A Businessman by profession and a wildlife photographer by passion, Varun Thakkar is into wildlife Photography from more than a decade now, 11 years to be specific. His images have won many awards and have been published on a regular basis in national and international platforms. He has photographed more than 250 (273) different individual wild tigers till date and hope to do more in the coming years. We talk to him about his journey till now and know more about him.
Where were you born and how was growing up as a child?
I was Born and brought up in Nagpur. Growing up as a child was no different than any middle class family child, a brat with no interest in studies at all. To be frank I still don’t know how I completed my graduation. Living in central India I have a big advantage of easy access to the wildlife sanctuaries and have been photographing wildlife passionately.
Tell us how did your passion of wildlife Photography started? What is your earliest memory of it?
It all started in 2007 about 11 years ago, when my childhood friend introduced me to the world of Photography. I regularly use to visit the forest since my teenage. Then it was in 2007 when I picked up the camera and then there was no turning back. I have a habit of counting different individual tigers I shoot and that makes me visit the National Parks again and again. I have photographed 273 different individual tiger till date. Moving ahead in photography it was in 2011 when I got my 1st award in wildlife photography. Well that was a local level competition but still you always remember your 1st achievement.
Tell us why it is important for you to follow your passion of being a wildlife photographer? What do you get out of it? Or you have to put from your pocket?
As I keep telling everyone “Wildlife photography can never be your hobby, It starts as a hobby but turns into an addiction soon.” My addiction has always kept me close to my camera and wildlife. And it is very important for everyone to be passionate about some or the other thing in life and I chose wildlife. And when you are passionate about something you don’t expect much returns out of it other than self satisfaction.
There is a rumor that you always sight a tiger in the jungle! People even say that if you want to see a tiger in the jungle for sure then go with Varun Thakkar. Is there any lucky charm with you? Or any unsaid bonding with the tigers? Do you feel that?
Wow that brought a smile on my face….. Well it’s not that I see a tiger every time I go but the thing is I go to the jungles frequently and that’s why the probability of sighting a tiger increases. There have been instances when I did not see a tiger for 28 safaris in a row and once 22 safaris in a row. Asking about lucky charm, sighting a tiger is never easy. 50% is your luck and 50% depends on how good you know the behavior of the animal.
How hard is it to be a wild life photographer? What skills does it require?
Being a wildlife photographer is challenging. Unlike other forms of photography the level of difficulty is much higher in wildlife photography, like you have to shoot in the given condition, no artificial light, no studio, no steady subject. And making a good image with all these conditions is challenging. You have to be spontaneous, you have to think quick and most important think different because in the end it’s the perspective that matters the most.
Nagpur is the tiger capital of India surrounded by Wild life Sanctuaries from all side. Which is your favorite jungle to photograph tigers? Why?
Well I love all the parks and have shot in all the parks around Nagpur. But I would say Tadoba will be on top of my list as I have worked there for nearly a decade.
Recently there were some tiger killings around Nagpur. Any comment on that?
Yes there were some killing around but because of the quick actions by the forest department the poachers were caught.
So what is your usual way of shooting in the jungle? Can you elaborate on it?
Well I use 2 or 3 bodies while shooting because I don’t get time to change the lens. Wildlife photography is a matter of seconds, and I can’t afford to lose even a bit of it. I usually use a bean bag as a support for my lens because using a tripod or a monopod is not feasible in a gypsy.
Any incident while shooting which changed you or your outlook towards wild animals?
Well there are many incidents which I remember. One of them is from Tadoba Jungle when I got super lucky to shoot a courting pair of tigers for nearly 2 hours with no other photographer around. That series won me many National and International awards. So basically an unplanned trip turned out to be one of the best trips till dates.
One of your photos was selected by BBC. Can you tell us how, when and where was this photo captured by you?
I did not win but yes my images made it to the final round, which I consider is no less than an achievement as BBC is considered to be the Oscars of wildlife photography and being one of the finalist was an achievement itself. This beautiful bird is called as ‘The Himalayan Monal’. It is the state bird of Uttarakhand, found only in the cold Himalayan regions at high altitudes above 9000 feet. I clicked this image at an altitude of 11,500 feet in the Himalayas where the temperature was -11*C. This was the 1st time in my life I saw snow and went to such a cold region. Living in Nagpur and going to such a cold area was like living in the freezer for 8 days for me. But my camera made me do all the thing which I never thought of doing. Being in such a cold region for days and working in the snow I developed cold feet. The blood circulation in my feet stopped and I lost all the sensations in my feet and had to call off the trip and return back.
What camera and lens do you use usually? What all does your wild life photography kit consists? What precautions one should take with the camera while doing wildlife photography?
I use a Nikon kit which consists of 3 bodies and few lenses. I have a Nikon D4s, a D500 and a D7000 , 500mm F4, 300mm, 70-200 f2.8, 50mm, 24-70 mm and 11- 16 mm lens. If you are using a high end body or a semi pro body, noting much to worry about it as nearly all the camera bodies today are dust and water proof. Only thing is one should avoid changing a lens in a dusty atmosphere.
Nowadays everyone who has a dslr camera and have been to jungle and clicked few pictures of animals call themselves a ‘wildlife photographer’! What do you think of it?
All thanks to the Social media. In the past 11 years I have seen many different types of photographers. The fun part is I have divided these 11 years in 3 parts.
2007-2011 The old school boys: This was the time when I met the serious breed of wildlife photographers who were damn serious about their work and taught me a lot and they are still doing wildlife as seriously as they used to.
2012-2015 The Temporary Tiger boys: This was the time when tiger sighting was at its peak all over the country and that gave birth to a temporary breed of photographers which went extinct with time because they got bored of wildlife.
2015-2018 The Facebook Era: Well! This does not need any explanation!
Any suggestions to the budding wild life photographers on how to go ahead in life?
Taking up wildlife photography is not a easy job. Unlike other forms of photography wildlife is a completely different and a very vast subject. A high level of patience, understanding and creativity is required. But yes if you have decided to take up wildlife, first and foremost thing I would suggest is be patient, success comes very slow in wildlife as this requires a lot of time. Make the images in your mind, think different, keep experimenting, keep trying and this is how it works in wildlife. It is the best place to easily learn from your mistakes. Don’t be upset if you spoil a picture, but learn from it and be prepared for the next time. We work in the digital era of photography we have easy access to each and every thing just think about the pre digital era (film) when the images were reviewed only after printing them. We are being spoon fed so why not to take advantage of it and work as hard as you can.
Achievements of Varun Thakkar as a wild life photographer.
Awarded 1st prize in a National level competition organised by VED and PANCAN in 2012.
Awarded 2nd prize in a National level competition organised by J B College Wardha in 2012.
Awarded 2nd prize competition organised by Maharashtra State forest department in 2012.
Awarded 1st prize at an international wildlife photography competition at Germany in 2011.
Awarded as best viewers choice picture at a wildlife photography competition in France in 2013.
Awarded 2nd prize competition organised by Maharashtra State Government and forest department in 2014.
Calendar Cover for Sanctuary Asia magazine.
A 10 Page co-authored cover story published in the October issue of Sanctuary Asia magazine .
Winner in Nature in Focus, Bangalore. 2015
Runner up in Nature in Focus, Bangalore 2015
BBC Photo journalism, Finalist 2016
Multiple awards in Online competitions organised by various organisations.
1 Image made it to the top 100 images of the world, at 35 Images, Russia in 2016
Runner up in Nature in Focus, Bangalore 2017.
BBC Photographer of the year 2017 Finalist.
Image published on the Cover page of Multiple Magazines and coffee table books.
Piyush Pande Films.