Artist Interview - Rahul Khona of F5
Destination wedding photographer Rahul Khona of f5 lives in England and is sought after around the world for his lush, emotional wedding photos. One of the founders of NineDots, a premiere training program and community for wedding photographers, he sees his work as an integral part of his life not separate from it. Rahul says “people talk about work/life balance but to me there is only life”
I met Rahul at the NineDots Gathering in London in 2017 and was struck by his warmth and generosity. Now I am thrilled to promote his work on World’s Best Wedding Photos and to share his art and thoughts with you today.
I always admire it when photographers teach other photographers how to take better pictures. It’s such a generous thing to do. Can you tell us what led you to it?
Aww, thank you so much. We got together initially as we are all big fans of each other’s work. Even though we all have different styles, our approach to clients is very similar and we wanted to create a workshop that ultimately taught people there’s many ways to skin a cat and there’s no right or wrong way. There was nothing like our workshop in the UK market, and we sold out the first one within a couple of days, and then went on to do another one due to so much demand. After that we had an idea about starting a NineDots Gathering and we approached Two Mann and the Chrismans. We thought if one of them says yes we’ll do it! They both jumped on board, we found a super cool venue, booked other speakers, and sold out the Gathering. We have done ever since and the rest is history. We just celebrated our 5th year of the Gathering in November 2019. But we didn’t stop there, we also launched our NineDots online membership content site which is our main focus now along with our annual NineDots Gathering.
How did you originally become a photographer and later a professional?
I’ll be honest I was not passionate about photography initially, at least not close to the way I love it now. I used to do a little bit when I was a graphic designer, because back then there weren’t many stock sites around and I had to find and make my own textures for my graphic work. 9 years into being a designer I was getting bored, my friends around me were getting married, and I saw their wedding photos and thought maybe I could do that. I was really drawn into the moments that their wedding photographers had captured, so I started doing some research on other photographers and loved what I saw. I went and bought all the gear I needed and had no idea what to do with it. A friend of mine then introduced me to a popular wedding photographer near me, I second shot for him for around two years, and then I went off and forged my own path. We’re still great friends to this day and help each other out but we have very different styles and we respect each other’s differences.
Your work is full of touching stories. How do you approach photography in order to capture so many moments without getting in the way?
What a wonderful compliment. I’ve worked really hard on developing my own style and especially understanding light, moment and composition, which has shaped the way I see the world. Once I started understanding these fundamentals and was able to build up a lot of experience, my fear of getting close to the moment disappeared and now it is my main focus.
In my initial call with a prospective client I explain to them how I go about getting the best photos. If they want photographs like the ones they see on my Instagram, website, etc, I need to be with them through their day, sometimes in the background, and at times right by their side. I know the word ‘unobtrusive’ is used a lot by wedding photographers, but that is what I really try to be. I also tell my couples that I won’t get in their way and stage any photos (apart from portraits), but most importantly I let them know I won’t be invisible either. Gaining my clients' trust is key to capturing the moments I love to photograph, I just want them to have an unforgettable time celebrating and forget about me.
Your portfolio is full of gorgeous multi-day Indian weddings. What do you love most about shooting them?
Just like all weddings, Indian weddings come in all shapes and sizes, a day of formality and a carefully planned ceremony with many unplanned moments woven in. It’s this mixture of formal, informal and sheer variety that makes Indian weddings special. Celebrations can go from serene to chaotic within a split second, and that always keeps me on my toes. Even though the format of Indian weddings can be very similar, the couples and families are not. And, just like all the other weddings I love to document it is the people that matter most. I don’t care where a wedding takes place, it could be down the road from my house or half way across the world, it’s the people that are everything to me.
What rituals and traditions should photographers familiarize themselves with in order to competently shoot a traditional Indian wedding?
Indian (Hindu) weddings have a very rigid formula, some traditions may vary on people's cultural backgrounds, but overall it's very structured. Most of the ceremony happens under the mandap (canopy) all in one place, so as long as you’re staying connected with the moments and are truly documenting the event, I don’t believe you really need any prior knowledge. If you are in doubt you can always google the rituals and the main steps of the Indian wedding, or ask your couple to talk you through it. Arriving early on the wedding day and making sure the priest is your best friend is also key. In my experience, priests rarely if ever try to stop you from taking a photo of an important moment, and if they did, the aunties around will surely step in and make sure you’re allowed :). Befriending the priest, the videographers, and all the other vendors definitely helps you to capture everything you want with less effort.
Blair: What is the best piece of advice you can give to someone just starting out?
Rahul: The most valuable lessons I’ve learned since first starting out happened when I was second shooting for another photographer. By assisting an experienced photographer you can learn a huge amount from watching how they work,use light and composition to create a look, and run their daily business. It was the most valuable experience for me. Secondly, I’ve learned a lot by going to workshops. I spent a lot of money in the beginning of my career attending workshops of photographers I admire. Many people think they are going to go to a workshop and they will come out having learned all they know. That's not the case. Going in with the mindset that you are going to find a few golden nuggets who can add to your skills is more than enough in my opinion. Oh and whilst i’m talking about workshops, don’t take your camera to one! It's always a distraction to listening and learning. Thirdly, and draw on the collective experience of a supportive community. Whether it is NineDots or another good community / facebook group, you’ll be surprised how much comes from it. Wherever people are willing to share ideas, help each other and be super supportive is where you want to be. After all, being a wedding photographer is a very lonely job, especially now, and being in a community can really make a difference.
Blair: When the coronavirus is over, where do you want to travel next?
Anywhere I can shoot a wedding, I'm itching to get back to photographing weddings again. I’ve got a couple of Jewish weddings in London at the end of October, along with a few Indian weddings in November that I am looking forward to so I am hoping things get back to normal soon. Shooting weddings gives me joy and I honestly can’t wait to be back to the career that I love.