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Water world

From the venomous lionfish to the sea horse of Trincomalee, three photographers capture the mysteries of marine life
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First Published: Fri, Oct 12 2012. 04 23 PM IST
The lionfish is a genus of venomous marine fish, found mostly in the Indo-Pacific. Lionfish are popular in some parts of the world as food. Found in shades of red, grey and black, they are also prized in the aquarium trade. Photo: Nandakumar M and Rithesh Nanda
The lionfish is a genus of venomous marine fish, found mostly in the Indo-Pacific. Lionfish are popular in some parts of the world as food. Found in shades of red, grey and black, they are also prized in the aquarium trade. Photo: Nandakumar M and Rithesh Nanda
Updated: Fri, Oct 12 2012. 06 21 PM IST
Marine biodiversity and its conservation is one of the five key issues being discussed at the ongoing Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Hyderabad. Political leaders, conservationists and scientists are deliberating on environmental policies, and trying to ensure development that does not threaten the interest of conserving our biodiversity. Lounge presents a glimpse of life in the seas, and their mysterious and amazing inhabitants, through the lens of three wildlife photographers.
Dhritiman Mukherjee, Kolkata
Dhritiman Mukherjee, 37, from Kolkata is probably the most well-known wildlife photographer in India today. His is a classic Bollywood tale—his mother pawned her jewellery so her son could buy his first digital camera, one of those that professional photographers lug around.
Mukherjee took to wildlife photography in 2002, but as a professional photographer he had to make ends meet. He earned a meagre Rs.2,000 that year by selling wildlife photographs, he reminisces. “But money was never the driving force,” he says. He fell in love with the outdoors while pursuing a master’s degree in environment and ecology through correspondence from Manipal University. His other passion—mountaineering—provided added impetus to document wildlife.

      In 2006, he switched from analogue to digital. Today, Mukherjee’s natural history portfolio is unmatched, and sought after by publications such as BBC Wildlife and National Geographic, among others. His images are published frequently in books, magazines, brochures and on calendars.
      “But I have never chased profits by selling photographs. I have hardly recovered the cost of my equipment,” Mukherjee says. He gets offers to conduct photography workshops and tours—all avenues to earn extra income—but he prefers to focus on his core interest of photography.
      Dhritiman Mukherjee
      He says it’s difficult to explain the hard work and time that goes into each photograph. “To get a particular wide-angle shot of a rhino in Kaziranga National Park, I had to take 28 safari rides in the dense jungle. To get shots of the elusive snow leopard, I had to make several trips to Ladakh and then spend nights in freezing weather. There is a small story behind each photograph, the sentiment and emotions are hard to share,” Mukherjee says.
      “I would like to travel as much as I can and document as much of natural history,” he says.
      Mukherjee’s website says: “To be a better nature and wildlife photographer there is a need to be a better naturalist... photography should be contributory, either photographically or from the natural history point of view.” Mukherjee spends about 280 days a year in the field, and prefers to work with challenging subjects that have been less photographed.
      Mukherjee is currently documenting Himalayan wildlife and marine life. “Diving and underwater photography is an expensive proposition. Financial constraint is the reason why I haven’t been able to explore this area extensively,” he says.
      Here, Mukherjee shares his images from the depths of the spectacular Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, also known as Wandoor Marine National Park, in the Andamans.
      Nandakumar M and Rithesh Nanda, Bangalore
      Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
      The father-son duo of Nandakumar M., 50, and Rithesh Nanda, 20, from Bangalore, specialize in underwater photography. Since 2009, they have been diving off Netrani Island, Murudeshwar, Karnataka; Havelock Island, Cinque Island and Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands; Similan and Surin Islands and Phuket in Thailand; Tioman Island and Sipadan in Malaysia; Trincomalee in Sri Lanka; and the Maldives.
      Nandakumar spent most of his life as a marketing professional. In 2006, he gave up marketing and dabbled in offset printing. Three years later, after decades of leading the life of a 24x7 workaholic, he decided to give it all up before he burnt out. He loved swimming and had always been fascinated by the deep. Intrigued by the underwater documentaries aired on the National Geographic Channel and Discovery, he decided to take the plunge.
      “Age should never be a factor to stop you from chasing your dreams. Age acts as a mental barrier and gets in the way of enthusiasm, only making one feel older,” says Nandakumar. He reminisces how he set out for scuba-diving even when friends reminded him of his age—he was 46 at the time. “When I took up photography, I took my first shots underwater.”
      Nandakumar M (right) and his son Rithesh Nanda (left)
      Rithesh too was inspired by documentaries and films like the BBC’s The Blue Planet and Aliens of the Sea, to take up underwater photography. Plus, there was his father’s influence.
      Both Nandakumar and Rithesh are certified scuba-divers from Padi (the Professional Association of Diving Instructors), with a passion for nature and photography. Together they clock around 40 hours of underwater diving a year (one is allowed to dive for a maximum of 1 hour and a 2-hour rest is mandatory before the next dive. The father and son make three-four trips a year).
      In the last four years of diving, the most memorable experience for Nandakumar has been swimming alongside giant manta rays in the Maldives and an encounter with a whale shark in Thailand.
      Marine photography has enabled him to meet like-minded people, do new things and experience a world “zillions of miles” away from marketing. Apart from scuba-diving, the father-son duo shoot pictures on treks, rafting expeditions and wildlife safaris around national parks.
      But wildlife photography, especially underwater camera equipment, is expensive. Nandakumar rues the fact that procuring specialized camera gear for underwater use is difficult in India. Every time he has to order camera casings, lenses and accessories from abroad, his expenses skyrocket. “There is no initiative from the government or private sector to promote scuba-diving in the country. Scuba-diving in India is still at a nascent stage. We have only 10-12 diving centres around the country with basic infrastructure and amenities. Unless there is an avenue for scuba-diving, marine photography in India will remain in its nascency,” he says.
      Nandakumar, who runs a specialized printing and packaging business, still produces a stunning notebook and calendar every year with his collection of underwater photographs. Here, he shares some of his work with Lounge.
      • • • • •
      Hot spots
      Rithesh Nanda recommends the best places to experience marine life.
      India is blessed with an ample coastline. Scuba-divers have the advantage of viewing corals and sandy areas surrounded by vast green lands of varying quality near the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean.
      Once certified to dive (one can also learn here), a scuba-diver has multiple choices: Lakshadweep is an undisputed paradise for scuba-diving enthusiasts. Netrani Island near Murudeshwar, Karnataka, is the latest attraction. Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands offer the most thrilling dive sites with a vast marine life. There are several locations like Cinque Island, Havelock Island and the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
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      First Published: Fri, Oct 12 2012. 04 23 PM IST