Wildlife photographer Aishwarya Sridhar sounds excited as we speak. The 23-year-old from Mumbai recently became the first woman from India, and the youngest adult, to win the “Highly Commended” award at the 56th Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, held by the Natural History Museum, London.
Sridhar clicked her winning photograph, Lights Of Passion—depicting a swarm of fireflies around a tree—in June last year, during a hike in Bhandardara in the Western Ghats in Maharashtra. “It’s about 3-4 hours from the city…. To me this image was very different from the usual firefly images I have seen on the internet. I felt maybe this could stand a chance (among the entries),” she says over the phone.
The photograph won the award for a category that captures and reveals the most interesting or memorable behaviour of smaller invertebrate animals —whether on land, in the air, or in water. Sridhar’s image is a composite of 27 shots taken over a 24-second exposure. This ensured a vivid depiction of the stunning bioluminescence of the thousands of fireflies on the tree. “I went to Bhandardara specifically to click the fireflies. Fireflies are active only during a two-week period just before the monsoon. I packed my bags and scheduled my entire trip in such a way that I would not clash with a full moon,” she says.
With the moon waning and no ambient light to impede her attempts, a couple of locals guided Sridhar to an area in the jungle where the fireflies could usually be spotted. She came upon the “completely lit” tree after a long trek. “From top to bottom.... It was mesmerizing. Initially, I was clicking with a telephoto lens, but I wanted to include more of the background, landscape elements. That’s when I saw the bright stars in the night sky. It dawned on me that I should include them in the image… like putting the stars on earth (the fireflies) against the stars in the sky.” She switched to a wide-angle lens.
Photography had been a hobby for Sridhar since she was 12. But her love for animals and the idea of “giving them a voice” became her biggest inspiration for taking up wildlife photography seriously. “I wanted to use the images to make people fall in love with wildlife,” she says. With role models such as renowned wildlife photographers Rathika Ramasamy, Latika Nath, Beverly Joubert and Shannon Wild, Sridhar has built an impressive portfolio over the last four years.
See more of her work: Wildlife photographer Aishwarya Sridhar wants you to look beyond the megafauna
Her website and Instagram handle are filled with images from the animal kingdom. One section, the “Magnified World”, features shots of the smaller creatures we often forget about. “We often overlook these small creatures—the bees, ants, caterpillars, fireflies.... The focus is always on our megafauna,” she adds. “When it comes to conservation, nobody talks about conserving a bee or an ant, right? It’s about tiger or leopard conservation. But only when you protect all these species will the ecosystem thrive.”