A few years back, summers used to full of the shrilling sounds of the gentle giants of Dhikala in Corbett National Park. Loss of habitat due to repeated flooding post the monsoons coupled with disturbed migratory trends and shrinking corridors reduced the numbers of Asiatic Elephants that used to throng the grasslands with the onset of summer in search of the fresh elephant grass and the cooling waters of the Ramganga river that garlands this pristine Kumaon forest.
The situation was expected to improve this year as the grasslands which were disrupted due to floods are on a revival mode. As per the expectations the elephant conglomeration in Dhikala seems quite encouraging as for the first time in many years occasional herds of 80+ elephants team up against the setting sun at the Dhikala chaur reminding one of the glorious days of observing the behavior of one of the most intelligent mammals of our planet.
Here are some images depicting the moods of the Dhikala chaur this summer:
I come for a leopard-deprived nation. Deprived not because of dearth of the spotted cats in India but because of the elusiveness of this cat due of the presence of tigers, which keep the leopards at bay. This reason was lucrative enough to take me to the pearl of the ocean to satiate this ever-growing hunger for leopards.
The statistics, facts and data were quite interesting and encouraging. My Sri Lankan naturalist friend – Mevan Piyasena has played a pivotal role in my Sri Lankan journey. Mevan informed me that the Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) was endemic to Sri Lanka with its characteristic rusty yellow coat, dark spots and close-set rosettes (smaller than Indian leopards). The size was bigger in comparison to leopards of India and the leopard infact ruled this land being the top predator of Lankan forests. ‘Kotiya’ as they called the leopard in Sinhalese actually means tiger. “But for us this is the tiger of our land!” remarked Mevan.
As I started my leopard expedition in the company of Mevan who was to be my friend philosopher and guide for tracing this beautiful cat, those reports of Yala recording the highest density of leopard population in the world were flashing in front of me. But reports can backfire when you are on the field so I was wondering whether all the data and stats can actually translate to leopard sightings during the coming days.
Engulfed in these thoughts, I noticed a commotion of vehicles on road and before I could even question the driver, he pointed in the far left direction to disclose the location of my first leopard in Yala National Park. A young male was basking under the tree unwary of the crowd of vehicles trying to get a glimpse of his shining coat. I parked my vehicle and a patient wait for the next few hours enabled me to closely observe the behavior of this elusive cat.
Slowly the vehicles along with the light started dwindling and I positioned my camera in anticipation of some action. The action was more than what I could dream of as the young male got distracted with some movement in front of me. He cautiously advanced towards his target and within a fraction of a second the cat and mouse chase started.
My initial reaction was that the leopard was targeting the cheetal (spotted deer) herd near the water body. However a closer look through the camera revealed that a mongoose was in the firing line. A leopard on a hunt in an open field land was something I had never expected but the plethora of online facts and information were turning out to be true within no time.
Origin of the Sri Lankan Leopard
Little is known about the origin of leopards in the Indian subcontinent but it is believed that they may have come from the North-West passes and would have spread across the subcontinent plains (S.H. Prater 1965). Earlier it was believed that this was the only leopard specie that migrated to Sri Lanka and was isolated from India since Sri Lanka split off from the Indian sub-continent. An obvious brain-teaser : If the leopard is the top predator of Lanka, what does the Lion in Sri Lankan culture symbolize?
Here are some of the theories : The sea level rise that separated Sri Lanka apparently gave birth to a new sub-specie of lion (Panthera Leo Sinhaleys Deraniyagala). Probably this is the reason why the Lion plays a significant role in Sri Lankan legend and folk stories. A contrary belief is that the Sinhalese (people of the lion) have origins in North-West India where the last symbol of Asiatic Lion (Panthera Leo) still prevails and this may be the reason for Sri Lanka’s fascination with Lions. Fossil records and studied have also indicated the presence of Lions and even tigers (Panthera Tigris) in the country. These large cats may have become extinct before the existence of mankind in the region.
Recent genetic research on Sri Lankan leopards state that these leopards distinct species of mainline leopards and being the prime predators at the apex of the food chain, they determine the health of Sri Lankan green gold. According to IUCN studies, the leopard density in Yala (as a case) for estimated at 17.9 per 100 square kms in 2001-2002. This data was enough to prove that the population of leopards in this belt was highest compared to any other protected or non protected area in the world.
The Resurgence of Wilpattu
3 decade backs, Wilpattu National Park (180kms towards the north of Colombo) was known for having the highest densities of leopards in the world. Known as the Land of Lakes because of the presence of more than 60 natural water bodies, Wilpattu with its unique habitat was severely effected due to the war and as a result tourism in the park was shut down for nearly 3 decades. When the park opened up for tourism in 2003/04, wildlife enthusiasts were expecting to be stormed by leopard sightings but the first few years went pretty dry from a leopard perspective. The situation started to improve slowly and currently Wipattu is slowly trying to re-establish itself as the prime Sri Lankan leopard forest.
So what is so special about Wilpattu as a leopard country? While Yala is all about those rocky terrains, Wilpattu is dramatically different. While traversing through the deep corners of this forest you will come across patches of open grasslands, huge waterbodies, thick shrubs and some beautifully located forest bungalows (where you can opt for a night stay as well). Once upon a time, Wilpattu was submerged under sea and this is the reason why you find patches of Wilpattu covered with white sand. Some areas of the forest resemble a white sand desert and probably no where in the world there is a probability of coming across a leopard on white sand tracks! So if you are looking for a leopard is a unique never seen before backdrop, Wilpattu is the place to explore!
Threats & Issues
The conservation issues surrounding Sri Lankan leopards are in sync with their cat counterparts across the globe. Human interference and impact has resulted in a significant decline in leopard population in the country. Game hunting during the colonial era, rampant poaching and lack of opportunities for conducting scientific studies on the magnificent creatures (due to decades of known political unrests) have hampered the existence of leopards. In addition, the rampant pressure of a 19 million plus and ever growing population has resulted in massive loss of habitat which is the key to survival of these cats. The Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust of Sri Lanka estimates that since 2001 over 35 leopard skins have been seized.
Human pressure is also correlated with the impact of tourism in Sri Lanka. Since the end of the civil war in May 2009, tourism in Sri Lanka has been rising rapidly. Though this is extremely beneficial for the local communities and economy, it is feared that the burgeoning tourist pressure may adversely impact the wildlife. The Sri Lankan Tourism Promotion Board Bureau reported an annual 27% rise in tourism with the numbers touching 83549 in Feb 2012. The visitor number is expected to touch 950,000 this year and the management of tourists inside forest like Yala National Park is matter of grave concern.
The need for a balanced conservation strategy is imperative for issues like human pressure; conflict-management and poaching have been the main causes of decline in cat population across the Indian subcontinent. Historically elephants have been in the prime conservation radar for wildlife biologists and policy makers of the country and leopards have been ignored. However with growing awareness levels around the importance of leopards in maintaining a balance in the Sri Lankan system, a number of Government bodies in association with local NGOs have taken the onus of saving the last few numbers of Sri Lankan leopards that are the flag-bearers of big cat population in this island country.
Coming back to my moment of glory in Yala… A Yala traveler had mentioned that leopard on a tree is just one of the beautiful leopard moments a photographer can encounter in this seaside wild paradise. Day after day this statement was becoming a reality for me as in my repetitive visits to Yala I have documented and witnessed some splendid dream leopard moments that I would cherish forever.
My leopard wish-list is long and has been long pending as well. On the rocks… On the road… Mating… with cubs… and it goes on. With the thriving population of leopards in Yala, Mother Nature would surely bless me achieving some of these milestones in the near future.
For sure the supreme cat is the Kotiya of this land!
As winter bids farewell to Bandhavgarh, mild showers continue to breath a fresh life in a forest which is all set to face a tough summer ahead. The mahua bloom is on the swing and damp smell of the mahua along with the fresh budding on the saal tree tops adds a fresh flavor to the park just before the onset of the summer.
Having said this, Bandhavgarh springs are fascinating to shoot the striped wonders of this tiger country. The soft morning and evening light along with breathtaking backdrops of colorful saal, tesu and cotton silk flowers give the edge to images which are normally very bland during summers.
Here are some images from the 2013 Bandhavgarh spring:
Light is the key natural element that illuminates natural forms enabling us to see and absorb the wonders of God’s beautiful creations.
A tribute to God’s basic creation – LIGHT! Wishing you the best of light always and may all traces of darkness be accompanied with rays of light and hope.
One of the best wild habitats of India, there is something special about the striped wonder of Corbett National Park. The mystic aura around a Royal Bengal Tiger of Corbett coupled with the rarity and elusiveness of the cat because of the tough terrain makes a Corbett tiger sighting very special. Having worked in this park for close to a decade I have always dreamed about some studio settings in Corbett. Some of these dreams have been realized in the past and some are still carefully preserved as dreams that may realize if Mother Nature is kind enough…
Corbett is the only aspect of wild India wherein you can experience and feel the presence of a tiger against the majestic Himalayas that border this pristine forest. The towering saal structures come to a standstill when a Royal Bengal Tiger walks amidst the saal cathedral making the striped king look a mere part of the vast ecosystem.
As a photographer, I seldom start my Corbett drives with a tiger mindset as for me Corbett is special because of reasons other than the tiger. The dramatic light in addition to the overwhelming backdrops triggers your creativity continuously and your soul and shutter is continuously at work. Tigers have been incidental and the brief glimpses of the cat makes the tigers of this forest the supreme lord of wild Kumaon.
Earlier this week, it was an awesome feeling to witness a tiger in two dream settings of Corbett. Sharing some of the images that depict these feelings:
Tiger sightings in any national park of India have fluctuating cycles. There are times when multiple tigresses start breeding cubs and as a result sightings flourish as the summers approach. As the cubs grow up and start forming their own territories and females become solitary again & there is a brief dip period and the situation takes some time to normalize.
It was during this season of dipping summer sightings when I along with my friend Gautam Pandey visited Bandhavgarh National Park in the warm summer months of 2011. The tiger dynamics of the park were not very encouraging at that point of time as none of current cubs were around and queen Vijaya was still trying to find her ground in the Chakradhara meadows.
As we started our first drive in what was going to be a marathon run inside Bandhavgarh, little did we know that our tiger luck would be at abysmal levels in the days to come. After a few days of dry dusty drives, clouds of negativities surrounded us and we were just waiting to wrap up the shoot as soon as possible.
The heat made us ignore a basic thumb rule – when with nature, it is imperative to be positive and absorb nature in all its forms and shapes. Our 6th day started in a rejuvenating fashion as we stuck to some basics. Something was good about that morning as we started with no pre-defined strategies. In an unusual relaxed fashion we started a bit late and despite of the deliberated 15-20 minutes delay we were the first vehicle to enter the park gate. For a change the desperate cat-seeking prayers transformed into a mere ‘thank you’ to mother nature for making us experience this wonderful forest.
The sunrise over Ghodademon was refreshing and the rocky patterns on the upper reaches of the fort dazzled in morning light. The soft chirps of bush birds were live music to the ears at the vehicle sped leisurely across a forest buzzing with cheetals and langurs busy in their morning chores. Our days of disappointments were in the back-burner and the beauty of nature was touching our souls.
As we moved towards Mirchiani, a sudden movement across the stoned parked boundary attracted our attention. As soon as we breaked, a huge black ball of hair emerged out of the wall peeping right into the vehicle. The beautiful looking male sloth bear then climbed the wall inches away from our vehicle and took the comfort of a tree right next to road. He rolled, scratched himself against the hanging bark and spread inside the bamboo thickets.
The four minutes of bear action was not the best from a photography perspective but was enough to make up for the last 5 days. Nature is full of mysteries and spectacles that keep unfolding in every corner of wilderness. As children of this planet, the onus is on us to respect natural wonders rather than keep expecting and wishing that nature will fullfil all our demands.
Participate in India’s only live photography contest and showcase your on-field photographic skills in a one-of-its-kind competition in Pench National Park, Maharashtra.
For registrations, visit http://www.naturewanderers.com/wildclicks4
The week has been quite traumatic in the tiger world of India. The opening week of the new year brought bad news from Ranthambhore as the reigning/exiled queen of Ranthambhore (whatever you may call her) fought with a male over a kill and succumbed to injuries. The overprotective mother who has giving tiger lovers a torrid time because of her erratic movements was seen limping repeatedly over a period of 2-3 days and soon a medical team was called in for her treatment.
Down in the fort area of Bandhavgarh, Vijaya has been confining herself in the cozy comforts of the Bandhavgarh fort. Reports of her swollen leg were a cause of worry as the warrior queen has a major handicap in the form of 1 functional eye.
As the queen mothers are nursing their respective injuries we hope for their speedy recovery for the future of the tiger estates they own hinges on their own personal health…
The summer of 2012 was a dream for tiger lovers across India as Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra made tiger action a cake walk for photographers and wildlife enthusiasts. The volumes were mind boggling at times as each forest safari had the potential of 14-15 tigers in one go. Photographers pumped up their tiger portfolios by spending months braving the heat, picking up easy pickings across the park.
As the park was closed for monsoons and uncertainties surrounded the wildlife circuits of India post the Supreme Court ban, Tadoba gave a ray of hope as we all were ready to pick up the threads from where we left it in summers. The wonder cubs were still sticking around and the sightings were expected to be better than celebrated parks like Ranthambhore and Bandhavgarh. However the situation looked different on the field…
Since the forest was considerably accessible in summers of 2012, the pressure of tourism in Tadoba was split across the park. Vehicles dispersed to Telia, Panderpauni, Waghdogh, Katejhari and Kolsa belts of the park in search of respective tiger families. The ground staff effectively managed the pressure situations around the Telia family because of their central location and tourism as a whole was flourishing effectively during the period.
Foresighted planning and management of tourism can play a big role in reducing the pressure of tiger tourism. Post the monsoons and the upliftment of the ban, the SC verdict resulted in closure of routes in the park. However the closure of routes chopped off the access to all breeding tiger families barring one and the pressure comes back the family of 5 at Telia.
With vehicles storming the picturesque Telia lake (a one-way route), the area is under an umbrella of dust whenever the Telia family emerges in the meadows around the lakes. The Telia tigress is expected to bear the brunt of tourism through the summer of 2013 because of the absence of any other breeding tigress in the tourism zone of Tadoba. Will Tadoba be able to handle the heat of 2013?
Spent the last fortnight of 2012 in different locations of central India and have been relaxing in woods of Pench National Park for the past few days. The weather has been clear and it was fun playing around with the dramatic morning and evening light conditions around Pench – a forest with rich natural wonders that induces a photographer’s creativity. Having used the Canon 500mm f4 for so many years it took some time to tune my mind to new Canon 400mm f2.8 ISII but as expected I have fallen in love with the new machine. Here are some of the images created over the past few mornings and evenings.
Signing off from Pench and wishing you all a very happy new year…
New Delhi, December 8, 2012 : Nature Wanderers – the leading wildlife photography training organisation – launches Nature’s Touch : A wildlife photography show that would showcase the work of a talented bunch of 25 photographers from across India at the Lokayat Art Gallery in New Delhi from December 8th to 13th, 2012.
The exhibition is the first of its kind to promote wildlife and nature photography in the capital city of India. The exhibitors are a mix of senior corporate executives, school kids and entrepreneurs who have seriously pursued wildlife photography as a passion and have worked really hard in creating these wonderful images across forests like Bandhavgarh, Ranthambhore, Corbett, Tadoba, Yala (Sri Lanka) and Masai Mara.
Leading wildlife film-maker Mike Pandey would be inaugurating this show in the presence of top notch nature photographers of India.
Venue : Lokayat Art Gallery
Opening Ceremony : Dec 8th at 5pm
Exhibition Timings : 11am to 8pm from Dec 9th to 13th
For Queries Please Contact
Kahini Ghosh Mehta – email@example.com, +91 9871367945
Attika Jain – +91 9953240242
In June 2012 when the forests of India were about to close for monsoons, T17 – the lady of the lakes – at Ranthambhore National Park gave a much awaited news as her tiny little cubs were seen for the first time in Rajbagh – an area which she acquired from her legendary mother Machali who ruled this kingdom for over a decade. Tiger lovers, photographers and wildlife enthusiasts across India anxiously waited through the monsoon quarter for the park to reopen. The popular belief was that the era of Machali would be back in Ranthambhore with her daughter raising a little of 3 in the majestic backdrops of the palatial ruines of Rajbagh and the Ranthambhore fort. The stage was looking set for the drama to begin but T17 had other ideas.
Pressure from dominant males encroaching into her territory forced the inexperienced first time mother to move her cubs out of the prime locales of Ranthambhore as she found a new home in the upper terrains of Kachida. The lady of the lakes now made short and quick visits to her palatial property and started spending more time in an area which was dense and unaccessible by tourists. After the initial glimpses of her cubs through the months of October and November, the protective mother who has always been a photographer’s delight made brief public appearances.
However one fine morning on Dec 3rd, the queen was back in action after a silence of more than a fortnight. Drama unfolded on Kachida hill tops today morning as T17 emerged from nowhere and speeded across the golden hills responding to sambhar alarm calls for a leopard that had stationed itself on the top of a cliff. With the valley resounding with alarm calls for the 2 cats it was an anticipated wait. Suddenly T17 emerged out in the open with a stolen sambhar which she gracefully draged in beautiful morning light…
Deep inside the heavily wooded forest of Corbett National Park rests a Machaan that gives shelter to hundreds of photographers, naturalists and tourists visiting Corbett every year. Approximately 30 feet in height, this old machaan gives a panoramic view of the picturesque Dhikala grasslands and the Ramganga river that supports a multitude of life forms in Corbett National Park. “The forest is always buzzing with activity,” the statement holds true once you spend a quite afternoon on this structure in the heart of wilderness.
It was the month of June when Kahini and I set off from the Gairal forest rest house in Corbett early in the morning in search of the dominant male tiger in the Khinnauli belt. We had been tracking the striped beauty for the last 2 days and our chances were becoming brighter as we saw fresh tracks early that morning along with frantic alarm calls of spotted deer. However luck was not in our favor again as after waiting for over 2 hours near the river side (where we were expecting the arrival of the tiger) the beast still eluded me and my camera.
As we continued our journey by heading towards the Dhikala grasslands the passing vehicles informed us about tiger movements on the Sambhar Road and we rushed towards our beloved Sambhar Road watchtower which gives the perfect view of the area in which the tiger was prowling. We boarded the machchan at 8:30 am and strained our ears to listen to the faintest of sounds of the alarm calls that would announce the arrival of the king. In the next couple of hours the forest went silent and the cool breeze put me to sleep. A watchtower can be a wonderful place for catching some sleep as the calmness and tranquility of the forest is very relaxing indeed.
The silence was broken by a black jungle crow that woke us up with his hoarse calls and to our surprise we sighted a beautiful collared falconet right in front of us. The atmosphere was filled with excitement yet again as a pair of pallas fishing eagle took off from inside the forest and stormed past the watchtower making a screeching sound giving us a great shot of the flight of the eagle. Following this Kahini spotted a pair of pied kingfishers hovering over the river in search of their lunch. Their close cousins – the white throated kingfishers – followed them and looked stunning with their colorful wings wide open.
Amidst the birding action, a small herd of spotted deer inched closure to the river and boosted our chances of tracking the tiger. The weather was perfect for a tiger to approach a water body as it was getting hotter and humid as the clock ticked. And then the spotted deers in front of us made a low alarm call. We could see that all the deers were pointing in one direction and stamping their feet in the water in nervousness.
The excitement was at its peak as this is what tiger tracking is all about. This is why the tiger sends shivers down the spines of the jungle folk when it moves fearlessly in forests of India. It was only a matter of time now and we were anxiously waiting as everything was falling into place… 10 minutes went by and by now the alarm calls became louder. Our eyes were glued to a patch of lantana from where we were expecting the tiger to come. My sleep had vanished and I was ready to shoot with my fingers half pressed on my camera shutter. It was 4 pm and with a slight disturbance in the lantana, out walked the tiger. Those magical stripes were shining brightly in the sun and the tiger walked past the deer herd majestically to choose his preferred spot in the river.
It was a big male and he rested royally in the middle of the sparkling Ramganga for the next 20 minutes!
I had heard a lot about Singlila… Rare Himalayan birds, the exotic red panda, Himalayan black bears and the elusive clouded leopard. Despite of the high potential of wildlife on offer I entered Singlila with zero expectations. My aim was to enjoy the beauty of this remote wilderness of India and ofcourse the joy of trekking through virgin forests – something which I have always enjoyed.
Within the first few hours of setting my foot inside Singlila National Park, a few aspects of the forest caught my eye. From the soft morning light that turned this forest to gold to the unpredictable mist which can settle in at any time of the day dramatically changing the mood of the forest, Singlila had a lot of hidden shades which I was looking forward to discover.
My first freezing morning had a lot in store as I started my trek. Yes ofcourse the birds were there but as a photographer I prefer chasing the light rather than the species. Each and every bend I walked through had some natural jewels in the form of rejuvenating flowers, leaves and frozen frost droplets garlanding each and every part of this exotic forest.
The picturesque view of the Himalayas and the dazzling peaks of Kunchenjunga and Mt. Everst made the location even more photogenic. A physically draining trek yielding in a satisfactory collection of some natural jewels that would normally go un-noticed by a tourist in Singlila… Presenting a few of them:
I went to Wilpattu with zero expectations. “How could any forest beat the leopard moments of Yala?” That’s what I had told myself during the 4 hour drive from Colombo. Within the first 2 hours of my drive through this forest, I fell in love with the habitat. From an Indian perspective it has flavors of Corbett mixed with a bit of Bhadra and some shades of Bandhavgarh as well. The absence of those massive rock formations that is the highlight of Yala was a bit surprising…
Over the course of my stay in Wilpattu I shot leopards in some unique never before backdrops. Sightings are not tailor made as it is in Yala where all vehicles can communicate within each other. Your cat tracking skills will be put to use for here you have to follow the traditional tracking channels – look for leopard track marks, be alert to cheetal alarm calls etc.
My latest mission in life is to capture a leopard against this particular white sand background…
Hopefully I will get there soon
As I was packing my bags for my 4th visit to Ladakh, Kahini (my wife) asked me “So what different are you going to shoot out there. I have seen those stereotype landscape shots from you many times!” I didn’t know what to reply and left it to fate.
While traversing through the star studded landscapes of Ladakh I thought of experimenting with HDR Panoramas, Long exposure panoramas and Long exposure HDRs. The results were super cool and I am pleased to share some of the results:
As I started yet another morning in Masai Mara, a couple of safari vehicles deep inside the grassland caught my attention. Long distant binocular investigations were not very clear so we decided to check the spot before heading ahead. Heading towards the spot from a distance a swift Serval cat was spotted leaping inside the tall grass in search of its prey.
The rare, shy and ever gorgeous Serval was hardly few feet away from me but the shooting conditions were tough as visibility was poor because of the grass. These are times when you feel helpless for the precious golden light was lighting up the sparse visible patches of the coat. I had targeted to hit a particular pride of lions that morning and this was a difficult subject to leave.
As I was battling these thoughts, the vehicles decided to move on and I was left standing with the Serval. Minutes later she decided to move as well and we started following her. Not so far off was a small mount and her trajectory was straight towards it. “Will she be out of the clearing and climb up on this mount?” I thought. The Serval approached the mount and before I could reach the spot she vanished in the grassland. “What a waste of a morning?” I cursed my luck.
Just when I had given up a sudden movement in one of the burrows inside the mount caught our eyes. A wait of another 15 minutes and the mystery began to unfold with 3 small Serval cubs springing out of the burrow one by one.
The next hour was one of my most cherished moments of Mara as the 3 kittens posed in dramatic light conditions exhausting the camera memory rapidly. Fortunes can really turn upside-down in the wild within seconds!
As wildlife photographers we remain glued to our camera eye piece hunting for that fine intrinsic moment that tells a compelling natural history story. Well the eyes are trained for this and the outcome in the form of images is quite satisfactory but what we miss in this entire process is to absorb and connect with the animal and human emotions around us. During my recent visit to Mara this was one emotional incident that forced me take my eye off the camera and be sensitive towards what was happening around me.
The wildebeests kept piling along side the banks of the Mara river. The gathering gradually grew from hundreds to thousands and within a couple of hours around 30,000 wildebeests were waiting to take the final plunge countering the deadly crocs lazing around in the muddy river, for all the 30000 odd eyes could see was the lush cover of grass on the opposite side.
The stage was set and so were the audience. Around 50 vehicles were lined up on each side of the river with more than 100 photographers concentrating hard with fingers on the trigger. Suddenly a group of zebras stormed towards the river and the wildebeests who had been waiting for someone to take the first step followed them. This was yet another river crossing as the Great Annual Migration was underway.
Amidst the sounds of those 100 odd camera shutters a faint sound towards my right attracted my attention. A wildebeest stampede on the opposite side of the river forced me to remain focused and I kept shooting ignoring all the background disturbance. However this particular sound on my right was persistant and continued to distract me.
I finally took me eye off the camera and saw that a lady somewhere in her 50s was intently watching the proceedings at the river along with her 2 sons. Tear drops were rolling down her cheeks as she hugged her elder son and lifted the younger one on her shoulders so that he could get a clearer view. The families eyes were lit up with a mix of excitement, emotion and anticipation and by this time I had literally forgotten about the big river crossing which went on and on…
And finally after around 20 minutes when the last group of wildebeests made their way to the river she greeted both her sons with a statement that made my eyes moist. “We saved our entire life to witness this son… Now I can lead the rest of my life with peace for we have seen the nature’s biggest wildlife spectacle.”
For me it was a mere river crossing. Just another set of subjects and activity for pictorial documentation. For some it was their dream for which they have waited for years. It was indeed a special and privileged moment for me to be alongside that vehicle that day and feel the emotions that go hand in hand with sightings in the wild!
When I was back from Africa in 2011 after witnessing the Great Annual Migration, I was already looking forward to 2012 and after a highly anticipated wait of 12 months, I pack up again for a long journey to Masai Mara for yet another month of hardcore wildlife action in the form of the wildebeest migration. Stay tuned to this space along with my Facebook page, Flickr and 500px profile for live updates from the mecca of wildlife. Depending on my connectivity I will try to bring to you news as it happens from wild Africa!
I have always been in my comfort zone when it comes to my equipments. For the past few years comfort zone for me signified bodies like the Canon 1DM4 and Canon 7D and along with my Canon 500mm f4 and other variable zoom telephotos like the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 and the Canon 24-70mm f2.8 etc. I was pretty vary of moving out of this comfort zone. Since wildlife is something I breath in and out on a daily basis this for me was by far the best combination and I was super happy with the combination… And then Canon launched the 5DM3. Despite the massive hysteria around this launch I was unperturbed and continued my daily field activities with this combo. My stereotype perceptions were that I needed range and cropped censors give me that. I need speed in the form of fps and my current set of bodies give me that.
However over the last one and a half years I had been closely analyzing the results of my Canon 7D and I was not particularly happy with the details and the image quality of the body. The low light performance was good but not great specially for me since I shoot more of big cats and their activity is on the higher side in early mornings and late evenings. Even in good light the results of my 7D were no where in comparison to the 1DM4 which Canon India had been regularly giving me for use from time to time.
So post multiple discussions with our friends at Canon, I finally decided to take the 5DM3 plunge. Fortunately a photographer friend of mine had already started using the 5DM3 and it was a good enough push for me. In May I went to Bandhavgarh for my first shoot armed with the new 5DM3. I was using my 1DM4 on the 500mm and the 70-200mm on the 5DM3. It was a critical project and I was being cautious with the combination as I didn’t want to risk using a new body I was not familiar with on a lens which would be majorly in use for this shoot.
A few shots with the 5DM3 in this 10 day shoot and the results were good but since I didn’t use it extensively I was not in a position to test it properly. Most of the images I created were in good light. One major change which I welcomed with open arms were the 61 AF points including the 41 cross type AF points for f4 lenses and the 5 dual diagonal AF points for the 2.8 lenses. With the AF points widely spread across the viewfinder framing and composition became very easy and this feature was fun to use (infact I found the spread better than the 1DM4)
Within the next 10 days I was ready for my second shoot with the 5DM3. The destinations were again 2 prime tiger parks – Tadoba and Bandhavgarh. This time I was more comfortable using the 5DM3 with the 500mm f4. It was 5:30pm in the evening in Bandhavgarh and 3 tiger cubs walked out against a lush green backdrop and played like maniacs in front of my lens. This was a true test for the 5DM3.
With the light fading every moment I started pushing the ISO up from 500 to 640 to 800 to 1000 to 1600 right up to 2000 (at 6:15pm). I had already done a bit of ISO testing for the 5DM3 in Tadoba prior to this because of which I was taking this calculated risk. The results were outstanding. Infact I don’t think I could have taken this tiger series without the 5DM3.
Here is my take on the 6fps and where it is an apt speed for shooting wildlife. Having used bodies that shoot at 8fps and 10fps I thought deeper into this. If you are going for a typical 4-5 day shoot to any forest, how many times do you actually make use of the 10 or 8 fps on the field. During my flat 20 day trip to Bandhavgarh in March/April I was armed with 1DM4. I fired the 1DM4 at full burst hardly twice. The tiger cub sequence which I had taken with my 5DM3 was full of super fast actions as the subject were continuously air borne for 45 odd minutes. I have hardly missed out on any of the action because of the 6fps.
As a matter of fact during my recent trip to Bhadra Tiger Reserve I shot fast and swift river terns gliding over the water level and electric speed for taking a sip. The 5DM3 helped me capture this moment highly effectively. (View River Tern Hysteria for details) So essentially if I am using the right set of prime lenses (500 f4, 400 f2.8 or the 300 f2.8), the 5DM3 does make a lethal combo.
And for first time full frame migratory photographers like me, just get hold of a 16-35 f2.8 lens and explore landscape photography with this latest marvel from Canon!
A small island midst the calm backwaters of Bhadra Tiger Reserve was glowing white as I was approaching this piece of land in my small motor boat. The sky was deep blue with a painting of thin cloud layers that made a compelling formation. I was wondering what the whiteness was all about. As soon as the boat neared the shore, the clouds in the sky had some company for a cloud of river terns took off in all directions. Their numbers were in thousands. With a flurry of chicks around it was apparent that they were breeding out here. The backdrop was a carpet of fresh green grass with a mixture of rocky and muddy banks to add to beauty. Here are some of the images that I created during the River Tern fiesta at Bhadra Tiger Reserve this June.
I wrote this after coming back from Masai Mara last year and thought of posting it today because a lot of our participants accompanying me to Mara this year wanted to know about the equipment preparation to be done for the much awaited tour!
Photography in Masai Mara was a subject of my research as soon as I firmed up my plan to lead a group of photographers for the Migration Uncut camp in Aug 2011 along with my dear friend Aditya Dicky Singh from Bagh Safari. Aditya had been constantly giving me his briefs on photography in Mara from his 2010 visit and in December 2010 I started seeing the works of a lot of photographers who have covered Mara and specially the Great Migration in the past. Some of the internet articles were quite informative but what really helped were the photo stories as it was great to see the frames, compositions and perspectives taken by photographers from across the globe.
After all this research, I landed in Nairobi with 2 Canon 7Ds and a Canon 50D along with my Canon 500mm f4, a Canon 70-200mm f2.8 and my 10-20mm wide (these were the broad level basic equipments I carried). I was actually in two minds whether to carry the 24-70mm f2.8 rather than the wide for the ultra wide habitat perspectives but preferred the 10-20mm fir I thought it would be useful for landscapes and I would use the 70-200 for the habitat shots.
I learnt my first lesson on photography in Mara within a few hours of my entry in Masai Mara. My first safari started a bit late and as I took a short round under fading light conditions, I was shooting at an ISO below 1000 (around 500 to 640 to be precise). Though the sun was touching the horizon, the Mara terrain is never short of light. The savannah is open landscape and light falls directly on the subject unlike forests of India where the light is diffused because of the thick vegetation.
My second lesson was within the first 2.5 hours as in this short span I had already exhausted my 8GB card which I thought will last because I was going for a short round. It will be wrong to say that you can’t afford to be trigger happy in Mara. You can’t avoid it! For there is just too much of action around you and you just can’t resist the photo opportunities. Especially in the months of Aug and Sep, if you are staying at the right location (which enables you to be in the heart of the action areas) the action eats away all the tucked up memory! The main culprit is migration photography. A big river crossing comprising anything between 5000-10000 wildebeests has the potential of consuming 8GB of memory in 10-15 minutes. Using 4GB cards in Mara is not a good idea for you lose crucial moments while changing of cards. Safer bets would be high speed 8, 16 or 32 GB.
Crossings are tricky to shoot for the action is fast and you don’t get time to review your photos. But the flip side is that if you quickly glance through your shots to check if the exposure, focus and frame is right you can get back to work since the herds give you opportunities to shoot again. Typically you may mess up the first crossing you witness because if you witnessing the phenomenon for the first time in your life the excitement of coming face to face with the one of the biggest wildlife spectacles on the planet overpowers your photography and you end up with screwed up pictures. Yet again, if you are staying at the right location in Mara, there are high chances that you will witness more and more crossings and with each crossing you gradually realize the dos and don’ts as far as crossing photography is concerned.
It was after 3 hours that I pulled out my second body with the 500mm to shoot a lion pride that because that was the first subject at a distance. Mara is probably the best place in the world to create stunning habitat perspectives. The accessible terrain increases the proximity to your subjects including big cats thus opening doors of experimentation and innovation. Having spent a week under such shooting conditions I realized that 60-65% of my wildlife shots were taken using a 70-200mm f2.8 lens. I used my long lenses at times to create tight compositions and for taking those tight river crossing shots but the variable zoom was the pet lens for me. I used it to high effect while shooting critical action sequences like lion hunting as well.
In our group of 12 Nature Wanderers participants, we have as many as five 100-400mm users and I am very happy with the quality of images that all our participants have produced.
Essentially Mara as a location has the potential of giving great image to photographers using all sorts and all strata of equipments. So just carry enough batteries and cards so that you don’t run out of ammunition.
Vijaya’s young battalion of 3 cubs were very quite for the past few days. They were giving brief appearances in the Sidhbaba grassland and in the presence of Mom and Dad (Sashi) loitering around in the Jumuniah area the cubs were lethargic and did not indulge in any major play as the sun went down. However yesterday the scenario was different. Dad headed of to the badi gufa and Mom was out on a hunt. 5pm in the evening, the cubs made an appearance from the cool swamps under the jamun trees in front of Sidhbaba and for the next 45 minutes they displayed some extraordinary play which have not been witnessed in Bandhavgarh for ages.
Punches, chases, arial fights, bonding, love – it was a mix of emotions and the spectators were spell bound seeing the energy level of these cubs. The grassland had become a boxing ring for these young guns as they played merrily for the whole evening and continued to enjoy the session event after the tourist vehicles called it a day.
It was a dark and gloomy evening in the Mowgli land and with the onset of monsoons, the weather was looking great for a drive in the forest but unfortunately pleasant driving weather doesn’t go too well with photographers because of our over-dependency on light sources which keep our trigger fingers happy. To the naked eye (because of the absence of light) Pench which I feel is one of the most picturesque parks of Madhya Pradesh when it comes to landscapes was looking pale and colorless. So I decided to experiment with some monotone perspectives and fortunately the denizens obliged making a supposedly dry drive very productive and interesting. Here are few of the images created during the last 2 days in Pench: