Photography - Story

Look, Point, Shoot before it's gone! The Wildside: Sundheep Iyer

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Look, Point, Shoot, before it’s gone! Oh, it’s gone! Wildlife photography is an intensive play of nature’s dramatic doings. A wildlife photographer does not have it easy, being where the action is, is important and missing out on action is not hard. But when you get that amazing shot, the rewarding feeling of satisfaction is like no other. The path to the reward is no smooth sail, as Sundheep Iyer says, everyday is a challenge, and every moment is important.

From a simple hobby to making it a passion, Sundheep Iyer has come a long way in the ten odd years of following this passion. Connecting for the #IamLivingIt series, Team Livingit got in touch with the man who shoots wildlife, with a camera, with stories on how he got to where he is today, his love for wildlife photography and his passion for adventure.

Livingit: When and how did you start Wildlife Photography?
Sundheep Iyer:
In 1999, I picked up my first real camera, it was borrowed and I went on a trip to Corbett national park with some friends.

Look, Point, Shoot before it's gone! The Wildside: Sundheep Iyer
Sundheep with few clients checking the pictures clicked during a drive. He feels that this is where the important exchange of information including feedback happens, where the results are seen and learning what not to do the next time.

Livingit: Was it smooth sailing after that or did you struggle to pursue it?
Sundheep Iyer: Never! Its not been smooth sailing even till date. Everyday in wildlife and especially in wildlife photography is a challenge and experience. I struggled like so many and even thought of giving up knowing that, I wouldn’t be able to afford it. As a passion or a hobby or even part time.

Look, Point, Shoot before it's gone! The Wildside: Sundheep Iyer
Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve – Year 2010, October. Sundheep was on a wildlife photography workshop with Nature Wanderers. Lot has changed since then, for example the roads are now broad and mettled.

My foremost challenge was affordability and expenses related to pursuing it. Let me put it straight. It requires money to be able to pursue it for a long run. So, I planned accordingly, took few more years than expected, but am getting there.

Livingit: Did you have a mentor and how did it help?
Sundheep Iyer:
Initially it was just about point and shoot, photography always took a backseat while travelling inside the jungles in an open gypsy safari. Jungle rides are more important to me even now than just simply clicking. There was always inspiration from the likes of Mike Pandey and his documentaries from the Doordarshan days, Valmik Thapar, Bedi brothers, Aditya Singh, Saravanan Sundaram, Sudhir Shivaram, Udai Shringi, Swapnil Deshpande and the list goes on.

I am happy that I don’t just have one mentor. I have many because of the interconnected world, devices and the Internet. Learning is a process and I’m in no hurry. Nobody is grading me and neither am I competing. Sometimes you just love doing what you do and you go with the flow.

Look, Point, Shoot before it's gone! The Wildside: Sundheep Iyer
Spotted Owlet taken in Tadoba in June 2016. This was taken in the scorching summer when temperature was around 47-48 degrees and around 20 odd Gypsy cars loaded with photographers were waiting to spot a tiger. Sundheep saw this owlet and started clicking with different angles and as an instant reaction, all the people sitting in other vehicles assumed he had spotted a tiger and started aiming their cameras to this tree and were extremely disappointed at the false alarm.

These photographer’s, my mentor’s, work, gave me perspective, ideas, compositions and field experience. I’ve learned more on field about photography than in any book or literature. Every piece of knowledge is essential but I’m happy in my space.

Come the Internet, new technology and the DSLR suddenly became a rage in the last 10 years or so. So, it gave me personally, an opportunity to understand photography better through online resources, images from across the globe and spending time on the field.

Livingit: Do you like to pursue your passion alone or in a group? What groups did you join and how did it help you?
Sundheep Iyer:
Always preferred tagging along with like minded people who would share your compassion of wildlife in general. Starters in this field were nature wanderers, another prominent photographer was Shivang Mehta whose tours I’ve attended several times and found so many like minded people during these workshops.

Look, Point, Shoot before it's gone! The Wildside: Sundeep Iyer
The above photograph was taken in Brigadeeshwara Temple, Tanjore, Sundheep’s hometown, on a cloudy day.

Interacting with them even till date has only given more positives in photography than anything else. When you’re in a group, many of the members have different levels of skills and experience just like in corporate life. Sharing during group tours is the best and you learn faster. Memories you make last forever.

Livingit: What would you have done differently?
Sundheep Iyer:
Bought photography gear early! But that’s just being optimistic and hypothetical now isn’t it! I don’t think anything could have been differently, with various circumstances both personal and professional being at play.

Livingit: Tell us about and how did it start?
Sundheep Iyer:
One day me and wife were randomly calculating the expenses made during the last 10 years on wildlife including the accommodation, safaris and rental equipment. So, one of the key findings was that the least amount spent was on the rentals but over a period of years it grew. I never bought a lens of my own until then. And it was very convenient to just rent out what I wanted for the type of jungle, I visit.

Look, Point, Shoot before it's gone! The Wildside: Sundheep Iyer
Sundheep’s gear rental website started in April 2016 with the objective of making wildlife photography affordable to everyone!

The idea struck me when I spoke to a few people related to wildlife tourism on any camera or lens rentals available in national parks. The answer was no. That was the key in researching about the viability of this business and the required things to set it up. Goutham from Bookmylens was my savior. He encouraged me to set it up in national parks starting from Tadoba, Maharashtra. So we started last year(2016) on April fools day along with a couple of very accommodating and helpful friends Ritesh and Rohit as partners.

Look, Point, Shoot before it's gone! The Wildside: Sundeep Iyer
Taken at Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, in May 2016. The picture above is a Tiger cub who was giving the group a tough time and always kept hiding behind foliage of different kinds. Finding an opportunity, Sundheep clicked this shot where he could see the eyes of the tiger for a few seconds. Immediately after that the tiger got lost in the camouflage. Though there a lot of elements in this image, Sundheep had the satisfaction of seeing and shooting a tiger cub after so many years of roaming around jungles.

Livingit: What is your vision for the site?
Sundheep Iyer: To be able to serve adventure enthusiasts and travellers of all kinds. Our vision is to make travel lighter for our customers, as we would be based at the adventure destination customers are heading to. We have just started in wildlife.

Look, Point, Shoot before it's gone! The Wildside: Sundeep Iyer
Sloth Bear and its cub. Taken in Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, April 2016. Sundheep took this shot, when the bears were walking in the heat heading towards a nearby watering hole. One of the most reclusive creatures one can find in the jungles of central India. A rare catch some say.

Livingit: What is your profession?
Sundheep Iyer:
I’m a sales professional.

Livingit: Has pursuing your passion ever conflicted with your work or has it helped you in your work life?
Sundheep Iyer:
It has always helped. I feel, it has made my decisions stronger, measured and realistic. I’ve been able to lead teams to success by achieving far set goals, find work-life balance, patience, perseverance, and even enabled me to network externally and internally more effectively to name a few examples. I owe it to my work and passion together.

 Look, Point, Shoot before it’s gone! The Wildside: Sundheep Iyer
This tiger was called B2 and the picture was captured in Bandhavgargh National Park in Oct 2009 and is the longest cat walk that Sundheep has ever seen till date, 1 hour and 44 mins to be precise. He named his Golden Retriever B2 after this legend.

Livingit: Between work and your startup, do you have time for pursuing your passion?
Sundheep Iyer: My startup is a creation of my passion so even though I’ve very less time to pursue wildlife photography, I continue to get engaged in the same by one way or another. Wild will always find its way…

Livingit: What excites you about this passion even now?
Sundheep Iyer: The silence inside the jungle when the vehicle is turned off and you’re either keeping your ears open for some birds chirping or an alarm call. No matter whether there’s a big cat or a wildlife sighting, these small things inside the jungle play an important role than the actual sighting. The excitement, rush, the whole experience keeps bringing me back.

Look, Point, Shoot before it's gone! The Wildside: Sundheep Iyer
Taken at Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary along with Shivang Mehta. The group is learning or possibly getting perspective on what should have been.

Livingit: Tell us something about your gear – your current collection/brands you use.
Sundheep Iyer:
I used a Canon 7D body and a 300mm F/2.8 prime lens with a 1.4x converter, till sometime back, but now that I have a rental startup, I get an advantage to pick and choose the type of equipment.

Livingit: What has been the most memorable moment in your passion till now?
Sundheep Iyer:
Tigers mating at bandhavgarh in 2011. One of the most thrilling and bone chilling experience I’ve ever had in the wild. The fact that we were the only vehicle which witnessed this for almost 2 hours still gives me goosebumps.

Livingit: Do you have any idols in your passion who inspire you?
Sundheep Iyer: Thankfully there aren’t any idols but yes many for inspiration. It reminds me of the line ‘none of us is better than all of us.’

Look, Point, Shoot before it's gone! The Wildside: Sundheep Iyer
Tigers galore! Taken at Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve – March 2017. A rare shot of the entire family, like a pride of the Lions. Rare because after the initial 16-18 months of growing up with its mother and siblings, tigers choose their own way, so getting them together is very rare.

Livingit: Name your biggest achievements/accomplishment in your passion?
Sundheep Iyer:

  • Setting up a full-time camera/lens rental store and running it for 2 years in Tadoba, with what we have and without any funding. (No one is that mad yet!)
  • Created a new stream of revenue for local employment in the jungles.
  • Collaboration with as an associate partner for equipment and more importantly the best critic and motivation for us.

Livingit: What are top 3 things on your bucket list regarding your passion?
Sundheep Iyer:

  • Covering the length and breadth of Indian wildlife space
  • Record all the species of hornbills
  • Share more and learn more everyday

Livingit: Where do you see yourself in this passion 2 years from now? Will you have stopped or tried completing more and more goals?
Sundheep Iyer: Stop?!!!! Why… I think the way ahead is only forward. I’ve personally set some realistic and some dreamy goals, but achieving them depends completely on how the next season turns out. I hope to see myself resolve a lot of challenges in helping people take interest and develop photography on a large scale. I wouldn’t stop but rather would like to scale it to more locations in the future as part of the plan.

Look, Point, Shoot before it's gone! The Wildside: Sundeep Iyer
Quick Glimpse of the Queen – Machli at Ranthambore National park – May, 2014. Sundheep’s group was exhausted with the morning and evening drives, when the most photographed Tiger presented herself in front of their vehicle. That’s how the story goes in a jungle, you either find what you were looking for or you miss a lot by just chasing a few species.

Livingit: What is one word of advice you wish someone had given to you much earlier?
Sundheep Iyer: Never think it’s impossible. (About my Camera rental startup)

Livingit: Do you have any tips for people starting out?
Sundheep Iyer: Never restrict yourself, always strive for more. That one EXTRA step, one click, one metre, one mile defines who you would be. Learn every day, experiment more, seek advice and be receptive to constructive feedback as you are when you are at your corporate work place.

Livingit: Are there other Passions you have been wanting to start or are interested in exploring?
Sundheep Iyer: I’m a keen sports enthusiast and when I say enthusiast, I still play a couple of sports actively. My passions will continue to grow as I explore the unexplored.

Wishing Sundheep all the very best for his start-up and his dream of covering all the National parks around the globe!

Loved Sundheep’s story, then also check out the story of : Abhishek Deopurkar- Connecting with Nature through Landscape Photography!

Ideas and inspirations come to us in the weirdest of places and situations, be it the bathroom, or a jungle safari ride, but are we listening to ourselves? Or just pushing away these precious signals our mind keeps giving us, taking the easy way out… suppressing our inner voice? Let’s listen to it, let’s follow our passions and strike one out from that never ending to-do list…lets start living it.