Adjust Your Focus: Portrait Culture
By Sadira Sittampalam
Photographer and psychology student Sandeeshwara Perera has been interested in photography since she was 15, starting off taking photos of landscapes on her phone. In 2019, at the ripe young age of 18, Sandeeshwara started getting into photography professionally, followed by retouching in 2020. She has her own photography brand named Portrait Culture featuring all the work she has done over the years, which now consists of Advertising photography, Creative Concepts, Fashion, and Food to name a few. Talking to Sandeeshwara, she highlights how her journey has been so far.
When and why did you start photography? Were you inspired by anyone?
A lot of events led to my start in photography. When I was 15, I was obsessed with VSCO and I was only interested in phone photography to maintain an aesthetic Instagram feed. However, my mother realised how much I loved taking photos and gave me a beginner’s camera (Canon Rebel t6i) for my 16th birthday, but I never really used it. Only at times when I went out on trips would I take photos on auto mode because I had no knowledge of adjusting the camera settings.
For most of my life back in school, I never really knew what I wanted to do. I didn’t have a hobby I was passionate about. I tried out different sports and other activities, but I wouldn’t continue them for more than a few months. I was facing challenges mentally as well and it had me thinking a lot about what I wanted to pursue. I came across a few international photographers like Jessica Kobeissi and Irene Rudnyk. Their style of photography inspired me. I watched a few YouTube tutorials and learned how to adjust the camera settings and work with light. For a few days, I practised taking photos using my dog as the model.
Later I was quite confident with what I learned and I started reaching out to people on Instagram so I could build my portfolio. Once I was able to build my portfolio I got the opportunity to work with professional models and collaborate with them to create more content. Luckily enough I had brands reaching out to me for work. Next, I had the chance of working with The Agency Sri Lanka for one of their Model Training workshops. I am still pretty much under their guidance even till now and a lot was possible to achieve because of them. I had the chance to work with Ms. Universe Poland 2018 once she visited Sri Lanka and was able to shoot my first Magazine cover as well shortly afterward.
How would you describe your style?
When it comes to my style I like my photos to be very creative and high-end, also showcasing a feminine perspective. I’m comfortable shooting various concepts when it comes to collaborations with other artists but I always make sure that elements that bring out more of the model’s feminine side are present which could mean directing them with certain poses and creating the setting in such a manner.
What equipment do you use?
I’ve used three cameras so far. I usually switch between these. Canon Rebel t6i, Canon 6D Mark 2, or Canon 5D Mark 3. My go-to lens would be the 50mm f1.8 lens because it’s the most readily available lens for portraits and also the most affordable for any beginner photographer. However, the 85mm f1.4 lens is incredible and that would be my favourite lens when it comes to portraits and for a high background bokeh effect.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when getting into the industry?
One of the biggest challenges is that there are many Colombo-based photographers. These photographers have been in the industry for more years and are renowned for their work and are trusted by many brands. Starting it was very difficult to find jobs because right at the time I only had basic photos on my portfolio and had nothing to do with Advertising Photography (E-Commerce) which is the usual go-to for many brands to showcase their product but I was able to find a few jobs through the Agency Sri Lanka in the beginning and shoot for brands and work with wonderful designers. Ever since then I was able to find jobs and brands reached out for work because I was able to showcase a different side of photography that they liked for their brand.
Although photography is a very male dominant profession being a female photographer has its perks. I’ve been told by many female clients and models that they feel much more comfortable shooting with a female photographer and also because I bring in a female’s perspective to my images and direction to the model. Since there are only a few female photographers in Sri Lanka they usually find it a new experience.
What is the hardest part of any shoot?
I would say the only difficulty is when it comes to outdoor shoots because I need to make sure I check the photos I shoot every few minutes due to light changes in the surroundings and make sure the photo isn’t over-exposed to too much light.
What is easier - photography or retouching?
Photography is much easier. There are only a few settings to control and that can be done in a matter of seconds and I can just start clicking away for the rest of the shoot. Retouching could take a longer period of time and more focus per photo and it can be really tiring sometimes staring into your PC for hours on end.
What do you see in the future for yourself?
One of my main goals in the future is to become a certified doctor in the field of Psychology. When it comes to my career in photography I’d say that I would definitely want to hold my own photography exhibits, hopefully reach up to international standards and travel around the world to work with different people, brands, models. Getting the chance to shoot for a magazine like Vogue, Bazaar, Elle is something I would really like to achieve one day in the future.