Allahabad for the Kumbh Mela.
Jhalana at Jaipur.
Bhadra in Karnataka.
Bandhavgarh in MP.
Pantanal in Brazil.
2019 definitely was the sort of the year that had never existed even in my wildest dreams.
First visits to places that have long been in my list and then two ‘blow-your-mind’ trips to the Pantanal and the Mara.
Total. Absolute. Heaven.
2019 also was the year where I travelled the most in my journey in photography. Where I finally put into use a lot of what I had read earlier but which I usually forgot in the heat of the moment and later, in my last trip of the year, to the Mara learnt a lot, lot more than I had imagined I would.
To make the list of the top 10 images in any year with so much travel would always be a challenging task, but that task becomes even more daunting when you have become a much better photographer by the end of the year than you were at the start.
So. On what basis do you make the list ? On the basis of the quality of the images as you see them ? On the basis of the experience you had while taking the pic ? On the basis of the level of difficulty that existed at the place ?
Sigh. Decisions. Decisions.
Finally, I decided that it will be a mix of all. Also look for those that show a lovely piece of animal interaction, play of light, indicates a lot of action in a still image. I also accepted the fact that if I look at my pics a week later, the choice and the ranking might be different.
But, all things considered, this was a tough job. So many of those stunningly beautiful birds of Brazil lose out. And those cheetah images. Terrible, really.
And, if shortlisting ten images wasn’t bad enough…ranking them. Phew.
Anyway, here goes :).
We spent a lovely afternoon with Siligi and her six cubs. From the time we saw her resting on the hillock, our hope was that if she and the cubs stayed there till sunset we could get some brilliant silhouettes.
We did. Out of all those lovely silhouettes, this is what I loved. The unconditional love that any kid would have for the mother gets captured here. The kids were playing all around and then Siligi decides it was time to get a move, gets up, stretches and then as she moves away, two cubs come running up to her and one jumps up to give her a nice hug and a kiss. Well, not actually a hug and a kiss, but isn’t that how this looks ?
We clambered down a small, bushy slope, a bulky 400 lens atop a tripod and cautiously tiptoed into a small clearing. There, on a branch with no twigs, no leaves coming in the way, with no clutter in the background, sat a Female White Rumped Shama. I stopped in my tracks and started clicking. My guide, Ramesh of Nature’s Nest, ventured a little further ahead and gestured to me to join him.
And, there she was. Perfectly perched with a little bit of sunshine falling beautifully on her face and playing games in the background. Such a dreamy background.
This was also my first image that I printed and framed, so, yes, there is that bit too that influenced its choice 🙂
One of the sub adult cubs was in the small pool of water. We knew where the other two cubs were. Near the half eaten kill. The mother and two of the cubs were enjoying a siesta and Zian from Baghtola had suggested we position ourselves such that if any of the sleeping cubs come for a dip in the pool, their path will give us direct head on images. It was June. It was hot. They had to come.
One of them did. Exactly as expected by Zian. Being a sub adult, it was still a little wary of all the jeeps and I loved the sense of action in this image. Alert. Wary. Looking straight into the camera. Dark undergrowth in the background and the setting sun making the dry grass look a wonderful golden colour matching the lovely tawny skin of the tiger. What. A. Magnificent. Creation.
As a rule I don’t like animals crowding the entire frame. We, or to be more accurate Antony Tira of Matira Lodge, had seen two jackals alert peering into the bushes and we went to investigate. There deep in the bushes was Bahati the leopard. Resting. In no mood to get out.
We waited. And then suddenly she stepped out. With a 600 mm in my hand, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to take anything else other than a close up. What a lovely creature she is ! Those eyes ! Limpid pools and all that. I loved the way I got the right Depth of Field and got the eyes and the head tack sharp with the rest of the body dissolving into fuzziness. Of course, it took Rahul Sachdev’s eye to suggest that I look at a black and white instead of colour. Lovely. The fact that its my desktop image on my work PC helps this image !
A cat emerges out of the water. Or is sitting in the rain. The chances that it will shake off the water are absolutely certain. We had been trailing this jaguar for hours. A jaguar loves the water and we were waiting on the opposite side, beautifully positioned thanks to Fabiano from BioDiverse Tours, to get some straight head-on pics. I had completely forgotten the fundamental nature of the jaguar when it emerges from the river. It has to shake off the water. My response was a rather frantic one. Fortunately, I got a couple of lovely ones. The neck twisted powerfully, the water droplets formed a glittering necklace around it, aided by the dark background. And in black and white, it just looked so brilliant !
This time I was ready.
Our first game drive. It was pouring. There were two male lions sitting rather stoically in the rain. Drenched. It had to happen. That shake. And, with that mane and that amount of rain, I could get a memorable image. The only concern was the awkward position I was sitting in, peering through a tiny gap in the windows as the lens poked outside. Being patient was tough.
I think it paid off.
Its getting tougher to make those choices now.
The toucanet is a striking bird. Such colours and such an interesting shape. This bird was rather comfortable with the place. I was wondering if I should exchange my 600 mm for a 200-500. Supreet from Tropical Tours felt I shouldn’t and I didn’t really need much encouragement. However, if you have a 600mm lens and don’t have much place to back off, you cannot get anything much other than an image that crowds the entire frame. Which is kinda boring.
Then the blessed thing turned around and peered down. Perfect opportunity to get an interesting pose. With a lot of space. In the direction of the gaze. Lovely Depth of Field. All boxes ticked 🙂 On top of everything, to get that eye so nicely. Bliss.
Its the Jabiru stork at #3. It was early morning and we were, as usual, on the river, busy trying to get photographs of a frisky family of otters. A shout from Fabiano,” Jabiru landing !” and a few precious seconds to squeeze off a few shots. Shooting into the sun, with the sunlight reflecting brilliantly off the water ,the wings spread gloriously making it look translucent, the slight splash of the water as the feet land…beautiful.
What an imposing name. Try saying it. The ‘D’ isn’t a hard one…say it softly. Ahh…just sounds so imperial.
Mardadi and the lioness were resting between their mating. Lions usually have a go every 10-15 minutes but maybe the duo were just too exhausted cos they just ignored each other completely throughout the time we were there. While we were disappointed that we are missing the chance of a lifetime to take some mating shots against the setting sun, it was still a lot of fun to take silhouette shots of a luxuriously maned, handsome male. We kept experimenting. Exposure compensation at -1, then -2 and then even -3. Just then the setting sun, peeped out of the clouds for that brief second, bathing the entire scene with the most beautiful golden colour.
I might have agonised over which images would make it to the top ten. I might have agonised over the ranking of most of the images. However, I never had any doubt about which would be the numero uno.
I don’t think any of us will ever forget this day with Selenkei and her single cub. We met them just after they realised that the other cub was missing. The duo spent hours wandering around, searching for the unfortunate cub. Hours. They kept staring desolately into the thicket where it had got lost – presumably, the unfortunate cub became the meal of a pack of hyenas. As the sun was sinking behind the horizon with an exhausted sigh, the mother walked upto the surviving cub and gave it a kiss. To me it seemed like a nuzzle as reassuring to the mother as it would be to the cub. It was simply heartbreaking. Golden yellow skies. Grass on gentle fire. Soft light. Slight rim lit…precious.
That was fun. Let me know your feedback. It matters. The last time I made a list, the #1 hasn’t even made it to this list…I got so influenced 🙂