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For the love of nature

P. Karunakaran, nature photographer, loves chasing butterflies. He speaks about his passion

Plant bugs emerging from the eggs.

CHASING BUTTERFLIES and capturing the images on camera is a fascinating experience. And P. Karunakaran, nature photographer, has been chasing butterflies for a long time now.

The reason for pursuing such a passion? "It is what I love to do. I'm enchanted by nature, the insects, birds and animals." When you look at the stunning pictures that have won Karunakaran the `Excellence Award' - 2004, instituted by the `Excellence' Federation Internationale de L'Art Photographique (EFIAP), it becomes abundantly clear that there is quality in his work, which transcends technique. He has an `eye for picture', coupled with the skill to capture and reveal the subject - nature - at its pictorial best.

He has won more than 200 awards and citations in national and international salons of photography and over 1,000 `acceptances' as well.

About winning one of the highest honours from an international photographic federation, he says, "The award only proves that you can succeed through sheer skill and perseverance. The criterion for being given this award was that my works should have received `acceptances' in five different countries and comprise 10 different folios on specific series. This time, I submitted 10 such folios on varied subjects such as the Tiger Wasps and plant bugs in their natural habitat. It was quite a challenge and I'm happy to have managed to meet it."

A compelling hobby

A former employee with the State Bank of Travancore, Karunakaran first picked up his camera, an old Isloy-I, during his college days. "I shot whatever interested me," remembers Karunakaran, who is one of the two photographers from India to have been honoured with the EFIAP award this year.

Karunakaran was hooked on to the world that he explored through the viewfinder. Within a few years, it turned into a compelling hobby and later, a passion. "I taught myself the principles of photography, read books and interacted with other photographers to learn more about the subject," he says.

Since photography salons were not held in Kerala in those days, Karunakaran would attend salons held in other cities outside the State.

In today's world of photography, where digital techniques and images rule the roost, a colour image can easily be converted to grey scales, corrected and enhanced. But where does this leave the conventional B&W film?

Digital photography, feels Karunakaran, cannot turn a boring picture into an interesting one. What it can do is to help the artist enhance the quality and aesthetic appeal of the image. But he cannot imbue an uninteresting picture with either life or soul. You have to draw inspiration from the works of others, says the photographer.

Capturing the mood

As a medium of expression, Karunakaran says, he has always found B&W to be superior to colour. The range of grey tones that are provided by the conventional technique of photography made capturing the mood with as much precision as possible, a challenging task. "The more the emphasis on the grey scales, the better the image, even the minute details can be incorporated," explains Karunakaran.

To explain his point of view he says: "If you wish to photograph a person crying, with tears rolling down the cheeks, there is no better way to do it than capture the image on a B&W film, using certain support system such as different kinds of lights, filters and diffusers. The lights can be used to highlight the tears, contours of the face and to convey the exact mood and intensity of emotion."

Visualisation of the image

It is important, while capturing an image, to concentrate on the technique and visualisation of the image you wish to record. "In colour photography, it is vital that we decide how colour expresses what we want to say in a picture," he believes.

Why did he choose to specialise in nature and macro photography, and not, say, industrial or architectural photography? "Butterflies courting, mating, emerging from the pupa, insects, birds and animals in their natural habitat have all been subjects close to my heart. In macro photography, small images are reproduced and magnified; I find it challenging," he says.

It is important that a nature photographer capture the images of flora and fauna, unharmed and unmanipulated in their natural habitat. Drawn by nature's canvas, he travelled to the wildlife sanctuaries in Bandhipur, Bharatpur and Ranganathitto, and captured the birds and animals on his Nikon camera.

Flitting objects, give you very little time to compose and shoot. Such a situation demands quick thinking, says Karunakaran. "So, I read about what I want to photograph, study my subject's habitat and life cycle, observe it for days together and then get down to work. While photographing butterflies, the best time would be an hour after sunrise up to 9-30 a.m. By noon, most of them retreat into shade. Most butterflies are shy and elusive subjects, and will flee at the slightest intrusion. It is easier to work in a `tame' environment - one which you are familiar with."

Technical expertise and fine equipment cannot help you click good pictures. "You should have a sound knowledge of your craft and the subject, posses a sense of creativity and interpret your subject in different ways, each time," adds Karunakaran who continues to be enchanted by the bugs, butterflies and birds.


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