Of all the species of big cats, there are few more striking than the tiger. Tigers are not only distinct, their dark stripes recognizable on orange or white fur, but the largest species of cat and among the most critically endangered.
Featured prominently in ancient mythology and folklore, tigers are staples of art and literature both old and modern. From Richard Parker, the tiger stranded with a young man on a boat in Life of Pi, to Winnie the Pooh’s tail-bouncing Tigger, tigers are as popular as they are revered, respected and feared.
Photographing tigers can be a difficult feat. I took this shot In Bandhavgarh National Park India with a Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon 400 DO F4 lens capturing details of the tigers’ faces and bodies. In Bandhavgarh, you can look for tigers from a Jeep or an elephant back. The jeep is faster but has to stay on the dirt roads; the elephant is slow but can reach areas that the jeep cannot get to. The disadvantage of the elephant is that you are much higher than the tiger. Ideally, I like to be eye level with animals. So you need to find a spot where the tiger is on a slope or a hill so that the elephant (and you) are below the tiger. In this picture, the two tigers were on a small rocky hill and I was below them. That way the photograph is at eye level.
Tigers are very secretive and elusive, and there are just 3,200 left in the wild. Whether you are in the jungle of Nepal or a nature reserve in India, if you want to photograph a tiger, you’ll have to go about it carefully. First, be prepared to wait. It could be days before you spot one, if you do.
Whatever your vantage, you should also be prepared to get closer. Once you spot the tiger, you may need to crouch down low to get the angle and distance right. So be prepared to move around nimbly—and quietly—when you are in pursuit. It’s also best if you are accompanied by someone experienced–I would recommend a local guide.
Be brave, but non-intrusive. There’s no need to get in the tiger’s business—that’s what long lenses are for, and we’re blessed to have the equipment to capture these creatures at a distance. I would recommend a 100-400 or 200-400+ zoom. From a jeep you could even use longer lenses as long you have a tripod, monopod or bean bag to hold them. The goal of nature photographers, and conservation photographers in particular, is to observe and capture without interfering with nature’s beauty and the animals’ comfort.
Getting the shot right will depend on the time of day, the distance, your lens and camera settings. If you can envision your shot and have everything prepared beforehand, you’ll be better off. You can snap a handful of photographs and let the beautiful creature get back to its day.
Photographing endangered creatures, to me, is in incredibly important privilege. Those of us that choose to do it have the opportunity to share nature’s beauty with those that may never get to see it in person—these photos, in turn, can help garner support and attention for the species. Tigers will always be important in works of fiction. As a photographer, it’s my duty to do what I can to ensure they never become one.