HOTSHOT DOC THE MAGAZINE
India Abroad February 19, 2016
Dr Thomas Rajan: A couple of my kids do pick up the camera. In fact, my 13 year old submitted one of her pictures — a peacock — here locally and won the first prize for that. They are pretty excited about getting into the jungle but (so far) they are not patient enough. I am trying to get my wife Savitha into photography. On our last trip to Kenya she took some amazing pictures too. THE.
I was the only one who got that shot. They
all looked at their cameras and said, nope.
It’s interesting that when my brother Thomas Vijayan
shot the picture which he was nominated for at the
National History Museum Wildlife Photographer of the
Year People’s Choice Award (his shot of a baby langur
swinging from the tails of adult langurs was among the
finalists for 2015) I was sitting with him. That time he
got that picture and I was not able to.
What was it about this particular shot that made you
decide you had the perfect frame?
I try to take pictures which don’t need much refining.
My perfect picture is to get that picture which is
uncropped… what I see on my camera screen comes out
as my picture. That is what I call a good picture. If I
have to crop the picture and do a lot of things to the picture to make it better, I wouldn’t say that’s a favorite of
In the leopard picture, I didn’t do much to it.
Also, it is not about taking this awesome picture of a
tiger, sitting there posing for us. It is about just those
moments which convey the true feeling in the wildlife of
what you see.
People who do photography as a hobby often keep pic-
tures they click for their own albums. What made you
enter the awards?
Initially, when I started taking pictures, I was not
doing anything with them. Then friends started saying,
‘You need to post those pictures.’ So, I started posting
them on Facebook. Through Facebook I started connecting with people who were interested in wildlife photography and I realized there was this entity that was
Meanwhile, here in the US, I joined the Bangor
Camera Club. They have a photography contest too and
asked me to bring in some pictures. I could submit
three images, but it had to be done anonymously; you
couldn’t put your name in. And an interesting thing
happened. They ended up giving the first, second and
third prize to me. This was about a year-and-a-half ago.
That’s when I thought maybe there is something in my
Then people from Sanctuary wrote to me saying I
should submit my photographs for the award.
I submitted four pictures. The other three were tiger
pictures and I thought were the greatest pictures —
ture, the leopard running down, was always a favorite,
so I said I am just going to throw this in.
When I got a message saying one of my images had
been shortlisted and asking for the raw image, I thought
it was one of my tiger images. Then I saw they sent me
this leopard image. And I said to myself, ‘My chances of
winning this are so low!’
I was in a flight… But they wanted it in 24 hours and I
was only hitting Delhi the next day. Luckily, the flight
had Wi-Fi. It took about two or three hours for the
image to upload and send.
I just left it at that. I was told that Sanctuary requests
raw images of a lot of pictures, but that doesn’t mean
you get an award.
Surprisingly, I made this trip and came back and Bittu
(Sahgal, environmentalist and founding editor of
Sanctuary Asia) called me and said, ‘You are the
Wildlife Photographer of the Year.’
Most people find wildlife photography very challeng-
ing. In your experience is it the most challenging?
On family vacations my kids would get upset with me.
If there was a sunset I would set the tripod up, try to get
the best pictures (of them), and my kids would say, “Dad
is not allowing us to see the sunset.”
So, you find animals more cooperative?
(Laughs) Exactly! That is exactly what I told my kids.
When they were small, they would sit for me. But now I
find that with animals — even though they jump and
they are gone — I am able to get better pictures of them.
What are the challenges of wildlife photography?
I was in Ranthambore a couple of years ago. I always
wanted a head-on tiger shot. I have thousands of those
images now, but that was a craze then. There was a tiger
that had jumped onto the road and was walking
towards us. I was so excited that I had not realized that
I had lifted up the bean bag, which weighs about 25 lbs,
with my pinkie. I heard a snap and realized my small
finger had broken and turned 90 degrees. It was sheer
My brother was with me, and said, ‘Keep clicking!’
I said, ‘I broke my finger!’
And he said, ‘Don’t worry about that. Keep clicking!’
Being a physician I knew what to do. I told the natu-
ralist who was with us to pull on my finger. I closed my
eyes and he just held it and straightened it. I held it
together and took some snaps. It’s not an award-win-
ning picture, but it means a lot to me.
That is what excitement can do to some people in the
I have traveled with young kids in India who are into
wildlife photography. Because of their excitement they
almost put their head out when the tiger is walking by.
That’s too dangerous! If the tiger just stands up and
gives one slap (to the person’s head)… there are instances
when there is one slap and the person is dead!
The other challenge for me is traveling in India after
several years of living here. I get on the train. I get on
the bus. I have been food poisoned couple of times,
extremely dehydrated, almost hospitalized. I had a heat
Then there are the risks.
About a month ago, I had taken my wife to Kenya. We
saw two lions and suddenly we heard a big hissing
noise. A tire (of the vehicle they were in) had punctured
right in front of the lions. We were in a place where we
had nobody else around. The drivers are experienced
and said we just had to wait for the lions to move away.
When they moved a little bit and went into the bush, we
had to do something. We knew that the lions were sitting there, but quickly, between all of us, we managed to
change the tire and get away.
In wildlife photography the risks are there, but that’s
what makes it even more fascinating and adventurous
Do you have a favorite animal or do you find it difficult
Somebody recently told me, ‘You have to just give up
You have been to so many forests and jungles in the
on tigers. You have to start focusing on something else.’
I have so many tiger pictures. I love tigers! The first
time I took a tiger picture I thought, ‘Oh my god! This is
the most beautiful creation in this (with a reverent
It is amazing when you take a picture of a tiger; they
are so beautiful! That’s why you see that some Indian
wildlife photographers just focus on tigers.
US, Africa and India. Do you have a favorite one?
For tigers, especially, Ranthambore and Bandhavgarh,
have been my two favorite places for tigers. Of course, I
have a special place for Kabini. I think I have visited
Kabini more than any other place because it is closer to
home. My mom still lives in India, so I go to visit her
and take a couple of days to go to the jungle. We have
started seeing a lot of tigers in Kabini also.
Where are you headed to next?
My oldest one got admission to medical school in
Boston. The next few years we won’t be seeing much of
her, so I decided I am going to take the kids on a vacation. I am looking at the option of going to Costa Rica,
where we have good beaches and a lot of birds. n