Wildlife photographer Thomas Vijayan, who won a prestigious award from the Smithsonian Museum, talks about his experiences
By Shevlin Sebastian
It was late afternoon at the Bandipur National Park in Karnataka. Wildlife photographer Thomas Vijayan was travelling in a jeep. On the branch of a tree, he noticed a group of grey langurs, with their long tails hanging down. The animals were making squeaking sounds. Suddenly, a baby monkey jumped down and caught the tails of two of his relatives, and used it like a swing. He wore an open-mouthed grin. The others smiled at him.
Thomas immediately took a few shots. But within a few seconds, the baby jumped onto a branch. “I was glad I was able to shoot it because there was so much life in that movement,” says Thomas. “Two of the monkeys seemed like a brother or sister, while the other looked like the mother.”
Unlike most animals, monkeys are comfortable in the presence of people. “They don't particularly care whether there are human beings around,” he says.
This particular photograph, which Thomas titled, 'Fun Time', has won a few awards. In August, the Toronto-based architect had travelled to Tokyo to get an award from the prestigious Smithsonian Museum in New York. “The judges said that they liked the story-telling in the picture,” says Thomas. In May, Thomas won the 'Highly Honoured' award at the Oasis Awards in Italy. Earlier to that, he won the 'Popular Choice' of the BBC Awards. This is regarded as the Oscars in wildlife photography.
But the animal that he likes to shoot the most is not the monkey. Instead, it is the tiger. “I admire its strength and beauty,” he says. “So far, I have images of more than 150 different tigers from all over the world.”
He has been able to take the difficult-to-get photos of new-born cubs, and live kills in the wild.
Asked the attitude of tigers to humans, Thomas says, “Almost all the big cats, including the lion, cheetah and tiger are scared of human beings. Nevertheless, it is better to keep a comfortable distance. If you have a good lens, 200 feet is a good distance to keep. It is important to not go less than 50 feet. If a tiger comes across you unexpectedly, you should not make any fast movements. Just remain where you are, until it is sure that you are not a threat.”
So far, Thomas, who is originally from Kottayam, Kerala, has travelled all over the world, including places like the North Arctic, Antartica, Alaska, Tanzania, Kenya, Japan, Russia, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Indonesia.
Some time ago, he had gone to the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, where he took photos of the critically endangered crested black macaque.
And in February, Thomas went to the Altai Mountains, in central Asia. The temperature was -30 degrees Centigrade. All around there was a vast snowy landscape. Not a single tree could be seen. Thomas was shivering despite wearing six layers of clothing. Thomas had come to the area to shoot the Pallas's Cat.
It has been categorised as 'Near Threatened' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It took Thomas ten days of waiting till he got the exclusive shots. A relieved Thomas says, “I have never experienced so much cold and been in such a remote place. It has been an unforgettable experience.”
When Thomas flew home to Toronto, he got the thrilling news that he has been ranked second in the Top 100 Photographers on the web, in terms of popularity, which is brought out by the German photo lab Xxlpix.
Like most wildlife photographers this is a passion as well as a hobby. “I feel recharged after each trip,” he says. “There is no luxury in wildlife photography. It makes a man very simple.”
Meanwhile, when asked about his favourite camera Thomas says he prefers the Nikon D5. “It is good for low-light shooting,” says Thomas. “Most sightings of animals, especially tigers, are in the early hours and at the end of the day when they come to water holes to quench their thirst. D5 works best in these conditions.”
Asked for tips for young photographers, Thomas says, “Always respect the animals especially because we are travelling in their home areas, like a forest. Too many youngsters make a lot of noise. They should think of the welfare of the animal at all times,” he says. “So, one should move silently and use the big lens.”