Wildlife photography is one of the most adventurous and exciting genres of photography. It is also dangerous as it involves photographing wildlife in their natural habitats. Kerala is home to some amazing female wildlife photographers that are breaking stereotypes and overcoming conventionality. Kerala Insider got to interview two of Kerala’s popular Wildlife Photographers, Seema Suresh and Aparna Purushothaman, to learn more about their journey and their love for photography.
Both Seema and Aparna began Wildlife Photography with the cameras gifted to them by their husbands. They have come a long way since their initial captures of wildlife. Seema is a Nature photographer who has traveled and photographed across the span of India and Africa. She is also the Media Co-ordinator of Photomuse, Museum of photography, Thrissur. Aparna on the other hand is a Physics teacher by profession and has been taking wildlife photographs for the past 9 years. She focuses mainly on capturing endangered, rare and elusive species. Read on to know more about these two amazing women and their photography!
When did you figure out your interest in photography? Tell us about your journey into photography.
Aparna: During my college days, I was inspired by the story of famous wildlife photographer Rathika Ramaswamy, who left her career to pursue her passion. But during that time I didn’t have any interest in photography. My journey into the world of wildlife began after my marriage. My husband gifted me a Sony Cyber-shot camera on our first wedding anniversary. At that time, he was working as an assistant engineer with KSEB. Interestingly, his office was in the middle of a forest. I was pursuing my PhD in physics at that time in Kottayam, my hometown. I used to visit his workplace during holidays and started clicking wildlife images from the forest there and posted them on Facebook. Many of my friends appreciated the pictures and told me to buy a DSLR camera. Soon I bought a Canon 550D and a telephoto lens Tamron AF 70-300mm. I learnt the basics of photography and did so many trials and errors with the camera. Slowly, I started clicking images with my new gear and my pictures started to get wide appreciation. I got an opportunity to catch the image of a rare and elusive animal listed in IUCN’s red list — Nilgiri Marten from Sholayar forest — which was the first sighting report of the species from that forest. Almost all the print and visual media gave extensive coverage to the story and my wildlife images became popular. That was actually the turning point in my wildlife photography journey.
Seema: After passing 7th standard, my father gifted me a film camera, Yashica MF2. During those days I only made family photographs. Since film and printing was expensive we used it only occasionally. After marriage, my husband, Mr. Suresh, gifted me a digital camera, it was a Nikon D3100. My first travel to forest was with this camera. During those days, I was unaware of camera settings. I decided to study photography in detail. I joined Shoot School at Thrissur to learn the technicalities of photography. Along with friends and mentors from Shoot school I traveled to Chimmony wildlife sanctuary in Thrissur district, which changed my life. My passion for photography and wildlife started there.
Why did you choose wildlife photography?
Seema: I believe in the power of mother nature. I find wonders in each corners of the earth. The journey to the forest gives me a lot of positive energy and relaxation. Finding new frames from nature is a happy moment for me. I also wanted to share my experiences and the knowledge gained from nature to the younger generation, and spread the message of the forest and wildlife conservation.
Aparna: I was very fond of animals from childhood. We have so many pet animals in our family. I used to keenly watch birds and animals and tried to learn their behavior. When I got a new camera, I first tried to click the images of forest birds around and I realized that my area of photography is wildlife.
What is the difference between normal and wildlife photography?
Aparna: Wildlife photography is entirely different from any genre of photography. This is because it needs keen observation skills and extreme patience. Most of the time we need to wait a long time for a single shot. We will get more lively images only if we patiently wait for a particular frame. In wildlife photography, we don’t know what will happen the very next moment, whether the animal moves, fights or falls in love. All these moments are precious.
Tell us about your family? What role have they played in helping you follow your passion?
Aparna: My family consists of my parents, sister and brother. Initially, they had apprehensions over my forest journey. When they realized the intensity of my passion they supported me well. My husband’s family is supportive too. My mother-in-law feed birds and care for animals around our home. She has now become a skilled birdwatcher. Once she spotted a rare migratory bird — Indian pitta — near our home, she called me to capture its image. I am happy that they have all started to love and care for nature.
Seema: My father Mohanan K is an agriculturist. He is now in his early 70s and still engaged in farming with full enthusiasm. His ideologies of life inspire me a lot. My mother Sindhu Mohan, a homemaker is with full of energy too. She has been very supportive to all my endeavors and gives me lot of strength during difficult times. My husband Suresh C.V., is a cameraman at Abu Dhabi. He always guides and support all my activities and has been the pillars of my life. I consider Dr. Unnikrishnan Pullikkal, President of Photomuse, the museum of photography and Mr.Praveen Mohandas who is a nature photographer as my mentors in photography. Their support, criticism and vision have been moulding my photographic career. What was only a hobby changed into a serious passion and life after joining Photomuse.
There aren’t many women in the field of wildlife photography. What are the challenges being faced by women in this field?
Seema: “Women and girls can do whatever they want. There is no limit to what we as women can accomplish” – Michelle Obama. I strongly believe in this quote. Unconditional love for nature, good knowledge about natural history, being passionate about photography, patience and obviously hard work are the main aspects you need to become a nature/wildlife photographer. Those who have self- confidence and are ready to work hard can accomplish anything. Photography is my profession, we have to overcome the hardships and face challenges with our passion.
Aparna: The major challenge for women wildlife photographers is the safety concern. As they can’t travel alone in a forest, they always need the support of male friends. That means they need to depend on others for a wildlife trip. If a woman plans a solo trip to a forest, our society will view it in a curious way. Though so many women are interested in this field, most of them may not get enough support from their family or friends. If we have a strong desire, we can even change the attitude of society. I have done so many solo forest trips.
Which is your favourite place to shoot and why?
Aparna: My favourite place always is the Sholayar forest, from where I began my professional wildlife journey. I have an emotional bond with the place and the people there. I have so many tribal friends there who helped me know more about wildlife. I always find time to visit Sholayar every year. One of my biggest dreams is to visit Papua New Guinea and capture the Birds-of-Paradise. The island is known for its paradise birds which dance and make beautiful nests to attract female birds.
Seema: My favourite wildlife place is Jim Corbett national park in Uttarakhand. It’s a heaven for those who love elephants. My first journey there was my with my mentor Mr. Praveen Mohandas. Dhikala range of the national park is our favourite area. The Ramganaga river that flows through the park attracts abundance of wildlife becoming the life of Dihkala. I visit the park in all seasons and watch elephants roam freely, freedom is their happiness.
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