Interested in wildlife photography?
It had been several days since Gauri had shown her face in the wild brush near Ranthambore’s fast dwindling water holes. But Vishal Sabharwal knew the tigress would have to emerge, sooner or later. She would have delivered her litter by now and would not only be thirsty, but hungry too. And she’d have to hunt. Sabharwal would be waiting.
As glamorous as this ‘hunt’ may sound, what keeps people like Sabharwal going is faith in their own patience and perseverance. And that elusive shot that would capture the essence of the wild and inspire awe among city slickers, far removed from nature and its brutal innocence. The concern for the birds, animals, insects and their habitat is no less important to this breed of shutterbugs. It is after all their efforts that have brought the cause of nature conservation closer to well-heeled benefactors by giving it a face. Be it a shot of the tawny eagle about to soar or tiger cubs playing their juvenile hunting games, these pictures draw emotions that no amount of lecturing can match. In turn, this encourages people to dig into their pockets to save animals they will never see themselves.
“Wildlife photography requires a great passion for wildlife and photography. For me, it’s not just about taking photographs, but enjoying the jungles, being surrounded by wild animals,” says Sabharwal, who started as a wildlife photographer quite by accident at the age of eight when he photographed a herd of wild elephants while on a school camping trip. Over the years, the bond has grown stronger and become a serious passion for him, he says.
The life is by no means easy. Weeks at times are spent in the wild, mostly with guides and a few villagers. One wakes up early to catch the light, and again prepares for evening shoots. Days could be spent waiting for subjects, such as leopards, tigers, mahseer (fish), black bucks, and various species of birds, to reveal themselves.
Attitude is as important as skills in this profession. “You should be acutely aware of subject’s safe zone, and local regulations if you are in protected areas. You have to take care of yourself and ensure the well being of the subject you are photographing,” says Kedar Bhide, who has pursued wildlife photography as a serious hobby for the past 16 years while working the corporate world in Mumbai.
Sabharwal says, “Wildlife photography is all about endurance and acute understanding of behaviour of wild animals. One must study animal behaviour to have a better chance of anticipating action.”
Mukesh Acharya, a photographer who has been exhibiting his work since 2003, and has been part of Gujarat tiger census for the past 15 years, is a little more optimistic. “Actually, when you start working with nature, skills develop themselves and your power of observation starts increasing automatically,” he says.
Acharya has a word of caution to add too. “Living with nature is the biggest advantage (of this profession) while the biggest drawback is the difficulty in making a career out of wildlife photography”, due to the long time it takes to establish oneself.
What's it about?
Wildlife photographers spend time in the natural habitats of their subjects, i.e. mammals, birds and other creatures of the wild, capturing pictures. It's a profession that requires a passion for wildlife, nature and conservation, along with in-depth knowledge of the subjects one is after. Constant upgrade of photography skills are a must as is an ability to rough it out on shoots. Satisfaction comes from getting that elusive shoot that one can cherish as much as it inspires awe in all those who see it for years to come
3.30 am: Wake up, have a cup of tea and start trek
4 am: Reach previously researched site, set up camouflage and equipment
4.30 am - 8.30 am: Start shooting as animals and birds start to emerge
9 am: Breakfast
9.30 am: Manage a few more shots before light gets too strong
11 am: Retire to camp, empty memory cards
12 pm: Ride to nearby resort to upload shots to magazine editor
3 pm: Meet forest officials/ guides to check for animal movement
4 pm: Do some reconnaissance for next day's shoot
5 pm: Grab some more shots before you lose the light
8 pm: Retire to camp, have dinner and sleep
When one starts out, one should do as much independent work as one can. Then, one could share the work with newspapers, magazines, wildlife NGOs, or one could host exhibitions and enter photography contests. The objective is to get one's work noticed. One could use one's photographs to design cards and calendars, maybe even launch a brand of these. Income at this level is around Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 a month, depending on one's ingenuity.
Established wildlife photographers report earnings of Rs 30,000 to Rs 5 lakh a month
. Extreme amounts of patience
. Presence of mind
. Strong communication skills
. Deep respect for nature in all its forms
. A naturalist's sensitivity
. Ability to blend in and maintain silence
How do i get there?
There's no one way to get to be a wildlife photographer. One can start as soon as one can lay one's hands on a camera. Kedar Bhide says, "Beginners can start observing their surroundings first and shoot common animals and birds. At this stage, a professional camera's is not required. To be a good photographer, it is essential to love and care for animals."
One can join a basic photography course and build knowledge from there. A lot of information is available about animal behaviour on the Internet and one should studiously seek this out
Institutes & urls
. National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad
. Asian Academy of Film and TV, Noida
. Fergusson College, Pune
. Canon Education Portal
Vishal Sabharwal says, "You email me to seek assistance; I am always open to helping upcoming photographers." - www.vishalsabharwal.com
Pros & cons
Lots of travel
Less time for family
Feeding one's love of nature
Freedom to operate independently
Exposure to danger
Contributing to saving the creature you love
No steady income
Our country is very well-positioned for this Profession
A hobby photographer has encouraging words for budding wildlife photographers
What is the scope for wildlife photography in India?
Given India's richness in wildlife, our country is very well-positioned as a place for this as a profession as well as a hobby. Given the diversity that we enjoy, you could travel to a totally different environment every two to three days, no matter which city you are in.
Do you think wildlife photography is essential to conservation efforts?
Yes, that's essentially because a picture speaks a thousand words. A two-page article might not inspire the kind of emotion that a picture does. Also, since conservation should appeal to the masses, and I think we all have a nature lover within us, a picture of a tiger, dead, in a snare or trees being cut, will have a bigger impact on the masses and drive them to contribute money, if not do something about such things themselves.
Is wildlife photography a very competitive field?
Today, you see far more young Indians with good photography equipment taking to shooting nature. Wildlife photography is no longer the reserve of the white man as it used to be. I think that's a very good thing.
What advice would you give to aspiring wildlife photographers?
You should just start as young as you can. Digital photography has made it easier for people to pick this up, at least as a hobby at a relatively low cost. It's not just for the most educated people. Anyone could pick it up.
Sumantha Ghosh Interviewed by Pankaj Mullick