“Every time I press the shutter, it takes me one step closer to Mother Nature” says Rathika Ramasamy. Arguably one of the foremost wildlife photographers that our country is gifted to have, Rathika Ramasamy always had an intense connect with the spectacle of nature. An MBA/Computer Engineer, she was drawn towards the photographic capture of this spectacle as a career in 2003 at Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. There has been no turning back from then, as today, she stands as one of the most influential photographers in India and in the global stage, when it comes to wildlife photography. With a reputed accolades and renowned experience, Rathika Ramasamy opens up candidly about her experience and insights in Wildlife photography, in an interview with Cambyte.
1. How did your Wildlife photography journey begin?
I took up photography as a hobby initially and slowly became passionate about it. My journey in wildlife photography started around 2003. Love for nature, wildlife and photography drew me into this profession naturally. Once when I visited the Bharatpur sanctuary, I was overwhelmed with the awe of birds, enjoyed watching them and wanted to capture them. Okhla bird Sanctuary is 15 min drive from my home, I used to go daily there, spend three hours watching them. Many migratory birds come to Delhi on their migratory route during the winter season. In the summer, we have resident birds to shoot. I somehow was hence constantly exposed to the beauty of the birds. And bird photography is possible throughout the year. This is one of the main reasons I got drawn to shooting birds. Thus, the journey began.
2. What inspires you in Wildlife photography?
The more I read about birds and animals and observe nature from close proximity, the more inspiring it is for me to explore further. Though I like other genres of photography too, photographing birds and animals fascinates me splendidly, for it gives me an opportunity to be close to nature and observe it for real. Inside the forest, the scene changes every minute. You never have a dull moment. You find yourself so much in love with nature and always wait for things to happen magically. It is like a magnetic pull getting you to its zone of life constantly. The excitement of sighting and photographing new bird species truly thrills, which keeps me going.
3. What are the difficulties faced by a Wildlife photographer on a regular basis?
Wild animals are unpredictable. We cannot expect anything to be the way we wanted to photograph it. Unlike other genres of photography, we have absolutely no control of the subject. We have to wait for their mood to abide, their activity to be animated and their own time and space to come well. Inside the forest, wild birds and animals are often difficult to approach, as they are very shy and are always on the move. Spotting them, photographing their behavior in their natural setting is definitely hence a challenging and daunting task. Besides this, there are a lot more factors like carrying your gear on trek and keeping them safe from dust and heat, getting the best local guide, a good vehicle driver who knows where and when to stop and more fall in place when shooting in the forest.
4. What is your take on Raw Images vs Edited Images when it comes to Wildlife photography?
Digital photography software like the digital dark room or other post processing avenues is indeed an important step in the image making process. Of course from the camera you can shoot in the jpeg file format and use it as it is with a few in-camera custom settings and avoid editing process, but as we all know the dynamic range is low in such cases. RAW format gives the power to boost contrast, set the lighting right and so on, but then at the end of the day, it should be a subtle editing that we should make to the image shot. Editing too much will result in an over-worked plastic image, which is not advisable at all for it is important to document the images as a record for future which should contain only the real scenes. I believe that as a wildlife photographer, I have to show the scene as pictured and have been sticking to this rule. Adding or removing anything from the image using image editing tools makes the image – a digital art and not a real moment.
5. How do you plan for a shoot?
I do a lot of homework when planning for the shoot, especially about the place I am going to shoot. The environment is something that is there already and you can plan around it perfectly unlike the reactions of animals, which will be spontaneous and can’t be planned. I make sure I am aware of the natural history of the place, the weather conditions, and the allied factors. Research and planning are very important in every way. If it is a new place I am going to, then I take extra care. I read trip reports about the place, collect information on its topography, the best seasons, and lighting conditions etc. Sometimes I need to plan it before two to three months to have the bookings done. I also have a checklist of the birds I might be getting get a moment with. Book a knowledgeable local guide. It is a key thing to do, for the guide knows the best place, timing and the spotting. For some places prior permissions are to be taken, which is also to be accounted as a part of the planning process. No matter how much you plan in prior, the real challenge appears when you are there out on the field.
6. Of all the moments captured, what is your favorite shot so far?
I have many favorite shots, and it is tough to select one. If you ask me still, then one of my favorite shot is the Rose-ringed parakeet (Psittacula krameri) attacking the Common Indian monitor lizard (Varanus bengalensis). Monitor Lizards are found widely distributed over the Indian Subcontinent and are pesky egg thieves. They used to eat parakeet eggs from tree nests is what I have read in the books. For the first time, when I got a chance to watch them in action, I was simply amazed. With a humanlike instinct, like any parent to safeguard their little one, they were fighting so vigorously to chase the lizard away. It is one of my unforgettable moments in the history of nature I’ve captured, to watch and photograph this spectacle. It was taken at Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, India. You can see the Parakeet pair vigorously attacking the Monitor Lizard, trying to bite the tail of the lizard. The whole attack lasted only a few seconds and the lizard was running for the life. The Parakeets waited for some time after the lizard was gone and made sure it never came back.
7. What are your tips for aspiring Wildlife Photographers out there?
Be versed with the basics of photography for that is important to scale up in any form of photography. Have an in-depth knowledge of animals and birds, their habitat, and behavior patterns. This helps to get good photographs within the fraction of second you are given with to capture a moment. Specialize in a particular subject you love in wildlife. Strictly follow the ethics of wildlife photography. Be patient & perseverant, and go on enjoying the art of wildlife photography.
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