An Interview with a Birdman -Kallol Mukherjee

August 19 is celebrated as World Photography Day and so to celebrate, extraordinary and versatile world and culture of photography, we shall celebrate the whole month of August with articles dedicated to Photographers. WeekendTrivia exclusive interviews with, as well as a photography contest, shall be running on as well as all other social media platforms. So dive into the fest!

The man who chases birds and nature, Birdman and wildlife photographer Kallol Mukherjee loves the wilderness and enjoys capturing them in his lenses. He is a storyteller with a camera. Read on to know more about him.

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P. S. – Copyright of all the captures in the article lies with ©Kallol Mukherjee

The man – Kallol Mukherjee

Q1: Would you kindly introduce yourself to our reader? Along with the genre of your photography and on which project are you working currently? What do you consider your greatest achievement?

A: An ardent observer of nature probably thus I would prefer myself to be introduced .Since childhood I have always considered my life as a canvas that I have been trying to paint with different colours extracted from nature. In my countryside home the lovely nature has always provided me with ample scope to paint my imagination with its own rainbow hues. Basically it was my solitude on the lap of nature that first grew my interest to capture the pictorial beauty through my lens. Infect more than a wildlife photographer, I would love to introduce myself as  a story-teller, a painter with camera and a father of two darling daughters.

   ‘Nature’ to me is simply the most pleasing sensation. So,  Nature-photography offers me the greatest joy. However, to be specific, wildlife photography is my genre of work; and birds, butterflies and other small insects are in my prime focus.  It is really pleasing that my friendship with camera has slowly grown up to be about eight years old.

I feel, the rich casket of butterflies in India is still not that well explored. So my next project is to explore and bring into light the behavioral patterns and wonders of these beautiful creations.

I put my earnest endeavour behind every single frame. So it is quite difficult to classify. To be honest if any of my works can make A single person interested to know the simple yet captivating beauty of nature, if any of them can make people aware of the importance to save nature and its habitat, I would be happy. If my works encourage them to observe nature with A different prospective, I would consider it to be my greatest achievement.

Q2: What attracts you to your genre? Whose work has influenced you most in your early days? Why did you choose wildlife photography in particular?

A: Born and brought up in A village my childhood was well spent under the open sky on velvet green lawns with breathe of fresh air. As per average Bengalese my teenage started with small vacations in nearest hill stations n sea shores. But my desire to walk on the untrodden ways took me to the remotest places where nature remained unravished . Observing nature in its variegated shades and moods, fragrance and flavour  is my obsession and their truthful portrayal is my passion. Indeed, my wandering after the wonders of nature drew me to photography as the best means of representing the subtlety and sublimity of nature.

I was immensely inspired by my guru Dhritiman Mukherjee. Still learning from him every day. Simultaneously I tried to follow the works of  Bence Mate, Art Wolf, David Yarrow, Steve Winter and many amazing photographers of our time.  

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Initially started with the landscape photography later I took more interest in its elements that are more charming .The beauty of nature will naturally attract any sensitive heart but to me every single part of it be it a star studded sky,  falling leaves of autumn, a mantis on the blade of grass, tree twinkling with fireflies at night, banquet of butterflies on riverbed, the vividly colourful birds n their exceptional behaviours and many more of them have their unique beauty. It was the new challenge to depict those uniqueness with a different artistic aspect that grew my interest in this genre of photography. Landscape is still very close to my heart still, I gradually felt an urge to go beyond these obvious beauty and bring out the beauty hidden behind the thickets and foliage, flowers and grasses in the form of birds and insects in different lights. Thus the beckoning of this wonder world  of wild life has fascinated me, enthralled me.

Q3: Is it important to have any professional training to be a photographer? Did you have any at the time you set of your journey?

A: My answer in this regard would be “No. It is not a must.” In fact, most of the leading wildlife photographers are self-taught and their successes suggest that even without  professional training one can be at the helm . What I believe is that it is more essential to continue the craving for learning rather than taking trainings from some expert. The best way of learning is to observe more and more quality photographs of the experts and learn from them. Besides, there are ample paid or free e-books and blogs regarding the technical and artistic aspects of photography that can be studied. However, it may require some special training for technical support, if we want to go deeper into other kinds of photography like:  under-water photography, wildlife-video or photographing under special lighting conditions. But that does not ensure the quality of work, which always depends on the creativity of the person behind the camera. It is important to create something special , something unique rather than having a pin sharp image. 

No, I didn’t have any professional training when I began this journey, say eight years ago. I just adhered to the ways stated above and I am still an enthusiastic a learner of photography and I prefer to spend even more time in reading about my subject than  the time I spend in field work.

Q4: When you go in one of your photo-shoot which one is your favorite lens and why do you prefer it?

A: Most of the time I use a Nikon 300 mm f4 Non VR lens with a 1.4 TC II for birds. It is easy to handle , light weight and very sharp. Another lens I always keep in my bag is Laowa 15mm f4 manual lens which is among the most difficult lens I have ever used still it can give you an amazing perspective for macro subjects which no other lens can give you . 

Q5: How difficult is to chase butterfly? What is the easy way to catch and shoot one? which part of India has most beautiful species?

A: Well, the difficulty depends on the subject. I mean, which butterfly you are going to shoot. Some are very common in a particular place and in a particular season, while some are very rare species. Besides the abundance, the behaviour of the butterfly species is another determinant. Some rarely come out in the open, some other keep on flying and rarely keeps quiet, while some others close their wings as soon as they perch or land somewhere. Some fly too fast while some are relatively easier to chase. There are some others like Orange Oakleaf who are masters of camouflage.

Thorough knowledge about the species can be the best guide in shooting a butterfly.  One need to know its habitat, nature, host plant, food. It really opens up a great scope for shooting butterflies if we can find out the host plants, or the mud puddling ground of the butterflies, where they huddle in number to suck salt, amino acid and other nutrients. Shooting butterflies is again all about being present at the right place at the right time with right preparation, so to say.

Meghalaya, Arunachal, Nagaland or I must say north eastern parts of India is the home for some amazing species of butterflies . Buxa tiger reserve of West Bengal is also a great place to find many varieties of butterflies .

Q6: what do you suggest to the emerging bird watcher? Such as where they should go as their first bird watching site, what lens should they carry? Which time of the day they should go?

A: It is quite presumable that a bird watcher is interested in birds. One needs to develop this mere interest into love, needs to develop oneself from mere onlooker to an observer. And this observation can best be initiated from one’s home, the surrounding areas, the outskirts of the native town or city. Later on one’s photographic periphery should extend to affordable pockets of birds near and far in particular seasons. Birdwatchers  often experience pleasant surprise to find a lovely migratory bird in their backyard orchard. 

According to me , the lens  should be at least a 70-300 mm .

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Early morning and the late afternoon are the ideal sessions for both bird watching and photography, because of the encouraging bird activity and the tender golden light as opposed to the harsh mid-day light producing either overexposure or prominent shadow.

 Q7: What are the main challenges that you face as a wildlife photographer?

A: The main challenge that I would like to mention is that of a fast changing world where people are least concerned with conservation issues or loss of wildlife habitat. I work mostly in my neighbourhood. Only within a few years due to land acquisition for either farming or industrialization or urbanization a number of good habitats have been destroyed here. It is really painful to find few migratory birds in those favourite haunts of mine. The residual birds and insects have also disappeared. The hill stations where we frequently visit are  no exceptions in this regard. The eco-system there are on the decline. 

Q8: If you could go anywhere in the world on your next shoot, where would it be and why? And what is your favourite place so far?

A: We are lucky to be born in a country with such a rich bio-diversity. I think, only to click class photograph we need not go to exotic places around the globe like the Antarctica or Africa. There are numerous places within India where we can have food for serious photography. Well, I have a dream to work in The Andaman and Nicobar Islands where there are some rare endemic species of birds are completely different from those of the mainland India. So I would plan to fulfill this dream of mine as early as possible.

Yes, I had several photograpy-tours to many places in India. But my favourite place for photography must be my backyard garden where we have a good set-up for the birds with water and grains, perch and plants. Here I have ample scope for experimenting with lights and lenses, which is not feasible in time-bound tours.

Q9: What is your favourite picture that you have clicked and why? What makes it different from the others?

A: To be honest, I haven’t perhaps clicked my dream image yet. Whatever appears to be perfect to me at present  doesn’t appear flawless to my eyes a few months later. I wonder how I did such a mistake and all that. However, till now the near perfect click of mine should be The Phoenix, that I named the image. It depicts a drongo feeding on insects that were coming out of the blaze of the burning dry grass in a farmland. The colour of the blaze, the insects and the posture of the drongo eying on one of them make it a unique one and I am satisfied the way I could capture the image. Taking snaps of the drongo was not that difficult but focusing the insect at the same time was a matter of challenge.

Q10: How important is editing in wildlife photography?

A: Not so much. This genres of photography has the highest amount of restriction regarding of over editing . You can’t add anything, you can’t remove anything . One must be very cautious as the colour of the species must be very close to the original plumage otherwise it will misinterpret the scientific aspect. Still , in my opinion camera itself can’t produce a complete image. So minor editing like tone, sharpness, noise reduction or dodging and burning are essential for processing the final image. 

Q11: Which post processing software you use for your pictures? 

I use Adobe Lightroom Classic CC  and Adobe Photoshop CC

Q12: What advice would you give to young photographers who are just starting out and considering pursuing a career in wildlife photography?

Being a land of exotic landscape and huge biodiversity, our country can provide with a golden opportunity to any budding wildlife photographer. Unlike smaller countries like Singapore or other European countries India alone is home for many species and sub species be it tigers, lions or more than 1200 species of birds. Apart from Africa there not many countries that can provide with such versatile n wide array of subjects. In fact there is no need to go to any expensive spot or wildlife safaris to capture that perfect frame. You can simply start with much affordable spots in Himalayas where u can go time n again to achieve that perfection which is the keyword in photography. The only backlog I can say from my personal experience in this career is that after a certain stage , your journey will not be very smooth if you don’t have a good financial backup. Certain equipments are needed to surpass in this field that are quite expensive. Still I would encourage the newcomers to start their venture with lens as there are beautiful ambience and smart audience keenly waiting for something fresh something unique.

Q13: Name the last photography book/journal that you read.

” Chasing the Horizons” by my friend Shivang Mehta. A beautiful book with many classic images of African wildlife.

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Q14: Nowadays almost everyone has access to devices with which it is possible to take pictures. What do you think is the difference between a professional photographer and any other amateur photographer?

Its not the crayons that paint but the imagination of the artist. Similarly its not the lens but the mind that initially  perceives the image. My first digital journey started with A 5megapixel Sony Camera, one of the company’s earlier devices. Those pictures are still used by some organigations. So its not the device that measure the quality of your images. Many of my images are captured by less expensive devices. Even the mobile cameras can be your device to frame some images of international quality. Its not the device that matters but your way of perception, how eloquently your still image can narrate the story to the audience, how vividly you can give their imagination wings to fly, how your frame can transfer your audience to that time span of observation, all these are the key elements. Yes in wildlife photography there are certain limitations with mobile or less expensive devices for lack of features like long zoom or quick shutter speed. Still I must stay its observation and perception that matters the most. One can capture quality images if he has that knowledge of perception.

      Its the patience and perseverance to capture a perfect frame that differentiates an amateur from a professional photographer. The point of satisfaction is hard to achieve for professionals where the satisfactory level of amateurs are more depends upon the comments and likes. May be its the social networking sites that should be blamed. Personally I can spent couple of days in a spot, take multiple shots of a species and yet not satisfied with any of them. Nothing can define my satisfaction if I myself isn’t convinced with its perfection. I have seen many young photographers starting their careers with some really excellent images but gradually disappeared in the crowd. What they fail to perceive is its a learning process where every single day you have to improvise yourself and the piece of art you are creating .After spending 8-9 years in this field I still consider myself as an apprentice continuously striving to achieve that perfection whereas an amateur suffers from self satisfaction. Their over enthusiastic urge to project ultimately draws A boundary to their learning .

Q15: Any quick message for our blog? Wish you a very happy world photography day! Thanks for your time!   

What a beautiful blog this is !!! It provides so much learning opportunities to all genres of photography enthusiasts. I believe through this blog many upcoming talents will find a better way to improve their works in future. Well done…Happy world photography day

Thank you Kallol Sir, for your valuable guidelines and sharing your thoughts with us. We look forward to seeing more of your wonderful work…!

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