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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 Falls

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 🙂
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From Snow Leopards to Tigers

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.

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Winter Magic Continues in Corbett…

I just wrapped up the second Corbett schedule for January 2018. This time it was a photo safari with a young talented bunch of shutterbugs in Dhikala. The highlight for this schedule was yet again elephants in the cloud of mist floating over the grasslands. It is very critical to value the importance of simple moments in the wild and focus your energies on them. I am glad that my guests realised the importance of photographing elephants in winters and some outstanding perspective were created every morning.

And yes we did bump into a few tigers in our quest for light and mist…

Here are few more images depicting the winter moods of Corbett

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Tiger Showers – Summers 2017

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:

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Updates from the Mangrove World

Wrapping up my annual Sundarbans photography expeditions. Sundarbans has been one of the toughest photographic terrains of India. The challenges of creating images in the mangrove forest are immense but despite the fact the mysticism of the mangrove forest continues to fascinate me. The sparkling kingfisher species continued to give some superb photographic opportunities and so did the breathtaking mangrove formations. Here is a brief photographic brief from Sundarbans 2015 Photographic Tour by Canon India and Nature Wanderers


Maximize your field productivity

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.

Krishna (T19) female cub shot using Canon 1Dx and Canon 100-400mm IS2

Krishna (T19) female cub shot using Canon 1Dx and Canon 100-400mm IS2


Best of 2014-2015

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.

October 2013 - Lady of the lakes T19 (Krishna) along with one of her 3 cubs

October 2013 – Lady of the lakes T19 (Krishna) along with one of her 3 cubs

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.

The King & The Fisher

November 2013 – The King & The Fisher

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.

December 2014 - In His Kingdom - Munna, Kanha National Park

December 2014 – In His Kingdom – Munna, Kanha National Park

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.

Dancing to the tunes of Krishna cubs - Jan 2015

Dancing to the tunes of Krishna cubs – Jan 2015

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.

The Winter Couple - Jan 2015

The Winter Couple – Jan 2015

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.

Thunderbold Krishna - Feb 2015

Thunderbold Krishna – Feb 2015

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.

Tiger Off-Springs - March 2015

Tiger Off-Springs – March 2015

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.

Sloth Bear with cubs

Sloth Bear with cubs – April 2015

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/

The deer tries to escape the strong clutches

His First Catch – April 2015

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.

Shot just 20 hours before he killed a forest guard

T24 Ustaad – The extreme portrait – May 2015

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.

The Corbett Queen - May 2015

The Corbett Queen – May 2015

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.

Patiha cub in Bandhavgarh - May 2015

Patiha cub in Bandhavgarh – May 2015

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 month old Krishna cubs suckling - May 2015

14 month old Krishna cubs suckling – May 2015

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!

Star (T28) - Last tiger sighting of the park on June 30

Star (T28) – Last tiger sighting of the park on June 30