Shoot them and Let them Fly

 

Hunting has been a popular sport. It required planning, getting close to the target and fast reflexes for a successful shoot. The beauty of the natural habitat of the hunted species and the thrill of a fruitful outing contributed to making hunting one of the most avidly followed sports through the ages.

 

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Gradual degradation of the natural environments and excessive hunting has led to a virtual ban on hunting. Fortunately, the enjoyment of the thrill of a hunt is still possible once the gun is exchanged for a camera. Photographing wildlife, in their natural setting, is as fascinating as hunting, with the added advantage of being able to enjoy the bounties of nature rather than destroying them.

 

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The skills required by hunters are also a pre-requisite for a competent wildlife photographer. Knowledge of the chosen subject to be photographed, its preferred habitat and the likely places of feeding and resting are necessary to improve the chances of locating the subject. Behavioural patterns need to be understood not only to minimise dangers to personal safety but also to be able to anticipate the movements and actions likely to follow so as to capture the nuances of behaviour, at its best possible moment through the camera.

 

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Standing on the deck of a cruise ship, en route from Goa to Bombay, I was watching the sun rise over the horizon creating a stream of shimmering golden ripples on the sea. Sea gulls flew around and I decided to try and capture them with the manual camera that was there with me then, without the now common auto features. First the difficult light conditions had to be tackled by taking the light readings off the sunlit patch. Next, as the birds came flying towards this patch I would start panning them by following their movement along their flight path through the camera lens, all the time trying to adjust the focus, so that the bird would be recorded as a sharp image.

One sea gull came fairly close to where I was standing, flying at a height slightly below my eye level. The tension built up inside me as I followed it through the camera lens as it approached the sunlit water. As soon as it moved over the golden patch I shot it. The click of the shutter sounded surprisingly loud. The thrill of knowing that I had shot it successfully was satisfying and what added to the joy was that, unlike hunting, as I took my eyes away from the view finder of the camera, the sea gull was still there, continuing its graceful glide beyond the shimmering patch on the luminous sea.

 

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Tiger : A Potential Maneater

 

On the night of the locally auspicious Buddha Purnima that fell on 10th of May this year, the annual census of the animals in the Tadoba Tiger Reserve was taken by teams of one forest guard and two volunteers sitting overnight on each of the machans next to the remaining water bodies. They tabulate the number of such visitors to each water source over the night and in the visible range of the respective teams. The census happens on Buddha Purnima night because a lot of things come together. It is summer and because most of the watering holes have dried up, there are only a few water sources left for the animals. The full moon allows for better sighting. So, it is easier to count.

 

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The tigress Maya in a bamboo forest

 

Early next morning on the 11th, a tiger in the core area of Tadoba killed one of the twelve Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra (FDCM) fire watchers that are employed from February to June every year to look out for and to try and control forest fires that are frequent in the scorching heat of the summer. Mangaldas Chaudhary, 46, had stepped out of the forest camp inside the reserve to attend to nature’s call. “Around 6 am, while he was probably squatting or sitting, a male tiger attacked the man on his neck, and killed him on the spot,” reports Kishore Mankar, the Deputy Director of the Tadoba core. As the tiger attacked him, barely 20 meters from where he was staying, the two companions with him ran away to alert the forest department over the wireless. A team of officials reached the spot around 8 am, but he was dead by the time his body could be recovered.

 

Soon after the incident, the forest department conducted a site inspection and a diary entry was made at the local police station. “This is the first time since the national park was notified that a tiger has attacked a human. Since there are no villages within the reserve forest, there was no question of an attack. However, the animal did not eat the body, which probably tells us that he did not realise that it was a human before attacking,” said Mankar, adding that, “the body was sent for post-mortem by 9 am on Thursday morning.” A compensation of Rs. 8 lakhs was promised to the kin of the deceased and employment in FDCM for his 20 year old son.

 

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Maya comes to a waterhole for a drink

 

The forest camp where he was stationed has provision of toilets, but the elder lot, as is their usual practice, prefer to go out in the open for their daily abulations. In a dimly lit thick forest, squatting down behind a bush to defecate, in the middle of the tiger’s domain … the poor fellow was inviting serious trouble. These are wild creatures that have evolved to become large and superbly efficient killers.

 

Wildlife Institute of India (WII) scientist Bilal Habib, currently based in Tadoba, is of the view that it is an accident but authorities will now have to work backwards to find out why it has happened. “It has happened due to the lacunae on the human part. They should have seen the area properly, made noise when they moved out. Having gone to the jungle often, people tend to take things for granted. But in the jungle you never know when the animal is near, under a bush or under cover.”

 

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Matkasur leaves the waterhole after cooling off

 

The incident has happened next to the Tadoba lake, which is the territory of a male tiger named Matkasur and the female Maya, who are at present courting. Pugmarks at the site of the incident indicate that the attacker was a male. Officials have put camera traps to check the movements of the five or six tigers in that zone. Pugmarks, till recently used to identify individual tigers, can also help in narrowing down the identity but, the forest officials may, at this stage, prefer to play down the unfortunate incident.

 

Experience tells me that it actually was Matkasur who had carried out the fatal attack. He is a dominant male and no other male will normally dare to venture into his territory right now when he is courting a female.

 

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Matkasur remains the powerful dominant male of the Tadoba zone

 

Tourists and photographers visiting the park move in open gypsy vehicles and are safe mainly because the local tigers do not see human beings as a food item. Both of these tigers have iconic status in Tadoba and have otherwise been highly visible and tolerant of the teeming paparazzi. The award winning WII scientist Bilal Habib warns that “there has to be extra caution that has to be taken now especially by the tourists. Even though the two tigers are friendly but they are wild animals. We don’t know what is going on in their mind. They have tasted human blood and so at least for one month everyone needs to be very careful when they are around.”

 

If a tiger eats a human kill then it is more likely to do so whenever an opportunity arises. It may even begin to actively stalk and attack humans. On the other hand, if the tiger moves off from the human kill without eating it, as in this case, then the encounter may have been accidental and the concerned tiger may not remain a continuing threat to humans. For this reason the National Tiger Conservation Authority of India (NTCA) guidelines prefer a wait and watch strategy wherein a tiger is declared a maneater, tranquilised and sent to a zoo, after it has attacked or killed people four times in succession.

 

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Matkasur and Maya are together in a short lived courtship

 

However, there are political ramifications. If there are widespread public protests, then shoot at sight orders may have be issued by the administration at any time under public pressure. If the local people adopt a retaliatory approach after a tiger – human conflict incident then most of the local tigers, and not just the offending animal, would be doomed anyway. Wildlife administrators and conservationists have to walk the thin line between wildlife conservation and public safety to successfully preserve and to protect the remaining wildlife habitats in the dense human populated landscape of India.

The Art of Photography – Light

 

Light as The Subject

 

The camera captures light alone. The subject is incidental.

It has to be understood in photography that, what is being captured is not really the image of a particular subject, but instead, of the light as it is falls on that subject and is reflected by it to the camera. The image being essentially a record of the characteristics of the ambient light, the same subject can appear in various different forms, depending on the light conditions at the time that it was photographed and based on the angle from which the light falling on it was seen.

For the purposes of photography, flat lighting with no prominent dark or brightly lit areas, fits in easily within the dynamic range of brightness that can be captured on film. Such light is good for capturing the details and the colours of the subject.

 

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This tigress had come down to the edge of the waterhole to quench her thirst. Her location was in the open shade which gave a smooth flat lighting. The details of her stripes and her reflection in the still waters could be captured perfectly because there were no prominent shadows covering any portion of the image. Bright sunlight, had it been falling on her, would have resulted in deep shadows and a different image, though not necessarily any inferior. Different light conditions simply permit us to capture the same subject in a ‘different light’.

 

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The dull overcast and slightly misty atmosphere of this shot forms the backdrop for the fishermen and the sea gull both heading out early in the day on their routine search for food. With the water and the sky, both reduced to a dull grey, merging seamlessly and the details largely washed out leaves a lyrical timeless impression on the viewer of this image. This hazy image ends up triggering a particular impression that makes you think. It becomes an engaging image for that reason.

 

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Mountains give us a sense of permanence. They have always been there as unchanging mute spectators to the hectic activities going on below. The changing character of the light, over the day and across seasons, challenges this perceived notion of the ‘sameness’ of the mountain. Magic is created when the early morning soft golden hued light of the rising sun, low on the horizon, hits this snow clad peak. The same subject constantly changes transforming from moment to moment when we try and capture the light reflected by it. Our eyes tune into fresh possibilities when we develop sensitivity to the play of light, rather than the subject.

 

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The ambient light often defines character of a subject.

This monument erected as a cenotaph to a long dead local king had its intricate architectural features clearly visible in bright daylight. However, the somber mood of this subject was, at least in my view, appropriately captured when a mere record of the details of the monument was sacrificed by placing it against the glorious desert sunset later that evening. The disc of the sun by this time had sunk below the horizon, but continued to paint the sky red before the darkness could descend. The changed character of light had transformed the very same monument.

 

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Backlit subjects typically have a warm halo of light around them but also confine the subject itself to relative darkness. This pattern is sometimes broken in flowers that have translucent petals. Some light filters through the petals to give them an ‘inner glow’ as in the case of these two orchid flowers. A similar effect can be achieved by using a compensatory flashgun light, but the dynamic range of natural light filtering through the petals gives a far more natural result that our senses find more appealing.

The Art of Photography – Purpose & Meaning

 

Photography can never be without a purpose. It is a form of art and, in common with the other forms of visual and performing arts, it remains a medium of communication. It involves an emotional as well as a mental engagement of the photographer with his or her subject. A successful photographer starts with gathering information about his subject and in trying to understand it. The essential characteristics that define the subject need to be isolated. The understanding arrived at is sought to be communicated through the medium of a photographic image to the viewer. The graphic quality of the image imparts a beauty to the end product that seeks to share the unique impressions of the photographer about the subject with the viewer.

 

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The purpose of an image boils down to the reason why a particular image was recorded. Through appropriate timing, a well recognised subject can be made to appear in an unusual form that is thought provoking. That is also the context where a caption can engage and lead the viewer towards the thought process behind the capturing of that image. For instance –

Ashamed of herself for letting the population of the Asiatic lions drop to some 400 odd? She need not be, because her lack of fertility is not the cause. Instead it is the loss of habitat to the ever expanding human population and the poachers that are to be blamed for their sad plight.”

 

 

However, the photographer is not always around to provide the captions or to explain his specific reasons for taking a particular photograph which, as a standalone product, should ideally be complete in itself. The story telling capacity of the image by itself ought to be such that the viewer is able to comprehend the story even in the absence of any oral or written explanation provided by the photographer.

 

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These workers were gathering lotus stems from the lake for supply to the local market as vegetables. Hard labour in a pristine and a colourful environment was attempted to be captured in this photograph. It is pleasant to look at and hopefully captures the story of these people toiling away for their meagre livelihoods in a gorgeous workplace, whose beauty they may not have the time or the inclination to appreciate.

 

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This hyena was stalking flamingoes but they saw him coming and took off in the air. Unfortunately, he did not have the requisite wings to continue the chase. Emotionally, such situations are a bit confusing. You feel happy that the flamingoes escaped a violent death, but at the same time you feel sad for the poor hyena, having missed its potential meal, has to go back hungry. The small island, the disappointment of the hyena sharply rendered, the flamingos flying off into the distance and out of focus. All these elements are expected to work together to tell the eternal story of the hunter and the hunted on the African savannahs.

 

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The evening sun provides a warm glow to the spectacular mountains forming the background, and together with the cold desert sands in the foreground it constitutes a formidable natural barrier. The camel caravan passing through this bleak landscape is an attempt at overcoming such physical challenges. The effort is at storytelling, through the medium of a photographic image, to reconstruct a bygone era of long distance caravan trade across deserts and mountain ranges.

The Art of Photography – Graphic Quality

 

Graphic quality of the image

 

The human mind is not comfortable with chaos. Visions of reality are more acceptable to us if they follow some kind of order. Human beings are compulsive symmetry seekers, unconsciously attracted to the visual impact of infinitely repeated shapes, which is also where nature, science and mathematics converge. The eye is automatically drawn to the lines, patterns and shapes that visually emerge from a photograph. In our instinctive perception, an apparent visual balance of the shapes and colours in an image are equated, in our collective consciousness, with the presence of harmony and beauty.

 

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Recognisable patterns are abundant in nature and the photographer must consciously seek out these patterns, which the brain perceives as visually pleasant. The point of view of this shot of a flowering cactus was consciously selected so as to capture the perfect geometry of its form viewed from this angle. The overhead positioning of the camera also served to keep all the pink flowers in focus to overcome the challenge of the short depth of field normally available in macro photography.

 

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Silhouettes are produced when the intensity of light falling on the subject is lower than that lighting up the background. This serves to sacrifice the recording of the details of the subject while emphasising the broad contours of its shape. The intricate pattern of the veins in the wings of the dragonfly and its shape become the subject matter of this shot at the expense of the details of its body.

 

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The parallel sections of the grey sky at the top and the black and the mud coloured mountain ranges below it, in this photograph, are sought to be offset by the white and red monastery located near the bottom corner. The effort was to divide the image into clearly demarcated equal layers of different colours, with each layer following the same general shape. The positioning of the monastery ties the whole composition together.

 

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The pink-orange colour of the feathers of this flamingo at rest is quite striking in itself. The viewer’s eye follows the sinuous shape of the neck cradled on its back till it reaches the eye of the bird. The wide open eye breaks the otherwise flowing lines to remind us that this flamingo is wide awake and is watching us.

The Art of Photography – Golden Hour

The Golden Hour for Photography

 

A very large number of beautiful images are created in what the photographers refer to as the ‘golden hour’. This is the period immediately preceding and following the sunrise and the sunset though the favoured period is actually much more than an hour. More like a couple of hours around these two daily events. The light at those times has a golden hue and is soft. Coming from a relatively lower angle, such light rays strike the subject in a unique pattern that brings a lot of character to the image.

 

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The early morning light rays, falling on these two elephants, lights up only certain parts of their massive bodies. There are enough details available in the lit portions for us to recognise the subject immediately and there are also the dark featureless parts to dramatise their enormous shapes. The inherent colour of the early morning sun rays gives a warm overall glow to this image.

 

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A mountain peak has several sides to it and the golden sun rays of the first light at dawn illuminates each of these facets differently. At the break of dawn, the snow on a flank of this peak facing the rising sun reflects its golden hue. In the early hours this frigid stark environment, bereft of all life, the rising sun clothes its unique form in unbelievable colors but, as the sun ascends further up in the sky, the mountains get lit in a more uniform manner and the early morning visual magic gradually dissolves.

 

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It is possible to include the disk of the setting sun in the image once it has lost its dazzling daytime brightness. A sense of calmness is invoked by the sight of the setting sun which has been enhanced in this image by the flock of the home bound cranes flying past. The effort was to capture timelessness, in the sense that, it has been so since times immemorial.

 

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The sky itself and the reflections of the fiery sunset on the water engulf this image from edge to edge. Churning up the ocean with the speeding motor boat at dusk, while the wind is ruffling your hair, are often the components of a perfect holiday experience. You seek to sell dreams through the pleasant graphic quality of the elements constituting an image.

The Art of Photography – Striking Image

The Image Must be Striking

 

With mobile phones hyperactive today we are inundated with photographs on a daily basis. To stand out from the mass of images vying for our attention, the first characteristic of a good photograph has to be its stopping power. The image must have the capacity to grab the attention of the viewer and force him to notice that this particular photograph is exceptional. The image must stand out visually from others and be able to engage the attention of the viewer so that he is touched and moved by that photograph. It must be striking.

 

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The subject itself can be attention grabbing, for instance this hood of a cobra. It spells danger and automatically creates a reaction at our sub conscious level.

 

 

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The dark threatening face of a langur framed by its light coloured fur has a simple colour scheme of black and white. The close up removes the normal cuteness associated with the monkey family, to focus attention on its body language of threat and challenge. The bared yellowing teeth add to the impact.

 

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Uniqueness of the subject can provide added interest to a viewer as in the case of this blue crowned pigeon. Its form and colours are intriguing. The elegant expression of nature is mesmerising and captivates our attention.

 

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The gaudily coloured costumes worn by this bachelorette party out on the streets to celebrate the marriage of one of their friends, who has worn the veil, are obviously eye catching and bring a smile to the face of the viewer.