Although modern human beings have strayed away from nature they still have the primal instinct in their genes to survive in nature. They just have to explore nature and wildlife to unlock that part of their character. For the young Aishwarya, it was a bit easier. I grew up in Panvel, Maharashtra, on the foothills of Matheran. I didn’t have to go out of my way to find nature and wildlife because I was surrounded by it. Furthermore, my father is a Life member of the Bombay Natural History Society, so he used to go on many wildlife treks and I joined him. I spent most of my time with nature and I fell in love with it. I felt that I belonged there and this feeling triggered my artistic side. I started to pen down my feelings about wildlife through poems, but I was rejected when I tried to publish them. I was told that the poems lacked imagery. So, I thought to myself, rather than documenting nature through poems why don’t I document them in images. Thus, at the age of 10, I picked up a camera and my only motivation was to explore and document nature and wildlife.
Both my parents are wildlife enthusiasts which helped me a lot when I started doing photography at the age of 10. My parents always supported me with my passion. Apart from that, the school which I studied in supported me as well. The teachers were always open to helping me out with my studies at off-hours and I was always granted a leave when I needed it. So things went smoothly which enabled me to gather more experience at an early stage.
First DSLRs are always special to a photographer and after I got mine I decided to go to Tadoba National Park. It was my first trip as a wildlife photographer and little did I know that this trip would leave such a huge impact on the 14-year old me. There were a lot of tiger sightings at Tadoba in that year when I visited, so I was very excited when I first got there. After reaching our destination in the morning, we started the safari in the afternoon. This is when I first saw her. Resting with her siblings near a water body was Maya- the tigress. There was a sort of charm she had in her character which attracted me. I somehow knew that she was meant to be a powerful one and my belief grew more when I saw her confrontation with an alpha Indian Gaur. Though she backed off quickly when the Gaur charged at her, my admiration for her grew immensely. Over the years, seeing her life unfold I felt that her story needs to be told- that’s how ‘’Tiger Queen of Taru’’- my feature film on Maya was born.
After my trip to Tadoba, I’ve made several trips to various jungles in the western, central, and southern sides of the country. I even have plans to visit the north-eastern side. In all these trips, I’ve had several experiences from getting stuck in quicksand while filming flamingos to getting my hands swollen by mosquito bites but there’s one thing which I’m very proud of. I got the chance to document a tigress teaching her cubs to hunt which has never been done before. While filming Maya, I saw how she chased down prey for her cubs and let the cubs claim their first kill which was truly an amazing thing to experience.
As a wildlife photographer, there is always some kind of danger lurking behind you. I went to South India along with my friends, to shoot the Lion-tailed Macaques. At night, while returning to our cottages we were stopped in our tracks by Sambar deer alarm calls. It should be taken for granted that a predator is near when a Sambar calls, but we couldn’t see anything near us. When the calls stopped, we safely returned to our cottages. The next day when we returned to the same site we were standing the previous night, we stood shocked for a few moments. There were leopard pug marks near the place we were, so there was certainly a predator lurking behind us and we were lucky to return home without a scratch.
I’ve started my journey as a photographer quite young and people have tried to suppress my voice by saying that “You’re too young”. When I went to different Indian TV channels with my film on Maya, they rejected me by saying that I’m too young. Luckily, fate took me to National Geographic, who welcomed my film with open hands.
A person needs a lot of mental strength and physical stamina to do Wildlife photography, and I try to make an impact on society through my photographs by making people aware of nature. I believe that anyone can achieve their goals if they put their mind to it. I have trained as a photographer every day, and I’m still practicing my craft to get better. I think that the motto of every photographer should be to practice and get better. I was the first woman in India to win at the Wildlife Photographer of the year Awards in 2020 but my biggest goal or achievement is to help preserve nature and wildlife.
- Aishwarya Sridhar