A very proud moment for me.
I originally shared a cropped as well as collaged version of this photograph taken in Bandhavgarh National Park in May 2015. And now after 4 months, I am proud to announce that it has won me the title of Natures Best Photography Asia, “Winner Wildlife Category.” The Photograph captioned “Eye to Eye with the Future of a Troubles Species” will be on display as part of their 20th Anniversary Awards Exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC from October 24th 2015. This Museum is one of the most respected and highly visited institutions in the world. More than 7 million people walk through its doors every year. The photo, story and camera information will also be published in Nature’s Best Photography magazine in America. I will be traveling to Washington on November the 12th to receive my award.
This is the first award that I have received for Nature and Wildlife Photography. It is a very proud and humble moment for me, one that I could have never have imagined and feel truly blessed to be in. The Natures Best Photography awards – Asia, Africa and the Winsland Smith Rice, have seen many fierce winners in the past such as Sandesh Kadur, Burrard Lucas, Andy Rouse, Thomas D Maglesen, Greg Harvey, Art Wolfe, Yusuka Okada,, Ansar Khan, etc. and, to have my names among such entities is truly mind blowing, uplifting and motivating.
Thank you so much Mom, Dad and Kavya, for your continuous and unhindered support in my endeavors. Also thanking my friends for their social and emotional support, motivation and validation, and also all those who follow my posts, for their feedback and blessings.
Lastly, special thanks to my naturalist Gudda Naresh Singh from Bandhavgarh National Park who helps me with tracking wildlife and positions the vehicle precisely for clear shooting angles. And mostly for his cheerful and enjoyable company.
Story behind this image:
The 10 month old female cub in this photograph is one of the three cubs of the famous Sukhi Patiha Female from India’s Bandhavgarh National Park. One of the most famous Tiger Reserves in the world, and one that boasts of having the highest tiger density. It was here that my love and passion for photographing tigers was born, almost 4 years ago at a mischievous age of 15. Ever since then I have been visiting Bandhavgarh at-least twice a year, managing to strike a balance between school and passion. This trip was particularly designed and aimed at photographing the elusive cubs. Along with their bold mother they occupy a large territory in the Magdhi zone of Bandhavgarh.
The summer was at its peak when I got to Bandhavgarh, temperatures flared up to 45+ degrees celsius (115+ f). There was no respite from the sun, as the usually thick forest had now given way to leafless trees and savannah grass owing to the hot summer. Water becomes scarce during the summer months and most animals gather near the remaining water sources and green pastures. Since tigers don’t do well with the heat this is the best time of the year for sightings as one can expect to see them near waterholes.
The shoot was planned for 6 days. We were a three man team, my naturalist and driver Gudda, my nature guide Praveen and myself ofcourse. Our main focus were the cubs. One had to be weary of the equipment and the iron rods of the jeep. As they could easily burn your skin if you are not careful. We would leave the lodge around 4 am everyday, carry our breakfast and lunch and return by 7:30/8 pm, spending the whole day tracking wildlife.
As the safaris started I was blessed with the sightings of the cubs on the first 2 days, however only at a distance, excellent for habitat and action shots but none for close ups. As the third and fourth day rolled by the excitement of the previous days started to fade, and at the end of the 4th day I was thoroughly disappointed to not have spotted them at all.
Well, this is wildlife photography, you don’t have control over anything beside your camera and your wandering racing head. Unusual downpours rocked the early mornings on both the days, disturbing any chances of sighting a tiger around any of the watering holes. The forests, although mostly leafless besides the Sal trees are still dense enough to hide the black and orange charisma.
In the afternoons, it would heat up tremendously, giving false hopes of sightings as we would hope that the tigers come to a watering hole. All this travel, lack of sleep, dehydration and extreme heat and dust was getting to me slowly but the mind remained focused on getting a good portrait shot. I had only two more days now, and the pressure was starting to mount as I had never before had the opportunity to take a clear close up of a tiger, let alone that of a cub, even after all these years of travel.
A little relief came in on the 5th day of the safari as I got some interesting shots of the cubs, close to us yet not close enough for a good portrait. I went to bed that night thinking about my dream shot, exactly how I would want it, what camera settings would I use if it would be at this time or that time of the day and the feeling of getting the shot……
When I woke up next morning, I thought about the entire trip over a cup of extra strong Indian coffee, each and every single moment. I recall thinking that I still did not have a portrait but nonetheless it had been a very successful trip both in terms of photography and general sightings of the common species especially the exotic birds and tigers. So I made up my mind that I will be content even if I do not get the portrait, maybe that shot is for some other time.
It was the sixth and last of of the shoot. The entire day went by with no sighting of the little big cats.
Late in the evening, we found their mother, alone resting on the side of the safari tracks, and in ten or so minutes she got up and vanished into the bushes on to the right….. we decided to hang stay put and wait there in anticipation that she may return and walk on the road, marl her territory, as it is a common tiger behavior.
Suddenly my naturalist got up and said “Sir Bachey” (sir cubs), instantly I picked up my heavy camera, got up and staring to the right I asked “Where?”. “On the other side” he said…and there they were, three charismatic beauties, burning bright in the fading golden light, slowly and curiously, one by one they approached our vehicle. I ensured that none of us make any sudden movements or noise. My heart was pounding and it was very hard to keep the camera still. Step by step they came closer. One of the female cubs was a little more curious then her brother and sister who crossed the road from a distance. This one came right near our vehicle, stopped for a moment and looked at me and then lifted her head to take a sniff, and that is when I got my shot. If it was any closer, my 500mm lens would not have been able to focus. For a second I was scared that she would just jump in, but we could not do anything, if we moved the car it would have disturbed them and observing their behavior I was reassured that they were calm and just curious cats. She stood and posed for a few moments and then resumed her splendid catwalk……… and soon her black and orange coat faded into the bushes behind her siblings.
I was taken aback by the moment and it is still crystal clear in my head, each and every single moment seems to be glued for eternity. I realized that day that I am so lucky to have been able to document the behavior of these majestic animals. Their present seemed so innocent, bountiful and unhindered yet their future so uncertain. They represent the future of an entire species, of our troubled national animal, the 2000 or so left in the increasingly diminishing wild wonders of India and only about 3000 in the whole world. We have to realize that tigers do not have a voice but we do. The scientists and conservationists are doing their bit with little or no support. We the common people ought to join in on the campaign to conserve the tiger and to give it a last fighting chance. If tigers indeed go extinct, a great misery among the human specie would also be inevitable.
The front cover for the magazine featuring all the winners of the Nature’s Best photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards and a sneak peak of the story behind my tiger image “Eye to eye with the future of a troubled species.”
“After six days of sun burns, extreme heat, and dust we finally spotted three cubs. Burning bright in the fading light, slowly and curiously, one by one they approached our vehicle. My heart was pounding and it was very hard to keep the camera still….”
“I feel so lucky to have been able to photograph the behavior of these majestic animals. Their presence seemed so innocent, bountiful, and unhindered—yet the future of their species so uncertain.”
#SuyashKeshariPhotography #NBPasia #TheFutureOfaTroubledSpecies