The world has changed in the past 4 months. For me as a field wildlife professional a lot has changed as this was the first time in nearly 2 decades that I kept away from active field photography such a long duration. As Indian national parks gradually come to terms with the COVID-19 tourism dynamics I visited Ranthambore National Park for a quick field visit. Life inside the forest was usual and life outside the forest was changed as it should have been. Sanitisation of safari vehicles, use of masks during safaris, sanitisation rules of lodges – these are some norms which we should be getting used to as India gears up for the post COVID-19 phase of wildlife tourism.
Here are some images are a short video that summarises the entire journey post the lockdown. It is not tough. Just take all precautions and you can keep that passion and hunger for outdoors alive!
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!
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 long marathon in various forests of India as we started with the Mowgli land – Pench, headed off to Kanha and then to Bandhavgarh is search of the famed tiger mothers of central Indian tiger heartland. The tiger action in Bandhavgarh was fabulous as we spent countless hours with Spotty, Dotty and Solo – the 3 breeding females of the park. From Central India we headed to Kaziranga for some rhinos and elephants and were blessed with a beautiful sighting of a 1 month old rhino calf.
Here are some images to summarise the last fortnight.
We started a brand new tiger season in a green rejuvenated Ranthambore. The park was in a bad state during the last season because of lack of water and animals were in distress and a good monsoon was critical for Ranthambore. September turned around the fortunes of Ranthambore as the park received heavy rains filling up all the water bodies of the park and the dazzling green vegetation along with the rain water accumulated in every corner of the park made Ranthambore gorgeous like never before. The tiger sightings gradually picked up and the highlight of the first week was the mating of the ever charismatic Noor (T39) and T57. Will the reigning queen of Ranthambore gear up for her 5th litter in the coming months?
The tigers seen in the first week were T8 & cubs, T97, T98, all 3 of Noor’s separated daughters. Machali Junior (Arrowhead), T19 and cubs, T41 and cub, T34 and T73.
Good news poured in from Bandhavgarh as well we ended week 1 as Spotty’s new litter of 4 was seen. With multiple breeding females Bandhavgarh would surely be a park teaming with tiger action this season.
Here are some images summarising the first week of the new season in Ranthambore.
The Dissection Technique for Portraits
The Cement Issue
I have been on the road since the first week of March. From a fortnight in high altitude terrains of Himalayas in search of Snow Leopards to shuttling between Corbett & Ranthambore guiding guests from South Africa, United States & United Kingdom. Here is a quick round up for March 2018.
The Snow Leopard Expedition was a memorable experience with 6 sightings of 8 individual cats. The tender mother and cub moments enthralled our guests and the bold male gave some excellent photographic opportunities.
Paro’s young cub in Corbett has been looking in great shape and being the lone cub he is growing up fast. His antics around the river and river beds of Dhikala would be etched in sighting records of Corbett for years to come. Ranthambore on the other hand has been going steady and the major turn of events has been the sudden surge in sightings of Krishna (T19) and cubs post March 2018. Machali Junior or Arrowhead littered in the last week of February but the cubs have not been seen post the first report and the survival of the young cubs is questionable. The other consistent sightings have been Laila (T41) and her Blue Eye male cub. Noor (T39) and her female litter of 3 cubs are now showing signs of separation. Ladli (T8) and the cubs have been regularly seen along with the separated male cubs of T60.
Stay tuned to this space for some more exciting summer reports from Wild India in the coming months.
February has been all about hopping between various tiger habitats of India. The month started with Ranthambore where my guests spent some productive sessions with Noor (T39) and cubs and the T60 separated male cubs. Glimpses of Machali Junior (T84) raised hopes of her pregnancy. The lakes have been drying up gradually the effects of a scanty monsoon is now clearly visible.
We then moved on to the action area of Dhikala in Corbett National Park where the winter mist continued to fascinate our guests. The elephants have dwindled as compared to January but still there were sizeable numbers considering we are still in the fading part of winters of India.
Post the sad demise of my friend and elder brother Rajwardhan Sharma, I had to gather a lot of courage to go back to Bandhavgarh. I avoided it for the past few months but work commitments have got me here again.
I have just arrived amidst memories of Raj saheb and as I am gearing up for the week out here in Bandhavgarh, his pleasant memories and the hours of time we have spent together are reinstating my belief that Bandhavgarh will never be the same without him.
In the past 14 years I have documented the lives of some of the most iconic tigers of India. I am pleased to announce the launch of my book – A Decade with Tigers – which is a compilation of images and stories depicting love, romance, motherhood, rivalry and revenge in the world of tigers in the past decade. Here is a curtain raiser to the book.
Stay tuned for launch updates…
Have been constantly on the field of the past couple of months and haven’t had much time to sort images. Just back from back to back Corbett and Bandhavgarh photography tours and I must say both locations are teaming with wildlife action. While Paro – the river mermaid of Corbett – has been enthralling photographers with a consistent appearances in majestic Himalayan backdrops, Bandhavgarh has had some outstanding action with tiger cubs as Spotty – the reigning heartthrob of Tala – is in command with her young battalion of cubs who have made the grasslands their playground this summer. In the other areas of the part Bamera’s son (T37) has been displaying his affection for his offsprings as the 3 cubs of Kankati Jr. have been keeping shutters busy in the lone water body of the area.
Here is a quick preview for April and May 2017:
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.
The beginning of the new year has been a bit low on travel as a lot of work is being done around some exciting wildlife programs to be conducted in the coming months of 2016. Though my colleagues Sagar Gosavi and Jagdeep Rajput conducted some extensive programs in Corbett National Park, I squeezed in time for a photography tour commitment in Kanha and did a impromptu game drive in Ranthambhore.
Here is a brief visual diary of some images created in the first fortnight of 2016. Stay tuned for some exciting updates this February and March.
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!
Season 2015-2016 has started on a great note with multiple tiger parks showcasing a promising future. While Ranthambhore still leads the charts as Krishna and Noor clans are beginning to carve out their own path, Bandhavgarh, Tadoba and Pench have all reported tiger cubs which throws open a lot of photo opportunities in all the parks through the coming spring and summer. The evergreen Corbett National Park had ended on a high note last season and we at Nature Wanderers are all geared up for our winter Corbett schedules to be led by a photographer who has been breathing Corbett for 25 years… Mr. Jagdeep Rajput.
I am pleased to share with you the calendar for 2016 spring and summer schedules for various tiger reserves.
Bandhavgarh Sunrise to Sunset Safaris – Jan 13-17 (5 seats… 2 seats left)
Unexplore Corbett with Jagdeep Rajput – Jan 23-26 (6 seats)
Tiger Marathon with Shivang Mehta
Tiger Marathon – Batch 1 – Ranthambhore – May 5-8
Tiger Marathon – Batch 2 – Ranthambhore – May 8-11
Tiger Marathon – Batch 3 – Corbett – May 12-15
Tiger Marathon – Batch 4 – Corbett – May 16-19
Every day as I accompany photographers on the field, the sight of a tiger makes cameras go ballistic as triggers are pressed with sheer madness. Sitting in the hotel room when I see the days work of people the hard disks are full of similar looking images and then the ‘I wish’ list begins… I wish I had shot like this… I wish I had done this better…
I always wonder that when you as a photographer pick your camera to shoot say a spotted deer a lot of thought goes behind that image. You take the pain to place the deer properly in the frame, you experiment with compositions. Why does that happen? It is just because you consider the deer as a subject. Yes subjects like tigers are rare to find but the moment you get a control on your mind and start treating them as subjects you will end up maximizing your field productivity and make best use of the opportunities that nature presents in front of you.
Have you ever tried pondering on the following points?
- Removing your eye from the view finder to see the subject with your naked eyes and scan for elements which can be added or removed from the frame?
- You may be using the biggest prime lens in the world that will give you a razor sharp image. However are those sharp images needed every time? How about experimenting with varied focal lengths to create 4-5 different images of a moment as simple as a tiger sitting under a tree.
- Reading the light and pre-visualizing images for a certain light situation. You may end up forgoing some images but you will be better prepared for that particular lighting scenario
I got hold of the new and revamped Canon 100-400mm IS2 and rested my Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS2. I used it extensively in Ranthambhore throughout last week. Here is an example from Ranthambhore where a tiger sitting under a tree was shot in 5 different ways as varied focal lengths.
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!
June is always a tricky month for Ranthambhore. Pre monsoon showers and the western disturbances hamper tiger sightings but the forest sparkles green regaining its emerald flavor and this gives a boost to the images you end up creating during this month.
T19 (Krishna) and cubs were in prime action during the month of June. The interactions between the cubs are no longer playful and they lose no opportunity to showcase their dominance over each other. On the other edge of the forest, T39 (Noor) and her 2 male cubs controlled the sightings till early third week of June. Heavy rains in the last 10 days of the forest season did impact the tiger movements towards the end of June but the highlight of the month was the bold moves by Krishna cubs towards a huge crocodile on the edges of Rajbagh lake. While I was busy with some amphibian assignments in the Western Ghats, I am glad that Nature Wanderers photography mentor – Jagdeep Rajput along with our clients were there at the right time to shoot this epic sequence.
June 30th was a befitting end to a challenging, tiring yet rewarding season in Ranthambhore. T28 (Star) walked in pristine light at the edges of the lake with the majestic fort in the backdrop. For a change there were no vehicles around to hasten his slow and graceful walk before he disappeared in the Rajbagh palace.
Presenting a few glimpses of June 2015 from Ranthambhore. End of a memorable back-to-back 9 month run with the denizens of the lakes. Wishing the young brigade a happy and safe monsoons.
My focus on T19 (Krishna) in Ranthambhore kept me away from one of my favorite hunting grounds in central India. I am very found of Bandhavgarh for its habitat, tiger photography potential and the people… working in this central Indian tiger heartland is always great fun. Made up for the entire season in the last 10 days as I was escorting my photographer guest from the UK. Our focus was the Patiha female and her three 8 month old cubs. Working on tiger cubs outside the Tala zone was a challenge and a different experience from my past Bandhavgarh endeavors. However we got 3 exclusive photo opportunities with the family over the 9 day period which were good enough for an excellent portfolio. More than the images tracking the family in the Patiha area and understanding some new areas of the park was a great learning experience.
Post Bandhavgarh, we spent a few days in Panna National Park and it was awesome to witness the success story of Panna. T1 – the queen of Panna – is in great shape with her 4th litter of 2 cubs. The park has some tremendous potential and is an excellent tiger habitat. Photographers should watch out for Panna – another excellent location with great photographic potential.
It is the end of April out here in Ranthambhore and probably for the first time the forest is looking lush and green even as the temperatures soar up. The water table which had shot up because of the March rains is all getting dried up very fast and all this is giving us the unique opportunity to photograph tigers in a lush green semi-monsoon habitat.
While T19 (Krishna) and her cubs are keeping the shutters busy, T39 (Noor) and her 2 young cubs have also made an entry into the tourism zones. Even the other zones have seen some awesome tiger sightings in the form of T42 and T13 mating and T8 and her cub giving good photo opps in the Kundal area of Ranthambhore.
Here is a brief photographic journey through Ranthambhore through the month of April.
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