Vinay Aravind cracked the legal entrance test for National Law School and drifted into being a lawyer for 6 ½ years. But he knew it was never going to be his calling – he was simply too bored by the job. So one day he quit cold turkey – without any back up plan. However one thing led to another and he had always had a keen interest in photography – so he was asked to shoot the wedding pictures for a friend. And voila! A new career path was born. Today Vinay is a full time candid photographer – has covered over 200 weddings and is often listed as one of the top 10 wedding photographers in the country!
Vinay did his schooling in Kottayam in Kerala and claims he had no strong ambitions whatsoever. It would make a cool back story to have some strong connection to photography but truth is there was none. As he puts it on his site: “When I was 9 years old my grandfather gave me a Leica. That is a lie. He actually gave me his typewriter. But that wouldn’t make a very compelling story”!
Vinay adds, “I had no clue what I wanted to do, I still don’t have any strong ambitions or any idea where I want to be.” So when it was time to decide on a course for his career, Vinay simply applied for a bunch of things – and among them he wrote the NLS entrance exam as well. “And I got in, before the other applications were due, so I thought why not? It was easier to just skip the rest of the applications,” he says. And just like that, he was studying law at National Law School in Bangalore.
As he remembers it, “NLS was fun. I met a lot of interesting people and made a few good friends. It didn’t really shape my professional ambitions a great deal and as an educational institution I don’t rate it very highly.” It didn’t really instruct him about the practical aspects of working as a lawyer, which Vinay discovered when he began to work as a lawyer. He started off with a big 4 accounting firm in their tax consultancy practice in Mumbai, followed by an IP firm in Delhi and then a corporate law firm in Chennai. For 6 ½ years, Vinay was a technology and IP lawyer, who also did a lot of general corporate advisory and commercial real estate law as well as work on mergers and acquisitions.
Despite this, the work was simply not exciting enough for Vinay. He says, “I was bored. Some of it was fun, particularly some of the technology law work that I did, but a lot of it was just rehashing templates and going over the same boring types of documents and the same annoying negotiations.” What’s more, he never pegged law as his dream job, in fact he says, “From the time I started working as a lawyer I kept thinking there has to be something else I can do.”
Eventually after stints with three different firms and trying different areas of practice, Vinay realized he simply didn’t enjoy being a corporate lawyer very much. Without any back up plan in hand, and with no idea about what next, he simply quit his job.
TAKING THE BIG STEP
When Vinay quit, as he says, he was simply so bored that he was quitting the lawyering game. “I didn’t know what I was going to do afterwards. Honestly, the main factor was that I didn’t want to be a lawyer anymore.”
It did help that Vinay was single, with no loans to pay off, or serious continuing financial obligations for which a salary would be essential. He explains, “I had no idea if the step was right or wrong. It was just an experiment, and I was lucky it didn’t turn out to be a disaster.” His friends were supportive and some even offered him jobs. So after he quit his job for the first month he was just traveling and taking on freelance writing jobs or whatever work he could get his hands on.
It took 6 months from the time he quit, to get his first paid job as a photographer and more than a year for the income to stabilize so watching his bank account dwindle was not easy. But Vinay took corrective measures, and says “I cut down seriously on discretionary spending, including going out to eat and stuff like that, since I knew I had a limited amount of money until and unless I figured out a new source of income. I only went for free concerts and really cheap restaurants.”
The Wedding Photographer
Far from consciously identifying it as his calling and chasing his dream, wedding photography happened to Vinay by accident. He says, “I shot a friend’s wedding for a lark, and the pictures turned out okay and so it was a series of lucky accidents from thereon. It was not really a very conscious decision.” He deprecatingly claims he was lucky enough for it to have worked out that he enjoys doing what he does. Truth is within his first year Vinay had shot 24 weddings and it was soon not just a full time gig, but something that he did with a keen eye, and an ability to capture emotions, faces and rare moments. As he puts it, “I love taking pictures. Being a wedding photographer in India is particularly exciting because of the myriad settings and visual elements that you tend to encounter.”
Today he has shot over 200 weddings and if you read his site, the permutations and combinations of unions he has captured is truly global despite having mostly worked in India – be it “traditional Tamil weddings, Goan Catholic weddings, Parsi weddings, Malayali weddings, Rajasthani weddings, Sri Lankan Catholic weddings, Bengali weddings, non-denominational weddings, Marwari weddings, Syrian Christian weddings, Sikh weddings, and every hybrid you can think of from Malayali-Sardarni to Irani-Kannadiga, Bengali-Sindhi, Catholic-Buddhist and Punjabi-Tamilian!” The list is topped off with cross-border combinations like Indian-Peruvian, American-Indian and Danish-Anglo-Indian.
His wedding photography has been featured in publications like Wedding Vows, Atelier, The Hindu, among other websites and blogs. He has also done editorial work for Rolling Stone, BBC Good Food and Business Standard. As Vinay says, “It’s a pretty good deal: I enjoy doing it, it’s fun, pays reasonably well and gives me enough free time to (theoretically) pursue other interests. I enjoy taking pictures of people and making them happy when I deliver those pictures. I enjoy the fact that at the end of a day’s shoot, that day’s work is done, there’s no ‘pending work’ I need to think about.” And he adds pointedly, that this satisfaction of a day’s work being complete, was never there as a lawyer.
What’s more Vinay gets to travel all over India and has even shot a few weddings abroad. As he puts it, “It’s always great when work takes you to a new place and as a wedding photographer I’ve got to see a few new places, so I am grateful for that.”
He says all he needs for a wedding shoot to work out is good light, good food, and good company. There are downsides to this life, like no regular salary. And you have to market and promote yourself, which Vinay says he isn’t very good at. He claims he still isn’t sure this is what he would call his calling. But he signs off saying “if you really want to do something and you’re stuck doing something else, why not give the former a shot? Even if you fail, at least you’d have tried.”