A woman wildlife photographer is a rarity, an unconventional choice of profession some may say. But Nisha Purushothaman, one of India’s few women wildlife photographers disagrees, “There are women in this field. There are challenges like climbing a tree to get a shot, which may be easier for a man. Walking through forests for long, carrying equipment that weighs around 10 kilos is also not easy. Being physically strong helps. But, so far, I haven’t faced any difficulties because I am a woman.” This graduate of College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram, made her introduction to photography as a student of Applied Arts. The passion led the Dubai-based photographer to form a photo tour company ‘YNot Escapades’, with three friends. She is also involved in a conservation project, ‘Shades of Life’. One of her images was shortlisted for this year’s BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year, it was selected from over 80,000 plus entries from 89 countries; her images have been published six times in National Geographic in the wild bird photography section, and once in the daily dozen section. Her works have also been featured in several other magazines and websites.
Excerpts from an email interview
What got you started as a wildlife photographer?
I was born and brought up in Paravur (Kollam), which helped me connect with nature. When I started travelling alone most of these trips were to explore the wilderness of nature. One of our seniors in college, and a good friend, Sabu Sivan, was my first guru who gave me the basic tips of photography. I love travelling, and after college I started carrying a camera with me wherever I went. When I moved to Dubai to work for an advertising agency as a project manager taking care of their digital wing, I was introduced to a group called Shutter Bugs Creative Forum led by Arfan who works in the Dubai Health Authority, a hardcore photographer with 30 years of experience in the field. It was during this time that I got addicted to photography. A slow and steady move… Dubai has many restrictions on street or people photography. This was one reason which drew me closer to birds and nature.
So, is photography a hobby?
I cannot say it’s just a hobby, I’d rather say photography is my love. I have been doing nature photography for the last three to four years, but I have never earned a penny from this. When photography became a part of life, the gap between each photography trip narrowed. It was difficult asking for leave every month. Finally, last September I quit and started working as freelance web consultant so that I can manage my time. Now there is YNot Escapades and ‘Shades of Life’.
What is the ‘Shades of Life’?
This is our bit towards the green movement. We launched it 18 months ago; it is an international movement to plant trees. We have planted more than 1,000 trees across more than 30 countries, personally and through ‘Shades of Life’ supporters. Now we club ‘Shades of Life’ with ‘YNot Escapades’ to spread awareness and inspire our co-travellers to plant native trees as their signature in the lands we travel to.
Any one kind of 'life' (birds, animals, insects) that you have extensively 'shot'. Or is it life in the wild in general that is a draw?
For me, it is life in the wild in general. Here every species has its own relevance. As a photographer I would like photograph all these. It is a matter of how we see the life and how it’s presented. It’s an opportunity to show the beauty of the world through our eyes. But it’s not just about beauty. A nature photographer can be a good conservationist too. We can use our skills to make documentaries/pictures-based stories, which is easier to understand rather than text-based documents containing hundreds of pages. A combination words and pictures are much better. Getting involved with conservation projects is something I am looking forward to.
You have photographed wild animals at wildlife parks such as Serengeti. How is the experience? How often do you do it? Do you get to do it as often as you would like to?
The experience is amazing and beyond words. Being in the wild, in mobile camps, which don’t have electric fences, where you can hear the roaring of lions from a few metres away, where you can hear hyenas walking around your tent as you slip into sleep after a long day at the safari. Waking up to the call of a different bird every morning, taking in the scene in the morning when tall, beautiful giraffes graze from the bush next to your tent or a herd of zebras taking a stroll…No matter how hard I try, I don’t think I will be able to explain my feelings or the experience in words. One has to experience it to understand that feeling. I have been to Africa thrice this year and am getting ready for the fourth trip. If possible I would like to travel and explore the wild as much as possible to experience and to share the experience with the rest of the world. This is why Ynot Escapades was born. We can travel, spread our knowledge, teach the necessity of conservation, teach photography, plant trees where ever we travel as our signature in all those places we visit.
What is the most exciting thing that has happened to you as a photographer?
Every moment in the wild is exciting. There is place called Polachira, a 1,500 hector wetland, which is a 10 minute drive from my home. From October end to February thousands of migratory birds can be found here. For the last four years, I have been spending a week here during this period.
A year back I was following a juvenile Brahmini kite with my camera. I saw him enter the water and within a fraction of a second he was gliding up. The tripod and the head I was using were not steady and I was struggling to move according to the action. And that’s when I realised the catch was not a fish, it was snake! For a moment I was breathless and shocked…but managed to shoot again.
The shot I got was one where the snake managed to free itself from the claws of the kite in mid-air and the kite in mid-flight looking at the missed catch. I got this shot and I missed the one where the kite was holding the snake. This was the photograph which was shortlisted for this year’s BBC’s Wildlife Photographer of the year prize.