You know, it’s easy to say that you should follow your passion and make a living out of it. Everybody says if you turn passion into profession, you can be happy in life. But is that true? Firstly, there is lots of difference between passion, hobby and doing something because you enjoy doing it. Passion is an extremely strong urge from within to do something compulsorily, no matter what happens. That could be the soul’s way of aligning you with your life’s purpose. Regardless of whether you have the means to do it or not, you will do it by hook or crook (only if you listen to yourself though). Hobby is a pastime that one indulges in occasionally. It is meant to be a form which one is inclined to and strives to better himself or herself in it. But unlike passion, there is no strong urge from within to practice or improvise on it. Thirdly, doing something just because you like doing it doesn’t make it a passion or hobby. Drinking cannot be passion even though the bottle urges you to be there at 6 PM SHARP. It can’t be your life purpose to just drink! It can’t be your hobby either because you’ll have to be in your senses! 🙂
My passion is motorcycling and doing almost everything related to it. Another passion of mine is photographing the most neglected and abused elements on Earth- Nature and Wildlife. Clicking a picture of those is my way of cherishing the moment. I am a self taught photographer but I did attend a wildlife photography workshop during my college days because I needed something to get started with. Once that was done, I got good at it quickly and began to explore more and more. When my work began to get noticed, I got suggestions of pursuing wildlife photography as my career. Wildlife photography today, especially in India is like the parliament. It isn’t heading anywhere, there are people who are trying to raise its standards but aren’t able to do so because there are other people pulling it down by doing it for free/ for cheap. Then there’s a lot of ego clash about who clicked the first photo of a particular specie and got popular, who stole somebody else’s image, bla bla bla… Not only does it end there, there are dickheads who express an extremely low level of competence and ethics as they attract wild animals by killing other animals and using them as prey, just for that perfect shot. Then there’s the demand-supply dynamics. The market demand in India for wildlife photographers and their work is the opposite of the demand for goods you’d see in the FMCG industry. To top that up, there are clowns who just had a brush with wildlife photography yesterday, head out to buy huge lenses without even knowing how to use them properly, then suddenly everybody wants to get that perfect shot of the black leopard, everybody who just began yesterday suddenly invest almost a million in gear and then invest another million in wildlife resorts, just to have an awesome presence on Facebook, India Nature Watch, flickr etc. Yes, all that circus means your ego will receive a warm oily massage that’ll only help it grow fatter. As the ego grows fatter, they’ll indulge in a lot of other shitty circus tricks I haven’t mentioned here. Eventually, all this will only result in a person’s memory card count overtaking his sperm count!
But this circus Mumbo jumbo has had a far greater effect on the fraternity as a whole. Firstly, the prices of Wildlife safaris and resorts has increased by many fold due to the sheer demand. I don’t hesitate in saying that jungle hospitality market is where tourists and travelers are looted openly and it still faces shortage of space. There are cheaper options but, conditions apply. A weekend of stay and 4 safaris on an average costs a single person a minimum of 15,000 INR! Secondly, this mad race in wildlife photography has led to the inherent stressing of almost all creatures in the jungle. You still see idiots today using flash with a 500mm f/4 mounted to their toy. Overall, the number of jeeps that go into reserves to serve these faggots are usually more than 10 to 15 in number, so if there’s a tiger by the side of the road, there’d be a dozen jeeps nearing it in a line with lenses popping out every now and then, which definitely pushes the tiger back into the bush. In fact, tigers have become extremely tolerant that they don’t bother much these days, especially after seeing jeep drivers spitting out tobacco on the forest floor, hearing babies cry out loud or by looking at imbeciles sticking their heads out of the jeep to get a death selfie with a tiger. Not to forget, I was once in a jeep in Nagarhole national park with an editor of a reputed (not sure though) wildlife magazine who ordered the driver to drive close to a huge male Elephant because he wanted the Elephant to mock charge at the jeep, just to get that so called ‘wild action’. I’m bad with names so I don’t know what the editor’s name was but I know the magazine’s name. It’s weird though that the magazine’s website has taken down names of their editors, probably they all prefer mock charges.
Further to that, this circus has had the demand for DSLR cameras and lenses rocket all the way up to the moon, so they do come with a hefty price tag! DSLRs were like a serious thing in the past but now, it’s just another Jolly Rancher! To me, a good camera does 90% of the job or probably even more in getting an excellent image. A lot of the non professional idiots having access to good photography gear and a bit of textbook photography skills, offer their images to publications and media houses for peanuts or sometimes nothing. All that the idiotic photographers want is a bit of fame so that they can show off their ‘artistic work’ to relatives and friends at a stupid kitty party! This has a direct impact on real wildlife photographers who intend to earn a living through the art as they have to settle for lesser prices when dealing with media houses. In short, the industry grows at a dim pace. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to know the amount a wildlife photographer is paid in India for an international magazine’s cover shot as you are bound to feel disgusted.
But out of all the after effects of this madness, what has literally suffered is the essence of wildlife photography. I’m not saying that there aren’t nature lovers out there, they are an endangered species themselves. I see the art fading away as it is rarely backed by feeling, but is backed by the need and hunger to be appreciated by others. Making the situation worse are those extremely user friendly editing tools and apps out there that have the ability to change the Bengal Tiger’s color to KTM Orange or turn a Gorilla into a nude, hairless celebrity! I hardly see people inquiring about the moment of a photograph uploaded on wildlife photography forums, all that most are concerned about is ISO, shutter speed, what gear, what shoes, what underwear, etc. The icing on the cake of fakery and illusion is the amount of praise an extremely edited photograph gets! Does an increase in saturation, contrast and sharpness make a good photograph? Today, Wildlife photography is exactly like Nature and wildlife itself, it needs to be conserved! If the art fades away, all that will remain will be bitter science. Yes, the present day scenario of wildlife photography does help in conservation and in spreading awareness but you still read of wild tigers being poached or caged in zoos, rhinos being shot with AK-47’s and what not. Photographs do the job of moving people internally but it’s up to the same people to transcend the internal push into external action and I say that out of personal experience. Nature & Wildlife photography can do wonders in transforming a person, only if you’re willing to observe and live the moment while you get that unfeigned shot of yours (not in burst mode, please!).
I’m not saying I’m perfect, I have been through the phases I’ve mentioned above. I have shot a tiger with my camera that had my index finger pressed on the shutter button constantly till the cam ran out of breath, I’ve made HDR photographs of almost every image I clicked, I’ve increased saturation of green junglish landscapes that made people color blind, I’ve cropped out the jungle habitat in images just to zoom in and make a shot seem boring, etc. But, when I began to tread my own path, I stopped listening to ace wildlife photographers and publications that dictate terms on how much you should crop your image or if you have to place a bird towards the left of the image or towards the right of the image. What they say does make sense many a times but not all the time. I recently saw an advert on Facebook on how you could learn editing and correct your image with a tiger’s picture on it. I’d say that such adverts aren’t any different from those idiotic fairness cream ads on TV! How can one learn photography if you’re manually controlling the way you want your image to be seen after it is shot? You may become a good image editor in the process but, if you don’t bother to artificially correct an image, then you’ll remember to not make the same mistake again which will make you a better photographer! I think it’s also important to question everything, but it’s more important to unlearn after learning in order to find your own unique style, else what separates your from a lot of other jokers in the same field ? Almost everybody thinks the bedroom concept ‘bigger is better’ fits well with regard to DSLR lenses in jungles as well (according to an ancient practice pertaining to one’s so called ‘chi energy’, bigger and harder is not always better in bedroom too. Ha! I bet you didn’t know that). Anybody today with a lot of money can capture the eye of the Tiger with a blurred background, anybody can photograph the Asian Paradise flycatcher’ s feathers in detail but then what makes you, YOU? To a layman, your work may seem like you work for an international wildlife magazine but to other people in the same field, it is no different that what they click themselves!
I chose to follow certain things that could make me a better, realistic nature and wildlife photographer according to me and not according to any other person or publication:
- I stopped participating in wildlife photography competitions. Firstly, I’m still in the process of learning and unlearning, so I rather concentrate on what I think that’s good for me than somebody else judging it. Secondly, my trust over these competitions just disappeared. Not that they aren’t just, but you and I know that the IIFA and Oscars awards too get very surprising so, I might as well not waste me time and theirs. 🙂 Thirdly, there are competitions that ask you to pay for each image you submit and that to me is the most ridiculous thing to do. A good photograph is like an asset, which you’re giving away. Imagine you paying for a plot of land you already own, only to prove to others that it belongs to you! They get hilariously stupid too, for instance this one
- I stopped following photography rules. Yes, rules do aid in getting an excellent image but sometimes, the image stands out when you break the rules. I still don’t know who made them though because how can an art have rules or laws? Isn’t that highly ironical?
- I only edit my image if it is required. The thing many professionals inject into the newbies is the OCD of editing images. Agreed, the camera isn’t smart as us as it doesn’t capture certain things in the same color and light as we look at it. So I try my best to recollect how a certain moment looked in real to me, then edit the image to bring it to a result that matches the actual picture on my mind, or at least bring it close to what I saw. What if the image you clicked appears exactly the same as what you perceived through your eyes? Well, then you don’t need to edit it. Unnecessary editing to me is like a beautiful girl applying make-up that only ruins her original looks!
- I stopped shooting everything in burst mode. My camera is always in burst mode as jungles are unpredictable but that doesn’t mean I use it extensively. Burst mode helps when there’s a lot action going on, it doesn’t help when there’s an asiatic lion sleeping peacefully by the trail. What’s the point? The animal is stationary in one place but I still hear cameras going going mad like assault rifles! Oh yes, you wanna show off and look cool eh!
It’s always better to take a few still shots if the animal is stationary, that would help one in living the moment, save camera memory and battery life.
- No matter where I go, I will shoot with kit lens or 55-250mm lens. It’s been a year since I ventured out into the wild as I was busy riding along the highways of India on my motorcycle. But later this year, I do plan to make time and money for it and do it with a totally different perspective. A 250mm zoom is highly versatile and light to carry but doesn’t have as much reach and ‘/f’ factor as those lenses the so called professionals out there use. I intend to rely more on my creativity and ideas than relying completely on gear. I know this could get frustrating, nonsensical and may take a lot of time before I actually figure out a way to do with limited zoom or not, but I still want to do it this way.
P.s big lenses won’t fit well on my bike anyways 🙂
- I don’t have a role model in wildlife photography. I’ve hardly had role models till date if I can recollect. Most photos I’ve seen of many professionals are heavily edited whereas I would get inspired to look up to somebody who does the opposite. Wildlife art is a different thing and shouldn’t be brought under wildlife photography as per my perspective. Camera traps too do very little in capturing my interest. They’re awesome in what they capture images but still, you haven’t been present in that moment and instead, the camera captured it for you. It’s ‘soulless’!
- I have more respect for wildlife and bird watchers than wildlife photographers because they don’t get the urge to capture so many images, all they want to do is to watch and live the moment. I don’t envy them but I do know that they have the most amount of fun.
- Travel less to tiger reserves! if there came a day tomorrow where we could vote and choose if tiger tourism should be allowed, then I would choose the option ‘NO‘. We’ve got to admit that there’s tourism coming in the way of conservation and it needs to be controlled before a tiger loses its mind and kills some tourists. I get angry when I see too many idiots flocking together, so imagine the plight of a tiger and other species when they see so many of them in jeeps almost everyday! Tourism can only do one thing- make a tiger so popular that it is literally fed by the Forest Department to keep it alive in old age just to lure in tourists like in the case of Machli or it gives way to tigers like Ustaad being put into jail. Imagine if nobody knew of Ustaad and Machli, the forest department wouldn’t have given a damn! We need to allow nature to take its course when it comes to these cats or for that matter, any specie. Yes, the popularity these cats have gained helps in conserving them in a huge way but at the same time, tiger tourism has gone overboard by a huge margin that gives conservation a sadistic, psychotic twist. Hence, I would visit them as less as possible, just so that I don’t contribute to the existing madness.
- If you’re starting out new but still want to tread your own path, then I suggest you don’t pay a bomb amount to people having a name in the industry to have your pictures reviewed or consulted but rather join forums where people actually help you improve. I joined a forum called Indiawilds.com where I uploaded my shots and had them critiqued by people who’ve been around for a longer time. What I noticed is that you get genuine feedback comments on your images and not just “Awesome shot, thanks for sharing” type comments. And yes, they don’t charge you to have your images reviewed! But how do you know what suggestion to abide by and what not to? Well, you just have to trust your intuition!I feel a that a journey that has to do with wildlife and nature is one that should be a very personal and intimate one. It shouldn’t be allowed to be judged by anyone, it shouldn’t be interfered with artificially, it shouldn’t have guidelines or rules and it definitely shouldn’t be considered as a race. It needs to be like the elements it pursues- natural and raw! So coming back to the question I put across in the beginning, well I’m not sure If I would’ve been happy by converting my passion for wildlife into profession considering the present day scenario I’ve mentioned above. I definitely wouldn’t want to be told what to photograph, I wouldn’t want to edit nature photographs for a magazine as per their instructions (yes, some are highly edited), I wouldn’t want to begin wildlife photography workshops because I’m still learning and also because I don’t prefer dumping half a dozen people into a jungle. In other words, I wouldn’t prefer to put a monetary price on the satisfaction I get while photographing animals in the jungle, if that satisfaction is eventually threatened as a result of the monetary interference. You gotta choose- money, appreciation or satisfaction?
P.S. most info I’ve posted above has been received through my observations in the jungles, through some reading and through interactions with people from the industry.