The jungle safari
The jungle Safari. What started out as an exploration of the enchanting world through the camera lens gradually gained direction and Sudhir Shivaram started focusing more on wildlife photography
What started out as an exploration of the enchanting world through the camera lens gradually gained direction and Sudhir Shivaram started focusing more on wildlife photography
Sudhir Shivaram is a renowned wildlife photographer from India. His long and passionate association with photography began in his student days. He talks about his work and the state of wildlife across the country hoping to inspire and save.
Your transformation from being an engineer to a wildlife photographer, is it something like the ‘3 Idiots’ film story?
You can say that (He smiles). It all began during my college days when I was part of Malnad Amateur Photographers Club at Malnad College of Engineering, Hassan. What started out as an exploration of the enchanting world with the camera gradually gained direction and I started shooting wildlife. When I moved to Bengaluru I used to frequently visit forests around Bengaluru and Mysore. During the initial period in 1996, I used to be out in the jungles almost every weekend. A few years later I started teaching. I also started to travel all around India for my photography. The journey has been good so far and I love every bit of it.
What inspires you about wild life photography?
Nature itself is so amazing that I can spend the entire day in the forest without making a single image. Wildlife is not just tigers and leopards. The behavior of every single living being in the jungle is different and needs to be studied. The forests have the other favorite subject of mine – Birds. Many of the forest birds are so colorful that you forget about the worries or your concrete jungle and enjoy the beauty of nature.
Since last year you started working as a full time photographer. How do you survive on wild life photography alone?
Since last year I am working as a full time photographer. As a wild photographer earning is not easy. It doesn’t work and is difficult to survive. But professional wildlife photographers rarely make money even outside India. To keep the hobby paying for itself, I do photo tours and take classes or conduct workshops for the same.
Can you share the story behind the award winning picture (National Geographic) and your other wow moments?
It was a prestigious moment for me. The image was taken at Kabini backwaters in the Rajiv Gandhi (Nagarhole) National Park and the image is very close to me. I personally like this image as it has a painting feel to it. I won the ‘Best Wild Photographer of The Year -2012’, for me it is like winning the Oscar Award.
Today with easy access to good cameras, there are many wannabe photographers. What sets apart a good photographer from the rest?
It is true that we have good cameras today but it is still difficult to use the lens and camera. For example, most of the action in wildlife happens late in the evening, which means less light. In this situation you face challenges with equipment where the focus is quality. Your job is to create a quality image. The image should convey a story and a message. It has to be a natural history moment. It has to be unique and out of the box. There should be a wow factor which I follow.
What are the attributes of a good wildlife photographer?
To be a good wildlife photographer, you must understand and follow the ethics of wildlife photography. The first thing is to get a good understanding of the core fundamentals of Nature Photography, including natural history, concepts of photography and equipment. You need to be a good naturalist first if you want to be a good Nature or Wildlife Photographer. The same applies to other genre of photography as well. Disregard for ethics is causing a lot of issues, bringing disrepute to Wildlife Photographers in general. This can be attributed to a lack of awareness rather than deliberate wrongdoing. Spreading awareness, therefore, is the need of the hour. Then there is self regulation which is closely tied to the ethics. Do not expect someone else to control you. Take a step back when you feel the line is being crossed to get a particular image.
What according to you should the tourists follow in order not to disturb the wildlife in their enthusiasm?
They should not go too close to them. They should maintain some distance as the wild animals should feel comfortable. Don’t smoke when you are near to them. Don’t shoot from close because they will get frustrated with this. You draw your own line when you are near them don’t try to jump or control them.
What is your opinion on more resorts opening in the sanctuaries in the name of wildlife tourism?
I think if one will think in a commercial aspect then it is good. But sanctuaries are one of the biggest challenges a wildlife photographer faces. In the name of sanctuaries and resorts they are destructing the forest. No matter what kind of equipment a photographer has, if the logistics are not proper, then you end up with no good photographs. So many resorts or sanctuaries are not good. A few like Ranthambhore tiger sanctuary in Rajasthan and Masinagudi sanctuary are good for conservation and also with respect to individual prospective.
Where do you think India is in terms of conservation efforts when compared to other countries?
India is doing well. Different NGOs and forest department are doing a great job. We did a major make over in developing Andaman and Nicobar Islands compared to past where we are developing forests at the highest level at present. But politically in the name of development we are cutting the forests.
Any suggestions and plans for future?
Personally I am planning to conduct more workshops. These workshops will teach photographers about the various aspects of wildlife photography and the difference between taking images and making images. It will also stress on the need to understand and gain knowledge about the behavior of different creatures of the wildlife and pay heed to certain guidelines associated with wildlife photography. When it comes to suggestions - focus on the three key fundamentals of wildlife photography, first being a naturalist, second being good with the photography concepts and finally use the equipment you have in the best way. I would also request people to be ethical in their approach towards wildlife, always respect wildlife first and then your photography comes into picture. You will have a great future.