6 Indian Wildlife Photographers Share Their Favourite Images & What It Takes To Succeed

6 Indian Wildlife Photographers Share Their Favourite Images & What It Takes To Succeed

These days, everybody with a DSLR thinks they’re a photographer—and let’s not even get started on iphonography, which deserves an entire post by itself. You see these eager beavers everywhere, from gigs to restaurants to wildlife safaris, where they greedily snap away at their subjects. And sure, it’s an art form, we’ve agreed to it time and again and no one is denying how spectacular the results can be but is the end game always just a pretty picture?
In the many-layered, complex world of photography, there is something to be said for the true practitioners of the art form, the ones who spend hours lying in the bush for days, or diving for hours, begging for breath, just to get the perfect shot in an unpredictable environment, with even more tempermental subject matter. Just try getting a leopard to jump off a tree against its will. It’s no wonder then that wildlife photographers are a rare breed, even in this age of visual documentation. You can’t get your subjects to pose, or adjust the lighting in the hopes of getting a better photograph. It all boils down to your eye, your environment and your patience. That’s how you get the perfect shot—though there is a fair bit of luck involved too, some might argue.
Ultimately, it’s an expensive passion too. The equipment, time, and funds spent simply to get one particular shot can be enormous in comparison to other fields of photography but we’re not informing you about all of this to scare you away. If you have toyed with the idea of picking up a camera and heading outdoors to shoot in the wild, you need to read this first. We got six amazing Indian wildlife photographers to share their favourite images with us and tell us exactly what it takes to be a wildlife photographer—and be good at it.

I. Giri Cavale

One of the founders of Toe Hold, a travel-and-photography company, Giri Cavale has been passionate about wildlife since he was young. However, it was only in 2007 that he took up wildlife photography seriously. “A wildlife photographer has to be a good naturalist first, he needs to understand the subject well before venturing to a place where he is traveling to. I always say ‘expect the unexpected’ in the field and be ready for the moment,” says Cavale, who has won numerous awards for his work, including second prize in the Sanctuary Asia Wildlife Awards 2013. Wildlife is his life and his passion, but he cautions youngsters from adopting it full time: “It is very important to have a stable career and this should be a hobby. It is very tough to make a career and make it big just by doing wildlife photography,” he warns.
His favourite image from his oeuvre is the one you see below, of the male and female leopard in the midst of their mating game. “There are many favourites,” he says, “but the one that tops them all is the picture I captured of courting leopards. I was leading a photo tour in Kabini and my intuition led me to a place where I expected them to be, since I had seen them earlier in the day. The leopards were mating on a tree, and after some time the male lay down to rest on a branch 30 feet in the air. The female soon followed and didn’t have space to move ahead. Having been in the wild for so many years and observed their behaviour, my instincts told me that the female would jump over the male to get on to the other side of the branch. And that’s exactly what happened. It happened in a jiffy and I was ready, timing it perfectly and capturing the female mid-jump.”

Scroll down to see more of Giri Cavale’s work

II. Jayanth Sharma

Jayanth Sharma is the co-founder and director of Toehold Travel & Photography. He first picked up a DSLR at the age of four and began shooting wildlife at 24, travelling to various national parks in India. In two short years, he had already won awards and been published in many magazines. It was during this time that he realised his passion for wildlife photography and decided to pursue it full time. He quit his IT job as has never looked back.
“Anyone who is interested in wildlife and can take good pictures can become a wildlife photographer,” he says. “However, to become a professional, there are more than a few things that go in to it—immense maturity and knowledge of the subjects, to begin with, and present perspectives that are not presented by hobbyists. And one thing I always tell budding wildlife photographers is not to sell images, sell their services.”
Sharma warns that there is a big difference between photographing wildlife as a hobby and doing it as a career. “Being a hobby photographer is fun, but being a pro is an entirely different ball game. There are hardly any jobs and projects that offer good money and the takers are plenty. I always tell youngsters not to assume wildlife photography is an alternate career—how some falsely claim. There are less than a dozen photographers in India who earn their living through wildlife photography. Instead, it’s better to have a permanent job and pursue wildlife photography on the side.”
“If you do pursue it, in whichever capacity, remember these few things: understanding species habitat is key; do your homework and have realistic expectations; learn how to stay silent; and perhaps most importantly, you’re not always assured a sighting. But that doesn’t mean you let your disappointment overpower your interest.”
Sharma’s favourite image is the one you see below, of three macaws he photographed in Brazil. He captured them in flight as he stood on the edge of a sinkhole in Brazil’s Bonito region. “The celebrated red and green macaws roost on the rocky, red limestone walls of the sink hole. The birds in this image are flying approximately 100 feet me. I am facing north and the sun is rising at approximately 8:30 am. The rays of light are falling on the birds, but haven’t yet penetrated the inky darkness below,” he says.

Scroll down to see more of Jayanth Sharma’s work

III. Rathika Ramasamy

Rathika Ramasamy’s tryst with wildlife photography began in 2003, during a visit to Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in Rajasthan. She lives in New Delhi, which is surrounded by many birding spots and wildlife parks, and is also in the direct path of many migratory birds—something that Ramasamy attributes her fondness for wildlife photography to. Okhla, on the banks of the Yamuna is close by, and is one of her favourite spots. During winter, the park hosts many migratory birds including ducks.
Like the other wildlife photographers in this list, Ramasamy too echoes the importance of wildlife conservation. “Deforestation, indiscriminate mining and industrial activities, pollution and destruction of water bodies and wetlands are all leading to destruction of the natural habitats of animals and birds.  We need to educate  people about the how valuable wildlife and natural resources are. Though various organizations are taking measures for conservation, we need to do much more,” says Ramasamy.
Ramasamy is incredibly passionate about her job. “Wildlife photography is not like a conventional office job, but it can be most rewarding and challenging.  You get a chance to explore and enjoy nature in its best form. But wildlife photography is not only about learning technical aspects, you have to spend a lot of time in the field, and you have to have in depth knowledge of the animals and birds. Remember the three Ps: patience, perseverance and passion.”
Ramasamy advises young photographers that the need to research, plan and time your trip is crucial. “Read trip reports of the places you’re planning to visit, make a check list of the indigenous birds and animals, and read, read, read. That’s most important. Expose yourself to a lot of field knowledge such as habits and routines. And most important—always keep a distance. Never enter their comfort zone. Be open when you are in the field, and be alert of your surroundings. Expect the unexpected.”
Ramasamy’s favourite photograph is titled Elephant in the Fire. “It was taken one May evening at Dhikala chaur, one of the largest remaining grasslands at Corbett National Park. Whenever I visit and stay at the Dhikala Forest Rest House, I try to spend time near the grasslands so I can capture the full-blown beauty of the sunset, without having it obscured by the dense forest. One evening, I spotted a herd of elephants on the banks of the Ramganga River and decided to photograph them as they made their way across the grassland. This photograph is the result.” 

Scroll down to see more of Rathika Ramasamy’s work

IV. Shaaz Jung

Shaaz Jung graduated in 2010 with a degree in Economics and was on his way to America for a corporate job when he visited Kabini the summer before he was to depart. His father had picked up land along the Kabini backwaters in 1989 and since then, as a family, they had spent a lot of time exploring the infinite backwater meadows and the thick jungle that surrounds it. Jung spent that summer going on safari and learning the art of tracking big cats from a local tribesman. Over time, he began discovering the forest, its beauty, and the creatures that lurked within its depths. After hours and hours of getting lost in Mother Nature’s lap, he slowly started to unlock and understand her secrets. The forest was teeming with life and that was when he decided to pick up a diary and a camera. He used his diary to jot down notes and create maps and his camera was to identify the animals. “I took pictures of different animals and over time started to build a database of different tigers, leopards and elephants in the area,” he says. “The pictures helped me compare stripes (tigers), spot markings (leopards) and tusks/size (elephants). It wasn’t long before I started to recognize individuals and give them names. The first animal I ever named was a leopard I christened Scarface. He is the reason I decided to stay on in Kabini and dedicate my life to the forest. Over time, I upgraded my camera. Many lenses later, I found that I was happiest in the forest photographing these animals that I have followed for years. The thrill I get from tracking my subject before photographing it is unparalleled.”
Being as entrenched in wildlife as he is, Jung admits that he has seen a huge change in India’s conservation efforts over the past 10 years. “As a country we are slowly realizing the importance of both flora and fauna and the fact that India will be less of a nation if we were to lose most of it,” he says. “People need to understand that wildlife conservation is a lot bigger than just ‘saving the tiger’. We run a small eco-friendly resort on the fringes of the Nagarhole National Park, which has allowed me to spend a lot of time with the locals and help understand their views on wildlife. Conservation starts at home. Home is where the jungles are and let’s not forget, the jungles belong to both, animals and people. Local tribes live inside the forest and villagers with farmlands live on its periphery. Educating these locals by creating awareness and helping them understand the forest through creating dialogue is crucial. The man-animal conflict is on the rise and for us to save our wildlife, man and animal have to get along. To add to this, I would like to state the fact that India does not have a Conservation Act or law, instead it only has the 1974 Wildlife Protection act. Helping locals understand the benefits of conservation and eco-tourism and taking preventive measures has a far greater potential than catching the poachers, putting them behind bars and playing police.”
Today, almost everyone has a DSLR with a powerful lens, but how often do we see a powerful image? Not often enough. To be a wildlife photographer you need patience and understanding, according to Jung. You need to understand your subject, visualize the image in your head, predict movement and patiently wait. He confesses that he would spend hours experimenting with his equipment, make many mistakes and butcher many lovely photographic opportunities. But after several sleepless nights, he slowly started to learn. As far as he’s concerned, understanding your subject, understanding the play of light, and appreciating the fun, creative side of photography without letting its technical side overpower you are all integral to capturing the perfect shot.
Shaaz’s favourite image is a picture of his favourite leopard, Scarface. “One of my most memorable sightings of Scarface was of him in a thunderstorm. It is extremely difficult to see a big cat in the rain and just before it came crashing down, at the first crack of thunder, we saw Scarface sitting on the road facing us. It was as if he was inviting us to take a walk with him through the forest during a thunderstorm. Together we did, and he gifted us some unique opportunities to photograph him in the rain.”

V. Shivang Mehta

Shivang Mehta’s interest in photography stemmed from his interest in wildlife. He used to run a small campsite on the outskirts of Corbett National Park. That was when he picked up a camera for the first time. What began as a process of documenting what he saw around him turned into a passion to capture wildlife in its natural habitat. Mehta has no professional training in photography and learned on the job, honing his skills as he stealthily waited for his subjects. “Patience and the ability to accept failures and gearing up for another day with the same amount of positivity is the key. In today’s age of digital images and thousands of photographers, it is important to innovate and keep thinking of unseen perspectives and carve your own niche as a photographer,” he says.
In his opinion, India has definitely come a long way in terms of wildlife conservation. But, there is still plenty that needs to be done. “Environmental awareness in our country is very basic and it is time for the younger generation to be educated about environmental issues, for the future of the natural world is in their hands,” he says.
While shooting, Mehta admits he gets deeply involved with his subjects. “I have worked a lot on tigers in the past few years and working on tiger cubs in Bandhavgarh and Ranthambhore has been challenging and rewarding at the same time. Following your subject day in day out over months makes you a part of their lifecycle and you become sensitive towards family dynamics in their world.”
Speaking on his favourite image, Mehta says: “ This image of a fire being lit in the periphery areas of Corbett to keep an elephant away is close to my heart as it conveys a strong conservation message pertaining to dwindling forest corridors and its impact on wildlife. An image needs to convey a story and this is one of the strongest stories I have been able to convey till now through my imagery.”
As far as he’s concerned, nature photography is a form of art—and a never-ending learning process. His advice to young wildlife photographers is to be passionate and voracious when it comes to photographing nature. “Look for images everywhere,” he says, “and study the photos of other wildlife photographers to appreciate their style and technique. Be inspired and learn to carve your own niche out of that. Don’t simply ape their style.”

Scroll down to see more of Shivang Mehta’s work

VI. Sumer Verma

Sumer Verma first went diving in 1997. That’s when it all began. Far from the clutches of urban life in the Lakshadweep Islands, Verma fell in love with island life and its trappings: walking barefoot and sleeping under a sky ablaze with a million stars. It was only a year or two into diving that he began filming marine life. A few years later, he settled on still photography. “The first time I held a camera underwater, I knew this was it. I was hooked,” he says. “I had no idea where it would go or what it would lead to—I never thought I’d have the guts to make it my career but that’s how it started.”
Shooting wildlife underwater is completely different from shooting wildlife on land. To start with, you have to be one hundred percent comfortable in the water—and you have to be attentive and on the look out for currents. It’s challenging, you’re carrying equipment and attempting to work in a place that isn’t your natural environment. Talking of the challenge, Verma says, “The water acts as a diffusor. It acts like a big, blue filter that sucks out all colour and sharpness. If you want a good underwater image, you’ve got to get close—real close. And you have to know how much light to use. For example, if you’re shooting a turtle, which is dark green, you need to use more light than if you were attempting to shoot a shark, which is silver and reflects light.”
His passion for the sea is evident, but his disappointment with humanity is also equally plain to see: “We’re poisoning our oceans and killing species at an alarming rate. 70 million sharks a year are finned. When you take an apex predator out of its ecosystem, the ecosystem eventually collapses. 75 percent of all coral is bleached and dying—and don’t even get me started on by-catch. Our way of life is simply not sustainable in the long run. People need to see that.” Verma echoes other wildlife photographers and says that his line of work isn’t easy. It’s always a challenge. In spite of that, he says that if you really want it, go after it. “Strive to be the best. There’s no room for mediocrity,” he says.
Verma’s favourite image came about as a result of his trip to the Galapagos Islands. “This place is amazing,” he says. “You see it on TV but nothing can prepare you for when you actually see it. It’s so remote that it’s a day’s-flight from Ecuador, way out in the Pacific. When we got under the water, we saw that we were swimming with anywhere between a thousand to two thousand hammerhead sharks. The ocean never ceases to amaze me.”

Scroll down to see more of Sumer Verma’s work

 Words: Neville Bhandara

Related Stories

No stories found.