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Panning with tigers — Bandhavgarh National Park in India

I have been avoiding tiger safaris for this reason — the large crowds and the fact that one is restricted to the confines of the jeep.

Jeep safari Bandhavgarh National Park
The uncertainty of spotting a tiger makes the narrow window of golden light even narrower, and how am I supposed to get pictures from the tiger’s eye level? That’s me in the foreground, contemplating my next move. PHOTO BY GAURI VIPAT

This was my first “tiger safari” — 8 in all, in Bandhavgarh National Park (in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India) between the 27th and 30th of April, 2017. We saw a total of 8 different tigers in 3 of our 8 safaris. The joint experience of our driver and naturalist made this possible.

Now this was my first sighting of a fully grown adult tiger — the female, “New Kankati” who was nursing 3 cubs along with “Bamera’s Son”, an adult male (she is named Kankati because she injured one of her ears in a fight with another tigert and Bamera I came from a village of that name).
Now this was my first sighting of a fully grown adult tiger — the female, “New Kankati” who was nursing 3 cubs along with “Bamera’s Son”, an adult male (she is named Kankati because she had injured one of her ears in a fight with another tiger and the “original” Bamera was first seen near a village of that name). She looked towards us and roared, but as the old poem goes, “Canon” (and Nikon. Smartphone, even) to right of them, “Canon” to left of them, “Canon” behind them, Volley’d and thunder’d…

New Kankati had crossed the road to get to the other side — to join her 3 cubs who had made this crossing about 30 minutes before her. Neither of the 3 cubs are apprehensive about people, or jeeps — go about living the tiger life with no apprehension.

New Kankati's cub crossing the track. This was earlier in the day at a time when the sun in lower. Shutter speed 1/2000th of a second.
New Kankati’s cub crossing the track. This was earlier in the day at a time when the sun in lower.
New Kankati's tiger cub Bandhavgarh National Park
New Kankati’s cub crossing the track at a time when the sun was beaming down — I clicked this photo only about 20 minutes after I clicked the previous one. Still, notice the difference in the texture of light. It’s the beginning of the “worst light of the day” for photography.

Our driver was a young entrepreneur having great love for tigers. He has been photographing tigers with his Nikon P900 camera and posting daily reports on Facebook. He has clicked almost every tiger in the region — some portraits, others crossing the track.

And the 200 odd cameras that make their way into the forest everyday also record similar photos. A couple of hours into our first safari, I lost interest in clicking portraits of tigers, tigers drinking water, and tigers lounging around the watering hole, all at fast shutter speeds.

I yearned for some “action”. But there wasn’t any.

So I decided to use a technique called panning — it’s when the photographers sets a slow shutter speed and pans the camera along with the movement of his subject. In doing so, the subject appears sharp, and the background gives us a sense of motion.

This was my first attempt at panning a tiger. By this time, the intensity of light between highlights and shadows had increased significantly. Nevertheless, it’s valuable practice for future opportunities.

The tigers were only ambling across us, still I used slow shutter speeds in an attempt to establish a sense of motion.

The image on the left is a crop of the above picture. Notice that the tiger’s face is sharp, but its feet are blurry.

I am encouraged to do more tiger safaris and try again.

This was my attempt to pan New Kankati crossing the track to get to the watering hole.
This was my attempt to pan New Kankati crossing the track to get to the watering hole.

I returned from Bandhavgarh with not a single picture that I’m proud of. But I’m sure that the knowledge about tigers, light and panning that I have gained on this trip will help me in the future.

I must mention that I am not an expert on tigers. The names of the tigers and other tiger related information that I have written is as per my limited understanding about the subject. It can be incorrect.

I will write a blog post about “the chase” soon.

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