I have spent the better part of the last two decades with a camera, striving to capture the natural beauty of this world. And, after twenty years – even to this day – Mother Nature continues to surprise me by just how strong and delicate she can be.
She is capable of evoking such powerful emotions in us mortals: the harsh humbling administered by the mountains, the absolutely absorbing nature of the forests, how deeply affecting the oceans can be and much more.
As a nature photographer, I feel so blessed to be able to witness these wonders of nature and for the liberty afforded to me to capture these rare moments and tuck them away in my heart's depths with the simple click of a button.
Here, I would like to share some of my experiences with Mother Nature, since I embarked on this wonderful journey of photography.
Crafting poetry with words is quite challenging for me, but with a camera, I can compose loudly and boldly. Sometimes, the most basic elements of nature can explain the very essence of life. Such examples are far more difficult to explain in words but are transparent enough to be perceived by the mind and soul, if we are prepared to receive them.
It was a beautiful morning with similar sentiments in Dandeli when I saw some wind-harassed flowers floating in the river Kaali, which flows through the forests of the southern Western Ghats.
The red flowers, detached from their origin, now belonged to the anonymous flow of the river. A sacrifice essential to assure the existence of the next generation, through pollination.
The breathing waves of the river synchronised with the gentle sunlight became a vocal choir, creating a melodious symphony around the floating flowers. And, the powerful ambience created, manipulated my feelings to break them down into unwritten words.
"In our lives too, sacrifice is critical at specific moments in time. And, when the river of time gives its signal, we too follow suit, to ensure the generations."
My first encounter with a forest happened in Dang when I was still a kid. It's in the palms of this beautiful region that I learned the basics of nature and wildlife from my nearest and dearest. Thus, my bond with the forests of Dang is something far beyond expressive sentiments.
But, I have to admit, for the longest time, neither I nor any of my nearest realised that the forests of Dang were slowly but gradually dying. And, by the time our collective conscious awakened to the hard reality of it, we were too late.
Like the decorative birds which frequent its tall trees, for whom their feathery beauty was their vulnerability, it was the world-famous wood of its trees which became the undoing of Dang.
Legally or illegally, by all means, this forest has come to expiration and every article including this write-up and all conservation efforts can easily be verified as impotent formalities.
This biting reality of helplessness is the most uncomfortable feeling I have experienced as a nature photographer. It's like losing an elderly relative whom I've adored all my life.
Seeing and believing are two very different things when it comes to observing nature. The horizon, for example, is something we can see but the paradox is that we also have to believe it is not a place on earth which actually exists. Still, there is a horizon at the farthest sight, a projection of the undying romance between the sky and earth. Though we can never pursue the serenity that prevails on the horizon, it surely gives us the belief that there always exists an unknown space at the end of the world.
It was with this pondering thought that I reached the shallow saltpans of Khadir. Blessed with the kindness of the monsoon, the first sight of the Khadir saltpans surpassed all my thoughts and imaginations.
The sight of a hundred, thousand flamingos in harmony with other wetland birds made for an immense spectacle. And, for the next three days, I composed the ‘Unseen Horizon’ series - a project which will remain close to my heart forever.
Lives on Lines
I have a fierce fascination for the colour blue and its various shades.
But, it's so difficult to get those soothing blues in the background, when you try to expose your subjects against the sky. The time of shooting, the intensity of light on the subject and the background, the position and angle – everything must fall exactly in place, to create the perfect image.
I have had many failed experiments over the years, but this particular series shot during an assignment in the Dudhwa National Park is the only satisfactory result I have achieved to date. While most people with me on safari were busy searching for tigers, I was lucky to observe the wonderful patterns created by spiders’ webs on the elephant grass near the safari route.
Every morning, I would make the same arrangements to click the same spider web and every day it would produce different results from the previous day.
The spider web; a critical lifeline for the hunter and a terrible life-grabbing scheme for the prey. In nature, everything has a definite role to play and all of its components are designed to perform precise pre-programmed duties.
Can't help but wonder what role we human beings are here to play?
Mynas in Town
One need not climb mountains or trek through forests to find interesting subjects to shoot. If you look around carefully, the possibilities are endless. Squirrels, house sparrows, crows and mynas are always ready to serve up opportunities to shoot interesting photographs.
Here, I'm sharing a sequence of mynas I shot near the riverfront area of my city, Surat, where they make their nests in flood holes.
It's in early summer when they make their nests, preparing for the breeding season; interestingly the flood holes where they build their homes are near very busy areas, where there is a continuous movement of people.
Once the chicks are born, both the male and female get busy in feeding them and can be seen flying to and from the nest hole all the time. And, during leisure time, they can be seen quietly sitting in their nest holes, like a sweet couple who are spending some quality time together.
They remind me of a happy middle-class family dwelling in the city to collect the basic needs of livelihood.
Scavenger and her Family
When I received a call from the editor of the SaveUs Magazine, regarding an assignment to shoot a scavenger family, my prompt reaction was to be a little nervous.
‘Scavenger’, the image that immediately comes to mind is of a filthy, creepy creature; at the same time, when I hear 'family', it is a feeling of tenderness and affection that washes over me. As a wild-lifer, I understood the significance of a scavenger's presence within an ecosystem, but I guess I just wasn't excited by the idea of shooting a subject like a hyena.
But, those ten days under the scorching sun, in the golden grasslands, with a mother Hyena and her three little cubs – they transformed me.
Here was a mother hyena who was channelling all her efforts to ensure a safe future for her babies – as determined as any human would be. It completely altered my perspective of 'beauty' in the wild. So much so that, though technically right, now I hesitate to use the word 'scavenger' for this beautiful mammal.
An unexpected snowfall forced us to stay inside our tents for almost two days before we could head out to Tso Moriri. But, once we reached the Changthang plateau, a bright sunny day greeted us to the magnificent beauty of the place.
Tso Moriri, against the backdrop of the Chinese snow peaks, was a genuine sight to behold. Though some of the species that we were expecting to see had migrated due to the sudden snow, we set out along the banks of the lake in the hopes of enjoying a tranquil evening.
On the surface of the lake, the reflection from the blue sky and frosty clouds above and the sand mountains below became the most beautiful play of colours I had ever witnessed.
That was when I noticed these tiny things breaking the chaotic abstraction on the water surface – tiny mosquitos, waiting to take off as soon as the sun set. Out of curiosity, I clicked hundreds of images along the surface with my telephoto lens.
If anything, these photographs made me realise the importance of the backdrop in an image and how beautifully it can transform a subject.
Beauty in Dirty
I used to be a regular visitor to the coastal areas of Surat, specifically to a village named Suwali. I never went there with a pre-set aim or idea to capture anything, I just went with my camera to enjoy the early morning breeze and a warm cup of coffee.
Listening to music, I made my way in between the massive rocks that lined the coast. While making a few compositions of sand patterns, I noticed some quick activity in the puddle next to me – mudskippers – they were flipping themselves upside down to keep their glossy skin wet.
At first glance, I didn’t find it all that interesting, but after going down on my knees, at eye-level, that awfulness turned out to be a different story. I decided to grab the opportunity and clicked some 3,000 images, and after five hours I had some 20-odd decent shots.
By then, I was covered from top to bottom in slimy mud and my lens and camera were completely wet with seawater. However, those photographs turned out to be the few award-winning images of my career.
Sometimes, the most unwanted conditions bring with them the most memorable surprises – a good lesson for all photographers.
Blue Bull Confrontation
Nature has its own rule book. In a jungle, for example, the governing system is very specific and entirely dependent on its primary species. The key species have their own social structure; for an alpha male to withstand its dominance over a presiding territory, the struggles faced are no less than that of a king surrounded by cunning enemies.
Every day, there is a new challenge, a young and innocent male of yesterday is now fully-grown up to be a rival and will go to any length to obtain his own territory and establish authority over its prevailing females. Sometimes these social battles become much more serious than the play of predator and prey – ending in fatality for the lesser powerful male.
It was in the year 2002, soon after my first year at college, when my friend and I decided to travel to Blackbuck National Park near Velavadar.
On the very first afternoon, while walking through the park's grasslands, we came across two huge nilgai males fighting. I took out my camera and captured eleven images of this fierce battle, wherein the defeated bull left the battleground having lost his kingdom.
God’s Fine Art
With every breath that you take, Ladakh makes you feel infinitesimally smaller in front of the massiveness of its habitat. But, eventually, you become so captivated by the unparalleled beauty of this cold desert landscape that you will find yourself coming back to it more and more.
It was in the early winter of 2011 when I first decided to drive to Ladakh, back then I was unaware of the sentimental consequences of this endless journey. Today, it's become a yearly ritual and there are even times when I find myself in Ladakh thrice a year.
Ladakh is by far one of the most hypnotic and captivating places; where I first understood what it means to be near to God. It introduced a wide-angle perspective to my vision and over the years has silently trained a landscape photographer in this stern wild-lifer.
All the landscapes in ‘God’s Fine Art’ are just a standard visualisation of the Ladakh range. I have simply tried to capture this magical terrain in its raw form, the way Mother Nature created it. I salute the power that has crafted such immensely beautiful contours on this earth.