Pranesh Padmanabhan is a 28 year old entrepreneur from Chennai and the founder of one of the most successful wedding photography companies in South India – Studio 31. Studio 31 is the only photography company to be ISO 9001-2000 certified. Starting as a solo photographer, his company now has over 30 full time employees and over 50 part time employees. Studio 31 has captured over 2000+ plus weddings in a time span of seven years.
A management graduate from Chennai Business School in Brand Management and Advertising, Pranesh also has a degree from Harvard in Strategic Management. His love for photography and entrepreneurship led him to bring both his passions onto one platform – which is where he began Studio 31.
The team at Studio 31 has been customized into five core teams – the production team, post production team, the client relationship management, the sales team, and the finance team. Each team is lead by a member who ensure quality services are met in a timely fashion.
When did you first get into the wedding industry? Do you recall the first wedding you shot?
It was in 2009, that I (Pranesh) shot my first wedding. A friend of mine trusted me with her wedding day memories. I was so nervous that I arrived at the wedding venue three hours in advance to make sure everything was set and in place. I was very alert that day and made sure every small detail of her big day was captured. Back then, I would click pictures, shortlist them, colour correct them, give them for printing, get the albums, and even deliver them to clients. But now – I have a team to handle each of these activities. Looking back, it feels ecstatic to know how much we’ve achieved as a company.
Your business is based out of Kodambakkam, Chennai. Do you taking bookings outside of Chennai? What about international bookings?
Yes, we take orders from across the world. We have been constantly travelling to various cities in India, including Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kerala, Kolkata, Delhi, and many more. We also have an established client base in Sri Lanka.
When a couple is about to get married or engaged and need to have a photographer arranged, how far in advance to the event do clients need to book Studio 31?
Often, we have bookings made 6 to 8 months in advance of the event. In several cases, people have booked us first and then have decided on their wedding venue. We’d recommend clients to book us anywhere between 5 to 6 months in advance. We also accept orders in any other time frame, but it just gives us less time to prepare and provide our signature quality.
What do you recommend for our fellow readers who are looking to book you? What are some of the questions you would ask them? (hopefully readers interested in booking you can find this useful)
Honestly, we treat every client with the same attention and care. Instead of us asking them questions, we make a point to hear them out. Many people dream of a perfect wedding, and we’d want to know how they would want their fairy-tale captured. We like to tell our clients to be themselves, be proactive, talk to us about any kind of detailing they’d want in their wedding – and we’d be more than happy to incorporate them. It was five years ago that a client mentioned they had many relatives and friends in the USA who could not travel to India for the wedding. The couple had requested us to live-stream the wedding, and we set up everything for them. It was very heart-warming to see how happy the relatives and friends were that they were able to view it real-time.
What are the top three shots that you would feel incomplete without shooting at a wedding?
Every wedding capture comes with a bundle of emotions, happiness, and lots of love. For our team, we often keep a very keen eye on the following:
- Parents; as they are in a very delicate emotional stage. They are happy, elated, relieved, and also filled with sadness realizing that their kids will move on.
- Bride and groom portraits are our second most favourite. This day is as once in a lifetime event and pictures of this day will remain forever.
- Another one of our favourite moments to capture is the awkwardness between the bride and the groom during the wedding rituals.
Between an engagement shoot, wedding, and reception – which do you find the most challenging to shoot and why?
It has to be the reception because the event has a very high attendance and there are no rituals. That is when the real test of a photographer starts. We have to think outside the box as the scope is minimal for us. We often get some of our best pictures from this occasion.
On the wedding day itself, what do you find the most hectic part to shoot?
Most families at a wedding have their own itinerary to ensure the day goes well, but what about goes on through the mind and eyes of a photographer? Like everybody else, we are also eagerly waiting for the wedding muhurtham. We are often very anxious as we want to capture all of the very special moments. The crazy challenge is that every relative and friend wants to be on stage during the wedding ceremony by the groom and the bride. Many also forget that there is a photographer on stage with a camera as well. Since we build a good relationship with clients and their families, they are the ones to ensure that we get the right space on stage to get a good angle of the muhurtham proceedings.
How long does it take to edit a wedding album? Do you provide album services? What can you say for the expectation of having photos returned to the couple within a week?
While our terms and conditions say about 45 working days for the entire set of photographs to be delivered, the actual duration totally depends on the client’s cooperation – as all of our services are custom made for each client. We are pretty tight with deadlines and expect the client to cooperate and participate on this. A week is definitely not enough time to do justice for wedding pictures, but we’d consider if the request and circumstances are genuine.
Have you done more than one event a day (more than a couple in a day)? How did
you manage that?
We once did 27 weddings in a day! That was by far the most craziest day we’ve had at our company. We planned every thing, laid strategies, timed our photographers, and ensured equipment was in place. We are proud that we survived it without any glitches!
Besides wedding events, what are your favourite things to do?
We love doing couple shoots because we get to experiment a lot with lights, props, venues, attires, themes, and many more. Our couples also come up with some really great ideas themselves, which makes our work super easy. We love capturing two souls in love.
When a bride and groom hire you, what can they expect?
For the whole team of Studio 31, there’s much more to a wedding than what the eyes meet. We get to witness a ray of emotions, love among people, relationships, and a zillion moments that are awaiting to be captured into memories that can be tucked away to be cherished forever. They can expect real, artistic, beautiful, and breath-taking representations of their wedding day. We often receive surprised reactions from our clients when they look at their photobooks. One word to describe our photography style would be photorealistic.
Roughly how many pictures do you take per wedding?
We take thousands of pictures from about three weddings related events. Of these, we leave the choice to the clients to shortlist 200 pictures per album.
What does your equipment bag look like? Are you able to tell us of a few favourite lenses or items you don’t leave your house without?
As surprising as this may sound, we actually don’t own any equipment or gears yet. We have been renting them since we started. We are a bootstrapped company and believe that we must encourage others to work parallel with us. We feel extremely happy that a lot of camera rental companies can get sustained with this strategy. There is an added benefit for us as well as we don’t have to keep investing on the latest technology and can cut cost on its maintenance as well. Speaking of equipment, out of the lenses – Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS II and 85mm are our favourite.
Do you have an unsettling experience as a wedding photographer that you would like to share to our readers to prevent such experiences from happening?
We are professionals and we conduct our processes also similarly – however, in a few instances, we’ve faced some very awkward situations. Once at a wedding we were covering, the clients delayed the wedding events by five hours. Our crew was just waiting the entire time. While most couple shoots are perfect, there have also been instances where the couple show up two hours late – and the expectation is for the photographer to keep waiting. Several clients extend events by three-four hours as well. Some have even asked for a refund after all this.
At Studio 31, we make bookings based on the number of hours. In cases when the time of the event extends, it is understood that they have to pay extra. Many clients refuse the additional charge for the additional hours of service. Also, clients sometimes miss out on giving important details about the event, which ends up creating room for surprise. For example, the crowd mentioned would be 1000 – we would have arranged gears to capture up to 1500-1700 people, but the actual crowd would be 3000 and the clients end up blaming us for not capturing all the people.
What are three guest etiquettes that you think clients should always follow when dealing with a photographer on a wedding day?
Wedding photography is now slowly gaining respect as a profession. Back then, when I had started working, this was not the case. People often look down on you, disrespect you – and that did not feel nice. We’d like our clients to consider us as professionals, be hospitable towards us, and not make this relationship feel just like a transaction.
Do you have a contract between you and your clients?
We have a strong list of terms and conditions, that we ensure our clients read through and sign. We are an ISO certified company and we take our processes very seriously.
In this day and age, makeup plays a big role on your client’s’ big day. Regardless, some clients may want you to edit out certain imperfections that they see (whether it be face, body, or hair) – how do you feel about a client coming back with your finalized pictures and requesting these changes to be made?
We have always been very sensitive and accepting of people who come from different family backgrounds, cultures, societies, and more. We don’t entertain much of photoshop or extreme editing, as we believe that people are perfect and beautiful the way they are. We do not believe or promote the idea of a being perfect or a “stereotype” of beautiful. We are very vocal to our clients about how they should be happy and content with who they are. Every individual is special and has a vibe of their own. They should never let go of that.
Tie • The • Thali would like to thank the Studio 31 team for taking time to do an interview with us. We hope you enjoyed this feature, and learned something through the eyes and minds of a photographer.