Into the Wild with Wildlife Photographer Rathika Ramasamy

Rathika Ramasamy is one of the world’s most famous female wildlife photographers. She specializes in bird photography and is extremely passionate about it.

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My favorite part of the job is waiting in the field, excitedly anticipating the action to happen and capturing the moment.

Wildlife photography is one of the most difficult and beautiful genres of photography, it involves capturing various forms of wildlife in their natural habitats. Rathika Ramasamy is one of the world’s most famous female wildlife photographers. Rathika’s works have been appreciated and featured in several national and international publications as well as exhibitions. She also regularly conducts wildlife photography workshops and talks all over India. Rathika took some time off her busy schedule to share her journey and her passion for wildlife photography with Chennai Insider.

Chennai Insider: When did you figure out that you wanted to become a photographer? Tell us about your journey into photography?

Rathika: Photography had been a serious hobby during my school days. My interest in photography started with taking holiday pictures of the places I visited and its people. Love for nature, wildlife and photography drew me to this profession.

When I started wildlife photography, it was still in its nascent stage in India. It has grown with a few photographers taking it up along with other genres of photography. Unlike other professions, it has taken some years for me to get established with wildlife photography. It is not easy to take up a field that is very different from one’s education, but I wanted to pursue what I was passionate about. My interest for wildlife photography started around 2004, when I visited Bharatpur bird sanctuary, after seeing the birds, I wanted to capture images of the birds so that I could enjoy seeing them again. It is going to be 17 years in this field, I have been to most of the National parks in India and National parks in Africa to document indigenous species and wildlife. For me wildlife photography is not only a passion, but a powerful medium to connect and conserve nature. I love to shoot in Indian forests, I believe India has one of the best Fauna & Flora. 

Chennai Insider: Why did you choose wildlife photography?

Rathika: I am basically an outdoor person, I love nature. I am fascinated by birds and animals, and I never get tired of watching and photographing them. In New Delhi, where I was based at the time, I was surrounded by many Bird Sanctuaries and National parks, living in close proximity to these places made it possible for me to do more wildlife photography and I never looked back. Since New Delhi is the main route of migratory birds, we have high bird activity in the Bird Sanctuaries for 4 or 5 months. I have hence had plenty of opportunities to shoot birds. The Okhla bird sanctuary is close to my home and I go there regularly. I have spent a lot of time watching the birds there in the early mornings. This helped me understood their food habits and behavioral patterns. I have photographed and spent some wonderful moments in the wild. My favorite part of the job is waiting in the field, excitedly anticipating the action to happen, and capturing the moment.

Chennai Insider: Tell us about your family. Is it hard balancing work life and spending time with your loved ones?

Rathika: I am fortunate to have a supportive family and home help, hence I am able to balance both. I do spend quality time at home in between shoots.

Chennai Insider: We do not often see women in the field of wildlife photography. What are the challenges of being female in this field?

Rathika: Fortunately wild animals and birds are not gender biased. I don’t think as a woman I find any difficulties, wildlife photography is a tough job, there will be a lot of practical constraints, if one has the will, they can make it. One should be physically and mentally strong. It is about photographing wild animals and birds in their natural habitat, it is not like a conventional office job. You have the chance to explore and enjoy nature in its best form. At times, you may have to spend days in the wild, without any communication with the outside world. It does not matter whether one is a woman or a man to enter this field. What is essential is the love for wildlife and nature. 

Indian forests and National parks are especially safe to venture into. Women have to come out of their comfort zones. I have seen many young girls trying to come into this field of work and this makes me happy. Though the numbers are less, there is still good progress.

Chennai Insider: You have a passion towards bird photography. What do you think attracts you to birds and bird photography in particular?

Rathika: Though I shoot mammals and other animals, I specialize in bird photography.

I love birds and watching them is a treat to the eyes, photographing them gives me immense pleasure. They are challenging to track and photograph.

Most birds are tiny and very shy, and it is quite challenging to capture their pictures. The more I observe birds from close proximity, the more inspiring they are. There is a large variety of birds to explore and shoot. Every shoot is different, and I always feel as excited as if it was my first shoot. Love and passion for birds keeps me going. There are still many places I still have to visit and several species I have to photograph.

Chennai Insider: What is your most favorite place to shoot? Why?

Rathika: Bharatpur birds sanctuary and Jim Corbett National park are my favorite places to shoot. Bharatpur for the birds; it is one of the best places for sighting birds and there is good lighting for photography. Corbett is best for mammals like Tigers and Elephants. The reason I love this place is because it is one of the most beautiful National park /forest in India. You get to photograph birds and animals and even landscapes too.

Chennai Insider: Can you tell us about your most memorable photograph? What made it special?

Rathika: There are many photographs, if I were to choose one then I would say it is Sarus crane photograph.

Courtship between bird couples during the breeding season is a captivating behavioral interaction to observe. The male of each species has its own distinctive way of attracting its mate. The most beautiful courtship display that I have seen is that of the Sarus crane (Grus antigone). This species is a breeding resident of Northern and Central India and is the world’s tallest flying bird.  They are among the most beautiful and elegant birds. I can never get enough of watching and photographing them. A very interesting fact about them is that they mate for life and are always see as a pair. Local belief is that it is auspicious for newly married couples to see them. 

They have a fascinating mating ritual, starting with making a trumpet call followed by an elaborate courtship dance, which symbolizes a celebration of love. This particular image was taken last year at the Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur. While shooting ducks, this pair suddenly landed on a small mount just ahead of me. I found them calling in synchrony and performing a well-choreographed salsa dance. Though I captured the pair in different postures, this one is my favorite. The image conveys pure bliss and is a treat for the eyes.

Chennai Insider: What are your passions outside of photography? What do you do when you’re not with your camera?

Rathika: I love travelling and visiting old historic places. These days all my travels are related to wildlife shoots. I love to read about the latest updates in technology, if I get time I interact with my fans and followers, try to reply to their messages personally.

I love gardening too, during the lockdown I spent some quite time at my home gardening.

Chennai Insider: What advice would you give amateur photographers and photographers new to the game?

Rathika: Be thorough with technical knowledge and read a lot about your subjects. Be unique and create your own style. I would advise you to take up photography only if you really love it. Photography is a competitive field, only hard work, creativity and uniqueness pay. Photography is not only about learning technical aspects, it is also about having good knowledge of the area you work in. Be open to ideas, observe, and keep learning to maintain, consistently, high quality in your work.

For budding wildlife photographers, the three Ps are important to excel in this field: passion, patience, and perseverance.

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