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Finding Photography in New York: A Tale of a Bhutanese Abroad


If you’ve been scrolling through a slew of stunning portraits of models along sidewalks, alleys and business centers around New York, then you’re probably on sonamdekar_ahhi page on instagram – proving there are Bhutanese abroad finding passion, not just jobs. 

Story by Tshering Wangmo & PemC

Photos by Sonam Dekar

For Sonam Dekar, coming to America was discovering two important things in her life – the love of her life and a passion in photography. “Initially photography was just a hobby until I met Ben (my husband). I knew nothing about photography before I met him and it has been five and a half years since I have taken photography as a career. I didn’t own a DSLR when I started. I was using my sister’s Nikon D5000 and a Sony-Alpha a5100 – the first cameras I used when I was just experimenting. I bought my first DSLR camera in 2013. I never photography as a profession until Ben came along and taught me everything I needed to know about this art form.”

Model: Tandin Bidha in New York

However, Sonam shares the early artistic influences her mother had on her. “My mother believed in keeping memories. She would take pictures of me and my younger sisters on every occasion when we were children. She never missed out on any special moment. She cherished every moment and she would show us the pictures and tell us stories. Now when I look at those pictures I remember the stories mom told us. I think that was one of the reasons why I love taking pictures of every family trip or event and tell stories through them.”

Today, Sonam and her husband run a photography business with a diverse client-base from models, families to newly-weds (some of which cost up to 2400 dollars per package). “My subjects vary from modeling agencies to models who are just starting up as actors, yogis, contortionists, acrobats, families or just a regular person who just wants their pictures taken professionally for personal use or professional portfolios. I work with various clients and it’s fun working with them. With every photoshoot, I learn something new and I am able to step out of my comfort zone.” Very similar to the dilemma’s that photographers here face, Sonam admits that many clients do not pay in cash. “Many of our photography gigs don’t pay in cash but only barter with a free lunch or dinner. It is discouraging when people expect free services without considering the time, skill and effort that this job demands.”

In terms of photography styles, Sonam says she prefers the naturally-lit shots from the outdoors, “I like taking lifestyle/fashion portraits and I’m more of an outdoor person so I like shooting outdoors with natural light.” Besides the techniques, she also says it has taken her quite some time to learn to master her equipments for specific assignments. “I use the Canon 5D Mark III and as for the lenses, I use Sigma Art 85mm and the 24-35mm. I do have a few Canon lenses but always end up using my Sigma Art lenses. Before I got the Canon 5D Mark III, I used Canon 70D a crop sensor camera which is a decent camera for a beginner and the only lens I had was Canon 50mm, which was less than $100 and I was happy with the pictures.  Eventually, it is not about how expensive your camera gear is; it depends on your skill and creativity.”

Above: Sonam Dekar in traditional Bhutanese attire photographed by Carlos.

Follow Sonam Dekar’s work on facebook at SONAM DEKAR_Photography

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