he emphasises that having the correct white balance is crucial.
When working with brands, Arjun would also visually communicate the product benefit through visual storytelling. Composing the image with negative spacing allowed him to add in clouds in the frame in a surrealistic way later. “A high dynamic range image (HDRI) (using 360 images with 16-bit depth) of the environment allowed the direction and intensity of light to be recorded and included into 3D imaging software. This renders the flat images into a 3-dimensional model, allowing clouds with depth to be added into the scene. Once I have the perfect composition, finishing touches will be done in editing software and this results in a realistic end product. In this case, the clouds let us describe the product feature, which is a comfortable ride – which is a key selling proposition that the brand is proud of."
“This image was interesting to create. The first step was to determine the location and angle of the vehicle. This visual involved the use of an RGB light painting rig, a lot of flashlights, control over the physical location, and of course, a powerful camera. The lights are carefully placed on stands with honeycomb focus grids so that we can light up very specific areas of the machine to highlight its primary features,” Arjun explained.
“The aggressive body line, the grill and the tyres were some of the areas of concern. Once the test shots were done and the correct exposure was determined, the final exposure was taken. For this particular image, a long exposure and flash exposure image was combined to achieve this final look,” he added.
In most of his automotive tracking shots, Arjun usually uses the 30 frames per second (FPS) burst mode. This particular image was shot at night at a real location, which, therefore, required the motion to be added post-production.
Comic book series
As an avid collector of action figures and a massive fan of comic books, and with the addition of his unique creativity, Arjun thought it ideal to tell comic book stories through his photographs. The idea came to him at the beginning of the pandemic, and since he was stuck at home, he experimented with household items and thought of how he could incorporate them into his home photography project.
“This unique photo series was a product of a few unique circumstances. While the world was restricted to being indoors during the COVID outbreak; being a creative photographer, I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to combine my composing skill set from travel photography, my lighting techniques from the automotive genre, creative art direction from my experience in set designing, and certainly my love for comic books.”
Arjun’s Batcave 2030 is shot at home; built from an action figure, scale models and tech scraps.
“'Batcave 2030' is my rendition of what a Batcave would evolve into in the future. It's more of a workshop and utility garage rather than a fancy looking display piece for all the cool gadgets. I would imagine Bruce being a maker and spending his time fixing and designing new gadgets here,” Arjun shared.
The creative photographer enjoys set designing, especially familiar sets from his favourite comic books and films. “I feel an environment plays an equal role in a scene much like a character itself. The set is designed with interesting looking, everyday props but carefully placed in a certain way so that they help enhance the narrative of the image,” he explained.
Since most of his comic book scenes are shot in a miniature format, he has the creative freedom to build extravagant, conceptual worlds. He starts with visualizing a scene, and then scouting his home for regular objects he could incorporate into his tiny fantasy world that will add interesting textures. The next step would be carefully piecing them all together. In this step, it is important that the angle and poses do not reveal the joints and screws of the action figures, while ensuring that the personality of the character is not lost.
For any added elements to the photo, Arjun picks his brain to deliver a more realistic effect. “I light the scene with the combination of constant light and flashes. For rain or haze effect I photograph hair spray or steam iron (smoke) with flash. I try to use techniques with minimum work on the post,” he said.
Giving regular items a creative purpose has provided Arjun with an interesting shift in perspective as it allowed him to create surrealistic worlds and scenarios right at the comfort of his home and share these fantastical scenes with the world.
Arjun’s creativity and his reliable Sony gears
With most of his work, Arjun has always entrusted his creative style with his go-to cameras, the Alpha 1 and Alpha 6600.
“While Sony is known for its exceptional noise performance in low light situations, and its dynamic range, I personally use my Alpha 1 and Alpha 6600 cameras for more than just these strengths. The Alpha 1, being a flagship hybrid camera, has enabled me to leverage its superior image quality for global advertising photo campaigns as well as professional documentary work that has been published in various mediums,” he said.
Modern Sony cameras are sturdy, compact and full of the latest features that form the ideal partner to perform and create, even in adverse conditions. According to Arjun, Sony's C-fast cards offer unbelievable data transfer rates, which is a huge advantage during commercial shoots with quick turnaround times.
For photographing objects in fast motion, he relies on his Alpha 1’s high speed burst feature which allows him to photograph at 30 FPS. This ensures users do not miss a split-second moment whenever needed.
“My Sony Alpha cameras are an irreplaceable asset to bring my creative vision to life. They are to me what peanut butter is to jelly, and what Jai is to Veeru,” Arjun said.