Nisha Purushothaman deconstructs wildlife photography into bits of everyday pragmatism — “It’s all about being in the right place, at the right time, and doing the right thing”.
The simplistic approach, however, doesn’t cloud the almost meditative tone with which she tries to explore her subject. “Nature is always kind. If we take one step to get close to it, we are always gifted with double the joy,” she says.
A native of Paravur near Kollam in Kerala and a graduate with specialisation in Applied Arts from the College of Fine Arts in Thiruvananthapuram, Nisha is on a new high; one of her photographs has been shortlisted for this year’s BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest. The photograph has been picked from more than 70,000 entries from 89 countries, but ahead of announcement of the result in early October, Nisha calls it “encouragement” — “I’m not worried about the result; this itself is something beyond my dream.”
Excerpts from an interview: You had dabbled with different kinds of photography before finding your elements in the wild...
My first guru was Sabu Sivan, a senior in college. After college, I tried to work with a Kochi-based fashion photographer, but somehow things didn’t click. During a break, I visited Dubai and that changed my life. I got a job there as project manager in an advertising agency, taking care of their digital wing. I got introduced to a photography group called Shutterbugs Creative Forum led by Arfan Asif, a photographer with almost 30 years of experience. In the beginning, I used to go only on Friday mornings, but soon that became a daily session. You talk about a story behind each one of your photographs. Which of these stories has been the most fascinating?
Till last May, my wildlife trips except to Thol, a bird sanctuary in Gujarat, were more safari-based. During a conversation with Balettan (eminent travel and wildlife photographer Balan Madhavan), I mentioned my desire to explore the real wild. That was one of my best wildlife experiences. It wasn’t about photography. It was about being in the wild. The great part was getting introduced to Kannan and Thevar, two watchers at the Periyar Tiger Reserve, who know their forest so well and are so committed to preserve the reserve as it is.
Every journey is an experience. The challenge is in being prepared for those magical moments through the journey. The fun is in the unpredictability. It was always a dream to get a shot of the great Indian hornbill in a canopy background. I did four trips to Valparai to get a glimpse of this beauty. The first three trips failed, but during the fourth, I was lucky to get some decent shots. But the dream shot, still, didn’t happen. In nature, you can always expect the unexpected. And at the end, that dream moment came at Periyar. It was magic. Do you still work toward nurturing patience, or has it started to come naturally over time?
Photography has helped me a lot to become a better person. You learn a lot from nature. Even now, if it’s not for photography, I cannot think of getting up early. You need patience — the more the better. There is no place for disappointments. If it’s not today, some other day for sure. There are long-drawn, inconclusive debates on the right ‘balance’ to strike between talent and technical finesse. What’s your take on this balance?
A true love or genuine passion is most critical. When you really want to explore something, you will find a way too. A natural eye is always a plus. Like in any other field, the more time you spend in practice, the more you improve — the way you see things, frame images, use techniques, observe subjects and post-production. In nature photography, manipulation is limited. I prefer basic editing. Why the focus on bird photography? Was there an instance/phase where you realised that it was more passion than interest?
Being in Dubai was the main reason for concentrating on birds. Though a lot of people do street and architecture photography in Dubai, there are constraints. I was always interested in nature photography. Once we started to explore places in Dubai, I got to know that it had more than 400 recorded species of birds. That’s how it all began; now, travel and photography have become my life and love. Do you often, like some of the photographers say, make the bird come to you? Ethics play a major role in nature photography. Every living being has its right to live the life its own way. I feel we should never try to manipulate things. I’ve heard of people using sound-tracks and baiting to get the subject as they want. I don’t feel it’s the right way. One should spend time with nature. You’ve been part of initiatives that bring photography together with travel and exploration of new knowledge. Are you looking beyond photography as a passion and moving toward conservation?
I, along with three friends, have started a company called Ynot Escapades where we arrange trips to exotic locations around the world with a group of eight to 10 people and give on-site training in photography. We are also initiating a conservation project called Shades of Life. The idea is to encourage people to plant trees. Over the last 20 months, we have planted more than 7,000 trees across the globe. With Ynot Escapades, we plant trees at the location we travel to, like a signature of the traveller. What’s the story behind your photograph shortlisted for the BBC Photographer of the Year contest?
This image is from Polachira, a 10-minute drive from my Paravur home. From October to February end, you can spot thousands of migratory birds in this 1,500-hectare wetland. I got this photograph on a rainy day. You can spot a lot of kites in this area either trying their luck with small water birds or fish. The shot I have is of a Brahminy kite — a juvenile — diving into the water and soon hitting the sky. Everything was so fast; I was expecting the kite with a fish, but that’s when I saw that what it had was a snake. Somehow, I managed to regain composure and click. It was one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve had. Where does the BBC nod take you from here?
I would love to travel more, explore the wild, witness nature’s magical moments and share the experience with the world. I want to get more involved in conservation projects.
I’m planning to work along with Balan Madhavan on a new project. Last September, I quit my regular job and started out as a freelance consultant taking care of web-based projects. It helps me manage my time for travel and photography.