Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst! That’s the first thing I learnt when I started using DSLR to shoot in wild.
In high tech world of mobile cameras, DSLR’s/lens and premium point & shoots it is very easy for one to think of self as photographer. Nothing wrong! It is just that I wanted you to know that photography is science of light and art of story telling. Every photographer is an artist who plays with light and subjects in given environment to convey a message. So before calling yourself photographer think twice.
As for me, my first camera was Panasonic 20x zoom point and shoot. This was more than a decade ago. It costed more than 50% of my salary. I had bought it in my first salary and used to shoot portraits and family functions. It got damaged during one of family trips and I was heart broken. This incident kept me away from photography. However few years later, when I got married it was my better half who insisted on me buying DSLR. She saw my craze for jungles and wildlife during her maiden visit to tiger reserve. I bought my first DSLR – Canon 600d. Things were to change for better. I picked up skills and within few years upgraded to Canon 80d. Of late I have been qualified by friends as wildlife photographer but I see myself only as hobbyist photographer who likes to shoot in jungles. It is now my secondary hobby. My primary passion remains spending time in jungles.
Photography is process which starts with science of lights, usage of tools and ends with art of story telling. Wildlife photography is even more challenging because you don’t have any control over subject or it’s environment. Everything is dynamic and unpredictable. Anything can happen!
Coming to cost of photographing in wild – trust me it is an expensive affair! The elements that define these high costs are: camera, lens, photography accessories, safari permits, lodging- food, expert services and mentors (at times). Unless you are born with silver spoon the path (in terms of cost) is really steep. I believe every wildlife photographer who works in corporate is doing so only to sponsor his jungle trips. 🙂
Let us say you want to buy entry level DSLR with kits lens it will cost you nothing less than INR 35,000 to 40,000/-. Now let us assume you want to go out to shoot in jungle like photographers do – so you plan 2 Nights and atleast 4 safaris (1 safari is 4 hours drive inside jungle) and stay in budget hotel. This will cost you nothing less than another INR 40,000 to 50,000/- I have not added cost of transportation and logistics. All in all you end up spending almost 1,00,000/- just on first experience. The worst feeling is when you dont see a tiger.
To top it when you see your own photographs which are no where close to what you see posted on social media it’s like death knell to your wildlife photography. Lesser the likes on social media, closer will be the end of your photography journey. 🙂 On positive side it will push to improve skills, upgrade equipment and learn additional skills by joining photography classes, doing workshops etc. Now this is cost only people who fall in love with wild spirits will take up. Most people give up wildlife photography after looking at complexity of using these tools, disciplined effort and patience that is required.
Coming back to cost these can be mitigated to some extent by sharing safaris cost with another photographer/co-traveller. The key to managing the cost is taking inputs from people who are regulars to forest in India. So even if you get a high quote from expert don’t compare it with trip to Bangkok or Sri-Lanka. It will include all costs of visit and price of his expertise. Also the experience of visiting a jungle is very different compared to roaming around as tourist in some city. It is something one needs to experience atleast once. You can do this even if you are not photographer. For me it is not cost, it is invaluable experience and journey brimmed with learning. Journey of knowing yourself. Next time when you are planning vacation, plan to spend few days in jungle. Visit jungle to enjoy nature and you will see the difference for yourself. Don’t bother about photography. Wildlife photography can take back seat till then. Don’t invest in equipment till you fall in love with jungle and its denizens.
I have been fortunate enough to be guided and mentored by some of the best wildlife photographers in India. I have done workshops and field visits with them. Every time I go to jungle I learn something new. I have failed so many times. Sometimes I fail technically & sometimes creatively. David Harvey explains photography like this – “Don’t shoot what it looks like, shoot what it feels like”
I believe I am still learning and far-far away from been called wild life photographer. The spirits of wild want me to visit jungles more often and shoot them. I am hopeful that one day I will inspire people by means of my images,blogs and privately guided experiences to take up wildlife photography and/or care for nature/forests and jungles. They will be ultimately be brand ambassadors for spirt’s of wild just like me!
PS. I have recently completed 10,000 photographs 🙂