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These photographers are still in touch with the wild

Three wildlife photographers tell Lounge how covid-19 hit their work, while also offering new learnings and opportunities

JANUARY 2021: Asiatic lions (‘Panthera leo persica’) are the only social big cats in India. They are endemic to the subcontinent and live in the Gir forest of Gujarat. Seen here are two lionesses and a cub, quenching their thirst.
JANUARY 2021: Asiatic lions (‘Panthera leo persica’) are the only social big cats in India. They are endemic to the subcontinent and live in the Gir forest of Gujarat. Seen here are two lionesses and a cub, quenching their thirst. (Aishwarya Sridhar)

Chennai-based Rathika Ramasamy has been capturing wildlife in her camera for almost two decades. Eventful though this could be, nothing had prepared her for the way the pandemic would impact her work and life.

Work came to a sudden halt. “I only started travelling after the first lockdown. Our work is all about being outdoors—from national parks to other locations. In that sense, the wildlife photography fraternity was affected heavily. In India, there’s no lean period for wildlife photographers,” says Ramasamy on the phone.

Also read: Covid-19 hits wildlife tourism market

DECEMBER 2020: A brown-headed gull (‘Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus’) spears a pufferfish on the shores of Akshi Beach in Alibaug, Maharashtra.
DECEMBER 2020: A brown-headed gull (‘Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus’) spears a pufferfish on the shores of Akshi Beach in Alibaug, Maharashtra. (Aishwarya Sridhar)

Through much of the pandemic, peripatetic wildlife photographers saw incomes dry up as they were forced to stay indoors. Some ventured out gingerly to locations close to their homes. Some used the time to sift through their work, put together a film, or hold workshops online.

December 2020: A lion-tailed macaque (‘Macaca silenus’) with its young offspring at the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu.
December 2020: A lion-tailed macaque (‘Macaca silenus’) with its young offspring at the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu. (Rathika Ramasamy)

“Since most of us are always travelling,” says Ramasamy, “we don’t get the chance to sit back and reflect on the work we have done. I used this time to go through my old images.” She grew her presence on social media, hosting Instagram Live sessions and even setting up a non-profit—Wildlife Conservation of India—in June last year to reach out to people through virtual workshops on nature and macro photography.

DECEMBER 2020: A Malabar giant squirrel (‘Ratufa indica’) at the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu.
DECEMBER 2020: A Malabar giant squirrel (‘Ratufa indica’) at the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu. (Rathika Ramasamy)

In Mumbai, Aishwarya Sridhar, 24—the first woman from India and the youngest adult to win the “Highly Commended” award at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in 2020—focused on her stock footage of a tigress, Maya, she had spent six years documenting in central India’s Tadoba forests. She converted the footage into a feature film, Tiger Queen Of Taru, which was acquired by National Geographic Wild earlier this year.

MARCH 2021: A Bengal tiger (‘Panthera tigris tigris’) next to a carcass in the Kabini backwaters at the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, Karnataka.
MARCH 2021: A Bengal tiger (‘Panthera tigris tigris’) next to a carcass in the Kabini backwaters at the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, Karnataka. (Sudhir Shivaram)

“In terms of timelines, a lot of my projects have been put on hold. I was planning a series on endangered primates in India, which is now postponed. All the work collaborations and funding had to be put on hold because of the pandemic. It was like a chain reaction,” she says.

Stepping out in the field was tricky, says Sridhar, who ventured out to nearby areas such as Alibaug and Navi Mumbai for birding. She went to Gir, Gujarat, in January. “I have had to adapt. Earlier, I didn’t bother about sanitising my camera equipment, tripod etc. But that has changed now. I used to wear a dust mask on safaris earlier but that has now become a good cloth mask or an N95,” she adds.

MARCH 2020: A pied kingfisher (‘Ceryle rudis’) swooping on its prey at the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve, Assam.
MARCH 2020: A pied kingfisher (‘Ceryle rudis’) swooping on its prey at the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve, Assam. (Sudhir Shivaram)

Bengaluru-based wildlife photographer Sudhir Shivaram was shooting in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park in March 2020 when all parks and reserves were closed suddenly. “I managed just a day’s worth of work and had to return after that,” says Shivaram. “For all of us in the wildlife photography and tourism sectors, the impact has been very high.”

Between July-December last year, Shivaram travelled mostly in and around Karnataka on work. “None of this was going to be possible without taking proper precautions. Even at the national parks, all forest officials and personnel were following covid-19 safety measures,” he says.

MARCH 2020: A pair of great Indian hornbills (‘Buceros bicornis’) at the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve, Assam.
MARCH 2020: A pair of great Indian hornbills (‘Buceros bicornis’) at the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve, Assam. (Sudhir Shivaram)

Shivaram also found takers for photography online, conducting weekend courses and even launching a photography-learning app in April. But he, like his fellow photographers, is hoping he can start travelling soon.

Also read: From fireflies to caterpillars, this wildlife photographer is looking beyond the obvious

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