When portrait photographer Nirav Patel lost his engineering job in 2009, he found himself with more free time on his hands than he was used to.
Born in Ahmedabad, India, Nirav moved to the United States when he was just two years old. He landed a position designing wineries as soon as he graduated from a civil engineering program, but when the recession hit, Nirav was laid off. That’s when he discovered his parents’ wedding album and stumbled upon his true passion.
His interest in photography and documentation was piqued immediately – and even though he found himself another engineering position by the following year, he’d already fallen in love with photography and soon left engineering to pursue his photography full-time.
As a mainly self-taught photographer, Nirav specializes in quiet, emotive portraiture, with light used to dramatic, atmospheric effect.
“Many of my images are inspired by a certain time in my life when I found solitude to provide me with comfort while living in a turbulent environment. I take these images so I can remember and share the feelings that brought me peace in some of the more difficult moments of my life.”
– Nirav Patel
How do you go about deciding which gear is essential to your work?
I feel that the most important decisions related to gear have to do with the lenses and focal lengths I choose to use for certain images. I like to use wider lenses when the environment is a character in the story I’m trying to tell. However, sometimes the environment works against what you want to portray and you’ll need to remove this distraction and focus more on the person.
In terms of camera body, it’s always based on preference. I do, however, like to use a full-frame camera system because it can be useful in situations of low light, which I shoot in quite a bit. I don’t like to use tripods very much, so I tend to boost my ISO when needed. For this reason, any pro full-frame camera body is great.
Canon 5D Mark IV
30.4 MP full-frame CMOS sensor, Up to 7.0 frames per second continuous shooting speed, 4K video recording
Canon 5D Mark IV (Full-Frame Digital): I enjoy this camera for its color, dynamic range, and low light performance. I’ve owned Canon systems from the very beginning and have always enjoyed my experience with them. It’s really the color that sets this system apart, in my opinion.
Contax 645 (Medium Format Film): This camera has been discontinued, but you can still find it on shops like eBay. Shooting medium format film results in beautiful images with incredible dynamic range. This camera also forces me to slow down and shoot more intentionally.
Leica MP (35mm Film): Just holding this camera feels amazing. Leica systems are built like tanks – they’re workhorse cameras and also very beautifully designed. It makes me enjoy the process of making imagery much more than any other camera I own. The compact size makes it amazing for street documentary work and also great for travel.
Canon 24mm f1.4
Aperture Range: f/1.4 to f/22, Ring-Type Ultrasonic Motor AF System, Weather-Sealed Construction
Canon 24mm f/1.4L II: Gives you a beautiful wide perspective when you are trying to bring the landscape into a photograph. There’s an exaggeration to this lens that gives images (especially close-up portraits) a sense of drama. It’s also a great lens to have when you don’t have much space to work in and you can’t get a lot of separation from your subject.
Canon 35mm F1.4L
Aperture Range: f/1.4 to f/22, Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics Element
Canon 50mm f/1.2L, Carl Zeiss 50mm 2.0: These lenses give a perspective that is closest to the way the human eye perceives the world, making them wonderful for portraits. I don’t use them much for landscapes.
Canon 85mm F1.2
Aperture Range: f/1.2 to f/16, Ring-Type Ultrasonic Motor AF System, Weather-Sealed Construction
Canon 85mm f/1.2L II, Canon 135mm f/2.0L, Carl Zeiss 80mm 2.0: These lenses are my go-tos when I want to remove distracting elements in the environment. I also use these lenses because they produce a beautiful blur and separation of the subject from the background. Again, this can be used to hide distracting elements or put more emphasis on the subject.
The LS-mini20: Small and portable. Easy to transport from location to location. Uses LED technology and does not require huge batteries to run.
The Light Storm C120d: A bit larger, but still easy to take with you on location and much more powerful than the mini. There are several modifiers you can buy for this light, including a light dome. I don’t have a lot to say about these yet as I’m still testing them out and have not received my modifiers yet.
I use a Big Sur bag made by ONA Bags. It’s incredible because it will fit everything I need for almost all of my shoots. I use it often when I travel to destinations to work. It’s built very tough and can be used as my personal item when I board planes, so I never have to check it and don’t have to worry about overhead space. In all, it holds two cameras, five lenses, all my memory cards and batteries, two flashes and a laptop.
Nirav’s photography has been featured in publications from around the world, including Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, Refinery 29, Kinfolk Magazine, and NPR. His breathtaking portraits document the soft, intimate moments that make up everyday life and can be seen on Instagram or on his website.
Jessi Gowan is an award-winning writer and photographer who specializes in rural landscapes and fine art abstracts, with a focus on form and composition. Her photography has been included in a variety of publications, as well as in exhibitions in Canada and the United States.