Wildlife Photographers' Guide
as written by Mohit Midha for "India Today Plus"


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Note: A lot of this article is India specific regarding best areas to shoot etc.

Damn!! The flash refused to go off when I pressed the shutter release!! Here I was, lying less than three yards from the feet of the biggest tusker I'd seen in all my wild life pursuits, manually focusing in the starlight on his occasionally glinting tusk and now the flash was acting up! I was hoping the small ditch between me and the giant would keep him from squashing me into a permanent fixture on mother Earth, just long enough for me to get a few shots. It was an awesome specter. His tusks were definitely longer than I was. They were almost like those seen in history books on mammoths, shaped like huge bows made of ivory. I snapped myself out of this awestricken trance and put my mind back to the problem at hand. Got it! I pulled the flash off the camera body, shifted the camera exposure dial to "B", put the flash on the test mode and then hoped for the best.As he tore down a tree right before my eyes, I waited patiently for his tusk to shine once again in the starlight so I could refocus the camera.

I watched him tear down the tree between us

There it was!! I think I got it focused. How I wished it hadn't been a moonless night but the starlight was quite bright too. Since I couldn't cross my fingers, with the camera in one hand and the flash in the other, I just hoped for the best and pressed the shutter release. I heard the familiar click, keeping the button pressed to keep the shutter open, I triggered off the flash test switch. It worked!! Yes!! This was followed by a few moments of absolutely undiluted tension spent trying to gauge the reaction of the elephant to the flash. He had paused in his demolition of the tree for a few seconds. I remember wishing I could stop my heartbeat, which sounded too loud for comfort! Then he resumed his meal. I heaved a sigh of relief and took a few more shots before my friend, waiting behind a bush thirty yards away, drove some sense into my head. I lay there and just stared a while at this awesome creature and it's raw display of power, then reluctantly crawled away before it pulled me off the ground and wrapped me around whatever was left of the tree.

As a wildlife photographer in India, being charged by a tiger sometime in your life is almost a certainty
Next morning when we went back to the same spot and looked at the ditch I had relied on so much, I almost did a back flip and died. I think I was very lucky I'd come across an extremely hungry elephant more intent on his meal than on a man at his feet flashing light every now and then. I remember hoping he thought the flash was lightning but why would lightning flash from the ground!! I guess you do have to be a little nutty in the head to be a wildlife photographer.

Nutty but still keep your wits around you to work your way around problems and get yourself out of dangerous situations which could turn ugly very suddenly. I have been charged and chased by elephants on fourteen different occasions, thrice by tigers and once even had the pleasure of sitting on an elephant charging a tiger. If these things aren't for you, don't even think of getting into wildlife photography.

It all began with the general liking for the outdoors, which came naturally because of the regular transfers of my father who was with the Indian Air Force. Air Force stations are mostly located amidst very nice and open surroundings, which along with the adventure stories of writers like Enid Blyton instill a very strong and deep rooted liking for the outdoors and it's inhabitants right from childhood. This feeling has to be a natural part of you by the time you plan to take on wildlife photography as a profession. To be able to stand out in this line, it has to come from the heart. With the kind of equipment available these days, it isn't a very difficult feat to take high quality photographs. High quality in technical aspects, but what really would make you stand out is a special communication between you and your subject. To be able to understand the expressions of a wild animal is possible only when it comes from within. Everyone can press that shutter release button but it's the timing, which will separate the great shots from the ones people keep in their memory albums. There are two aspects to wildlife photography. Getting into it as an amateur or as a professional. More often than not it is the former that transforms into the latter. That isn't such a bad thing either because getting into the line for a hobby will help you realise whether you actually have the liking and more importantly the potential for it. It is better not to fool yourself from the outset. There are many things we love with a passion but that does not necessarily make us exceptional at it. If that was the case, I would be driving circles around Michael Schumacher. So give it a shot and if you still feel this is the line for you, congratulations!! You've made it to one of the most emotionally, mentally and, at times, monetarily satisfying professions anyone can get into.

You must understand another thing very clearly right from the beginning. The monetarily satisfying aspect does not really come to the fore until you make a name for yourself. The lucky few get the break while they are still amateurs, the rest like me, just take the plunge! As an amateur, you can carry on with your job or whatever it is you do for a living but I feel that in this line of photography, as a professional you have to give it one hundred percent. If you plan to do it alongside some other profession, unless it is a related field, you'll end up not doing justice to either. It's alright if your goals are moderate but if you set standards for yourself that touch the sky, go for it 100%. If you feel that strongly for something, nothing can stop you from making it big. I'm not just talking big, I gave up a managerial post with a reputed MNC for this passion. I still don't know what life holds in store for me. Does anyone?! A lot of people thought I was crazy but then hey!! I think I did tell you that you have to be a little wild in the head to get into this line.

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