Saying the words ‘ wildlife photographer’ brings in a certain level of excitement with it – how would it be living that title? Saurabh Desai, who is a mechanical engineer turned fine art nature photographer surely knows the thrill. Photography is his passion – it would be right to say that it runs in his veins.
Saurabh spends half of his year amidst nature, in jungles, clicking photos and reconnecting with himself. He has travelled to the jungles of Gujarat and Jammu & Kashmir for photography and taken some amazing shots. His work is published every now and then in different platforms ranging from BBC, National Geographic, Oxford Publication, Sanctuary Asia and more.
He doesn’t limit his talent to himself and believes in sharing it with budding photographers, often conducting workshops and photo walks to encourage the art of photography. Also, along with his friend and fellow engineer, Ankit Mavchi, he has begun a media productions company titled ’50mm’ with an aim of providing photography and creative solutions for various brands. They have used their experience of more than two decades for 50mm and have famous companies like Larsen&Toubro and INOX as their clientele.
Saurabh Desai is also fond of music and is an author of a book titled ‘Visual Poetries – Fine Art Nature Photography’.
Here are excerpts from a conversation Cocktail Zindagi had with him:
Cocktail Zindagi: How did you develop an interest in photography?
Saurabh Desai: When I was just three, I visited the jungles of Dang near Surat as I was a part of ‘Nature Club Surat’ – that was when I developed a bond with nature and jungles. I often watched other photographers clicking pictures in these jungles and felt like doing the same myself. I didn’t own a camera at that age but I was extremely interested in learning photography and managed to do so in my own way. It was only when I was in college that I did a few odd jobs and bought my very first DSLR of Nikon. Since then my tryst with wildlife photography began.
Cocktail Zindagi: Have you done a course in photography?
Saurabh Desai: No, I haven’t. But I think that my education in mechanical engineering helped in understanding the technical aspects of operating a DSLR camera. And I had a habit of collecting the magazines from across the world that published the works of renowned photographers from across the globe. Observing their work helped me developed my own vision.
Cocktail Zindagi: Tell us about your struggle after you quit your job in L&T and took up full-time photography.
Saurabh Desai: When you tell your family that you have quit a well-paying job at L&T to pursue photography, the atmosphere is obviously going to get tense. But my struggle wasn’t with my family, it was with myself. Before I left my job in 2012, I had been harbouring the thought of pursuing full-time photography for a year and a half. When I was thinking about quitting this job, I was 30, married and my wife was pregnant! I had two options, either to stay in a secured job or to head in an unknown direction to pursue my passion.
The first thing I did was to talk to my wife Swati. When she expressed complete support, I spoke to my father about my plan. At first, he told me that photography will not fill my stomach, it will only fill my mind and also that my struggle will be even more difficult as I had decided to pursue wildlife photography. But later, when I convinced him, he was supportive. When I was worried about finance, he told me to focus on my career and that he would take care of everything else.
My undying passion for photography helped me take the leap of faith and today I am glad I did so.
Cocktail Zindagi: What do you think is the importance of a ‘moment’ in photography?
Saurabh Desai: I think it is ‘moment’ that decides your ability in photography. I’ll tell you an incident about my life. I had gone to the Gir forest to do photography years ago. Back then, cameras with reels were available. I packed two reels which would enable me to click 36 photos. As soon as I saw a lion at a distance in the woods, I began clicking its photos in excitement. My guide advised me to wait for a little while and told me that the lion would come out but I didn’t listen to him. By then I had already clicked 28 photos. Then the lion came out and rolled in the mud right in front of us! It even drank water – giving me scope to click amazing shots. But I could click only 5-6 photos as I had almost exhausted the reels I brought with me.
This is when I realised the importance of ‘moments’ in photography. Especially when it comes to wildlife photography, it is extremely necessary to have patience. If you attempt to click photos after giving the animal time to get comfortable, your photos would turn out to be excellent.
Cocktail Zindagi: What are some of the biggest challenges about being a wildlife photographer?
Saurabh Desai: The biggest one is that we don’t get recognition as artists. If people ask your parents, “What does your son do?” and when they answer, ‘He is a wildlife photographer,’ most people will react as if the work we do is not work at all. As if it is not important! Secondly, the photography equipment that is needed for wildlife photography is more expensive. Also, you must take due care of the equipment because jungles are not only unpredictable but also there is a need to venture into places where your equipment will be exposed to mud, water or other things. It is very unpredictable. Also, we are always at risk of being bitten by insects and other creatures – it takes a lot of patience and conviction to continue working irrespective of everything.
Cocktail Zindagi: How is it like to live in a jungle?
Saurabh Desai: Unpredictable! Most of the times when I am going on an assignment to live in a jungle, it is decided before a day or two – sometimes it is decided before few hours! There are no reservations made and that is how I like it. Now I have bought my own Thar (jeep), so I can drive even if I have to go to Ladakh! Living in jungles is without facilities – even without electricity many times. We eat Maggi during our stay there! We also carry milk powder and chocolates but Maggi is something that I know how to make and is very quick to cook. Once, during a project, we had to eat Maggi for lunch and dinner for straight fourteen days!
Cocktail Zindagi: Do you edit your own photographs?
Saurabh Desai: I edit all my photographs all the time. We call it ‘processing’. One of the most important things in wildlife photography is to preserve the naturality in the photos. This isn’t digital art that you use your Photoshop skills and mess with the original colours of the animal to make that post viral on the social media. If you do that, your photos are no longer pure and original. So, since I have seen the animal in its purest form, no other person can do justice to the photo while processing it. So I do it on my own.
Cocktail Zindagi: Tell us something about ‘Drashtikon Club’. What is your role in it?
Saurabh Desai: There are two things in life that are very close to my heart. One is ‘Nature Club Surat’ and another is ‘Drashtikon’. The reason behind starting Drashtikon was to bring in recognition to photographers in Surat. It was to bring together all the creative souls under one roof, those who were alone before. It was to grow the art of photography. We began photo walks and photo talks at Drashtikon. We also organised various workshops and exhibitions. We brought international photographers like late Homai Vyarawalla, Raghu Rai and Tim Vollmer Team. and organised exhibitions of their work and lectures by them.
Famous photographer Ashwin Mehta once suggested that we all should work together rather than working separately. His words touched me and we began Drashtikon together which now has over 9000 members. I along with my fellow photographers, Ankit Mavchi, Amar Patel and Abhishek Patel began the group in 2012.
Cocktail Zindagi: How important is the camera for photography in your opinion?
Saurabh Desai: It’s true with a good camera you can click great photos. But it is not true that you can only click great photos with a good camera. If one could be a good photographer only by having a good camera then every wealthy person in the world would have been good photographers. Your vision and not your camera is what matters the most.
Cocktail Zindagi: Who is your favourite photographer?
Saurabh Desai: In India, I really love the work of Ganesh Shankar. In Gujarat not only do I like Bhushan Pandya and Snehal Patel as photographers but also as people.
Cocktail Zindagi: What message would you like to give to budding photographers?
Saurabh Desai: I will like to send out only one message that no matter what kind of photography, the people indulge in they must take care that their subject is not harmed in any way. For instance, you cannot crush a bird’s nest on your way to the jungle to do wildlife photography or you cannot endanger the culture and peace when you go to click photos of adivasis in Kutch – or anywhere in the world. After all, we are a medium! In my opinion, photographers must spread awareness through their work.
To know more about Saurabh Desai’s work visit ‘Visual Poetries’ here.
(Interview in Gujarati by Ankit Desai, translated into English by Heer Khant)
Photos: Saurabh Desai/Facebook