Hello my wild-lifer friends and Photographers, if you are visiting India for nature or wildlife photography and are new to India or rather new to wildlife reserves and national parks and sanctuaries in India then you may get some help or ideas to plan your trip in a better way by reading this article.
Things to remember before starting your wildlife photography trip to India.
What is your objective and target?
This is important, try to make a list of animals or birds that you want to photograph. Search through Google and wildlife photographer sites for images of subjects you want to photograph, go through as many good images of the subject and place as you can. This will give you ideas of what kinda images you can take, Looking at good images also gives your own creativity a boost. Have a set of images in your mind that you would want to take, that helps.
Which parks and When do you plan to visit?
Once you have decided on the animals or birds you want to photograph the obvious next step would be to search for the best wildlife parks where you can photograph them. Also important is the fact that you find the best season. If you are a first time visitor visit the park in its best season for wildlife or the species you want to photograph. For most wildlife in India the summers months bet March – June are when you can easily see and photograph them. For example you may be able to shoot a lot of tigers in a weeks time in the months of Apr – June when its peak Indian summer and all the forest waters holes have shrunk, grass dried out and visibility at its maximum.
Having said that i love the winter months when the forest is lush green and beautiful and a single image in the soft winter light is better than many shots in harsh summer light.
Best people to travel with.
If you love to travel on your own as i do myself then you need to find the right people – Naturalist/Forest Guides and Jeep Drivers, these are the people that can make or break your photography trip.
You can sometimes get this info by politely asking a few wildlife photographers for recommendations or search in Indian wildlife forums. Ofcourse you can travel with a specialist tour operator catering to wildlife photography tours, if you plan to do that, I suggest pick one that is run by a wildlife photographer himself they are honest and not like the commercial tour operators who just want to cash-in, most will even help you achieve your photography objective and get some great images. You can of-course join my own tour at www.wildlifephototours.com. Weather you are traveling alone or in a group plan your schedule to the day, it will save you precious time and you can maximize your stay photographing wildlife.
Weather, What to wear and eat.
Its always a good idea to know the whether, temperatures in indian forest can be as low as 3-4 deg celcius in peak winters to unbearable 45-47 deg celcius in peak summers. Depending on which place and season you are visiting enquire about the temperature. Peak summers can be harsh so wear comfortable cottons of earth colors like grey, forest greens, beige etc soft colors not bright colors. In Peak winters carry a few warm clothes, a fleece or woolen jacket or top with warm head covering is a must, early morning drives can give you a chill. A large brimmed hat is good in the summers. Bandanas can be good to avoid the dust in the hair and looking like zombies after a drive inside the forest. In summers, if you sweat a lot then bandanas are good to keep that sweat away from entering your view finder and camera.
Enquire about the food you are going to eat. Indian food can be quite spicy and tasty. If you are not use to Indian food most forest resorts would cater to western taste buds, but its a good idea to always inquire. I would suggest you eat moderately at-least till you acclimatize. You wouldn’t want to spoil your photography vacation because of your bad eating habits.
Dont get me wrong Indian food is delicious and healthy but if you are not used to the spicy nature of it due to the difference in eating habits it may or maynot suite you so being careful is advisable.
How much time in a single forest?
My advice to any one visiting the indian forest is stay for atleast 4-5 days in one place before moving to another. This will help you know the forests and enjoy the different moods it has to offer, very important for photographers. Dont think of covering too many places in a short time as you waste prescious time often in traveling from one place to another.
Indian forest and wildlife parks can be visited twice a day, in the morning from around sunrise for 3-4 hrs and then in evening from late afternoon around 3 pm till just about sunset. The exact timings keep changing from season to season and park to park. Best possible time to photograph is the early mornings and late evenings when animal activity is at its highest and the soft golden light creates great images. Most parks with a few exceptions are closed in the rainy seasons from (mid june – september).
What Equipment to carry
Indian forest are mostly dense with limited visibility and not usually open grasslands.
Carry atleast 2 Dslr cameras if you have and can. Why you will know it in the lenses section.
If you are planning to photograph big game like tigers, elephants, asiatic lions, rinos, gaurs, deers etc then lenses in the range of 300-500 mm focal lengths are enough. To maximize your photographing ability carry 3 lenses, a wide angle for beautiful forestscapes with animals, a mid-range lens like 70-200 mm for close encounters with animals usually in tiger country when the tiger crosses in front of your vehicle, and a super telephoto lens in range 300- 600mm, although 600mm (on DX format) would be an overkill for large mammals it can be handy for portrait shots.
I usually carry the Nikon 200-400mm lens which i feel is the best for Wildlife Photography in India.
I suggest if possible carry 2 sets of camera and lens attached, one camera attached with mid-range lens like the 70-200 mm and other camera attached with your big tele 300/400/500/600 mm lens. This also helps avoiding the dust entering your camera and lens while changing in field.
The best combination is a 70-200 mm along with 200-400 mm or 500 mm lens, For birds ofcourse you bring the biggest of what you got.
Always keep the lens hoods attached when inside the forest. Never leave your camera and lenses unattended, carry it with you always. Specially don’t leave your big teles on a tripod unattended, an uninvited drop would cause a lot of pain and spoiled vacation plus the expensive repair cost.
Don’t travel with a single lens and camera if possible, sometimes a malfunction in your exotic lens or camera may leave you with no choice but to just watch in dis pare as others enjoy clicking great images. If you have a spare camera or lens even if it is your old cheap camera and lens get along as spare it might save your vacation in bad times.
Normally flash is not allowed in Indian forest, specially in Elephant country it can be dangerous to flash on a Tusker (Bull elephant). You should however carry it for your bird photography or travel photography outside the parks.
Carry dust proof covers for your camera and lenses. There will be a lot of dust specially in most Indian forest. Even your towel can be helpful.
Clean your equipment after every trip, as the dust is very fine and will get into the gaps if you leave it for days, even in pro cameras. Clean your Lenses before every trip in the forest. Carry a small blower and brush in your pocket when you go for game drives.
Wildlife photography in India is mostly done from a 4×4 jeep called gypsy and occasionally from elephant back. The gypsy is a better option as its more stable and gives you a low angle to photograph. Elephant back can be helpful when you have to reach a cliff or a waterhole not accessible by the usual roads.
Mono-pods or Beanbags are the best way to photograph from the gypsy. As there are usually 3-4 people sitting in the vehicle a mono-pod or beanbag is more convenient and handy to maneuver. If you have booked a vehicle of your own and would be staying for at least a week then you can ask your tour operator or gypsy driver to make provision for the tripod, most will remove a seat and you can have space for your tripod. Even with a tripod be sure to carry a bean bag, You can use a pillow incase of an emergency, its easier to get a bag stitched and get it filled with rice or beans when you arrive in the forest resort.
Carry lots of spare memory cards of 2 – 4 gb each atleast. In a good wildlife season you could end up with lots gbs worth of good images in a weeks trip, so carry a portable harddrive or laptop to save all those images. In most forest you may get to write a cd or dvd from the nearby cybercafe but dont take any chances.
Backup you images on your harddrive/laptop/dvd after every trip to the forest, dont wait till your card is full.
Batteries / Chargers / Adapters
Carry atleast 1 set of spare batteries for each of your cameras. In India electricity is 240 volts and 50 Hertz approx. Carry the appropriate adapters for you chargers. Check this site for more info http://users.telenet.be/worldstandards/electricity.htm
Carry your equipment in a good camera bag preferably a single backpack. Easier to carry in transits, air, trains etc. Most airlines in India allow to carry bags in cabin. I carry the Lowepro Vertex 300 AW Backpack inside the cabin without any problems. Be extra careful outside the park when traveling.
When traveling inside the forest dont ever use a perfume or deoderant, no strong fragrances.
You may however carry insect or mosquito repellents along just incase you are not able to sleep cause of the mosquitoes in some places.
Test Your Equipment
Pls dont forget to test your equipment before you leave for you wildlife photography trip.
Hope this helps you in planning your vacation and photography trip to India. If you need any info or want to travel with me feel free to send me a mail, would be glad if i can help.