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The Ingredients of Storytelling with James Suraj Barwa

Cultivating a passion

Being an introvert since young, I often enjoyed spending my time alone. I would go on walks by myself, taking pictures of trees, empty roads, leaves, and anything else that caught my eye with my phone's 5-megapixel camera. Through this, I cultivated an interest in photography from an early age. When I finally bought a D5200, I grew more serious in taking photos and videos, posting it to social media platforms like Facebook and 500px. The amazing response and feedback that I received fuelled my passion, and that’s when I thought, “Let’s do it for real”.

The ingredients of good storytelling

Filmmaking and photography is about telling a story: creating an authentic narrative, immersing your viewer in the atmosphere of the scene and having the power to transport your viewer to a whole other place. So, when it comes to taking a good photo, the most important element for me is the lighting, as it plays an important part in making a composition impactful, allowing the story that I want to tell to be more poignant and captivating. Other important elements include the characters of your scene, as they form the bare bones of your story. Hone in on the message you want deliver and always ensure that the visuals you capture always maintain the theme of the video. To wrap it all up, pay attention to sound design as it helps to create mood and atmosphere.

Live in the moment

After watching my videos, many have told me that they find them calming and, in some way or another, that they were able to relate themselves to my videos. This is what I wanted achieve: to elicit an emotional response in my viewers through showing them the awe-inspiring beauty of nature. Whenever I see blue skies or dark clouds, I feel the spur to go outside and shoot or just feel the moment, and creating nature reels helps me share this feeling with my audience.

The breath-taking beauty of nature

Nature has inspired me in many ways. One of my favourite trips was my trip to Meghalaya. I've never been in a place like that before, always covered in clouds and shrouded in pouring rain. But the views were absolutely breath-taking. Though there were many challenges that came with shooting in those harsh conditions, we braved the rain and managed to create a stunning video out of it. And the best thing is? That Meghalaya video won Nikon India's Shutterbug Video Contest. Seeing the results of my hard work and knowing that my videos has impressed or touched those around me made the process that much more rewarding.

Flexibility and ease with a powerful pairing

The lightweight compactness of the Z 6 and Zhiyun Weebill Lab pairing enables me to carry them around and embark on any adventure with ease. The Weebill Lab performs very well with mirrorless camera setups and it also has a quick release mount that is very handy when swapping out lenses or batteries in the field. The Z 6’s ability to withstand extreme weather conditions makes it a robust camera that supports me wherever I go. With the continuous autofocus in video mode, I can easily track my subjects and never have to worry about going out of focus. To really encapsulate the authentic mood and atmosphere of any scene, the flat picture control of the Z 6 helps me to achieve the natural colours in the colour grade.

Finding your style

For those who want to start filmmaking, first get a solid grasp on the basics of any camera. Familiarise yourself with the settings, then gradually work up to understanding framing, lighting and the process of editing. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different angles and different focal lengths to have get a feel of what works for each scene. From there, you’ll learn to differentiate between good and bad shots. Although filmmaking can get quite challenging at times, keep practicing and you’ll find your filmmaking style in no time.

About James Suraj Barwa

James Suraj Barwa is a 25 year old adventurer, nature enthusiast, filmmaker and photographer from Kolkata, India. Having completed his studies in Barrackpore, West Bengal, he is now a full-time filmmaker with a passion for creating emotional nature reels.