When and how did this undying passion for photography start?
Thanks for asking about my passion for photography and not only wildlife photography, because photography is my passion and wildlife/nature are elements of photography that excite and fascinate me.
My passion for photography started in 2010, when I started taking photographs with my mobile phone, trying unique perspectives.
I am a shy person and was labeled a defaulter by the teachers and bullied both by the teachers and students. I did not find the point in the meaningless homeworks given to us, which the other students did without any thought, but I would not. I felt that teachers imposed all the meaningless lessons on students, only to comply to the orders of higher officials. I was bullied, intimidated and discouraged for being an average student. My parents were my only support and they bought me a DSLR in 2011. I would take photographs and show them to my parents and they were always so supportive and encouraging. Being a person with no encouragement from the outside world, posting my images on Facebook and Orkut at that time encouraged me, the likes and comments I received meant so much to me. This pushed me to photograph more and more, until my primary aim became to get photographs that told a story and satisfied both the audience and me. I keep moving to take better photographs every single time and I keep moving to improve on the previous photographs and this is a never-ending cycle. That’s about my passion and the main reason for my success is the encouragement and motivation from my parents.
What are you trying to portray in your photographs?
I mainly try to portray the beauty and magnificence of nature and wild animals in a way that conveys a story to whomever sees it. My primary aim is to make the viewer pause for at least ten seconds while viewing my images. This is especially difficult in today’s world where people give little attention to anything.
As a self-taught photographer, what most effectively helps you learn and develop your skill?
I’m very glad that I am a self-taught photographer because self-learning is very effective and has a lot of perks according to me. When I began, I learnt from YouTube and Google and I took learning one day at a time. I would take photographs, experiment and figure out the mistakes and learn to fix the flaws on the same day. This way, I could remember and retain the information very effectively. I just explored and discovered my own way of photography.
.Wildlife photography is almost always about the action. How do you get a good shot during the fast-paced action? What should one look for? How would you prepare for such shots?
To me, from a safety pin to an elephant, everything is just a subject. But, I’m more satisfied and happy when I capture wildlife. The output I get out of photographing wildlife and nature brings me more joy.
About preparing for a shot: it comes with practice. As I spent more time with animals, I began learning their behavioral patterns, which makes photography easier. Technically, shooting wildlife subjects well is all about maintaining the shutter speed. So, I make sure I maintain the shutter speed and a proper ISO for the quality of the images.
How did it feel to win the National Geographic award?
It was really motivating. More so, I was happy that my parents were satisfied. They are retired bank employees and have tried really hard to support me and obtain several bank loans to fund all my trips. I am very thankful for all their sacrifices without which I wouldn’t have had the chance to travel so much.
You photograph the animals that have been photographed by thousands of people, yet you seem to be able to capture fleeting moments with unique moods and emotions. How do you ensure this constant creativity?
I have not studied visual communication or anything of that sort. But, as a small boy, I used to indirectly compete with a friend on maintaining an excellent theme for my Windows desktop. I would download several themes on a weekly basis and play with the colors to see which made my desktop and icons look better. So, from a very young age, I was really interested in appearance and color compositions. I think that is one of the reasons for my creativity.
Also, with experience, the more I observed the behavior of animals, the more I fell in love with them and the locations.
What is the ONE lasting impression you want to leave in your photos?
Like I mentioned before, I like my images to convey a story and make the viewer pause at least for ten seconds to observe my work. Also, when someone scrolls through social media, be it a normal follower or a judge from a photography competition, I would like my images to make them stop scrolling and take a better and deeper look at my photos.
Would you let us know the importance of keeping the photos simple, shooting from eye-level and the background?
Simple equals extraordinary according to me. Generally, when you need to know about an animal and you Google it, there are several images that will show you the respective animal. So, I research on what kind of photos don’t exist yet and try to capture new perspectives. And that’s the reason I always choose to capture wildlife along with its habitat.
For the eye-level shots, where one parks the vehicle is very important. Whether it is an Indian safari or an African safari, I always park my vehicles in slight slopes or small pits so that I get to the animal’s eye level. The result would be jaw dropping eye-level photos. Also, I choose the background depending on the weather and light . For example, if the light falls on the subject, then I choose a dark background to make the subject low-key. If there is soft sunlight, then I choose backlight and if its harsh I go high key. So, it all depends on the light and weather.
Tell us something about the gear you use and how it helped in your photographic journey?
I started off with Nikon D5100. When I was studying in the U.K, I wanted to buy a camera with the money my Mom had given me. With research on which camera to buy, I went to the camera shop and asked the most common and a rubbish question: Nikon or Canon? The shopkeeper from the U.K replied, “I go for Nikon” and hence, I bought a Nikon camera. I then bought Nikon D800E, Nikon D810, Nikon D4s and Nikon D850
I actually buy my cameras depending on the necessity and requirement. I am an aviation lover and initially I used to go to the airports in London to take photos of airplanes. I wanted to take photos of tyres, wings etc. separately and that demanded a telephoto lens. And so, I bought a 55-300 which was my first lens and then moved to 120-300 f2.8 lens. As and when there was a new requirement, I would beg my parents to buy me the camera and lenses. A macro lens was the first expensive one I bought for Rs. 50,000.
Then as I fell more and more in love with nature, I began purchasing telephoto lens and then moved to big lens. I had the misconception that I needed expensive gear to take good images. But I was completely wrong. I realized later that gear is not that important when compared with how you represent and compose an image. I now take photographs with an Apple iPhone.
Every piece of gear has extreme capabilities and I have used all my gear to its extreme potential. For example, DSLR and a mobile have different capabilities and I will use them to the fullest in suitable situations. Having used many types of cameras, I think a camera is just a tool to capture the image and ultimately it all depends on the light and how one frames the images.
What are your personal photography goals and what would you like to achieve in photography in the long term?
One of my goal is to become the NHM Wildlife Photographer of the year. I love what I am doing, and I will keep doing it. If I get a satisfactory and deserving image that conveys a good story, then I will participate.
I am a shy person and I never wanted to get into teaching. But, I have recently started loving the process of sharing my knowledge with others. I now teach photography through my company Expanded Expeditions, with my co-founder, Subash Nair. We now do guided photography tours in India, Africa, Madagascar, Finland etc. I have plans to expand, grow my company and share my knowledge with several people.
Wildlife photography has not yet become a socially accepted profession, has your family been supportive of your decision?
I am extremely thankful to my parents! I’m lucky! Although I would just pass my exams, they would let me be myself and gave me the opportunity to learn from my mistakes, rather than advising me all the time. And it is not even necessary for wildlife photography to be accepted as a profession. It is enough if we realize that wildlife is precious, decent and much more hardworking than us and hence they deserve to be respected and accepted.
In India, no one has the time to enjoy the beauty of art. Like painting, photography is also an art that can be bought. But Indians show no interest in buying wildlife photographs.
How important is it to study the animal behavior prior to going on a photographic safari?
As I have mentioned earlier, it is very important to study animal behavior. One can either study it or learn it practically by observing them. This will obviously help in the animal’s safety, as well as our safety, when photographing wildlife.
Every animal has a range or kind of a boundary up to which it will freely move or run. It is important for us to understand this, as crossing this range will disturb the animals. By mistake, even if we cross the border, they warn us first. They are not like humans and do not kill anyone immediately. So, to know these warning signals, one must be aware of the animal behavior.
In photography, their behavior is very important as well. For example, animals of the cat family sleep eighteen hours a day and are active mostly during sunrise and sunset. Cheetahs hunt whenever they are hungry. It is important to know such details for photography.
To get published by National Geographic is every photographers dream, what does it feel like to be awarded the best animal portrait photographer award by National Geographic?
Yes! It is a dream for many and of course, it is one of the best recognition a photographer can get. I’m happy and proud but also motivated to work more for a better photograph! This alone is not my dream! Self-satisfaction is my ultimate dream! I need to please myself by getting extremely satisfying images. The winning photograph is one such photograph that satisfied me and the award motivates me to work harder on getting better photographs.
Can you tell us about your most memorable experiences in the field?
To be honest, I’m yet to have a memorable experience. Not many, as clichéd as it is, I love what I do and I don’t even realize that I have been harmed when I’m photographing. It is generally when I come back home after a trip that I realize I have got injuries. Most of the injuries happen from slipping due to wet locations and sometimes climbing mountains in rainforests and plateaus. Any harm that happens is due to the location and never by the animal.
How do you think photography can change people’s attitude towards nature/wildlife?
In the current times, even a small photographic production on social media influences people so much. Moreover, when we post images related to nature and wildlife, people definitely get influenced. Just by viewing cute dogs and cat videos, these animals get more love and attention. When the cats and dogs get this much of attention then wild animals do deserve more, and I have seen the difference and how much people started loving nature and wildlife. Photographs do influence the mindset on nature and wildlife. It will at least make them think that there are so many species apart from us humans on this earth.
Any final words of advice or encouragement to someone starting out with or wanting to improve their wildlife photography?
Just do what you like. When you are into wildlife photography, it is very important to show some love to animals and automatically one would be interested in them and I am sure that helps in deciding how to compose what you see. One should imagine how to compose an image and capture a story telling image. Never follow any rules and never allow anyone to influence your compositions. Discover your own style of composition! Aiming to take photographs that would make the viewer stop and view your photograph for at least five seconds would be my best suggestion, but not advice.