In an industry dominated by men, Rathika Ramasamy is leading the way as India’s first wildlife photographer. From facing challenging situations in the jungle to choosing favorite destinations for wildlife photography, the intrepid shutter bug endures it all in order to Travel + Leisure India and South Asia. By Pyaar Jain
Excerpts from the interview with Rathika Ramasamy:
T+L India: You are often credited as the first female wildlife photographer from India. How did you get into this creative field?
Rathika Ramasamy: My interest in photography started as a hobby in school. Since then, it has developed into a passion. My dad gave me a camera when I was in high school. I was photographing everything – my garden, flowers, trees, and even the candy my parents bought! My camera was my constant companion whenever I traveled. I was interested in all kinds of photography, but the experience of being in nature in the great outdoors led me to specialize in this genre, especially bird photography. It is challenging, captivating and fun to learn too.
It all started around 2003 when I had the opportunity to visit Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in Rajasthan. After seeing the birds, I wanted to catch them [in a photograph] So I can enjoy seeing them again. I was also living in New Delhi at the time. I was surrounded by birds, sanctuaries and national parks which were the main route for migratory birds. This gave me the opportunity to photograph birds and specialize in bird photography. It’s been 19 years since then, and there’s no turning back. The trip is going great!
T+L India: Over the years, what changes have you noticed in photographing wildlife?
Rathika Ramasamy: Of course, the topics are similar, but technology has changed – from film cameras and digital SLRs, to using mirrorless cameras to shoot in the wild! Many people have started using camera traps and remote-controlled cameras as well. It is good for wildlife photography. More and more people are showing interest in wildlife photography and tourism. There is greater awareness of Wildlife Day or Tiger Day. Social media has also helped increase the popularity of wildlife photography.
But at the same time, the number of species has begun to decline since it began 19 years ago. the threat wild animals has increased. It is important to conserve habitats to balance biodiversity. Unregulated tourism also takes a heavy toll on wildlife and forests. It is not enough to take beautiful pictures. Having said that, we can use photos as a great tool for nature conservation. We have fast focus lenses and mirrorless cameras, so you won’t miss a thing out in the wild. So, technologically speaking, we have great things going on photographing wildlife.
T+L India: What are some of the challenges you have faced while entering this field, particularly as a woman?
Rathika Ramasamy: Fortunately, animals are not sexist. Our forests are safe, so forest photography is a smooth ride. But, of course, if you are mentally and physically strong, then there will be no problems. [One challenge is that] It’s not a nine to five job. It is also difficult to adapt to places where only basic amenities are available. Extreme weather conditions can also be challenging. There is a lot of equipment that you need to carry around for hours. In the beginning, it was very difficult to be in the field for a whole day. Once you get used to it, it’s okay.
It’s also hard to be a home person, to be away from home and to travel a lot. It’s all part of the profession. When people see your work profile, and if you’re good, no one will see you as a “woman” or a “man”.
T+L India: You are also the founder of the RR Foundation for Wildlife Conservation (RRFWC). Tell us more about the NGO.
Rathika Ramasamy: Our motto is to save nature for the future. I have been conducting free workshops and talks on rationalization in colleges and universities for the past 15 years. I thought it was time to give back to the wild and reach out to more people, so RR Foundation for Wildlife Conservation (RRFWC) has been formed. We want to create awareness among the younger generation about wildlife and educate about the importance of wildlife conservation. We want to show how essential it is to preserve the world, using images as a medium. We conduct free workshops for children aged 14-25 to teach them the importance of biodiversity and sustainability. We want to promote wildlife conservation by protecting the livelihood developments of local communities.
T+L India: Wildlife photography can be a lonely profession that requires hours of patience. How do you deal with this mentally?
Rathika Ramasamy: A passion for nature should be a prerequisite for wildlife photography. Sometimes, you won’t meet anyone in the woods for hours. In these hours one should enjoy the surroundings otherwise it will be very difficult. I love nature and feel lucky to be in the woods. I enjoy getting opportunities to see animals and be close to them. I see photography as a way to connect with Mother Nature. For me, it’s like meditation. I feel calm and focused. Being a nature lover, I don’t consider that a problem. Wildlife photography is not intended for those who cannot get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. I can manage up to 30 days!
T+L India: Tell us about some of your toughest shots in the wild. Where and how was it filmed?
Rathika Ramasamy: Photographing most birds requires a lot of walking. Choosing one tough shot is tough. One of the things that comes to mind is a few years ago when I was filming in Sikkim. I think we were 7000 to 8000 feet above sea level, trying to capture the Himalayas Monal. On the first day, we were 5,000 feet above ground level. After that, the oxygen levels also decreased. I also carried my 800m lens. We finally arrived only on the 4th or 5th day! The place didn’t have a proper hotel either. We weren’t sure if staying with the family would be dining or not, let alone a proper shower space! It was very stressful.
T+L India: Have you encountered any difficult or scary situations while out in the wild? How do you ensure your safety?
Rathika Ramasamy: When we enter national parks and tiger reserves, it can be challenging. We need to sign compensation bonds on the safari booking. It is a model that says that if anything happens inside the forest, the government is not responsible. At the end of the day, we’re dealing with wild animals.
I came across many poisonous snakes while walking on the natural bird trails. Once upon a time, in 2000, I was walking around Jim Corbett National Park. I was anxious to see the tiger. We came to a narrow road where there was a thick forest on one side, and on the other a river. Suddenly I saw an elephant running towards my car. The driver started to back off, but to our relief, the elephant turned around and went in the opposite direction. That was so scary! In a split second, the elephant can hurl our chariot into the valley. People say tigers and lions are dangerous, but elephants can be even worse. We have to be very careful.
T+L India: With the rise of social media, do you see a shift in the mindsets and images of photographers?
Rathika Ramasamy: If you want to showcase your work, you will have to rely on print media. With the internet, it’s easy to focus on your business through website, photography forums, and social media sites. Earlier, inquiries were coming through the site. Now, people are sending messages on social media DMs. Therefore, the way of approaching the customer has also changed. It is very interesting because target audience marketing is necessary to reach the target audience. People are no longer searching on Google; They use Instagram. Social media is great for marketing as an artist.
For me, social media helps me reach more people and get more popularity. People show an interest in birds, mammals, and marine photography. This is good! New photographers tend to take photographs for documentation. It is way more dynamic.
At the same time, if one wants to remain consistent in this field, professional and commercial success should be sought outside of Instagram. Updating your website is also important. One must remain a content creator. Treat photography as an art form. I think it’s best to enjoy photographs when you see in print, especially wildlife photography. They should be on websites for future generations.
T+L India: How can one be more conscious and aware in the jungle?
Rathika Ramasamy: Knowledge of the subject matter is very important. One has to be committed. Spending more time in the woods helps to learn more about the animals and birds. One must be calm and follow the rules of the local park. Respect the forest and the woods. Follow the ethics of wildlife photography. If we respect them, they will reward us.
T+L India: Your favorite destination for wildlife photography?
Rathika Ramasamy: this is difficult! I love Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary for bird photography. For animals, it’s always Jim Corbett National Park. It is a beautiful landscape and the park never ceases to amaze me.
T+L India: A bucket list destination?
Rathika Ramasamy: I would like to visit the Amazon rainforest at least once in my life. Borneo and Malaysia It’s on my bucket list, too.
T+L India: Any advice for budding wildlife photographers?
Rathika Ramasamy: Look beyond tigers and elephants. We have many places and species that are not yet documented. Join this field if you love wildlife and nature. Be meticulous with the basics of photography. Knowledge of the topic is important. You should be able to change your camera settings without looking through the viewfinder; It should be second nature to you. My advice is to specialize in wildlife photography if you have passion and persistence. You will be rewarded with unforgettable photos. At the same time, try to be unique and consistent. If you love animals, nothing can stop you.