By Ravini Perera
The powerful combination of photography and wildlife is hard to resist and wildlife photographers harness the magical ability to freeze exceptional moments in nature in time. It is a skill acquired through much practice and experience, learning to balance the principles of photography like balancing light, subject matter, and composition to enhance the picture taken, while also working with a highly-mutable subject matter like wildlife.
Photographs that portray the beauty (and ugliness) surrounding us serve to also unfold a million stories with each moment captured, and so, the power of photography to raise awareness on issues prevailing in this world should not be misjudged. Photographers are often seen utilising their talents and skills to highlight the heartbreaking stories of extinction, destroyed habitats, and the vulnerability of our planet and its wildlife who require immediate attention and protection.
Rishikesh Krishnakumar is one such photographer battling to save the animal kingdom through photography – his favourite pastime turned weapon. In addition to his passion for wildlife photography, Krishnakumar also works extensively with macro photography and astrophotography.
Brunch chatted with Krishnakumar on his journey thus far, his experiences behind the lens and his passion for conserving wildlife.
A picture is worth a thousand words
A self-taught photographer, Krishnakumar prefers to photograph animals in their natural habitats. In his words, a few dozen attempts is all it takes to be able to capture the best moments possible.
“Any photographer, and wildlife photographers, in particular, would agree that patience is the key to capturing the most breathtaking images,” Krishnakumar said, adding: “From approximately 60–70 photographs taken, a total of two may be suitable for publishing. I believe that would paint a picture in the minds of the readers of the painstaking process behind photography.”
Trial and error was Krishnakumar’s greatest teacher on his journey as a photographer. Experimenting along the way, learning from his own mistakes, and gathering inspiration from professionals is what has brought him to where he is today. Years of hard work and constant improvements have also yielded him the benefit of being featured on numerous international platforms, including BBC Earth (@bbcearth) and BBC News Mundo (@bbcmundo) on several occasions. “I want the photographs I take to tell a story. The fact that they have been recognised by these platforms means a lot to me,” he stated.
“Photography has taught me many life lessons. It has also made me realise the links we share with animals and the strategies of coexistence we followed back in the day – for instance, the past we shared with the chimpanzees and the historical incidents we learn from such stories.”
Beauty in one’s backyard
Krishnakumar loves spending his spare time outdoors and visiting Sri Lanka’s national parks. However, some of his best moments in macro photography were captured in his back garden, where bees, spiders, and birds are a common sight. Practising at home with only a camera has also helped him gain experience with lighting and the best times and techniques to be utilised when photographing insects and other creatures in their natural habitat.
The animals in these pictures are then carefully identified and studied by Krishnakumar in order to maintain the accuracy of information to be shared. Thereafter, the details are summarised and posted with the picture on his social media platform. Krishnakumar has never been keen on editing his photographs excessively. It is his intention to leave the photograph looking as natural as possible, as he believes that the true beauty of each picture is properly visible when left unedited or with the least amount of editing.
Gaining more experience, acquiring the necessary gear and launching his own YouTube channel are some of Krishnakumar’s future goals. This will direct him on the path to raising global awareness on issues faced by wildlife and to contribute his knowledge to protecting these innocent creatures.
Amazed by space
One of Krishnakumar’s photographic passions is astrophotography.
When asked about the inspiration behind his enthusiasm to capture astronomical objects, he shared: “The enormity of space has always amazed me. When compared to outer space, we human beings are such small creatures. Yet we live with greed, selfishness, and egocentric attitudes and attempt to take control, which is sad.”
Days with full moons or electricity disruptions are Kirshnakumar’s favourite times for capturing the beauty of the galaxy, because the less light pollution at these times provides ideal conditions for capturing astronomical objects.
A wild life
Hailing from Kalmunai, Krishnakumar is a final year medical student. His passion for photography first ignited back in 2014 when his mother gifted him his first digital camera. Since then, he has captured countless moments on reel that have developed his skills and an eye for beauty.
“I began my journey as a photographer by taking portraits of my family. Portraitures helped me focus on minute details and on how to capture one’s emotions on camera. I also spent a great deal of time at the Zoological Gardens of Sri Lanka capturing portraits of animals,” he said. “This gave me the basic training I required to build confidence in myself and my photography skills. My interest in wildlife photography thus developed gradually and in 2016 I decided to try my hand at wildlife photography.”
Krishnakumar has never let his busy schedule stop him from following his dreams, and striking a balance between his passions and career has been his secret to success. “The key is to balance everything and be genuinely interested about the activities you undertake,” he shared, adding: “Do not do anything for the sake of it.”
Krishnakumar’s love for nature and enthusiasm for travel has helped him explore and photograph many jaw-dropping scenarios. Time management and organisational skills are what mainly help him balance his travels for photographic work while juggling his studies. “I mostly travel during the evening hours and while I am on vacation. If travelling is not an option, I utilise the space available and spend a great deal of time in my garden. This gives me an opportunity to observe the beauty which surrounds us that often goes unnoticed.”
With academia and related practical activities being on hold owing to the pandemic, Krishnakumar has made full use of his time to expand on and develop his photographic work. Armed with a camera, he can frequently be seen wandering around the neighbourhood on his bike to capture beautiful moments.
While mastering his photographic craft, he also spends much of his time studying and researching about space, nature, and the magnificent creatures he photographs. As a child, spending hours simply watching the discovery channel also helped him enhance his knowledge and interest in the animal world. Furthermore, the knowledge he has acquired has added much value to his work and has been a great asset.
Krishnakumar’s familiarity with the activities and patterns of fauna around him has afforded him the advantage of getting perfect shots of animals in their natural habitats. This knowledge has also proved useful when posting his images on social media.
For Krishnakumar, photography is much more than simply capturing the beauty of a subject. Hence, he views photography as the perfect pastime as it relieves stress and helps him unwind. He described it as an ideal form of therapy, especially for those with hectic lifestyles.
Promoting conservation through photography
Krishnakumar’s inborn love for nature and the animal kingdom has been the driving force of his work and he aims to utilise his talents to raise awareness on matters in urgent need of attention. Emphasis on the damage done to the ecosystem due to human activities and their potential threats to the animal kingdom are some of the main areas highlighted by Krishnakumar.
Urbanisation has also been a contributing factor to the endangerment of numerous species, with many creatures losing their habits and being threatened with extinction because of increased human encroachment. “We need to resort to alternate methods that will allow us to coexist with the animal kingdom. We do not solely own this world, hence we must share this planet and all its resources with these creatures,” stated Krishnakumar.
The photographs captured by him, mainly of species endemic to Sri Lanka, depict the nature and beauty with which we have been blessed. “Our country has immeasurable beauty to offer. As photographers, we should consider ourselves lucky to have the opportunity to capture this beauty at its finest. Hence, I have spent the past few years photographing subjects indigenous to us, work in which I take immense pride,” he said.
Krishnakumar’s travels to foreign lands have also added to his expertise. The fate of orangutans across the world has also touched his heart, fuelling his intentions to become a voice for the voiceless. He explained: “Similar to the extinction stories we hear in Sri Lanka, there are many other stories that go unheard. I would love to see things changing in this world for the betterment of these creatures.”
Speaking on the production of palm oil, he elaborated on its negative impact that we most often overlook. The production process of these oils has been detrimental to the ecosystem and the habitats of these magnificent creatures, becoming a fundamental factor in their endangerment and death.
The increase in demand for resources as a result of overpopulation has forced many brands and well-known companies to increase production. But Krishnakumar suggests that the same demand could be met with alternative strategies and production methodologies.
Explaining further, he stated: “We cannot control all things happening around us. However, we can make arrangements to adjust our lifestyles. Read, research, and be informed of your daily activities and habits that are detrimental to nature and animals. Educate others and opt for sustainability at all possible times. Reduce waste and aim to make a difference in the world. I believe in chain reactions – what goes around comes around – so we need to be cautious of our actions.”
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