One of the most photographed cats in the world, tigers are certainly capable of triggering a rush of adrenalin. But what if you are one of those who belong to the “Been there done that” tribe? You spend time and money and venture out in the scorching heat of the Indian summer only to be faced with the same dull and boring scenes. Forget the adrenalin rush, your body produces sleep-inducing melatonin!
While on tiger safaris, we as photographers are constantly looking for action in the form of hunts, play sequences and other interactions or maybe opportunities to shoot the cat in the soft morning or evening light. But what do we get instead?
Tigers in cemented water tanks. Tigers in bushes.
The subject you go out seeking is smarter than you; with half-open eyes, they seem to suggest a dip in the pool or a siesta under the shade instead of cooking oneself alive in the sweltering heat. Summer sightings like these are common and considered below-average, owing to the harsh light and the presence of man-made structures. The phenomenon of drooping shoulders of camera owners on such safaris is what I term as "tiger boredom"!
Over the years, I have been bitten by this boredom way too often, but I have tried to overcome these situations by experimenting. As I write this note, a lazy (read smart) tiger is right in front of me, cooling off in a cemented water tank. I doubt if it will get up in the next hour or two or even more. Just like I have committed myself to be burnt alive, this tiger is committed to chilling in its pool. And while I wait for him to get a move on, I thought I might as well jot down a couple of thoughts on how to tackle this tiger boredom.
Stacking Up Glass
We all start by shooting tiger portraits. Some graduate to learning how to zoom out and capture the majestic feline in its environment, some never do. It is after all the world's most photogenic cat!
But in a scenario where you can’t do much with the cat's immediate surroundings, have you thought of shooting close-up portraits? 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. These are some exercises that can keep you engaged while your body cooks itself, making stepping out in the sun a little more worthwhile.
From head to tail, the tiger is a charismatic subject, and as a photographer, I see interesting frames and perspectives all over its body. The hypnotic stripes, massive paw, powerful back haunches, the nose, whiskers – every aspect of a tiger's anatomy, there is a lot to explore.
Still Like a Mirror
We crib about our cities being concrete jungles but then we encounter concrete in the jungle too, what a bummer. That is what you ran away from, to begin with!
Tigers in cemented water tanks are a big taboo for photographers. I was the same, until one fine summer in 2014, while on safari in Bandhavgarh, when I noticed something that changed my thought process. When the cat got up from the tank, what caught my eye was the trail of water running down its belly, and ever since I have been visualising images of tiger stripes dripping like fresh ink.
Cement water holes have a unique feature. Before the tongue of a tiger touches the water, it is so still that it almost provides a mirror-like reflection. And there are plenty of opportunities to be explored around reflections.
So the next time you spend big money to venture on a full-day safari in peak summer, risking a sunstroke, don’t doze off along with the sleeping cats. Yes, tigers have been widely photographed, but in my opinion, there are tons of unique tiger images yet to be created. Make the best of what you have. Challenge yourself, get those creative juices flowing and make the adventure out in the sun worth your while!