Nirav Patel

Profile Nirav Patel

© Nirav Patel

“A great portrait, to me, is one that captures the essence of the subject beyond just their physical appearance. It’s about revealing a part of their story, their emotions, and their personality.”


─── by Josh Bright, May 2, 2024
  • Judge of our 2024 Portrait Award (now open for entries) Nirav Patel is an Indian-born, San Francisco-based photographer, who crafts captivating staged imagery that demonstrates a mastery of light, form, and composition.

    color fashion fine art portrait photography of a woman by Nirav Patel


    Patel’s passion for photography was born from its meditative quality. He says he has ‘always been drawn to quiet moments’, which he believes originates from a sense of self-preservation he developed living in challenging neighborhoods in California, after moving from India at a young age.

    “At the age of 7, I built a sanctuary in my room in the form of a red tent on my bed surrounded by toys that served as my protectors. Within this small, safe haven, my imagination soared, and the feeling of loneliness was replaced by the comfort of solitude. I found my quiet moments in this space, and to this day, I continue to seek out those glimpses of quiet when the world is turbulent.”

    color fashion fine art portrait photography of a woman by Nirav Patel
    black and white fashion fine art portrait photography of a woman by Nirav Patel
    color fashion fine art portrait photography of a woman by Nirav Patel


    However, initially, he chose a more stable career than one in the arts: engineering, but the recession caused by the financial crisis of 2007/2008, led him to experiment with photography. He was immediately enamored, discovering a medium where he could ‘express his emotions and tell stories in a way words never could.’

    “I fell in love with the art and realized that it was my true calling.
    Growing up, I always found it challenging to express myself. However, my exploration of photography opened up a world where I could communicate in ways words never allowed.”

    color fashion fine art portrait photography of a woman by Nirav Patel
    black and white fashion fine art portrait photography of a woman by Nirav Patel


    He found work shooting weddings, though alongside, worked on personal projects that allowed him to explore and experiment, shaping the unique visual language that we see today.

    His images are captivating, sensitive, and creative. Shot in a variety of settings rather than a blank studio – adding a touch of narrative – and using mostly natural light, or at least, it appears as such, one is gripped from the outset, feeling as though we are witnessing a moment from a movie, rather than a still, standalone image. There is a timeless quality to them, the subtle tones, and aesthetic choices – clothing, props – adding a distinctly vintage feel.

    black and white fine art portrait photography of a woman by Nirav Patel
    color fashion fine art portrait photography of a woman by Nirav Patel
    color outdoor fashion fine art portrait photography of a woman by Nirav Patel


    Though he also credits master photographers like Gordon Parks, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Vivian Maier, and Fan Ho as significant influences, it is no surprise – owing to the cinematic qualities of his work – that film has long had a significant impact. He is particularly interested in the work of American filmmaker Terrence Malick and his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, as well as two moving, monochrome masterpieces, “Ida” and “Roma”, which he says “challenged and inspired me to see composition in an entirely new way.”

    He also finds inspiration in music, particularly while working. He says ‘music transcends the tangible’, and tries to recreate this feeling in his photography, using the lyrics of artists like “The National”, Jeff Buckley, Gregory Alan Isakov, and Jervis Campbell as the backdrop to his creative process.

    color fine art portrait photography of a woman by Nirav Patel
    color fashion fine art portrait photography of a woman by Nirav Patel
    color fine art portrait photography of a woman by Nirav Patel


    Perhaps it’s due to his roots in wedding photography, for even today, Patel works mostly with ‘normal’ people (many of whom are close friends) rather than professional models or famous people. He finds ‘raw, authentic beauty’ in capturing them, finding excitement and enjoyment in the unpredictability and unique stories they bring. Ultimately, it’s this profound interest in people and their intricacies that forms the foundation of his work—a sentiment he urges those participating in the Portrait Award to also embrace.

    “My advice is to focus on the connection with your subject. Strive to capture their essence and tell their story through your image. Pay attention to lighting and composition, but remember that the emotion and authenticity of the portrait are what truly resonate. Present your work in a way that reflects your unique voice as a photographer.”

    color fashion fine art portrait photography of a woman by Nirav Patel
    black and white fine art portrait photography of a woman by Nirav Patel
    color fine art fashion portrait photography of a woman by Nirav Patel


    Perhaps it’s partly owing to the nature of his relationship with those he portrays, though more importantly, to his approach, but the distance between photographer and subject seems nonexistent. Often, they appear unaware that the camera is there, seemingly caught in a moment of deep introspection.

    What Patel captures is not only the distinct beauty of each person but something much more: their individualities, personalities; a piece of their soul.

     

    All images © Nirav Patel

    NB: The 2024 Portrait Award is open for entries until May 31. Submit your work here.