Things I learnt about photography in India.....Part 1 General Tips

May 15, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Every time I visit a new destination I learn many new things about the place and about photography. Every place has its own specific photographic considerations and I learnt a lot from photographing in India. Originally this was going to be my 10 top tips but as it became quite long I have decided to split my list into 5 general tips (part 1) and 5 more technical tips (part 2)!

Here are my top 5 general tips based on what I learnt about photography in India: 

1) Get a private safari vehicle, if you can afford to do so and it is possible. The safari vehicles are small and you have a lot of photographic gear you will find it difficult to find space for it all and yourself if you are sharing a vehicle with more than one other person. Having your own vehicle allows you more room for your gear, to be able to more easily move around the vehicle to photograph at a sighting and also allows you to decide what you want to do (i.e. stay longer at a sighting, leave, wait at a waterhole, look at birds etc) rather than having this dictated by others in the vehicle who might not share your preferences or passion for the wildlife or photography.

2) Make sure that you have rain protection for your photographic equipment, even if you are going in the dry season! We were in central India in March when it is never meant to rain but we got caught in 2 torrential downpours. I tell you this is not fun in an open vehicle with lots of precious camera gear! Thank goodness I was prepared! It was still a rather miserable two hours as I shed all my rain gear to provide extra layers of protection for my gear (you would not believe the rain - it was so heavy that my contact lenses floated out of my eyes when I slit them open for a moment!). See my blog specifically about gear protection for more details on this subject - http://lifesafariphotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/5/tips-on-how-to-protect-your-precious-photographic-gear

3) Take steps to also protect your photographic gear from the dust. In the dry season there is A LOT of dust! Driving around in an open vehicle, often behind or near other vehicles, means that not only will you get a tan that will wash off in the shower (!) but also that your gear will get covered in dust if you are not careful. This is not good for your gear and will also leave you with lots of dust spots on your images to remove later. See my blog specifically about gear protection for more details on this subject - http://lifesafariphotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/5/tips-on-how-to-protect-your-precious-photographic-gear

4) Always be ready. This is something that applies to most wildlife photography but particularly in instances where your subject might appear and then disappear very quickly, as is often the case with tigers. So think about the settings you might need and have them already prepared for the conditions you think you will be facing. You can always adjust them later if needed. For example, the early morning this is one of the times when you are most likely to see tigers but also a time of day when there is little light. I like to shot in aperture priority and learnt to have my widest aperture lens on and ready at its widest aperture (2.8) when we set off in the mornings. I would also do a few tests to see what ISO I would need to get a decent shutter speed at that aperture under the lighting conditions as we drove along through the forest. You can use Auto ISO but be careful to correctly expose your images, especially if the ISO needs to be high to give you a reasonable shutter speed. A high ISO is well tolerated by most cameras but if you underexpose and have to increase the exposure in post production you will get a lot of digital noise. Using Auto ISO and Aperture Priority does mean that the only thing you have to choose is your aperture and this simplifies the process considerably. You are unlikely to miss a shot which is great but may find there is more digital “noise” in your images than you would like.

5) Bring lots of patience! This is something that is a useful lesson to learn any time that you are photographing wildlife! They are just that – wild – and do not appear on cue and sometimes not at all. To me not knowing what you might see or when is part of the excitement but some people do get very frustrated and sometimes even angry with their guide for not "finding" them a tiger or whatever they are looking for. This is not helpful and , in my opinion, very unfair. In India the wildlife is not as plentiful and easy to see as somewhere like the African savannah so it is easy to get frustrated and disheartened, especially if that has been your only previous experience of wildlife viewing. You may not see any tigers, you may see many or you may see some but also have days where you see none. For most people it must be said that seeing a tiger is their number one desire (and I will admit that this was the driving force behind my trip to India) but the important thing is to not let that blind you to all of the other wonderful things you can see and experience between tiger sightings!

My strategy for improving my "patience" is to 1) just enjoy being there (the smells, the sounds, the experience), 2) enjoy what I do see including the small things – insects, trees, the light on a spider web, all are interesting and can provide great photographic opportunities while you hope for a tiger to come along, and 3) get interested in birds as there are almost always birds to see anywhere you go!

We spent 7hrs waiting at a water hole one day while in India knowing that a tiger was nearby and gambling on the fact that she was likely to come to the waterhole to drink at some stage. Although it was a very long time, we amused ourselves in the meantime by talking to our guides and learning about India, their culture, themselves, wildlife and conservation and also enjoying what was around us. In the end we learnt a lot and it was very much worth the wait for the eventual experience of spending 2 hrs with this incredibly gorgeous tigress when she did venture to the water hole and getting images like this one.

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