Why we must commit to nature conservation even after the pandemic: Rohit Varma, Nature inFocus

In our second photo essay on this annual nature photography competition, we feature more stunning images along with founder insights.

Launched in 2014, PhotoSparks is a weekly feature from YourStory, with photographs that celebrate the spirit of creativity and innovation. In the earlier 495 posts, we featured an art festival, cartoon gallery. world music festivaltelecom expomillets fair, climate change expo, wildlife conference, startup festival, Diwali rangoli, and jazz festival.

This year, the annual Nature inFocus Photography Awards were announced entirely online. The prestigious awards honour photographers who document unique natural history moments and critical conservation issues. See Part I of our photo essay here, and our coverage of the 2019, 2018 and 2017 editions.

Nature inFocus was founded by Rohit Varma and Kalyan Varma. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the awards were celebrated recently at a live virtual event on YouTube. This year, around 14,000 images were submitted from more than 1,600 competing photographers.

Yashpal Rathore won the top honour, and Swedish photographer Magnus Lundgren won a Special Jury Award. Other winners were Sitara Karthikeyan (Young Photographer), Ganesh Chowdhury (Animal Portraits), Nayan Jyoti Das (Creative Nature Photography), and Srikanth Mannepuri (Conservation Issues).

With permission from Nature inFocus, PhotoSparks has reproduced some of the finalist and winner images in this article (see description of all winners here). Award prizes are Rs 50,000 (category winner), Rs 25,000 (runner-up) and Rs 10,000 (second runner-up).

Photographer: Shivanand Hiremath

The rise of creativity and technology are two major trends in nature photography, Rohit Varma explains, in a chat with YourStory.

“Photographers are putting in more effort to add a creative edge to their images,” he says. Their pre-visualised images have been thought through and planned, as compared to images of natural history moments photographed just as they unfold.

“A lot more people are experimenting with remote cameras, camera traps and drones,” Rohit adds.  More photographers seem to be trying out techniques like in-camera double exposures or long exposures as novel ways to depict natural history moments.

Moving the annual festival, conference and awards online this year presented new challenges, as well as opportunities. “The environment and energy in our physical festival is completely different,” Rohit observes.

Attendees come not only to listen to talks and watch films, but also to meet with friends and mentors, many of whom they meet only once a year at the festival. “Obviously, it is impossible to achieve this if we change the festival to an online format,” he laments.

It was therefore decided to host only the awards ceremony online, and not to conduct the entire festival online. “The live event in which we announced the results of the Photography Awards 2020 was viewed by an audience of over 650 people,” Rohit proudly says. More than 5,000 viewers have watched the video on their YouTube channel since then.

“There is something very special and personal about the awards ceremony at the festival, where the winners are honoured and celebrated on the stage, and get to interact with the audience in person,” he enthuses.

Thought they missed an opportunity to do it this year, the organisers were happy that a large audience was able to participate from the comfort of their homes. “Also, there is an advantage because people who are not able to travel can be a part of the event, remotely,” he adds.

At the moment, there are no arrangements to sell the awards photographs online. “We might explore this option next time,” Rohit says.

The pandemic has transformed people’s attitude towards nature to some extent, but it is key to keep sensitisation and mobilisation levels high even after normalcy returns. “We saw a large number of people talking about how nature was healing, and how they saw more wildlife in their backyards during the lockdown,” Rohit explains.

“This was such a positive change that we all witnessed during that phase. Unfortunately, it was short-lived. I think that people have gone back to life as they knew it and forgotten about nature, environment and conservation,” he laments.

The biggest challenge seems to be that there is no instant recall value when it comes to nature. “It is not at the top of anyone’s mind, and seems to be lower down in the list of priorities,” Rohit observes.

“It is tragic to see how we have taken nature for granted and when something goes wrong, we label it as a natural calamity. The fact is that most of the time, these calamities are human-infused,” he says.

He recommends that the education system should have enough and relevant content for children to understand the natural world around them and be changemakers for conservation. “Every single one of us can contribute to bring people close to nature, and also to appreciate nature,” Rohit urges.

He also questions the rampant hyper-consumer culture of our times. “Another point is human greed – how much is enough? I believe that all of us must ask ourselves this question, and answer it,” he adds.

People must be more conscious of what they buy, how much they buy, and whether they really need what they have set out to buy. “Last but not the least, we must do everything we can to protect what is left. If we need to raise a voice, we must, and not shy away from doing so,” he emphasises.

“It is wrong to walk away thinking that it doesn’t concern us. If it has something to do with nature, it definitely concerns us,” he adds.

Rohit offers words of advice for aspiring photographers as well. “Read widely. Research your subjects. Watch, observe, and make notes. And shoot. Shoot some more,” he says.

“Analyse your images. One can learn techniques from books and videos, but creativity is something that comes from experience. So that means we must constantly be at it. Keep learning and keep shooting,” Rohit signs off.

Now, what have you done today to pause in your busy schedule and find new ways of strengthening your connection to conservation?

Photographer: Ankit Kumar

Photographer: Alok Kar

Photographer: Bibhav Behera

Photographer: Sitara Karthikeyan

Photographer: Paul Manjooran

Photographer: Magnus Lundgren

Photographer: Varun Thakkar

Photographer: Mofeed Abu Shalwa

Photographer: Ganesh Chowdhury

Photographer: Krishnendu Mitra

Photographer: Nayan Jyoti Das

Photographer: Ripan Biswas

Photographer: Magnus Lundgren

Photographer: Pratik Chorge

Photographer: Samyak Kaninde

Photographer: Gagandeep Matharoo

Photographer: Sourav Mondal

Photographer: Ganesh Raghunathan

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