Ace wildlife photographers SHIVANG MEHTA and SACHIN RAI, authorities on anything that moves in a forest bring you their stories of the wild to mark the World Wildlife Conservation Day. Their closest companions? Their Canon EOS cameras. MUSBA HASHMI brings you their tales
How many of us know the difference between a crow and a sparrow, apart from their shape, size and colour? May be, only a handful. Here are our some insights. A sparrow can only hop while a crow can walk. Surprised?
Fasten your seat belts, here is some more. The green birds with a red ring round their necks are often mistaken for parrots. In fact, they are actually parakeets.
Meet the 44-year-old Bengaluru-based wildlife photographer Sachin Rai, an encyclopaedia on everything wildlife. He has dozens of facts to share with you.
Just like any of us, these facts fascinated him so much that he took to wildlife photography.
“Until 2007, I worked with the IT sector as a website designer, but I was always more interested in wildlife. I loved my job a lot, but I loved wildlife even more. So, I started taking trips to explore the wilds,” he tells you.
Rai’s love for birds expanded to mammals and reptiles. The more he travelled, the more he learnt and the more he started loving Nature.
“In 2005, the photography industry underwent a sea change with everything turning digital. It became easy for me to embrace this change and shoot on DSLR cameras. However, till then it was more about learning than clicking pictures. By 2007, I had won a couple of awards. It was a validation that forest and photography were my calling. That’s when I left my job,” Rai, who first started off with Canon EOS 66 camera, tells you.
In India, he says, wildlife photography can’t be a full-time profession. “There are hardly any buyers for your pictures, making this profession infeasible. The only option that I had back then was to take people on photography tours and conduct workshops. I realised that there was potential in this field. That is how I started my career. Now I conduct photography tours across the world,” he tells you.
A quick fact again. “India is home to 300 species of frogs and butterflies,” Rai tells you.
Most of us might have been to a wildlife safari. All we are excited about is spotting a big cat. But how many of us know what species of spiders are there and what birds did we come across? Rai asks pertinently.
“The reason is, tourists come with a mindset that they have to see a tiger or a leopard, otherwise their safari is a waste of money. Only a handful of people actually bothers to try and learn about the other animals they see. Nature is full of curiosity, only if one has the eye for it. If they try and see it, they will definitely go back with a wholesome experience despite of not being able to see a tiger,” Rai says.
One such learning that can be found in the forest, if one tend to examine closely is about the whiskers of the cats.
“We all know that cats have whiskers, but might have rarely noticed that they move when the cats are attracted towards something. Also, in leopard, one or two whiskers are from the chin as well. The use of these whiskers is apparently whenever a leopard wants to get through a closed space, the whisker is the first to enter. If it goes in without folding, it signifies the space is good enough for it to pass. If not, then the leopard can’t go through it,” Rai shares.
While many find forest synonymous to risks and danger, Rai says there are no risky situations as such. “It is riskier for me to cross the road than to roam happily in a forest. Animals keep their distance. I have seen tigers, elephants and bears on foot and most of the time they will walk off the moment they see you. With that being said, there were a couple of situations when a tiger charged at us. We have also been charged by an elephant which was scary. It was a forest department’s elephant with a mahout sitting on him, not the wild ones. But in about two decades of my career, there are only a couple of such instances,” Rai tells you.
He recalls an incident from his Kenya tour with his photography group when he and his group were left waiting for about eight hours just to capture hundreds of Wildebeest crossing the river together, but to no avail.
“They are very unpredictable herd animals. I wonder if they even have a leader. They always come to the river banks and stand there until one random animal decides to jump into the river and cross it. At times, they come and jump in about a second and there are times they won’t for straight 12 hours. Similar thing happened with us. We were waiting for eight hours for around 1000 Wildebeest to cross the river, but they just didn’t. It was very annoying,” Rai, who wants to see a Himalayan Newt in his career, tells you.
For all the photography lovers, he says, Canon EOS R5 and R6 are one of the best cameras to use for wildlife photography.
“The EOS R5 is enabled with 8K resolution video recording, included for the first time ever in a Canon camera. The EOS R6 is a full-frame mirror less camera based on the revolutionary RF mount comes with powerful In-Body Image Stabilisation up to eight stops, ISO range up to 102 400 and low luminance AF sensitivity of up to EV -6.5 — all designed to give you optimum performance for low-light photography,” Rai, who has been given the title of Canon Maestro, tells you.
Photos should tell tales
From a journalist to a PR professional, to now a wildlife photographer, 40-year-old Delhi-based Shivang Mehta is living a life one only dreams of. He calls the forest and it’s wildlife his best friends.
The journey which began back in 2005 has earned Mehta a blue tick on his social media handles, the most sought-after ornament for youngsters.
“I am into this field for 15 years now. I always had the inclination and love towards Nature and wanted to explore it. When I was in the corporate field, too, my job took me to the forests frequently. I was into adventure sports as well, especially hiking and river rafting. I was fascinated by the life of wildlife legend Jim Corbett. I read a lot of books on him. In 2003-04, I finally visited the Jim Corbett National Park. It was then that all the visuals of the books I had read came alive. I sighted my first tiger back then and since then I have been hooked to safaris,” Mehta tells you.
The catch is that Mehta’s career didn’t start as a wildlife photographer, initially, he trained as a Naturalist.
“I worked as a Naturalist for five years. In this job, everything in the forest interests you. In fact, one needs to be a sound wildlife professional first to become a wildlife photographer. It should be in this hierarchy for everyone,” he says, pointing out that those foundation years were a crucial part of his career.
However, such a life doesn’t come easy. There are a few sacrifices that one has to make, for Mehta it includes leaving a well-paid corporate job, not to mention the 300 days travelling that he does in a year.
“There were a lot of apprehensions since my job was not only a stable one, but also a highly paid one. Back in 2005, there were hardly any opportunities to make a career in wildlife. Not many people were doing it and for those who did it was more like a hobby. But, I realised that wildlife made me happy, not as if my corporate job didn’t, but it wasn’t something that I would engage in for the rest of my life. With that being said, it was indeed a tough choice but definitely worth making,” he says.
Like everyone’s family, his family too wasn’t sure of his decision. There were conflicting opinions. Many people didn’t even know what he was trying to do. “Whenever I told them about my job, they thought I was a guide. It was hard for them to differentiate between a Naturalist and a guide. In fact my mother’s reaction was both strange and funny. Since most of my family members were into good corporate jobs, whenever anyone asked her about my job, she said that I am the Director of Jim Corbett National Park. It was very misleading, but she just wanted to convey that my job was a crucial one. Now over the years, they have understood it,” Mehta shares with a laugh.
For what is just a picture for most of us, for Mehta it is a story and lot of hard work. And to get that perfect shot, he follow the rule of five Ps — Perfect, Planning, Prevents, Poor and Performance. “In today’s time photography isn’t just about spending time in the field and running after subjects (animals, birds etc). It is more about looking for a story. Since I come from a journalistic background, the nature of my work is more about telling stories. It is never about taking one picture but a series of them over months or may be years. So that we can connect with them. For this, one requires a lot of planning and research on the subject,” he tells you.
Tiger is one of the most photographed species in the world, but as a photographer, he says, your work shouldn’t be focused on getting just another random click or story. “Make use of technology here. May be opt for a wide angle lens, wait for the subject to appear and click it with the environment. Tell a unique story with your picture,” Mehta, who is the author of A Decade with Tigers, a book which showcases the life history of some of the prominent tigers of India, advises.
Mehta agrees with Rai and says that danger is always in your hand. It is the human who needs to realised his boundaries and keep away from it. “As a wildlife photographer it is your responsibility to be aware of the behaviour of the subject and not to cross your boundaries if the animal has a circular fear. Take for example if you are shooting tigers on vehicle or on foot, it is your responsibility to give him respect and not try to cross the boundaries. Here the danger is in your hands,” Mehta says.
The difference between a good and great photographer, he says, is how quickly can one curb his excitement if he come across a rare animal like a clouded leopard.
“One has to put on his photography hat and has to be on his toes to get that perfect click of such a rare animal. Most people are not able to do it right and they end up missing such big opportunities,” he tells you.
He tells you that India is rich in natural wealth, but it goes unnoticed. “Most photographers run after big cats and animals, but only a handful of people know that there are 39 odd species of wild cats in the world and 16 of them are found in India. It is the same for birds and reptiles,” Mehta, who also grooms young amateur photographers, says.
Mehta started his journey with a film camera and then transitioned to DSLRs with Canon 400D in the initial days of his career.
“I have never been a person who runs after cameras, instead I decide them on the basis of my work. A lot of youngsters need to understand it. Remember photography is an art,” he says.
Adding to the many feathers in Mehta’s hat is the title of Canon EOS Ambassador which was given to him last year.
“My association with Canon is more than a decade old now. I have been a Canon user throughout my career. I have done a lot of projects with them in various capacities and I am grateful to have received this title,” he tells you.
Since the World Wildlife Conservation Day was just here, Mehta has a message to share. “Each and every specie on the planet is important, be it a tiger or a bee. As a photographer, my appeal to all fellow photographers is that apart from hunting for good images, keep on hunting for good stories. That is what keeps the wildlife alive and conserved,” Mehta, who don’t have a count of images he has clicked till date, but has around 10 TB of data, tells you.