Wildlife photographers spend time in the natural habitats of their subjects, i.e. mammals, birds and other creatures of the wild, capturing pictures. It is 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.
What do they do?
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.
- 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
- National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad
- Asian Academy of Film and TV, Noida
- Fergusson College, Pune
- Canon Education Portal