His photographs from Kabini Forest Reserve in Karnataka, India, which is considered one of the country’s best wildlife parks, have broken the internet quite literally, yet the man stays in his bubble with an air of calm, and poise about him. The Indian Feed sat down with Mithun H for an exclusive interview. The following are the excerpts:
Q. When did you decide you wanted to pursue photography professionally?
Ans: Having been born and brought up in the jungles of South India, I always had a passion for wildlife and big cats from ever since I can remember myself as a kid. Photography was a means to immortalize the moments I see in the wild. Picked up my first camera in 2009 and was treated a magnificent sight of a huge male Tiger swimming and wading through a flowing river with ease. That was the moment I decided my way forward in life.
Q. Was it difficult at home to pursue a career that is uncertain?
Ans: It was very easy in fact. My parents were very supportive of the passion that I had and had no issues with me pursuing that as a profession. Being good in academics definitely helped for sure.
Q. Why wildlife photography given its probably the toughest thing to cover?
Ans: It definitely has some challenges associated with for sure. But if you know your limits and study animal behavior which is the most important facet, then you have won half the battle. These beautiful creatures are generally more scared and shy than we think. Give them space and let them get comfortable with you and you realize how close and personal you can get with their world. The secret is patience and respect. It has an element of surprise. You never know what you are going to encounter at the next bend. The woods are mysterious and unlocking that is my passion. You could be waiting for days and months and years for that perfect shot. But when it happens, those few seconds are magical and to live for after all that time. That is the beauty of wildlife photography.
Q. Was the journey from just another photographer doing his work to shot to fame with Indian’s most shared wildlife photograph in recent times, a smooth ride? Or were there struggles?
Ans: There were struggles for sure. In India, it’s not easy to make a career that is different from the regular streams of say an Engineer or a doctor. That way you have to make a name and the investment in photography also is high with very uncertain returns. But for me, you can never think about a businessman when you want to pursue this. You have to remember the main reason that you picked it up in the first place. And that is because of the passion to be out in the wilderness. If not then there is no point.
Q. What were the significant challenges you faced?
Ans: The main challenge is during the initial years you have to invest a lot of time to learn this art. More importantly to study animal behavior without which wildlife photography does not exist according to me. It took all those years of visiting the jungle with a pair of binoculars to learn a very small part of the secrets of the woods. Even now every day is a new learning in the forest.
Q. What is the longest you have waited for a ‘perfect shot’?
Ans: Have waited for 9 days for a particular Tiger shot that I was chasing. It was my dream to get a Tiger with flowers around and there was this particular place in Bandipur where it has fresh white lantana flowers in the winters. A big male Tiger used to frequent the area and we knew at a particular place where the pathway was the male would come out of. But we had to be patient and wait for him at that spot for 9 days straight since the flowers were seasonal and the setting would not be the same until next year. Finally, after the 9th day, it happened.
Q. Did you ever feel like giving it all up?
Ans: Never. I started this only because of my love for nature and big cats. I never had it in my mind to make it a profession. The fact that I am able to do it now is something I respect and don’t lose track of ever.
Q. Arguably India’s most famous photographer at the moment, fame, news coverage, media attention, is this what success feels like? Do you think it will change you, or your life?
Ans: Of course extremely happy when your work gets recognized but more importantly I’m glad the Black Panther and Leopards, in general, are getting all the attention. They are my passion and I believe one of the most neglected big cats in the world. So with this more people are aware of the beauty and the grace of this magnificent feline which plays a very important role in the ecosystem, which in turn will help in the conservation of the species.
You can watch Mithun narrating the story behind his viral pic of The Eternal Couple, Saaya and Cleopatra here:
You can follow Mithun’s work here.