Model: Caitlin Davidson (@cat.a_lyst)
Combined-ShapeCreated with Sketch.
Scroll Down

Aakaash Bali

29 June 2021

"Emotionally driven photographs" is how our next photographer Aakaash Bali describes his work; and with his sombre, yet colourful, story-led approach to photography, you can see why. Aakaash makes use of cinematic setups, dramatic lighting, with tasteful editing and a whole lot of planning to create his work - all brought together in stunning high detail medium-format glory.

What is your backstory?

My name is Aakaash Bali. I am a fine-art narrative artist based in New York. I was born and raised in New York City, and somewhere inside, that shaped who I am. I was the son of two struggling immigrant parents, just trying to seek out a better life. I grew up with a mix of ideals from the East and the West, and my life came to the point where I felt like I didn't fit into either of them.

I was the quiet kid who always got bullied in school. I kept to myself most of the time. I spent my time daydreaming, or looking out the window, coming up with scenarios in my head that were more interesting than math class. I would always wish I could live in them, or see them in person. Exploring my daydreams, I guess.

I'm still that kid. I just talk more now, and I figured out how to make my daydreams a little more real.

How did you first start out in photography?

My father was an illustrator back in India before immigrating to the United States. He always dreamed of being a career artist, but became too ill to chase that dream. At one point, shortly after I was born, he bought a Minolta 35mm camera to document my life.

One day, at around 10 years old, I indefinitely borrowed that camera, and it was the start of everything I am today.

My father passed away in 2019, and I guess I'm chasing this dream because he couldn't.

How would you describe your style?

Atmospheric, cinematic, and emotional. Believable and familiar tones and colors, with stories that carry weight behind them.

I try to make these stories real inside still frames, and my crew brings them to life in video. Abe Bello (@abediting) is my awesome Director of Photography; Christian Ladigoski (@christianladigoski) is our epic composer; Baptiste Carrara (@baptistecarrara_colorist) handles the color; Matt Bell (@mattbellphoto) is our aerial footage guru; and Isabel Flemming (@smol.tog) helps bridge it all together.

I couldn't do anything I do without this group of awesome people.

What subjects do you like to shoot ?

I like to tell stories, and often the correct location will spark that narrative inside of me. I can't really say what I like to shoot, but I'm drawn to things with signs of history, standout features, and sentimental value.

I find that I'm unable to be creative during the day. The world is just too distracting, and the anxiety blocks any good idea I have. At night, when the world is quiet and the people disappear, my mind begins to wander. There's something special about the dark, maybe because the brightest ideas are the most visible.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

Real life, dreams, nightmares, song lyrics, and the need to communicate.

I draw inspiration from almost everywhere, but studying the works of artists such as Edward Hopper, Gregory Crewdson, Kate Woodman and Erik Johansson, amongst many others, have helped me learn how to translate my vision better.

What are you looking for when you go out shooting?

Usually, when a location feels like it has a story to tell, I'll go there and try to tell that story. I guess just the right amount of soul, and an unobstructed view.

But, I do love exploring natural disasters and things we cannot control or understand.

The right shot makes my heart sink, in the best way possible.

Models: Emily Nelson (@emilyrcse), Caitlin Davidson (@cat.a_lyst)

Are you an impulsive or planned shooter?

I used to be a very impulsive person, and shooter overall.

Since, I've found my pace, and have become very planned. I now try and plan every detail possible in pre-production, so there are no surprises on set.

Can you tell us a bit more about your project 'The Shadow District'?

The Shadow District is a collection of emotional, thought-provoking evening images, created entirely for the sake of freeing my mind and finding inner peace. I roam by myself after dark, sometimes seeking bad weather conditions (ie., blizzards), and just shoot whatever locations draw me in.

It is an escape from rough days, from people, and from bullshit. This project keeps me sane.

How do you achieve the look in your photos?

On the camera end, I shoot with the histogram. Often, I'll push for an ETTR with 16 bit raw enabled.

Most of my primary lighting is from Elinchrom, Nanlite, and often rental house units. I use atmospherics often, such as a ReelFX haze machine, and a ton of modifiers. I don't think I'd be able to list everything, but three lights and a ton of gels is all I really need.

In terms of editing, all the raw processing is done within Capture One Pro, and retouching within Photoshop. My approach is very organic and natural, and I try to maintain every important detail possible, assuming a large print. The method depends highly from image to image, but on average an image takes me a few hours to over a week to complete in post.

Before and after editing; Model: Isabel Flemming (@smol.tog)
Model: Dani Goodwin (@grlinthecurl)

How do you feel your style has changed/evolved over the years?

I have a habit of trying to one-up my last piece in terms of production, so I think over the years my work has begun to tighten up in terms of light, color, and story.

Currently, I'm very involved in studying CGI to add this element to my work as well.

Do you have one or two photos that are you particularly proud of?

1. Safe Zone

Safe Zone is a concept I created out of the need for a safe place, some comfort, and some isolation. This piece aims to create that comfort in a place we normally wouldn't find it, and looking back at it always helps me feel a little more calm.

Model: Dani Goodwin (@grlinthecurl)

2. Runaways

Runaways, 1 of 2, was produced at my home at the start of the pandemic. It was meant to be a nostalgic reminder of when life was free, and less complicated. It was my most ambitious project of 2020, though not very ambitious at all. Sometimes, we need a little escape.

Model: Katie Masters (@katiemasters93)

What does photography mean to you?

To me, it's just the only way I know how to communicate emotionally. Photography, to me, is just a box. It's what's inside the box that counts.

What advice would you have for people getting into photography?

After having used a large variety of professional production equipment, I can safely say that the equipment hasn't made me any better at what I do. The more I learned, the more I realized what piece of equipment is actually necessary.

If you're just starting out, don't feel like you absolutely must buy the latest and greatest camera. The upgrade will come when you need it.

How has COVID-19 affected your photography?

The pandemic has certainly presented me with a unique set of challenges. With the state of the world, the state of the economy, and the large amount of uncertainty, creating anything has been difficult. Staying motivated, finding my flow state, and finding new ideas has become a challenge.

What are your thoughts on Instagram as a photography platform?

It's just a platform, of many, and I don't consider it a primary one for myself at that. I think it's a great place to network and share your work, as well as find new inspiration, but I don't really pay much attention to social media as much these days. I do believe that most social media is rigged to be a pay-to-play system, like any other business, and we should expect these corporations to present their most-valuable content (in terms of growth) first.

This ultimately did make using and growing on Instagram a full-time job that I couldn't manage for very long, and it certainly did make me feel like I needed to constantly create, and that my old work wasn't valuable anymore.

It's a mental health trap.

Model: Liana Riccardi (@_thisisliana)

What are some of your hobbies outside of photography?

Outside of artwork, I'm a car enthusiast and I love riding my motorcycle. I also really love hiking, exploring questionable/sketchy places, and green therapy.

Thank you for taking the time to speak to us Aakaash. Any final words?

Thank you for having me. I'd just like to round off with a final comment; I think for many artists, finding out who we actually are, and why we create the way we do is important. Difficult, but important. I'm still trying to figure that out, many years after starting.

Help support Fading Hours

We are a small independent photography magazine, founded in 2021, with a passion for helping amazing low-light photographers increase their exposure. Please consider donating a small amount using the button below, to help with supporting the website and its associated running costs. Your support is greatly appreciated - thank you!