Story Behind Cover Shot - National Geographic Traveller India
In mid January, just after wrapping up a quick tour with Indian skateboarders from their first ever skateboarding event called The Third Eye Tour, I was back home for just couple of days before I packed my bags again to head deep down south for yet an another trip that had adventure, business and a bit of catch up to do with friends.
A highly comfortable over night train ride took me to this muted railway station at Tuticorin, an exceptionally uncharacteristic feature for a railway station in India. About 20 minutes later, my friendKishore pulled in and soon we were driving to Manapad through the temple town of Thiruchendur. Altogether an hour's drive from Tuticorin.
Manapad is a small fishing hamlet tucked extreme deep down and I think that St. Francis Xavier landed here at this tiny hamlet in 1542, where he began his missionary activity.
Today Manapad still holds the charm of a simple coastal village with marvellous portuguese style villas, churches and colourful residences. This was my first stop but my third time coming to this beautiful coastal village and to "Villa de Joseph", an amazing century old villa now converted into a super surf resort by Arun Miranda & his family. Miranda originally hails from Manapad but settled now in Chennai.
After a quick-lunch, a five-minute drive took us to the beautiful Manapad lagoon where I met my friend Jehan Driver who was taking kiteboarding lessons to his students. We were catching up after a long time, almost a year. I have been to Manapad before but this time it was even more pleasant with constant onshore wind, clear waters against the scenic village with it's high rise churches, colourful houses, docked fishing boats and life by the sea. Couple of things were priority for me while; I was in Manapad. i.e Get kitesurfing lessons from Jehan who happens to be the sole IKA certified trainer in India and try score some action images of Kitesurfing, a welcome addition to my extreme sports photography portfolio.
Now, Kiteboarding may sound fun and adventurous but it is an extreme progressive sport. More accidents happen in Kitesurfing than Base Jumping or Sky Diving, hence safety and proper guidance is very important while; you take your lessons. Jehan is probably one of the few guys who you can trust on the right guidance. My classes were all theory and understanding different technical know hows of wind, location, kite set-up etc.. Not much fun, but it's necessary and it's a slow process.
Apart from lessons, I was trying to shoot as many images as possible but I wasn't really getting anything extraordinary for various reasons. First day Jehan was busy coaching his students that he didn't do much. Second day, he wasn't feeling that well and in fact he was on antibiotics that was quite miserable for him. Got some decent shots on third day but still it wasn't anything extraordinary and on fourth day morning we were leaving Manapad to Chennai.
Getting those perfect action shots in any sport requires immense planning and luck. The athlete needs to be at his best, the conditions should be ideal, everything matters from equipment to lighting to nail that perfect shot. On the third day, after a decent outing in the evening we carefully thought of somehow shooting one last photo session the next day morning before we left Manapad to Chennai. The time window we had was just 2 hours.
Next morning, we were up and raring to go. On the way to the shoot, we discussed each and every detail as in ideal t-shirt colour he should be wearing, eyewear, manoeuvres, different angles from where I couldshoot etc.. Since, I was going to be in water photographing the action, it was important for Jehan to be extra careful with all his manoeuvres and how close he shall get to me. Coming too close would probably result in a collision that would be catastrophic to both of us and to my equipment.
Slowly, I got in the water and positioned myself in the right spot. By then, Jehan had done few upwind & downwind rides and he looked comfortable, windspeed was steady at 18-20 knots. It was around 8 in the morning and the light was gentle and was behind my back, which meant it was on Jehan's face. The trial shots were nicely lit up and I could shoot in sequence at burst mode with my wide-angle 10-22 mm lens attached. The plan was to capture from very close quarters and to get all the action in one frame including the kite.
All set, Jehan started pulling off some amazing airs just over me at a speed of 50-60 Kmph which was terrific. My focus was to make sure that I capture all his manoeuvres from the right perspective and to do that I had to adjust myself well in water a few times. After every sequence of shooting, I knew I was getting some epic pictures and I kept improvising and getting better at it.
An hour passed by in no time and it was time to pack up and say good-bye to Manapad. The wind was still strong, spirits were still high and I wanted to shoot more but it was time to continue our journey with the immense satisfaction of scoring something special that day. We were greatly excited that we transferred all the pictures and did initial editing & scouting for the best photos right in the car. We were really stoked to see how some of the photos had turned out, they were scintillating images ! Soon, we started sending out some of these photos to our friends through Whatsapp and we received an overwhelming response and in no time it kinda went viral. Sometime later, we came to know that the photos had even reached Niloufer Venkataraman, the editor-in-chief for National Geographic India, publishers were looking for something fun and an action photo for their summer special and my pictures fitted the bill.
Phew !! The next few days was constant exchange of different photos and ideas with both the editor-in-chief and photo-editor for the cover shot for National Geographic Traveller India. It was quite hectic and intense amidst all my other activities nevertheless it was worth every effort we put in throughout our stay in Manapad. We never really thought of magazines or where the photos might actually end up but we still put in a great deal of effort and passion and the result was fruitful.