Pathmakers: Wildlife Photographer – Shreeram MV, PGP 2004
The road less traveled has its own challenges but is very rewarding in the long run. Shreeram MV decided to take a plunge from his corporate job and follow his passion for wildlife photography. He is the Co-founder of Darter Photography, which offers mentorship, workshops, and tours to the photographer enthusiasts. At Darter Photography they believe in unraveling the beauty of the world through the camera.
His love for the lens and nature comes out so clearly in this interview with L Square. We congratulate Sheeram in translating his passion into a successful venture.
Can you tell us something briefly about yourself?
I am Shreeram M V from PGP 2004 batch of IIMB. I am a professional photographer living in Bangalore. I run an organization called Darter Photography where I mentor photography enthusiasts on photography tours around the planet.
As a wildlife photographer, I create stories about the natural world and human interactions with it through my photographs.
How did you get into wildlife photography? Are there any specific skills that are required and what did you do to learn these skills?
After graduating from IIMB, I worked in the corporate sector for around 5 years with stints at Satyam Computer Services and Adobe India. I started birdwatching and photography as a stress-buster during this period.
In early 2009, I decided to take a year off and explore the country. I did a couple of workshops on photography and a naturalist training course. I traveled the length and breadth of the country with my camera and discovered that I knew almost nothing about the rich diversity that we have. From knowing about tigers and a few birds, I started marveling at everything from ants to snakes to fungi to trees. I would credit my early travel companions and people I met along the way for sharing their insights into wildlife and wildlife photography and instilling an ethical view of the natural world. That has held me in good stead through all these years.
As a wildlife photographer, it is important to know 2 things very well – the camera and the wildlife (along with the habitat). Very often, there’s just a very brief moment when the story-making opportunity presents itself. Without an intimate knowledge of the camera and its workings, it is impossible to capture that fleeting moment.
In the wild, one is at the mercy of nature. It is therefore very important to know the place very well. To make interesting stories, it is also important to understand the subject very well. I do a lot of reading before every shoot and study photographs that have been made by other photographers. This helps me visualize my stories. I also make sure that I have a subject matter expert – a researcher or a local expert – accompanying me to ensure that both my subject and I are safe from each other.
What is it that you like about wildlife photography? What are your favorite photography sites?
Where do I start? Wildlife photography is meditation. When I look through the camera viewfinder, my focus is completely on what’s happening there. The rest of the world disappears for that moment (that sometimes stretches to hours). That is my biggest motivator to be a wildlife photographer. I’ve overcome many fears and done expeditions that I wouldn’t have even dreamt of a decade ago chasing this passion.
Most of the time, wildlife photography takes me away from the hustle and bustle of the city. My office spaces have clean air, clean water and a calmness that is soothing to the soul.
My favorite place is always the one that I am at or where I was yesterday 🙂 If I had to pick my all-time favorites, 3 places come to mind.
- The first is a place very close to home – Agumbe in the Western Ghats. I’ve learned and continue to learn so much about wildlife photography and the natural world here in all these years.
- The high Himalayas of Ladakh and Spiti Valley. Though they are so sparsely populated with wildlife, every animal here is special. They are supremely adapted to extreme conditions of high altitude, below-freezing temperatures and scarcity of food and water. And the mountains make me surrender to their magnanimity and magnificence.
- The frozen continent of Antarctica. My hard drives filled up on both my expeditions to this last true wilderness on earth.
Any specific interesting experiences while shooting a picture? What kind of planning goes into taking these pictures?
Over the years, I’ve been blessed with many interesting experiences in the wild. A venomous Malabar Pit Viper lounging at me. A big cat growling in annoyance from the shadows as I walked on a night trail. A beautiful evening with the silhouettes of lions dancing and roaring a few meters away. Young (and curious) birds hopping into my lens hood as I lay down on the ground to photograph them. Every experience is unique and treasured.
To make photographs, it is important to research about the place and the wildlife. The season often matters, as does the natural cycle of the animals. Sometimes, permissions have to be secured when photography has to be done within protected areas. I usually work with subject-matter-experts – typically researchers or local guides – as they have a great understanding of wildlife.
The next step is planning out the photography. Choosing the right equipment is critical. The lenses have to be capable to make the desired photographs. Adequate protection is required when shooting in extreme weather conditions like rain, dust, snow or in marine environments. Trade-offs have to be made based upon the amount of walking required as the equipment tends to be very heavy.
Then, it is photography time. Over the years, I’ve realised every subject requires a unique strategy to make the story. Improvisation is often required and each experience is a learning for the next assignment.
Are there any learnings from this hobby that you can apply to your personal or professional life?
Patience is a virtue that comes through wildlife photography. There are times when I’ve had to wait days to get the photograph that I’d visualized. And most times, the photograph doesn’t even materialize. The absence of control can be very unnerving at first and it takes time to accept it.
Out of the box, thinking is another key learning. Plans go awry due to weather or new regulations or other hindrances. Alternate plans are essential as I am working on a schedule. There was this one instance where we were trying to photograph a Banyan tree in a factory campus. With its sprawling branches and all the disturbance around, the photographs weren’t at all impressive during the day. We decided to change our approach. We came back at night and light-painted the tree. The result was the most striking photograph of the assignment.
Wildlife has also taught me a lot. There is no animal on the planet that thinks about investing for 5 years down the line. They all live in the moment. Their actions are all focussed on the moment rather than being stuck in the past or the future. And animals are not judgemental. They probably evaluate the world on a few parameters – Are you my food? Am I your food? Are you a potential mate? Are you a potential rival? That’s about it. Life seems much less complicated and unhindered.
Since wildlife photography is my profession too, I share all my learning – photography, field etiquette, natural history – to all my participants. I believe that wildlife photography is a great way to understand the natural world and simple tips of how to best observe and photograph in the wilderness go a long way in appreciating nature.
The natural and cultural diversity of the world is truly incredible. We are both lucky and unlucky to be living in times when the diversity is at its peak but, at the same time, the extinction rates are also the highest ever. As a business, we are continuously evaluating our carbon footprint and our impact on the local environment and culture. We also engage our participants, many of whom are in senior positions in the corporate world, in discussions on conservation, environment, and sustainability as their decisions have a great impact on the planet.
Each picture has a story behind it. How do you copyright the pictures?
Every photograph is special as (mentioned correctly by you) there is a unique story behind it – both in terms of making the photograph as well as the story it depicts. Over the years, my photography style has evolved to tell stories rather than just depicting portraits. That has connected well with my audience.
Copyrighting photographs is no longer practical with the number of photographs that are created in the digital era. Every week, I am forwarded instances of my photographs being used without my permission or someone claiming my photographs as their work. Often, it just takes an email or a message for the photograph to disappear. If the photograph was used for commercial purposes, I send them an invoice along with the email.
Have you thought about monetizing your pictures or author a book on wildlife?
As a professional photographer, I work with various business models to monetise my photography. As a Managing Partner and Photography Mentor at Darter Photography, I lead groups of enthusiastic photographers to various destinations across the planet. I help them explore the natural and cultural wonders and teach them how to make interesting stories through photography.
I also work with organisations like TVS Motor Company to photograph, monitor and advise on the thriving wildlife within their campuses. I collaborate with magazines, both print and online, to contribute my stories and photographs.
Organizations and individuals also regularly purchase prints of my photographs to adorn the walls of their offices and homes.
I’ve been working on a couple of ideas for books on some very special, yet ignored, ecosystems in India.
Is there a URL or a gallery where people can view your work?
In addition to these, you can stay updated on photographs from my ongoing projects and travels on my Instagram (@mvshreeram)