Wildlife photo safaris with India's leading photography guide

Wild Notes by Shivang Mehta

Little Wonder Boy of Mara

We had been tracking Lorean (the leopard) and her 3 month old cub for quite a few days during the recently concluded Migration Uncut photo safari in Masai Mara. I was already quite  impressed with the young lad as he roamed around without the mother and once climbed way up a tree in her absence and meticulously found his way down as well after exploring various sections of the tree. We decided to target the family during most of our game drives and one morning the cub was in the bushes around 100 meters away from Lorean who was looking to hunt. Her stomach was seeming full and I wondered why she was trying to hunt. I left her for a bit and post lunch found her again resting in a bush. She was up after a brief nap and disappeared in the bush. Mom apparently went out shopping and got a small toy for the young cub in the form of a warthog piglet. The excited cub got scared in the beginning but gradually gathered courage and played with his moving toy for around 45 minutes. The mini piglet even charged at the cub and Lorean was observing each and every move of the cub. As the piglet toppled Lorean would get it back on its feet for the cub. Finally the game was over as the little cub after repeated attempts killed the piglet and consumed his snack. Lorean did not participate in the meal and sat next to the cub and just observed him attempting to rip apart the meat himself… Training is a vital part in the life of a leopard cub and this lesson would have been vital for Lorean’s cub and would have done wonders to his confidence for the future.

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Satpura After Dark

Satpura National Park is always a special place for me. The leopard and sloth bear infected forest has always been a great location for documenting their behaviour. Night in Satpura makes the forest more special as a lot of nocturnal species can be observed in the fringe areas of the park. In May 2019, I spent a week exploring Satpura after dark. The target was the worlds smallest wild cat – Rusty Spotted Cat but every night was an element of surprise with some unique and fresh perspectives of Wild India.

Here are some images from Satpura… after dark!

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Top Moments for 2018

2018 has been a year of adventures, some stupendous wildlife action, some exotic species and some great wildlife moments. As we end this wonderful year here is a brief recap of the some of the images that are my personal favourites for this year.

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Making effective use of light and its play is a key feature of my work and this handsome male tiger in Ranthambore stood perfectly in a lush green monsoon forest in October this year.

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A dream came true in November as I along with my guests photographer a clouded leopard in the wild in Borneo.

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Tracking cubs is challenging and as a wildlife photo guide I love that challenge. The moments spent with Bahati and her little one in Masai Mara tops the chart for 2018

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The young price of Paar was shaping up as a legendary tiger of Corbett before he had a painful end as he was mauled by an intruding tiger. His memories will remain in our hearts forever.

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Snow Leopards cuddled up in the freezing wind of Spiti. The time we spent with this family on multiple occasion was chilling and thrilling.

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2018 marked my introduction to Infra Red photography and Corbett was my favourite playground for creating some dramatic IR images with my newly acquired toy.

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I deployed a few camera traps in various habitats but the Satpura leopard at Reni Pani Jungle Lodge was special as it was a quick turnaround image. This female was trapped within 24 hours of deployment.

 

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Kaboso has been the key entertainer at Masai Mara in the past few years and our guests spent some special moments with her during the 2018 edition of Migration Uncut.

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Wishing you all a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year. May 2019 get loads of success and happiness for you all!


A Prince who ruled hearts…

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15 years ago when I started working in one of India’s most stunning forests, the damp smell of the leaves that dazzled the forest floor overlooking a magnificent saal canopy and the musical sounds of crystal clear water cascading down the white rocks shining like jewels, as the first rays of morning rays kissed the Ramganga, were some of the first soul touching moments of Corbett which continued to draw me back to this magical landscape in various professional capacities.

The blue waters of this spectacular river and the presence of glittering coat of a shy and elusive Corbett tiger trespassing the divine landscape always made me skip a few heartbeats. Years passed by and then emerged a tigress from this river as a goddess and with the attitude of a bold mermaid who loved the rich blues of the Ramganga. She became a showstopper and for the first time Corbett was known because of a tiger called Paro. Having followed the stories of various tiger families across tiger habitats of India I always waited for an opportunity to observe a tiger family that ruled the rivers of Corbett. I anxiously waited for her future generations as I was curious to see a river denizen raising her young in the dramatic yet challenging terrain.

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Over the past many years I followed various tiger families in various tiger habitats of India. As Paro walked out with her tiny borns dangling in her mouth last summer, I was geared to document a special story I had been waiting to work on for over a decade. A perfect character and the perfect family in some grand backdrops. The monsoons swept away half of her motherly aspirations and she was left with one male cub – the chosen one.

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A little prince did not hesitate to take the first bold steps in a river rubbing shoulders with her mother. His antics made him a heartthrob as he braved the winters, climbed tree stumps and exhaled breaths of gold in the misty golden mornings of the Ramganga. He was always a little slow in catching up with her mother. But eventually he did make it every time.

However the night of May 27th was tough for our entire team as we knew the young prince had strayed a little too far and he was in danger. It was a night when a grieving mother battled an intruder and her cries echoed in the vast grasslands she owns. It was a night where we waited every minute for the sun to throw the slightest of light on a small water puddle which was the last refuge for a Prince who dreamt of ruling the river.

RIP “The Little Prince of Par” …

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Your tales will be embedded in the soul of the rivers which have been your playground in the past one year. I pray for your the future generations of stripes who will continue to rule the rivers like you aspired to in the years to come. 


Tackling “Tiger Boredom” 

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One of the most photographed cats the “Tiger” though can trigger a rush of adrenalin, but what if you are one of those who think  “Been there done that”? You empty your pockets doing the flurry of game drives in Indian parks at times paying a premium with special all zone access to venture out in the scorching heat of the cruel Indian summer only to be faced with scenes which are dull and boring, forget adrenalin rush your body produces melatonin, inducing sleep…..so much so for a tiger safari then.
We as photographers are constantly looking for tiger action in the form of hunts, play sequences, interactions or shooting the cat in the soft morning or evening light. These are rare moments and happen once in a while. But what do you get instead on 70% of the occasions? Tigers sitting in cemented water tanks, Tigers in the bushes, Tiger sleeping under tree shades. The subject you go out seeking is smarter than you , they give you an half opened eye look with a perplexed look as if saying go chill in a swimming pool , sit in the shade, it’s too hot to be cooking yourselves alive.
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Summer sightings like these are considered to be below average owing to harsh light or man-made structures and the drooping shoulders of a lot of camera owners around me just display signs of what I term as “tiger boredom”! Over the years I have been bitten by this boredom way too often but have tried to come up with ideas to overcome it by experimenting with such tiger sightings.
As I write this note a lazy (or rather a smart) tiger is sitting in front of me in a cemented water tank cooling himself as we roast in the sun. I have my doubts if he will get up in the next couple of hours. But I love the commitment level of the photographer and the subject! Just like I have committed myself to be burnt alive, this tiger is committed to chilling in its pool and we both haven’t given up on each other. And while I hope he gets into action at some point eventually, let me pen down some thoughts on how to encounter this tiger boredom 🙂

Shooting Portraits

We all start off with shooting tiger portraits, some graduate to learning how to zoom out and capturing the majestic feline in its environs, some never do. It’s after all the world’s most photogenic cat.
But in a scenario where you can’t do much with the environs have you thought of doing an extreme portrait of the cat. Stacking up all the glass in your kit for a tight close up of the eye if it’s open, or the nose or experimenting with the depth of field by keeping certain parts of the face in focus and blurring the rest. IMHO these are some engaging exercises that can keep you engaged while your body cooks itself, making the stepping out in the sun a little more worthwhile.
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The Dissection Technique for Portraits 

From head to tail the tiger is by far a charismatic subject and as a photographer I see frames and perspectives in every part of its body. What better than a lazy tiger sitting out in the open to hone your observation skills. Stripes, paw, powerful back hunches, nose,  whiskers – each and every body part of the tiger has a hidden image which is fun to explore. Never went to a Zoology practical class, try that out with your camera and lens on the most majestic subject available.
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The Cement Issue

We crib about our cities being a concrete jungle but then we encounter concrete in the jungles too, what a bummer that’s what you ran away from to begin with.
Tigers in cemented water tanks has become a critical national problem for photographers. The joy of a sighting simply evaporates in minutes with the sight of a cement. Even I didn’t pick up my camera many years ago to photograph something which isn’t natural. One fine summer around 6 years ago, I noticed something during one of my safaris in Bandhavgarh which changed my thought process. Extreme portraits are of course an easy way to deal with the cement issue, but what else can be done. What caught my eye was the trail of water dripping from the belly when the cat got up from the water and ever since I have been thinking of images around the belly waterfalls.
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Tiger in cemented waterhole – Bandhavgarh

Reflections

Cement water holes have a unique feature. Before the tongue of a tiger touches these water bodies the water is still and the stillness gives a mirror like reflection and there are plenty of opportunities which can be explored around reflections. Even once the process of water going in the system is on, the ripples in the water can create some great tiger abstractions.
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So the next time you spend a bomb to venture on a full day safari in peak summers risking a sunstroke , don’t doze off to give the sleeping cat company. Tigers have been widely photographed in today’s time but in my opinion there are tons of tiger images yet to be taken. Make the best of what you have, challenge your brain cells, trigger those creative juices and make the adventure out in the sun worth your while.
And once you are through with your experimentations you can also think of more ideas and sit in front of a lazing tiger to kill your boredom by writing a similar note for the benefit of mankind 🙂

Survival in Extremes

Season after season most of us have seen Bear Grylls the presenter of Discovery Channel’s popular series – Man Vs. Wild.  He is the man who epitomises adventure and survival and has survived the harshest of terrains. I recently watched an episode of a new series – ‘The Island Hosted By Bear Grylls’ on Discovery Channel that brings back the same thrill, however, there is a twist in this series… Bear Grylls drops the participants on a deserted island and challenges them to fend for themselves.

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THE ISLAND — Season: 1 — Pictured: Bear Grylls — (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC)

The series features 14 participants being dropped on a remote Pacific island without any modern day amenities or tools; where nothing is going to be ordinary for the next 28 days.

With only the clothes on their backs and minimal survival tools, these men are committed to filming every moment themselves. They are left to battle against the local elements and wildlife & are forced to confront their innermost fears. But the question is ‘will they survive the Island?’

It amazes me that the rules of the game are very different. Here is a reality show with no elimination and no prizes to be won. The only prize is to survive the ever-evolving nature and battle challenges like hunting for food, sourcing water and building shelter. They have to test their physical, mental and emotional limits and fight for their very existence in an extreme environment.

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THE ISLAND — Season: 1 — Pictured: (l-r) James Murray, Taylor Cole, Davion Peterson, Rob Brothers, Michael Rossini, Trey Williams, Dakota Mortensen, Richard Smith, Judson Nichols, Alton “Buck” Parker, Matthew Getz, Earnest Marshall, Benji Lanpher, Graham Sheldon — (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC)

I recount my expeditions in the wild. My passion for photography takes me to deep forests and each time the wild has appraised me with ‘expect the unexpected.’   During my journeys, I am equipped with essentials like water, snacks, a phone and of course, my camera. When I was watching the show, I wondered how these modern men would survive in such a harsh environment without basic supplies. All these modern men come from such different backgrounds, like there is a stay-at-home dad, a trauma surgeon, a firefighter – who are accustomed to roofs over their heads and the benefits of technology. In this competition they are stripped of all modern conveniences and catapulted back to the basics. While each one has a different motivation, they all have something to prove to themselves and to each other.

I am getting hooked to the show which is airing Monday to Wednesday at 10 PM on Discovery Channel and I look forward to watching the full series to know if these men would be able to keep a cool head under competitive pressure of being alone in an island. Will they give up or develop a new zeal to fight the nature?

I recommend you to watch the series to see these contestants unfold the mysteries of the wild and their–newly evolving skills of hunting and gathering.

 The Island Hosted by Bear Grylls is airing Monday to Wednesday at 10 PM on the Discovery Channel.  You can share your feedback about the show on Twitter or Facebook using #IslandWithBearGrylls


Being a Wanderer

A decade back I started juggling between 2 boats – on one hand it was the cozy comforts of the corporate world, a 10 hour work schedule, targets, deadlines and seniors scrutinising and supervising each and every move. All this involved some good figures in the bank at the end of the month. On the other hand it was the passion of adventure, travel and photography. The joy of discovering different aspects of the natural world by seeing creations of God. Wrangler has started a new campaign TrueWanderers, an attempt to recognise such individuals like me you are driven by passion and determination & who make tough decisions in life to achieve their dreams.

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Finally the heart ruled over the mind and the nature wanderer in me took over and I stepped into a zone where I took the onus of making a profession out of my passion. The wanderer in me took me to newer geographies and each terrain was gifted by a new set of species. The wanderer in me made me understand nature photography and move from the science to artistic elements of painting the natural world using a camera and a lens.

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The wanderer in me made me learn from some of the most creative brains of India. Even after more than a decade, today the wanderer in me keeps the fire alive to discover, explore and learn.

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I came across a set of such wanderers that propelled their passion and stepped out of their comfort zones and I am sure you would enjoy listening to their inspirational stories. It is a test of your mental strength and determination to create your own path that set these wanderers apart. Great job by Wrangler to organise the search for TrueWanderers campaign. Read more about the top 5.0 Wanderers and get inspired from their passionate path and vote for your favourite contestant.

TOP 5.0 Wanderers

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