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BY BRS SREENAG

bangalore airport terminal 2

There are times when you need to take a step back from what's happening around you and realise that you are facing something special. I've been fortunate enough to have a few of these moments. 


When I got an SMS from Andrew Haines, it was the start of one of those moments. Andrew is a landscape architect and senior associate at the UK-based Grant Associates. He sent me a detailed message telling me that Grant Associates was looking to hire a photographer to document their work on the Kempegowda International Airport's Terminal 2 in Bangalore.

 

I knew that Grant Associates had created Gardens By The Bay in Singapore and that they did great, expansive work. This was exactly the kind of project and collaborator I was looking for. 

The initial call with Andrew could not have gone better. It was clear that they were meticulous with documenting the finer details of their project and that they were also very particular of the quality of the outcome. The fact that I am detail oriented and planning oriented made this a good fit. We did a series of video calls over the next couple of months as Andrew talked me through every aspect and every detail of their work on T2. With neither of us based in Bangalore, this was most helpful.

(More details of their design intent and choices are in the video below.)

Andrew had hoped to complete the shoot in November 2023, which we then decided to push to December 2023, in the hopes of catching some good sunshine. This was a good call. Rains and cloud cover were persistent in Bangalore through November and then early December brought a cyclone to my city of Chennai. Our home was flooded, and the city was reeling under the impact of the rains. By the time we dried off and flew in to Bangalore for the shoot , the sun came out to bathe the landscaping in warm light and crisp shadows.


Day 1 at Terminal 2 was supposed to be the planning visit for about three hours followed by a shoot into sunset. Turned out, given the sheer level of detail and frequent security checks, the walk around the terminal took somewhere between six and seven hours to complete. 

It was worth it though, as we could map out all the shots we needed and at which time we needed them. This level of in-depth planning, while taking into account the angle of the sun, is what I enjoy most.


Before going any further, I should say that the landscape team at the Bangalore airport were a fantastic support in making sure we could complete our work as smoothly as possible. A massive thanks to them.

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Before turning in for the night, it was time for equipment prep. To avoid unnecessary delays at every security scan, we were severely limiting our equipment carry to only what was essential: The Nikon Z9 with two lenses and the tripod was all that was necessary for the primary photography. B-Roll for the podcast was shot on the smallest video cameras we could lug around: the DJI Pocket 2 and an Insta360. 


The shoot team on this project was limited too: just Mohan and myself. The interns who assisted on the post production, Janani & Priyanka, were back in Chennai.

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As we didn't get any photography done on after the planning visit, Day 2 started at sunrise. Photographing the Forest Belt as the sun came up was pretty special. We patted ourselves on the back at the decision to stay at the Taj hotel at the airport, making getting to the shoot at 5am much easier. 


It was a cool morning and once the sun came out, there was a dreamy haze over the vast acres of trees. The Forest Belt was the feature of this project I was most looking forward to. 

I could completely understand why Grant Associates had designed mounds into the belt, to elevate the trees, so passengers on the upper departure levels of the airport can enjoy the trees as much as those on the lower arrival levels. All the talk of the passenger experience was starting to make its presence felt now.

From here on, Days 2 and 3 became a blur. We had no choice but to blitz though section by section of the airport, our security passes helping us whisk through check points at every stage. The recce on the previous day and multiple video calls ahead of the shoot made sure that we could work quickly, with the confidence that we were getting things right. Andrew, Mohan and I talked non-stop about the design process for the three days that we were at the airport and I don't think I could have understood the project any better.

One of the challenges that you would face as a photographer when shooting a wide open space like the inside of a large terminal building, is not what you want to show, but what you want to viewer to focus on and experience with you. Most architectural & interior photographers shoot with an ultra-wide angle lens, especially when they need to show a wide/tall space. (In my case, it was the Nikkor 14-30mm f4 Z). But using this lens for all the wide shots  would pose a major problem: there was too much to show. As landscape architects, Grant Associates had designed the hanging planters (the bells and the veils) from the ceilings, the trees planted into the floor, the seating around these trees and a host of other elements like benches, garbage cans and so on. As the interiors were so vast, I shot many of these "wide" shots with a longer lens - my Nikkor 24-120mm f4 Z. Tighter framing allowed for better composed wide open shots, like the one below.

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There was one place where my lens couldn't get wide enough, and that was the Sunken Gardens. After passing through security, the Orientation Gardens (which I will get to soon), and retails spaces, you hear it, before you even see it: the sound of rushing water. And then you see a gaping hole in the floor, with two bridges running across it. 

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Look down and you see a stepped tropical garden, complete with little waterfalls and fog, descending from the departure levels down to the arrival levels. This does a great job of pulling two sets of passengers together unlike any other airport that I've seen.


I think I could have spent a lot more time shooting this section of the airport and kept. coming up with new photos. There was so much to see, so much to highlight and so much of depth, that the same space would look very different with just minor adjustments.

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Another challenge we faced through the shoot, was a constant (and at times heavy) flow of people. Now for most architecture shoots, we have minimal people at the site during the shoot, and they're mainly brought in to give a sense of scale, or to communicate how the architects intends a certain space to be used. In other words, people within a space are generally curated. 


Andrew and his team back in the UK, on the other hand, were very clear that we should shoot the airport with real people, using the airport in a real unscripted manner. As this was a fully operational terminal, we would have no choice but to do this anyway. We never asked people to move out of the frame and we never posed anyone within the frame. 

We had to play the waiting game: wait for the crowds to move on so we could see the plants, wait for the right person to walk into the frame and capture them at the right spot, and at times, run across to position the camera when the right person wearing the perfect clothes would happen to be in the right spot. These pictures really were satisfying and were most evident at the Orientation Gardens, just after security.

So far, T2 has been nothing short of extraordinary, if you explore a bit. When we shoot a space, we arrive at the site like anyone else, but we zig zag across a project out of sequence, but the pictures or videos make sense once they're all edited. When you arrive at this terminal's departure level, you are struck by a barrage of planter systems suspended from the roof, the veils. When you look straight ahead, you see a glass wall housing the terminal, also full of green. 


And when you look down, you see the Slot Gardens - planting done on the arrival level below, and reaching upwards to the departure level. Another space that connects the two sets of passengers. The laterite (one of my favourite materials) walls here and in the Orientation Gardens accentuate the warmth of the sunlight filtering through. It was a lot of fun trying to contort myself into a position to capture the full height of the slots, from the ground planting all the way to the roof of the upper levels.

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Once we completed the shoot, we had walked almost 50km across those 3 days, with about 27 hours on hour feet. It was gruelling. Not helped by the fact that I fell quite sick the morning of the shoot, and Mohan ensured that I didn't keel over at any point.

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The shoot maybe done at this point, but the work really wasn't. 


The edit stage progressed on three fronts: 

  • The photo edits.

  • The edit of the interview with Andrew Haines.

  • The edit of BTS content - some of which is still to come.


The photos were a monster to edit. Over a 1000 images captured, with a very level of details captured, took about 10 days to sift through and edit. At one point, it seemed like this was never ending, but when it ends with a happy client and publication, then it's all worth it.

I had been planning to add this Project Spotlight series to Everything Comes Together for a while now. Once we landed the contract to shoot T2, it was a no-brainer to make this our first feature. Having Andrew with us during the shoot was fantastic, as he and his team and poured their hearts and souls into this project. I could see what it meant to him and how proud he was at how successful it is. And this comes through in our interview - which if you haven't watched it yet, is embedded near the top of this page. 

SREENAG PICTURES

website | instagram | youtube

EVERYTHING COMES TOGETHER

website | instagram

BRS Sreenag: Photography, Host, Writing.

GS Mohan: B Roll, Post-Production

Janani Balu: Post-Production

Priyanka Rajan: Post-Production

Original Theme: Aashray Harishankar, Escapist Music

 

GRANT ASSOCIATES:

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Andrew Haines

instagram | linkedin

Senior Associate

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