Shutterbug Rathika Ramasamy on her close encounters in the wilderness
On her recent visit to the temple city, Rathika Ramasamy seemed not far different from other photographers. But when she narrated her close encounters with snakes, lions, wild jumbos, and the resplendent flitting birds of the Indian and African jungles, it was clear she was destined to walk an untrodden path, driven by her passion for nature, wildlife and photography.
Rathika Ramasamy is one of the top 20 photographers in India, according to the Kolkata-based organisation Birds of India, and the only Indian woman featured in the list. She is India's first woman wildlife photographer.
Rathika is a self-made photographer. She relinquished her job as a software engineer one day to pursue this more offbeat profession. But well before that, the green environs of Venkatachalapuram in Theni District shaped her instinct for photography even when she was a child.
With her first SLR camera, which she got from her uncle, Dr. Appasamy, an amateur photographer, Rathika started freezing natural moments like blooming flowers and swaying trees. Her first candid shot was of her parents in the house that remains close to her heart even now.
Like many of her friends, Rathika studied computer engineering and then completed an MBA before she worked as a software professional for half a decade. When she got married in 1998 she shifted to Delhi, where she found abundant opportunities to pursue her passion.
She regularly visited national parks in and around Delhi to keep her zeal alive. She began her more active photography by shooting wildlife, especially wild cats, sitting patiently in hides to catch the cats in action. Then she zeroed in on birds.
"Not that I loved animals less, but that I loved birds more," she says. "I found bird sanctuaries are nearer to my place and I found shooting birds was more challenging as they would just flick away in a jiffy even with shutter sound."
"Anyone who wants to venture into nature photography should have a love for nature and lensmanship. Besides, one has to do a lot of homework or rather study nature – how to spot birds, study their actions, seasons, and their roosting place," she explains. "To put it simply, research work has to be done to become successful in capturing birds in the lens."
When trying to capture images of birds, she says, a photographer must anticipate their actions and behavior. He or she must also have a sound technical knowledge of their camera, as reshooting is often not possible. Once you miss a shot, she points out, you don't know when you will get a chance to click it again.
"Coordination of eyes, hand and mind helps you to click flying birds above, and beyond that you need to keep a watch around you so that you do not become a victim of snake bites and pouncing predators," she warns.
Wildlife photography is not as glamorous as it looks, notes Rathika. Rather, it is an exacting art. She once spent days getting pictures of a dancing Sarus Crane, Himalayan Monal, Indian Pitta and Sri Lanka Frogmouth for a German magazine. She carries a 10-kg load of camera and accessories on her back. When she is at work, she often goes for days together without being connected to family members. She is careful not to use deodorants, perfume or oil as the scents from such products would give her presence away to animals.
Though she regularly works for foreign and Indian magazines, once in a while, for her creative satisfaction, Rathika shoots photographs of people and places she travels to. Every now and then, she also loves to shoot places and university campuses during different seasons.
Her on-going assignment is in the JNU campus in Delhi. "Sometimes, they would not believe that it is their place," she laughs.
Rathika regularly organizes photography workshops in Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad. On demand, she is ready to conduct free workshops for school and college students as she believes that is the best way to create awareness among students about nature.
To encourage interaction among photographers, Rathika founded the Photography Arts Association of India, a web-based forum of photographers, in 2003.
What she yearns for: another shot at spotted owls sitting in a row, an image she once missed
Her best shot: kissing spotted owls
Where she loves to shoot: in India, which has about 1800 species of birds, including migratory birds
Her book: ‘Bird Photography – Birds of Indian Sub-continent'