An engineer by education, this wildlife photographer started his career by working with Hewlett-Packard as an engineer and later at APC. He was named Sanctuary Asia’s “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” for the year 2012. Known for his technically sophisticated and evocative character photography, Sudhir Shivaram was also one of the brand ambassadors of Canon. In a conversation with Gayathri Menon, the ace wildlife photographer shares his journey and opens up about his tech side to us.
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Exhibit: You studied to become an engineer, then how did photography happen?
In a sense, my photography learning and my technical education went hand-in-hand. It was while I was studying to become an engineer that I was initiated into photography in the form of a photography club in college. I was fascinated by this as it was the perfect outlet for my creative expression that also combined my love for gadgets.
Exhibit: Can you describe your journey? What drew you to wildlife in specific?
My college was in the Malenadu region of Karnataka, home to a vast swath of the Western Ghats. Later when career prospects took me to Bangalore, I would frequent the jungles around Mysore – Nagarhole, Bandipur, Kabini et al. All of this cemented my love for nature and wildlife and naturally I took to wildlife photography. It gave me immense peace and satisfaction to roam these jungles to spot and shoot the inhabitants.
Exhibit: How would you describe your own photography style?
I have two distinct styles in which I capture my subjects. One is the behavioral aspect of the animal or bird, where I go for close-up/portrait shots. Second is the subject in its habitat, where I zoom out the animal or bird to include and showcase the habitat, in order to capture the overall feel of the jungle.
“ I also emphasize the need to follow ethical practices; this is all the more relevant in wildlife photography, where we shoot in sensitive, protected areas. ”
Exhibit: Tell us about the process you follow for any photo-shoot.
Although the forest can be quite unpredictable, with experience, one can anticipate the kind of subjects we can find based on the season, breeding patterns, time of the day, etc. I leverage this knowledge and experience as also the local wisdom of the guides and naturalists in the area to plan my shoots or tours in any forest. While it is a meticulous task to plan my shoots and photography learning tours based on the season, it is a one-time effort.
Exhibit: ‘You and Tech’ – your view on this relationship.
I come with a technical background academically and career-wise, which makes me very comfortable handling all the technical aspects of my business. Later in my career, I stepped into managerial roles, which gave me greater insights into people management and managing client expectations. I feel this background and experience has stood me in good stead even in my entrepreneurial ventures.
Exhibit: How, according to you, is technology shaping the field of photography with regards to the process of photography and post-production?
Advancements in mirrorless camera technology, lighter lenses replacing heavier ones without compromising on focal length, are some of the foreseeable strides in the photography field. Refinement of post-processing software to enable quick and simple processes is yet another area where technology continues to aid the photography field.
Exhibit: Tell us about your thoughts on how social media is shaping the course of photography and the way photos are being shared now.
I believe social media offers a great platform to showcase one’s work. A lot of media houses are also scouting social media sites for content, and it is a win-win situation for both creators of such content and the curators and endusers. Offhand, I can recollect an incident where a guide/ naturalist in one of the tiger reserves captured a unique tiger-sloth bear encounter video and posted it on a social media site. This went viral and garnered so much visibility that a top international channel paid him a substantial amount to air it on their channel. It was also reliably learned that the video earns him a sizeable income after being uploaded on a popular video sharing site. While the video is just an example, the same is also true of photographs.
Exhibit: Which is the one photography equipment that is indispensable for you?
Apart from the regular cameras, the one lens that I always include in my kit is the 70-200 mm lens.
Exhibit: What trends do you see surfacing in the field of photography in the next 5 years? Where do you see it heading?
I envisage an environment that is more conducive for hobby photographers to earn from photography; as also easier to jump into professional photography by increasing social media exposure/digital marketing leading to increased reach.
Exhibit: What is that one feat you are hoping to achieve in future?
I started photography for the love of it. I had never imagined at the time that I would be earning my living from it. So that, in itself, is a significant feat, in my opinion. What I do right now combines my love for photography and love of teaching/interacting with like-minded individuals. If I can continue to do this and find ways to reach out to more and more photography enthusiasts, I will consider it a job well done.
Exhibit: Who is your idol and why?
There is no one name that I can think of, although I have been influenced by the work of some senior photographers in India and the world over.
Exhibit: What is the most difficult part of this profession?
I don’t believe photography per se has any difficulties, other than procuring and constantly updating your equipment. However, more specific to my line of business, which is photography tours in the wild, there is always the challenge of meeting students’ expectations of sighting tigers, leopards, panthers in the wild. Although this is something beyond my control, it is quite disheartening when we are, as a group, unable to spot the big cats during our tours.
Exhibit: What’s go-to photography trick that you know will never fail?
The one trick that has never failed me in wildlife photography is subject knowledge. This helps me anticipate its behavior and thus enables me to get some really compelling shots.
Exhibit: What advice would you like to give to budding photographers?
What I tell most youngsters, not just photographers is to do what they love the most. If I were to specifically give advice to photographers, that would be to master their basics first; this can be done even with basic, entry-level equipment. I have always discouraged the obsession for expensive, high-end equipment. I also emphasize the need to follow ethical practices; this is all the more relevant in wildlife photography, where we shoot in sensitive, protected areas. I make it very clear to my participants that subject welfare is far more important than getting good shots.
- Favorite animal to shoot: Leopard
- Difficult animal to shoot: Langur
- The car you drive: Tata Safari
- The phone you use: iPhone 7+
- Favorite smartphone feature: Ability to swipe the locked phone screen to access the camera
- Favorite picture: Leopard on the tree
- On a scale of 1-10, how much of a techie are you? – 07