“Tomorrow’s will be my best picture”

Shiva Kumar shares with us his experience in the field of photography and wildlife conservation.


Ruta Bakshi

Bengaluru: Annechira M Shiva Kumar is a visual artist, graphic designer, filmmaker and photographer with an unending passion for wildlife conservation. He has won multiple awards for his lifestyle and fashion photography and is currently working as the Creative Director for 6Appealz Image and Film Media Production. He has travelled across the globe and has been part of the advertising and film industry for more than 20 years. Excerpts from an interview:

Q: When did you decide to pursue photography as a career considering your background as an engineer?
A: Photography has been my passion since childhood. I was always into art and painting. Later on, that became more of a hobby in college. Even during my engineering studies, during excursions, I would capture pictures. When I started working with AOL (America Online), I was chosen as a photojournalist. I worked with them for close to eight years and have trained a number of people. We started a small group, AOL Shutterbugs, which grew to become a group of 1,200 people. That is how my career started. I never had the chance to become a photographer owing to my degree in engineering. Out of luck, at AOL, where I was hired as a graphic designer, I was later pushed into the photography department for lifestyle and celebrity shoots.

Q: Fashion and wildlife photography are different from each other. Why these two particularly?
A: Since I am from Coorg, wildlife, nature, and conservation have always been a part of me. Having said that, AOL, which also assisted Warner Brothers, gave me the opportunity to work as a fashion and lifestyle photographer. When I quit AOL, I knew that getting directly into wildlife would make it challenging to take care of my family. I had to do something alongside my passion. So I chose advertising and fashion and lifestyle photography. By that time I had won several awards. But my passion for wildlife has always been there, coming as I am, from a place surrounded by wildlife. I started my company, 6Appealz, which is doing pretty well in the advertising industry. Once I knew that this business would sustain, I started moving towards wildlife and conservation, making films and documentaries and submitting them to various forums. I recently started working on wildlife, but I have worked in lifestyle and fashion for more than 20 years.

Q: What was your first experience with/as a professional photographer?
A: We (AOL) had a senior photographer who was supposed to be coming and shooting for a big celebrity, and I was more of a junior photographer. Fortunately for me, he wasn’t there that day, and people had already seen and recognized my work by then, so they asked me to pick up the assignment. I was a little nervous, but I had the confidence. I knew my subject and my equipment very well. Of course, I had butterflies in my stomach, but in spite of that, I never showed the insecurity of not being able to do it. I have always shown confidence and trusted myself.

Image courtesy: Mr Annechira M Shiva Kumar

Q: An animal that you have wanted to film for a long time and finally had the opportunity to, and an animal that was the most challenging to film?
A: Many people talk about tigers and leopards and cheetahs. For me, working with the one-horned rhino in Kaziranga has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I have had an opportunity to see all the behaviour of a rhino. The way they mate, the way they take care of their little ones; it is just like a human mother and child. That is one thing I would suggest everyone should experience. It’s beautiful. They’re almost extinct because of poaching, but lately, because of an increase in conservation and spreading of information, the situation is getting better, especially in Kaziranga. I appreciate the service of the forest guards. The kind of work that they do, they educate people about the forest and wildlife.

The most challenging one has been the fire ants or the red ants. The reason is you never know how they move. You need to take that shot and with a macro lens, so a 0.2mm of shift and your opportunity is gone since they are constantly moving. Another part of it is you can’t go too close. If one bites you, the whole gang bites you. Making a film on ants is really challenging.

Q: There have been a number of cases in which farmers have harmed animals to save their crops from damage. There can be no right or wrong here, as both the animals’ lives and the farmers’ hard work are at stake. What is your take on this?
A: Human beings used to live along with animals. Years ago, 85-90% of the earth was completely forest. Humankind is and always has been greedy. A small portion was already available to them to survive on, but they wanted to make it better. They wanted to grow crops. So they started using parts of the forest for vegetation. But the animals were not aware of the change, so they continued living the way they were. As human beings, we need to ensure that our crops are being taken care of. And for that, you don’t have to use barbed wires or fence the area.

Even today, people in Bera, Rajasthan live along with leopards. They treat the leopard as a member of their family. They are shepherds, they have sheep, goats. If a leopard takes one of their goats or sheep, they don’t hunt the leopard but empathise with it. That is the kind of relationship people living near wildlife should maintain. The government has subsidies for farmers who lose cattle to wildlife, but most of them are not aware of these schemes and don’t know whom to reach out to. The NGOs should also be much more active in educating the people living close to wildlife and help them understand how to co-exist with animals.

Q: Can you name one picture that you could call your best?
A: There have been many really good ones, but my best picture is the one that I will take tomorrow.

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