- Ashane Marasinghe on his passion for wildlife photography
By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
Our encounters with wild animals are often limited to visits to national parks, which fail to give us an accurate look at wildlife in their natural habitats, displaying natural behaviours. Wildlife photography, however, does bring us closer to these various creatures, whether they are exotic, majestic, or elusive. A wildlife photographer in Sri Lanka who gives us a peek at wildlife through a lens is Ashane Marasinghe, who joined The Morning Brunch to talk about his passion for wildlife photography, the moments that stand out, and the challenges he faces in this field.
Marasinghe, although born and raised in the suburbs of Colombo, was able to grow up with nature, and it piqued his interest as he grew up, and wildlife photography has always been a hobby. However, his career took him in another direction; having completed his studies, Marasinghe had the opportunity to join one of the largest airlines in the world – Emirates SkyCargo – and started his journey as a trainee cargo agent at the Bandaranaike International Airport.
He currently works as a cargo supervisor (sales) at Acorn Air Services (Pvt.) Ltd., which is the general sales agent (GSA) for Malaysia Airlines. While his career involves the skies, we asked him about his hobby.
Following his passion
“My passion for nature and wildlife began even before I left school. I used to watch wildlife documentaries, and I had a collection of animal pictures as well. But I didn’t have a childhood dream to be a photographer,” Marasinghe said, explaining that as he grew up, he developed a curiosity for the subject, which he told his parents in 2013. At the time, Marasinghe only had a Canon point-and-shoot camera, but his mother purchased his very first DSLR camera – a Nikon D5100.
“I wanted to know how to operate the gear and the basics of photography. This was when I joined the National Association of Photographers Sri Lanka (NAPSL) in 2013 and started a short course in photography and then followed the Diploma in Advance Photography at NAPSL in 2014. Initially, I did all kinds of photography genres and eventually, I moved to wildlife photography.”
Since 2013, armed with his Nikon gear, Marasinghe has made his way through the wildness of Sri Lanka, which he described as “the most beautiful ethnic island in the Indian Ocean”, adding: “Day by day, I learnt new techniques from experts in the field and mostly, I learnt the behaviour of the animals and observed them and behaved as a responsible human in the wild.”
Wildlife photography in Sri Lanka
Marasinghe went into detail about what wildlife photography is like in Sri Lanka, saying the country is heaven for any wildlife photographer, and that the field is now open to anyone interested in it. “It was once an exclusive hobby, with only a few photographers walking in that direction. Many of these giants, whose contributions to this field have made both national and international impact, have brought Sri Lanka forward as a wildlife photography destination even among international photographers.”
Such exposure has opened the field to many talented newcomers who can highlight the beauty of Sri Lankan wildlife, he said, explaining that there are many associations, clubs, and societies that specialise in wildlife photography and support and encourage professionals and amateurs equally.
“Because there is such encouragement, appreciation, and gravity in the field now, there are a number of opportunities for wildlife photographers in terms of displaying their work. This means the interests of each of these photographers vary and would therefore display varying aspects of wildlife,” Marasinghe said.
He explained that with the development of social media and digital media platforms, there is more opportunity to bring what’s hidden within the depths of forests, seas, and mountains to a larger audience. “This is also an opportunity to highlight the issues of illegal poaching, deforestation and chaos, and the importance of conservation in Sri Lanka – a cause I’m very passionate about. It is an opportunity to bring these to the notice of conservationists, lobbyists and activists, and government authorities.”
An encounter with Gemunu
When asked if he can recall any memorable moments as a wildlife photographer, Marasinghe said a few come to mind. He shared one memorable moment – an encounter with Gemunu, a famous tusker at the Yala National Park.
“Gemunu is known to block the road and rob jeeps. He charged at us unexpectedly, and because we were behind another jeep, we didn’t think he would attack us, but he put his head and trunk into our jeep and reached for our food. We were quite worried about him damaging our equipment, but he knew where exactly the food was and just went at it. It is the very first time I actually experienced this, though I’ve seen him robbing other vehicles on several occasions.”
Challenges attached to the field
While we can marvel at the talent and skill that goes into taking wildlife photographs, there are several challenges attached to the field as well. Marasinghe explained that being a wildlife photographer is quite expensive, especially in terms of purchasing equipment.
“Sri Lanka is still a growing market for wildlife photography, and there is not much demand for these and fewer opportunities to sell a photograph at its true value. It is thought of as a hobby rather than a profession. I think it will take a few more years until wildlife photography is viewed as a vocation and not just an expensive pastime.”
In addition to this, the weather poses another challenge, and Marasinghe said they have to always take the weather into account when planning expeditions, especially given its unpredictability as of late. “We have to travel a long way and spend a lot of time in one place, sometimes returning home with nothing – not to mention the dangers involved when camping overnight in the middle of a jungle.”
He added: “It is also challenging to control the light and the animal – we have to adjust according to the available lighting conditions. Animal behaviour is unpredictable, so it can take months to get the perfect shot.”
In terms of the impact of the economic crisis, Marasinghe said the depreciation of the rupee has resulted in a rise in the prices of photography equipment. The import ban makes it worse, as most items are not available in the country. In addition to this, fuel prices make travel expenses very high.
Bringing our conversation to a close, we asked Marasinghe if he has any bucket list destinations as a wildlife photographer, whether in Sri Lanka or abroad. He mentioned Sand Banks or Adam’s Bridge in Talaimannar, Masai Mara during the great migration period, Costa Rica, Skomer Island in Wales to photograph Atlantic puffins, and Svalbard in Norway to capture the behaviours of the gorgeous polar bears.
Awards and recognition
- Gold award at the State Festival of Photography Sri Lanka 2017
- Photographic Society of America Image of the Year 2020 – USA
- Finalist award in Big Picture Natural World Photography Competition 2021 – California Academy of Sciences USA
- Commended in Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 – Great Britain
- Category winner in Magical Nature Photography of the Year 2021– Slovenia
- Merit award in 11th Edition of the DJ Memorial Photography Contest 2022 – India
- Jury Selection in Creative Nature at Nature in Focus 2022 – India
In addition to the above gold, silver, and bronze medals and merits, he has received awards in over 30 countries. Ashane Marasinghe has also achieved:
- EFIAP/b distinction from the Federation of International Art of Photography – France
- GPU Crown 2 from the Global Photographic Union – Greece
- cMOL from Master of Light – Canada
Tips for people who wish to pursue their passion for wildlife photography
- It’s important to know some basic details about animal behaviour before trying to photograph them. It will help you to take photographs without disturbing the animal when you understand its behaviour better
When you are entering a national park, you must keep in mind that you are entering the animals’ world, their habitat, and their home, and you are responsible for the things that happen, and not vice versa. It’s important to make sure no harm or disturbance happens to them for the sake of a photograph
- Listen to the locals in the area if they give you any advice because you are new to the place and they have more experience with the place and the animals you are trying to photograph
- Always check the weather before going to the field
- Keep your gear ready at any time – opportunities come and go very quickly. It would take only a couple of seconds for you to miss an opportunity if your gear isn’t ready