I found myself living a wildlife photographer’s worst nightmare a few years ago, when I moved to Bengaluru to pursue a research career in molecular ecology. While the work at the National Centre of Biological Sciences (NCBS) was exciting and immersive, I was grounded to a desk for the first time – unable to leave the city, waist-deep in work, browsing longingly through old photos. I was craving for a forest, and the idea of adhering to set boundaries – more importantly, of not being near tigers, leopards or chital – was stressful. In hindsight, it was the best thing that has ever happened to the photographer in me.
I grew up on a farm close to the forest that became Kipling’s muse – Pench Tiger Reserve – with tigers and leopards roaming around almost in our backyard. My family loved and respected nature, and I grew up hearing tales of hunting, of jungles and man-eaters from the village elders. It was in this milieu that I chose photography as a tool to share moments from the wild.
By the time I got my first camera, I had already experienced the thrill of standing two meters from a tiger, of walking on a forest trail without a torch and accompanied only by the distant sawing of a leopard, of sleeping under an open sky without being able to see a single star because of the million fireflies that had lit up the sky. Photography was just an extension from the exposure I got to wildlife. To me, at that time, wildlife photography could only mean dense forests, and charismatic and endangered wildlife.
Years later, at work in the scenic NCBS campus, my inclination to explore nature drove me to peer about the garden around my lab. That’s when the real meaning of wildlife struck home. By definition, isn’t a grasshopper, a mantis, and even an ant part of urban wildlife? My interactions with international students at the institute just underlined how, in comparison, we live with a bounty of natural heritage – even our cities are filled with wildlife that we have grown to take for granted.
The learning I took away from these years is that you don’t have to be a regular at a tiger reserve to be a wildlife photographer. You can nurture your skills and your knowledge while sitting in your backyard, a garden or even a lake in your city. My challenge was to find a new perspective on the life we see – and ignore – everyday. I realised that it was no longer about the camera gear, it wasn’t about the subject – it was purely about the perspective. It was about how a photographer sees these subjects in his surrounding habitat. Undoubtedly for me, it was an intensely personal experience.
Click through for photos from my strolls around the NCBS campus.
is a National Geographic Explorer. An ecologist turned photographer, he uses photography as a medium to communicate science to the larger audience. He is currently producing a science story on Sky Islands for National Geographic and NCBS.
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