Humans were caged, but nature flourished during the pandemic – wildlife photographer Chaitanya Rawat on the importance of nature conservation

In this photo essay on the Nature inFocus photography competition, we feature more stunning images along with photographer insights.

Launched in 2014, PhotoSparks is a weekly feature from YourStory Media, with photographs that celebrate the spirit of creativity and innovation. In the earlier 500 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.

The annual Nature inFocus Photography Awards honour photographers who document unique natural history moments and critical conservation issues. See Part I and Part II of our photo essay, 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 this year were celebrated at a live virtual event on YouTube. Around 14,000 images were submitted from more than 1,600 competing photographers.

With permission from Nature inFocus, PhotoSparks has reproduced some of the finalist and winner images in this article series (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).

The photograph Water Wars by Chaitanya Rawat was awarded second runner-up prize in the category ‘Animal Behaviour.’

The photographer’s journey

Chaitanya Rawat is the marketing manager for his family business — Manglam Arts — and a part-time wildlife photographer. “I have been covering the leopards of Jhalana in my photography work,” he explains, in a chat with YourStory.

Jhalana is a scrub jungle of Jaipur and has a notable population of leopards. “It is quite a unique, magical, and astonishing habitat. It clearly shows how adaptive and flexible these big cats are in maintaining harmony with city life,” Chaitanya says.

In the coming year, he plans to cover more sanctuaries for leopards in Rajasthan such as Bera, Todgarh-Raoli, and Kumbhalgarh. “Spreading awareness about these jewels would increase tourism, and eventually help in conservation of these beautiful big cats,” he enthuses.

As his favourite photographers, he cites Shaaz Jung and Kalyan Varma. “Shaaz Jung has given a different perspective to wildlife photography. He has created a mélange between wildlife and art,” Chaitanya explains. He helped bring alive the jungles of Kabini, especially the black panther and leopard.

“With the launch of the documentary Wild Karnataka, Kalyan Varma has accorded Indian wildlife star heights. His style captures all details, and he makes all the species look very grand,” Chaitanya adds.

Chaitanya has been handling cameras since childhood years, starting with birds and animals in the house garden. “It was in 2007 that I first held my camera in the wild, capturing my first tiger in the lens in the jungles of Ranthambore,” Chaitanya fondly recalls.

As one of his best moments, he describes a lone Indian striped hyena chasing a leopard up a tree. “Spotting each one of these species itself is rare – spotting both together in a conflict is one of the best moments a photographer or wildlife enthusiast could ask for. It was a nail-biting incident,” Chaitanya recalls.

He describes this memorable incident in greater detail on his website. Nature inFocus would bestow an award on him for this accomplishment.

Chaitanya also recalls an encounter with a tiger in Periyar National Park during one of his first trail walks. “After a couple of hours of walk, I came across a natural pathway with grasslands on the left and a hill on the right. Suddenly, to my surprise, there was a tiger sitting right in front of me,” he says.

He felt it was staring straight into his soul through its eyes. “I was stunned and unable to move a muscle. Before I could blink my eye, it got up and sprang through the grassland like a bolt,” Chaitanya says.

“My hypnosis broke with a deep breath and a pounding heart. This incident made me realise how minute and miniature we are in front of wildlife. It made me respect Mother Nature even more, and has been a true teacher,” he explains.

Call for conservation

Chaitanya calls for the government to formulate policies that protect forests even more, and for businesses to adopt eco-friendly practices. “Avoid exploiting forest areas and non-renewable resources. Take conservation as a CSR activity, and volunteer for environmental works,” Chaitanya urges.

NGOs and educational institutes need to spread more awareness, volunteering work, fundraising, and land allocation for forests. “Individuals should realise that every small progressive step reduces jeopardy towards nature,” he adds.

He urges audiences to explore nature in all its beauty, connect with it, and contribute towards its conservation. “Step in and be a part of volunteering, such as beach cleaning or planting trees. Small contributions from all of us will make humongous changes towards the betterment of our Mother Earth,” he advises.

The journey to success

Chaitanya defines success for himself as a photographer in two ways: expressing a subject and educating people. Social media helps publish and promote his work and messages.

Success also comes from satisfaction and belief in one’s work. “Having faith in your work and admiring it is a step towards success,” Chaitanya adds.

For aspiring photographers, he advises bringing out one’s personality through work. “Photography is an art and a different world, which can be captured through the lens. It is very personal to an individual, and one can begin small – even with a smartphone and a backyard as a subject,” Chaitanya advises.

“Pick any subject that is easily accessible nearby. Regularity and consistency are the keys towards improvement,” he adds. Creative works should be showcased in social media, magazines, and exhibitions for feedback and community connections.

Subscribing to magazines and e-books, and studying the work of expert photographs are good sources of inspiration as well. “Always take some prints of your best shots and do not keep them limited to screen viewing,” Chaitanya recommends.

Making a living only by wildlife photography is hard, and requires a lot of persistence, patience, and originality, he cautions.

The COVID-19 impact

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a jolt to humanity. “I believe that COVID has given all of us time to self analyse and realise how important nature is. It has shattered the bubble of our over-confidence above other species,” Chaitanya explains.

“This was the first time that humans were caged and nature flourished at its best. We are more conscious and educated about the wrong we are doing, and have started to respect and adapt to nature in many ways,” he adds.

“Saving nature is our duty, and we should leave the world in the best state for future generations,” Chaitanya 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: Anand RJ

Photographer: Anshuman Kumar

Photographer: Arun Ahuja

Photographer: Danika Tavora

Photographer: Devendra Gogate

Photographer: Nidheesh KB

Photographer: Prajwal KM

Photographer: Prakash Ramakrishnan

Photographer: Roshan Lal

Photographer: Samyak Kaninde

Photographer: Shivanand Hiremath

Photographer: Uttam Das

Photographer: Vedansh Pandey

Photographer: Yash Darji

See also the YourStory pocketbook ‘Proverbs and Quotes for Entrepreneurs: A World of Inspiration for Startups,’ accessible as apps for Apple and Android devices.

Edited by Suman Singh