Pratik Pradhan is a nature and wildlife photographer who has made a habit of collecting photography awards, so much so that it's a running joke within the community to enter competitions under his false name to stand a better chance of winning.

Pratik won the grand prize of NiF Photographer of the Year at the Nature inFocus Photography Awards 2018 and we sat down with him for a quick talk to find out the secret behind his rampant success and more importantly to probe the mind of this stunning creative nature photographer.

This is the third time you are winning the Creative Nature Photography category at the NiF Photography Awards; this time picking up the NiF Photographer of the Year award as well. Tell us your secret, would you?

Firstly, it is absolutely a privilege and an honour to be chosen as the winner from such a strong set of images. Plus, it is always nice to see when your work gets a wider audience.

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Winner, Creative Nature Photography, NiF Photography Awards 2017

I think continuity is the key to exploring new layers in your work. I do my homework before going out to the field, I previsualise my images beforehand and when the opportunity arises I try to trace them on the camera sensor. 

I am someone who is not afraid to make mistakes or to break the rules of photography, and I believe that it is something that can actually help to take your craft forward. 

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A dragonfly sits perched on a blade of grass

Most importantly, opportunities don't come around often in nature photography so make sure that you don't miss them when they do.

Also, those who are looking for a larger audience for their work, you should definitely consider participating in the NiF Photography Awards. It is truly a huge platform for nature and wildlife photographers.

What is it that draws you to the genre of creative nature photography?

During my initial years of photography, I used to take pictures of anything at any given time, which mostly consisted of natural history pictures shot for the singular purpose of being used by publications.

I also used to love spending time on the internet, discovering the works of other artists from around the globe and trying to take inspiration from them.

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A hypnotic image of the hairs of a caterpillar

One day, I accidentally stumbled upon a forum called Creative Nature Photography, and I was thoroughly amazed by some of the images I found on there. Ever since, my eyes have been in training to try and see things differently and to record them through my camera. 

Could you tell us how you visualised and executed the winning image of the NiF Photography Awards 2018?

About 'Gulls and Ghosts', the image itself is a journey. The location is about 60km away from my hometown, with an approximate four-hour return journey. 

I knew that the gulls usually get active during the early hours of the morning, which meant that I had to reach the location before sunrise. I used to wake up at 2:30am and catch the very first train, I did this for around three weeks before I got to make this image. It took me around two and a half weeks to develop the idea, to execute it the next 3 days were enough.

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'Gulls and Ghosts' - Winner, NiF Photographer of the Year 2018

It is a double exposure image with a varied combination of settings done within the camera itself which include different shutter speeds, different white balances, and one shot with flash and one shot without using a flash.

Could you share with us three of your most-favourite images and tell us why they hold such a special place in your heart?

That is a very difficult question to answer, but I can try...

a) Vector art

This is a simple image, but one that is very close to my heart. It looks almost unreal, more like vector artwork created using computer graphics than an image captured from a camera.

I loved the natural arrangement of the leaves of this carambola tree and took a few photographs of it against the cloudy sky. A pale yellow leaf of the same tree was hanging from a strand of spider-web, in between the camera lens and the leaves I was photographing. 

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'Vector Art' - Vector artwork-like image of the leaves of a carambola tree

Instead of removing that leaf I decided to keep it as it is, in-between the subject and my camera, and closer to the lens with a shallow depth of field. The yellow colour of the leaf and the dark green colour of the fresh leaves together resulted in a parrot green colour. 

I was baffled myself when I saw the image first, the possibilities of a camera are truly endless.

b) Ready. Set. Go.

This image of a running Fan-throated Lizard is one of the most challenging images I have shot till date. I previsualised this image 3 years before actually capturing it. 

The dewlap of a male Fan-throated Lizard becomes brilliantly coloured in different shades of red and blue during the months of breeding. And, when running quickly they often adopt a bipedal mode of locomotion.

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'Ready. Set. Go.' - A portrait of a bi-pedalling Fan-throated Lizard

I shot this image at Chalkewadi in the Satara district, where I had observed this particular male repeating the same path while patrolling his territory and checking out the females residents.

c) Enigma

This minimal perspective of a vine snake will always remain as one of my most favourite images, it was the very first picture I made when I started out in this journey of creative nature photography.

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'Enigma' - Winner, Animal Portraits, NiF Photography Awards 2015

I had always wanted to make an image which puzzles the viewer at first glance. Hence, the decision to make this low key rim-lit portrait of the snake with minimalistic visuals and ample room for imagination.

The image also emphasises the elegance of the protruding eyes of the snake.

Your shelf must be filling up now with all the awards. Your advice to young budding photographers?

Discipline is the most important virtue in any field. Especially, in this digital era where there's a high volume of photographers and photographs. It is only going to get more challenging every day for your work to stand out.

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"Believe that you can change the world with your photography."

But, I think discipline in continuity is the key. Make sure you are more disciplined than the rest of them and believe in the power of photography. Believe that you can change the world with your photography. Be passionate about what you want to share and bring it with all your skills.