Go off the grid with India-based travel photographer Himanshu Khagta and learn the secrets of working on remote photography expeditions.
From the start, photography has provided people around the world with the unique experience of being able to immerse themselves into unknown cultures, mythical destinations, and surreal experiences.
The push for exploration that ignited adventure clubs and exploration such as the National Geographic Society or the Explorers’ Club only furthered our lust for adventure into the unknown. Today, travel photography is more common and accessible than ever before thanks to the rise of social media platforms such as Instagram. But, there are still remote places that are yet to be uncovered. That have stories to tell.
One photographer telling those stories through remote photography expeditions is India-based photographer and explorer Himanshu Khagta.
In 2015, we interviewed Himanshu Khagta on a project he was working on that turned into a photo book called Life in Spiti. We wanted to see what’s changed for the photographer, and how he continues to explore remote destinations untouched by most of humanity.
As photographers, we always seek to tell stories of the unknown. But it can be a difficult thing to comprehend. How does a photographer start to tell these stories? How do you get funding to reach remote destinations? How do you pursue photographic projects that have never been done before?
In this article, meet Himanshu Khagta and learn a bit about his journey into the remote corners of the world and how he uses his lens to tell these stories.
Meet Himanshu Khagta.
Thanks for taking the time to meet with us, Himanshu. Especially as you’re currently on an expedition! For those who aren’t familiar with your work, could you tell us a bit about yourself.
Absolutely. I’m a documentary photographer based out of the Himalayas in India. I also own a production company, where we make small videos for commercial clients. I’ve always enjoyed the idea of documenting rich cultures in the remote Himalayan region. Cultures which are slowly dying due to the rapid and extreme modernization in the area.
Stories that need to be told. I imagine there’s a lot of these stories and cultures in India. What pushes you to be a photographer in India?
As an art form, I strongly believe that there is no better place than India to be a photographer. There’s just so much diversity and easy, quick access to interesting subjects in both the form of people and the landscapes. India has it all — from high mountains to vast oceans.
That being said, being a professional photographer and trying to make a living with photography can be quite challenging in India. The photography market is not organized, and the people and even the businesses are completely unaware of the licensing structure as well as the creative fee that needs to be paid to the photographer for their services.
It sounds like it can be a really challenging environment to be a photographer in. With those challenges in mind, what really inspired you to try to become a professional photographer?
It’s simple, really. The idea of sharing what I saw with my friends pushed me into the field.
How would you describe the work you create to someone who has never seen it?
My pictures are about life and everything around it. People in their natural environment. I try my best to document every aspect of the life in a specific location.
I love that. So in 2015, we interviewed you for the blog. What has changed for you since then? It’s been amazing to follow your photography journey.
I can’t believe that was four years back! Really, a lot has changed since that first interview.
I’ve moved more into filmmaking as an art form, and have started to create short videos and ad films for both commercial clients, and for my YouTube channel. That channel now has over 87k active subscribers! It’s a channel where I explore beautiful and dangerous roads, and present it to our viewers in a meditative and peaceful way.
Those videos are insane! Is there any must-have photography tools that you take with you on these remote photography expeditions?
A good pair of shoes, extra batteries, and a headlamp are all I really need.
What about survival tools? Those roads are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. What could you not go on an expedition without?
There really is nothing in general. A pocket knife and a lighter would be the only survival tools I mostly carry I guess!
Wow. So I really want to talk about your experience preparing for photography expeditions. How do you conceptualize these projects?
The first thing is the idea. The idea can be triggered anytime and anywhere. And then if I have the time to conceptualize it. I really do go for it without much thought.
Do you have a dream photography expedition you’d love to do?
There are many but exploring Antarctica stands out the most as of now.
I think most photographers know that travel photography can be a really challenging area to specialize in. What about travel photography sparked the interest for you?
Travel photography is not challenging if you love traveling and the idea of understanding different places and people. Photography comes naturally with travel photography to me, because everything you see is new and you will always want to share what you see.
I couldn’t agree more. You’ve captured some of the more remote areas of the Himalayas. What is it about that landscape that inspires you?
It really is the majestic mountains. They overpower you. They are beautiful, no doubt, but they also have a mystic feel to them.
How do you prepare yourself for working in remote locations like the Himalayas?
I collect as much information as I can find on the internet, and then I ask my contacts if they know about the place. Then, without much planning, I go there and see the place for myself and learn about it from the locals living there.
When you worked on your photo book, Life in Spiti, you lived without electricity. How did you complete your work? You must have had a lot of batteries!
When I was working there in 2015, there was a lot of frequent power cuts however after one major snowfall we were without electricity for exactly forty-five days. I had a lot of batteries, luckily, and even used solar chargers for my computer and camera batteries. It wasn’t a problem at all!
Do you ever find it nerve-racking being off the grid like that?
For me, it’s the opposite. Life is more peaceful, simple, and real without electricity and a phone. I just love it.
How do you find balance between these remote expeditions, and coming home to the editing room?
It’s really tough to come back and spend days in front of the computer screen. Funny enough, it’s actually the most important and the most boring part of the whole process.
I can imagine it’s quite the juxtaposition! A lot of your work involves magazines and shooting for internationally recognized publications. It can be really daunting for up-and-coming photographers. How did you get your foot in the door?
It sure is! For me, it actually came quite naturally. It started as a hobby, and then reputable national publications started asking for my pictures. Gradually, I started doing full assignments for national and international publications. I guess you just reach a point where you can take a beautiful picture, and then after that you can create something unique and pitch your work to relevant people.
Do you ever pitch projects to magazines? What’s your process?
Sometimes, yes. I share the idea, or even a personal project I’m already working on, with editors and they get back to me if they are interested in publishing it. The process involves a massive understanding of the magazine, and the kind of content they publish. I try my best to pitch something that matches their unique style.
That sounds really smart. Do you have any advice for photographers looking to find their niche?
Be very observant and keep practicing. There is no easy way to refine your craft. Learn more about yourself. Find out what you still don’t know and work on it. Carefully look at the pictures of legendary photographers that inspire you, and study them. The benefit of the internet is also that you can look at YouTube videos, and keep learning in new ways.
That’s great advice. What about for photographers who want to become explorers?
The future explorers need to travel more, and develop a better understanding of how people function in general. That’s the best advice I can give.
Something I think we all need to remember. What’s next for you? Any exciting trips coming up?
Absolutely. Many, many projects. I’ve moved to the apple orchards in the Himalayas, and have left the polluted cities. I’m now documenting some of the most interesting festivals in the Shimla district, which are really unique visually as well as culturally. The story behind them is really interesting, and it’s never been documented before. Might come up with a few new books!
Also, I’m doing a project on humans and how they connect to animals.
Big thanks to Himanshu for taking the time to interview with us. As future explorers and documentary photographers, get inspired by his work on Offset and keep creating and pushing boundaries. You can be the next generation of adventure photographers who find the unknown in a bustling world. There’s a lot to be discovered.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out these articles:
- Featured Interview with Adventure and Commercial Photographer Michael Overbeck
- 7 Adventure Seeking Photographers to Follow on Instagram
- Shooting Travel Photographer with Pro Photographer Lauren Ishyk
- Photography in Asia: Find Inspiration with 8 Incredible Photographers
- 10 Tips for Shooting Travel Footage That Inspires