The 2019 edition of my Tiger Marathon photo safari series just concluded in Bandhavgarh National Park. A fortnight filled with tiger action as we worked with Dotty and Solo – the two devoted mothers of Bandhavgarh who have been raising their litters in the park this season. From cubs playing to some charismatic males, Bandhavgarh always throws up surprises every day. Here are some of the many moments witnessed in the past 15 days.
It has been a hectic but productive June till now. We started our work in Ranthambhore working on T60 and cubs when a news from Bandhavgarh caught our attention. A tigress called Spotty in the Tala zone of Bandhavgarh had given birth to her first litter. Weighing various pros and cons we changed gears and rushed to Bandhavgarh to start some extensive tracking for the newly seen cubs. A 7 day project resulted in some brilliant images of 2 month old tiger cubs for our guest who showed remarkable patience and perseverance in extreme weather conditions.
Monsoons showers have started hitting tiger parks and as we enter the last 10 days of the season lets wish the wild denizens of India a safe monsoon.
Experienced Tadoba summers after a gap of 4 years. May 2012 was the last I spent a fortnight in the blazing sun and scorching heat of Tadoba. 4 years down the line, I led a small group of photographers who braved the heat to spend hours with the Sonam and Maya family – the current heartthrobs of Tadoba. The cubs have been shaping up quite well since I last saw them in December 2015. It was also a first experience for me with the majestic Bajrang male who is fathering Sonam cubs. He for sure is a charismatic tiger and would be instrumental in propelling the dynasty of tigers in Tadoba.
Recharging at home after a hectic 45 day travel schedule. Stay tuned for June diaries as we enter into the last month of the tiger season in India before the monsoons…
The 2016 edition of Tiger Marathon – the annual back to back tiger photography tours by Nature Wanderers – ended this week with some exemplary sightings in Ranthambhore and Corbett National Park. While the lakes were productive again in Ranthambhore, we also got the opportunity to photograph the newly crowned mother T60 and her 3 cubs. Sessions with Noor (T39) and T57 were equally intense and productive.
Corbett on the other hand along with expected elephant action was ruled by Paarwali sightings as the river mermaid of Ramganga gave multiple opportunities for photography in typical Corbett habitats. Here are a few images created in the past fortnight.
Have blogged about mystic forms of Corbett in the past and here is another brief update from the foothills from the Himalayas where early morning rays mingles with the mist to create some divine light with a midas touch which sparkles any subject in such majestic backdrops. This time it was some deer species like the hog deer and in search for mist and light, we bumped into a tiger sitting in a dramatic saal forest.
Winter photography in tiger parks is always special. The magical morning mist and the soft light filtering through the forest canopies makes you as a photographers look of images rather than tigers. I just completed a 1800 km marathon in central India covering various parks of Madhya Pradesh. The experience was not just about the Rajbehra cubs in Bandhavgarh or the Baghin Nala cubs in Pench but creating some awesome images in the stunning winter backdrops of central Indian forests.
A lot of work is yet to be seen and processed… sharing some of the images. This would probably be my last post for the year 2015. Wishing you all a very happy new year and great luck and light for 2016!
Climates change patterns are being witnessed globally and Ranthambhore has not been spared in the past few years. The park received scanty rains and though the forest looks lush green post monsoons, the water in the park should dry up soon. The first week of Ranthambhore post monsoons has witnessed some decent tiger sightings. While the dynamics around the lakes is changing with Krishna cubs moving towards the road of independence, Noor (T39) has managed to keep her cubs safe through the monsoons and both the families have given photographers some decent photo opportunities in week one. The tall grass has been a challenge for shooting though the greens do give a punch to the images. During the Canon – Nature Wanderers Ranthambhore Opener photo tour, our participants got some good photographic opportunities with T19 and cubs, T39, T28, T8 and T74. While the participants created some magical images, here are some which I could manage in the last week…
Incidentally all the images below are taken using the Canon 100-400mm IS2. I loved using this focal range after nearly 6 years and hardly used the Canon 400mm f2.8. It was fun playing around with compositions using a 100-400 focal length without worrying about the image quality.
It is the end of season and as I look back at the hectic 9 months, some of those glorious wildlife moments keep flashing in my head. With more than 150 game drives in Ranthambhore, the focus of the season was on Krishna and cubs. My brief fortnight-long stints in Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Corbett and Sunderbans were rewarding as well. Escorting some of the best photographers in business, it was a great knowledge sharing experience on the field. Though in most of the game drives I wasn’t shooting much since I was escorting and mentoring photographers, I did squeeze in time for some personal drives in Ranthambhore and those were the times my camera was in action the most.
Presenting a compilation of my top 14 wildlife moments for 2014-2015.
1. Krishna & Cubs – October 2013
The season started with Ranthambhore and the first glimpse of Krishna and her cubs in the band of golden morning light at Rajbagh remains edged to my memory till date. The experience lasted for not more than 10 mins but our gang of photographers created some dream images that by far are the best images of T19 and cubs from that time from October 2013.
2. The King & The Fisher – Nov 2014
Amidst the hysteria around T39 (Noor) and her cubs one fine morning in November 2014, a tiny kingfisher caught my attention. The background was a typical Ranthambhore habitat and resulted in this image. One of my favorites from the season. Worked on similar concepts whenever the opportunity was right. Infact over the next many months after shooting this, I did a lot of birding around tigers – from Kingfishers, the stone curlews, drongos, peacocks, robins. The first creation is normally the best creation and rest are more of duplications in order to better this.
3. In His Kingdom – Kanha – Dec 2014
Kanha in winters has always been special for photography. Not for tigers but because of the mist and the meadows. During one such game drive in Kanha, we bumped into the majestic Munna. My experiments with Tilt Shift lenses on tigers have helped me in creating some unique wide angle perspectives. The saal forest backdrop offered the perfect opportunity to pull out the glass from the bag.
4. A morning at Rajbagh – Jan 2015
There was something about that morning at Rajbagh. The soft morning light filtering through the mist was just enough for shooting this wonderful show put up by Krishna and her cubs at the edges of the lakes. Our gang of photographers were stunned in silence after this wonderful action packed sequence – probably the best action by this terrific family throughout the season. The soft light, the grand backdrops, the orange winter coats of the cubs… am sure the lensmen present that morning will vouch for this being probably the best tiger action of their lifetime.
5. The Winter Couple – Jan 2015 – Bharatpur
End of Jan, we took a small break from Ranthambhore and shot in Bharatpur for a few days. Despite of the low activity of birds in Bharatpur, I decided to focus on a subject I love to work with – the Sarus Cranes. Morning to evening sessions with Sarus led us to this beautiful pair of cranes that walked out in unison in the early morning mist of Keoladeo with the sun just popping out from behind deep in the horizon. As I looked through the view finder to shoot this image, I had goosebumps all over seeing this dramatic setting of the Keoladeo marshes.
6. Thunderbold Krishna – Feb 2015
The master hunter Krishna silently disappeared in the Rajbagh grasses one evening in Ranthambhore. Unaware of what is going to happen, my vehicle reached the spot and as I changed my equipments to focus on a group of cheetal grazing in a small patch of open grass, Krishna stormed out like lightning in the small patch of light dispersing the group in all directions.
7. Tiger Off-Springs – Ranthambhore – March 2015
It was a 30 mins sighting that morning at Rajbagh and not more than 5 mins of hardcore tiger action. Krishna cubs played like maniacs in that backlit set up. A storm of lenses surrounded them as the lake water splashed all around with the mother joining the play sequence.
8. Bears and Bears – April 2015
I remember this morning as one of my best game drives in the park. We were running after the mother T39 (Noor) while her cubs were already been seen by a flurry of vehicles in zone 1. In our pursuit we bumped into a different specie of a mother who walked on a forest floor bed full of palas (flame of the forest) flowers. Post this all the vehicles dispersed from the cubs location and we spent a nice peaceful exclusive time with T39 and her cubs.
9. His First Catch – Ranthambhore – April 2015
A moment which will be engrained in my memory till my last breath. The inexperience male cub of Krishna (T19) attempted to bring down a cheetal. He struggled for more than 40 mins to kill the cheetal. A power-packed sequence but it was painful to see this through the view finder. Read the entire photo story on this blog – https://shivangmehtaphotography.wordpress.com/2015/05/03/the-first-catch/
10. Stripes – The Extreme Portrait – May 2015
Over the past few years, I have developed this taste of shooting extreme closeups of tigers. Scaling up the focal length to around 1000mm+, composition needs to be really precise. This summer, inspired by some frames and compositions from Tiger Dynasty (by Nalla Muthu) I wanted to go tighter than usual. I had a discussion with Nalla on his certain ultra tight compositions. God was kind to gift me with a calm and composed T24 sighting soon after those talks with Nalla where I made effective use of a 1000mm focal to create a series of super tiger compositions.
11. The Ramganga Queen – May 2015
I normally don’t run after tigers in Corbett. However May 2015 was an exception. The Par tigress was obliging photographers with their dream Corbett images and I forced myself to join this race. A few misses and finally we caught her one morning in Dhikala.
12. The Cave Dwellers – Bandhavgarh – May 2015
The Patiha family has been controlling a major chunk of tiger sightings in Bandhavgarh throughout the season. We spent 1 morning with the 3 cubs in this cave set up which is one of the most unique habitat image series of tigers I have shot till date. The reddish rocks, the contours in the rocks, the gradients and patterns and the sparkling stripes made an interesting combo and the 10 odd images around this cave have been amongst the top backdrops for tiger photography for me.
13. Krishna Clan – Ranthambhore – May 2015
Over the months, it has been an experience the changing behavior of tiger cubs. The playful Krishna cubs were now displaying signs of independence by making their own odd kills and small fights showcasing dominance. But the attachment with the mother was seen time and again and during this morning in May 2015, 14 month old tiger cubs were caught suckling.
14. Star walked the ramp – June 30, 2015
The lakes of Ranthambhore can surprise you anytime of the day. Rains had an impact of the sightings of the park in the last few days of the park closure. It was the morning of June 30th and everyone was hoping for 1 final glimpse before the park closes for monsoons. We decided to take a final lap of the lakes before leaving and caught Star (T28) walking in the pristine backdrop of the fort and on a carpet of green. It was long and silent walk with no vehicles around. A befitting end to a season!
A lot of ‘whys’ are put forward during my workshops and photo tours. Why did I use this lens to shoot a particular image? Why did I expose this image in this way? Why did I use a particular combination of ISO, shutter, aperture etc? My standard response is it all depends on what you as a photographer have envisioned for a particular image and what you want to create…
For this particular image here are a few responses to some of the Whys:
- Why did I go for a tight composition?
- Because the habitat in which the tiger was walking for full of clutter which wasn’t appealing for a wide shot. I had a choice of a Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2 and a Canon 70-200mm handy with me this time. My decision to go tight was mainly to deal with the clutter of a dense Dhonk vegetation which is omnipresent in a place like Ranthambhore.
- Why did I underexpose the image?
- Just to capitalize on the patches of cut light falling on the face while the subject was in motion. I did not shoot a lot of images when the subject was walking in the shade areas and was just preparing myself to shoot for the light patches. Even before the tiger started walking the light patches in the Dhonk forest something which I found interesting to play with. As soon as the subject started moving towards those light patches, I metered for those patches only. I did miss some moments when the subject was walking in shade areas but that was not the image I had created in my mind.
- Why did I compose vertically?
- Because it was too close and a horizontal composition may have resulted in some part of the leg being cut from the frame which would have looked odd. I knew there was little margin for error in the composition but it was worth the risk because it was this sort of an image which I had visualized in my head…Nature photography is all about visualization and knowing what you want out of something happening in front of you. The quicker you think the more comfortable you would be in answering you Whys…–
Equipment Used : Canon 1Dx, Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2, ISO 200, f4, 1/2000. Mounted on a NW BLite Bean Bag
It is February and Ranthambhore has already started loosing some of its charismatic winter colors. Days are warm and sunny consistently and the dense fog and gloomy weather conditions have given way to golden morning mist over the lakes. All these dramatic changes in the last 20 odd days have had an impact on the sightings of the 2 devoted mothers and their doting cubs. While T19 (Krishna) has been keeping photographers busy around the lakes, T39 (Noor) made a reappearance in the park after a 20 day disappearance and if the weather continues to warm during the days, the sighting trends would surely improve further in the coming days.
The last 20 days, I was focussed on the lakes and had some memorable encounters with the lake denizens. The female cub of Krishna always surprised me with her antics. She is bold and independent and would climb on trees, induce the other siblings to indulge in play fights, stalk deer fawns and one fine afternoon she pulled off a stunner by swimming right across the Rajbagh lake like a Sunderbans tiger in the company of crocodiles who had literally surrounded her during a 50 meters lap. We had named her Machali junior because of a fork mark on her cheek which bears resemblance to her famed grandmom – Machali. She is certainly the dominant princess of the lakes.
News and rumors around new born cubs of T41 have also raised the hopes for summers and overall Ranthambhore is gearing up for some exciting tiger action starting March.
Here is a brief photo-diary of some Krishna and cubs moments in the last fortnight:
A week in Ranthambhore post a 3 months monsoon break is rejuvenating as usual. The forest is like a green book full of mysteries unfolding in every nook and corner and every day is a new chapter in this book. This year was particularly interesting because of the presence of cubs all around the park. The progress of the few key tiger families like the celebrated lady of the lakes -T19 and her cubs and charismatic T39 (Noor) was particularly in question as everyone wanted to know how the little striped wonders of the park were doing post the monsoon break. Though monsoons is a tricky period for tiger sightings, the entire park (zone 1-10) flourished with sightings announcing Ranthambhore to be the place to look out for in 2014-2015.
Here are some of the key tiger moments captured in this first week of season 2014-2015 in Ranthambhore National Park – the tigerland of India.
2 weeks with the wild denizens of Kanha and Pench in the company of some amazing shutterbugs. Presenting a brief gallery of images created during the fortnight.
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:
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!
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.
Tiger Diary – Published by Tiger Nation
BANDHAVGARH, MAY 2012: Vijaya, like all mother’s, has up till now taken a careful approach to bringing out her gangly 6 month old kids in any formal way. She has preferred to keep them off roads skirting forests and meadows in her bid to protect them.
Not anymore. She set out to lead her family on a distinct Royal tour, sauntering contentedly along the very road that she has watched thousands of pilgrims move on high days and holidays, as well as countless visitors every day.
Her merry band of youngsters followed her quite contentedly, often stopping to play with one another, bite each other tail, or sideling up to mum to complain that they are bored of walking.
Mum though was on a mission, and from the Chakradhara meadows, she proceeded up the hill towards the fort’s main entrance and then up the 10th century carved stairs at Vishnu’s temple before vanishing into the forested hills behind.
Vijaya’s Royal walkabout suggest that she is perfectly comfortable with her ‘Princess’ status in the Tala range.
My 50mm hysteria continued after the first bit of experimentation in Corbett and this time the decisions were bolder for the subject and opportunities in question were rarer and the risk of missing out superb tight frames was higher. However trying this on the striped cats was great fun never-the-less. The reactions of the people around me was very amusing whenever I mounted this mini-glass on my camera. I remember that while I was creating a 50mm perspective of the devoted one eyed beauty Vijaya (Kankatti), someone in the crowd of tourist was murmuring in the background – “Seems he has forgotten to put his lens in excitement !”
Pleased to share some of the images created during my recent trip to Bandhavgarh National Park:
Unseasonal rains, misty mornings and extreme cold were making Kanha National Park a tough destination from a photography perspective this January. The cat action had gone done considerably so I had diverted my attention to landscapes and swamp deers (barasingha). I was particularly interested in swamp deers as I was yet to get that good perspective of a swamp deer stag in the ever beautiful and scenic Kanha meadows. Unfortunately in my previous visits to Kanha, a stag was something which I had missed.
Seeing the weather and shooting conditions, I decided to focus my attention on the meadows and grassland and the hunt for swamp deers were on. Every round in the park yielded some nice swamp deer perspectives and it was a smooth sail. That particular evening drive however had something different in store.
With minimal cat expectations and engrossed in the thoughts of capturing Kanha’s in its mystic and damp spirit, Kahini and I set out for the evening round. We were as usual chasing the evening light in the meadows as I wanted to work on swamp deers in the typical evening mood of the meadows. As our vehicle speeded through the narrow forest tracks, I nearly dozed off post the heavy lunch. The sleep was however short-lived for the driver gave me a big jolt by putting the breaks on. The jolt in front of me was bigger!
Munna – the dominant male of Kanha meadows – suddenly emerged out on the right of the road ready for an evening stroll towards the Kanha meadows. The giant male lazily did a scat marking on the side of the road and strolled in grand fashion in front of the vehicle.
Rather than picking up the biggest lens to shoot the mighty beast, I decided to experiment with habitat perspectives which is something I always like to do. Unfortunately, this was a Nature Wanderers event and the participants have the first right on my equipments. I had given away most of my equipments to the Canon Wild Clicks equipments and was left with just 1 camera body to shoot. So the choice had to be swift…
The decision was in favor of a Canon 24-70 f2.8 and a 70-200 f2.8 and I juggled between both these lenses to capture the king’s walk. Shooting big cats that have ventured close to your vehicle with lower focal lengths capture’s the mood of the forest. It differentiates a Kanha picture from a Ranthambhore image for both are different terrains with their own unique features.
A tiger is a tiger… from a photographer’s perspective it becomes imperative to think and create frames that transports a viewer to that particular forest. I have seen some superb habitat perspectives of tigers in the wild taken by my counterparts and I respect the instant creativity shown by those photographers.
For now, dedicating this note the charismatic Munna and his majestic forest…