One could say that she was born with a creative bug in her, her inclination towards artistic ventures was there from childhood. She confesses that she wanted to be an actress, but a conservative family and no media background held her back from pursuing it. Amrita followed her sister’s footsteps and started work in the corporate industry. But every evening after work hours, she would do something to scratch that creative itch. From writing for magazines to dancing professionally, she was consistently trying different things to find a sustainable creative job. In an exclusive interview with JFW, Amrita tells us how converting one’s passion into a business has worked out for the best for her :
How and when did you realise that photographing children, moms and their families was your calling?
The tenth thing I attempted during those 8 years of working a corporate job was photography. I was assisting a wedding photographer and I really enjoyed photography though I felt like weddings were not my thing. I was thinking about taking the plunge but I wasn’t sure about what field of photography did I want to be in. At that point, maternity and baby photography was very popular in the West but nobody in India was specialising in it. I couldn’t find a single person to talk to or get advice from. I just jumped into it. I took a year’s sabbatical from my job, thinking of returning to it in case the photography doesn’t work out.
I started out with a friend whose baby was turning 1, was turning 27 and everybody was having kids at that time. I put up a Facebook photography page, and I’ve never looked back ever since.
It’s been 10 years since you started MommyShots, how would you describe the journey?
The last 10 years have been a joyride, I love what I do. I love kids and I always wanted to work with kids. I didn’t know in what capacity. When I combined my love for photography with that for kids, MommyShots was born. I started out as an independent artist and eventually, I realised that it was a business which meant that I had to look at it as an entrepreneur. I had to change my mindset into a business mindset and grow. About 5-6 years ago, I took up a studio in Chennai and I brought together a team. In the last 3 years, I realised that we are going to scale this up as a business. I couldn’t be omnipresent, I was doing an insane amount of shoots, about 350 shoots a year. I knew that I needed support since I wasn’t getting any downtime. All the interns who were working with me eventually joined me. All the employees who are working with me have been with me for 8-9 years.
What are the different things you do at MommyShots?
Now we are scaling as a creative company, which is extremely challenging. But today, we have three different verticals, one is B2C where we work with families, we document a baby’s entire childhood, from the pregnancy stage. B2B is when we work with brands across industries, we work with Pampers, Johnsons & Johnsons, Nykaa, fashion brands and designers’ campaign shoots. We have also done food and interior photography as well. The third one is the education vertical, I’ve been doing workshops for the last 7 years. During the COVID lockdown, we started the MommyShots Academy, an app that you can download. If you are interested in learning about child photography, you can download the courses and study from them, to become a mom and child photographer. We are now in three different cities, Singapore, Chennai and Bangalore and are looking to expand to Hyderabad and Mumbai.
Tell us about the first celebrity shoot that you did.
The first celebrity we worked with was Ashwin Ravinchader and Prithi. My name was recommended to them by a lot of people and then Prithi reached out to me. That’s how I started working with them, documented their first pregnancy, first child, second pregnancy, second child, up until most recently actually. Their kids are 6 and 8 now and we are documenting their lives even now. It’s been a long journey with them. So baby and mom photography sessions were a very motherhood-driven initiative, it’s usually the moms who are reaching out to book a shoot. When Ashwin came on board and worked with us, it really helped me connect with more dads because they are such big fans of him. So, we got that leverage after working with their family. Working with celebrities does give you that visibility. Then we worked with actors and sportspeople from across the different industries.
Working with kids is possibly the hardest thing to do. How do you manage to get such candid and beautiful pictures of them, what’s the knack?
99.5% of the time shooting with kids is fun. After 10 years of experience, I am confident that I can do a shoot in 1 -2 hours and still get the same quality pictures. You master the art after doing it about 10,000 times over. It’s very important for the parents to work collaboratively with us, and understand what we need for them to prepare before they come for a shoot. We work on the timings of the baby. When you book a shoot with us, we give you the details, walk you through on a call, and tell you every little aspect of the shoot. It’s respecting their time, our time and the child’s time, more importantly.
You are also very actively doing campaigns that are a shift from your regular commissioned work. How do you conceptualise shoots like the Madras Day campaign or the Breast Milk donation campaign?
This is our space where we can create art without any rules. We get to direct the entire shoot end to end and people who trust us, sign up for it and allow us to direct them. So, Madras Day was the recent one that we did, it worked wonders and people really appreciated our entire campaign. There are lots of social causes that we indulge in. Whenever I can, I try to muster up some effort to invest in social causes that create awareness. So our breast milk donation campaign has been going on since 2018. Every year we have been photographing mothers breastfeeding their kids but the awareness is around breastmilk donation. The shoot is mainly to catch attention. The other campaign we did was ‘Scars look good’ where we featured underprivileged kids who got pro-bono heart surgery done because they were born with congenital heart diseases. We documented them bare chested and we decorated their scars with gold foil which is the Japanese concept called Kintsugi. We are looking at doing a second part to it now, this time with mothers donning their motherhood scars, which could be stretch marks, saggy skin, or C-section scars. That’s in the works right now.
What’s the plan for the venture going ahead?
Right now, the photography industry is so crowded, that every other person is a photographer and that’s an imminent threat for most photographers. Earlier our B2B segment would only work with mothercare and child care brands. Now we work across genres and industries. So, our plan is to do great and exceptional work. Innovation and improvisation are key to our craft. To stay relevant in this world today, we have to find new ways. What we did, in the beginning, was do a maternity shoot with the moms caressing their bellies. We progressed into doing these very grand shoots with mothers dressed as queens and princesses wearing these beautiful gowns. Then we started including fashion in our maternity shoot. We do these high fashion shoots where it’s like a total Vogue cover type shoot, with a stylist, make-up artist etc.
When people come to us, there is a reason why they keep coming back to us. The entire process from when somebody picks up the phone and talks to us till we deliver the pictures, and even beyond that, the relationship we maintain is really the experience we have defined, In fact, we are looking at trademarking our experience. Our agenda is, that when a child comes in, whatever age they are, we make sure they have so much fun that it’s not just the pictures that are memorable, the entire experience. We really use the play approach to our advantage with kids, most of them don’t want to leave the studio after the shoot is done.