Aishwarya Sridhar – First Indian Woman to win Wildlife Photographer of The Year Award

Aishwarya Sridhar is an award winning writer, poet, activist, wildlife photographer and storyteller committed to educating and empowering the youth to speak up for environmental protection. She has received numerous awards for her conservation efforts including the Sanctuary Asia Young Naturalist Award, Woman Icon India Award and the Princess Diana Award. She has produced, directed and hosted for National Geographic WILD, Discovery Channel, DD National & BBC Earth.

A 2-time TEDx Speaker and a Brand Ambassador for Canon & Decathlon; she aspires to become an international TV presenter & filmmaker telling impactful stories that will help bring in change.

An introduction

I’m Aishwarya Sridhar, a wildlife filmmaker and photographer. I’m 24, and I was born and brought up in Panvel, Mumbai. I have studied my AS and A levels from Dr. Pillai Global Academy and did my graduation in mass media from Mumbai University. My college was Pillai College of Art Science and Commerce.

Aishwarya spent her childhood watching different birds, fireflies, wild boars etc. when all her friends were busy playing video games.

What brought you into wildlife at such a young age?

Growing up in Panvel from the age of four, I really established a bond with nature because the place was so green. I had all kinds of wildlife right in my backyard itself from fireflies in my balcony to different kinds of birds, wild boars. It was like a very different childhood. So, when all of my friends spent time playing video games, you know, I spent time running behind these wild denizens in my garden in my backyard. So that’s what probably, you know, helped me establish connection with nature at such an early age. From childhood itself, I have been on a lot of wildlife trips, because of my dad. He’s a member of the Bombay Natural History Society, so that again was an added advantage for me.

What do you think you do differently that bags so many awards and accolades?

Portraying in light uniquely, good composition in mind and framing a subject in a way that it tells a story makes Aishwarya different and help her win Awards.

Well, I don’t know what I do differently but that I think is a good question for the judges actually (chuckles). But yeah, I always try and, you know, strive to click images, which are unique, which has never been seen before. So portraying the species in a light, which is, which has never been seen before by the public, that’s what I normally strive to do with my photographs, be it even with my films as well. Another thing that I would like to add here would be keeping a good composition in mind, and always framing your subject in a way that it tells a story. That is definitely one of the key things that I look for in my images, so that probably also is the reason why my images do get recognized.

What gadgets do you use and what will you recommend to someone who wants to start same kind of a journey in wildlife?  

I’m basically a big Canon fan. Okay, so I have my canon 5D III, canon 1D X II, a Canon 600d, Canon 100 400. In addition, I also do have smaller cameras like Canon point and shoot, SX70 HS, so that helps me to shoot on the go, like a blog or something. I really swear by Canon. It’s a fantastic brand, and that is my favorite go to gear. I do have tripods as well I have a Sirui tripod which can hold my 600. I have a good carry case, a bag which can contain all my camera equipment at once. These are only some of the gadgets. What I would recommend to starters, it can be any basic DSLR with a good Telephoto Zoom Lens, that would work perfectly for wildlife. And also it’s important to have a Dry Cabinet in your house.

What forums and communities young wildlifers should follow to keep them uptodate in this field?

Well, I would say one would be WWF, India. It’s a fantastic organization, you know, to keep yourself up to date with what’s going on on the field in terms of conservation efforts. There’s Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) as well, which is also excellent. Then you have communities and organizations like, you know, say Wildlife Trust of India, Wildlife Institute of India. These are again, organizations which are doing proper grass root level conservation in India, and are fantastic forums to follow. In terms of, you know, opportunities, you can register yourself on some newsletters, like for example Jackson wild newsletter, you can go for that as well.

What can be done to encourage education and career in wildlife in India?

Well, a lot needs to be done to encourage education and a career in wildlife. First of all, the industry of careers in wildlife, as such is absent in India. And secondly, for a normal parent, they don’t see wildlife as an option for their child’s future in terms of a career’s choice point of view.

In terms of education first I’d like to highlight that ours is a very Marks based system. So what we have with percentages, everything is based on how well a child scores in their exams. A part of that marking, could also be allocated to their participation in wildlife protection and conservation. Like you have this school scouts program or school guide program, you can have Green Warrior Programs as well for children. Participation in conservation activities can give you bonus marks, like for example, in the Cambridge Education System and the International Baccalaureate system, there is a portion of your mark which is allocated to CAS, Creativity Action Service and environmental protection and activism is an integral part of that. So that system of education, encourages the children to understand and think about wildlife conservation which is very important.

Aishwarya looks at Indian Education marking system differently and suggest to add wildlife conservation to receive bonus credits.

Then of course there are Institute’s like the Wildlife Institute of India which offers courses in biology and ecology, so people wanting to pursue research, they have a solid scope in India, but in terms of wildlife storytelling, there isn’t much scope in terms of a career choice right now, at least in India, which I feel will definitely change with time.

In terms of your, you know, awareness about the different jobs that you can get in the wildlife field should be one that should be, you know, put forth to parents at open days or something, when the child is in 12th or during college.

You are a writer, poet, activist, wildlife photographer and storyteller. What excites you the most?

So right now I feel that being a storyteller, excites me the most, because the visual medium is a very very strong medium, and the transformative powers of storytelling can influence entire generations, and that is something that kind of impact is what I am looking at through my films, and my photographs. So yeah, being a storyteller is really exciting, and I see right now, the juncture that we are in, with the sixth mass extinction looming there are so many different stories that can be told in India, and it couldn’t be a better time to be a storyteller right now.

A poem written by Aishwarya

‘Exercise in Futility”
A handsome male tiger was walking in the forest one night,
In search of a prey that he could kill at sight …
The moon shone bright as the tiger stalked the woods,
Not knowing that a poacher wanted to kill him if he could.

Stealthily into the forest the poacher had entered
And this male was the one on whom his focus was centred.
When at last the tiger came in sight
He picked up his gun and fired with all his might.

The sound of the bullet pierced the silence of the night
But the world slept through the tiger’s plight.
The evil mind had done his deed
In return for money that would satiate his greed.

As the tiger lay dead on the forest floor
The poacher’s greed grew even more..
Apart from the skin, he took his claws
Followed by his bones and his paws…

Money to him was such a temptation
That he butchered the tiger without any hesitation.
Punishment for this crime he did not heed
As there was no proof of him committing the evil deed.

And money could always buy him bail
And save him spending his term in jail
Wonder why he left the tiger’s soul behind
Guess it is one thing that’s not valued anymore by mankind.

With poor enforcement of laws safeguarding animal rights
Saving the tigers is proving to be a futile fight…..

Who do you follow for your guidance and motivation?

Aishwarya likes to hear stories about Big Cats and loves to tell stories which can bring change

I follow a lot of wildlife filmmakers and photographers both in India and abroad. I really look up to the work of Beverly Joubert and Dereck Joubert, they work in the big cat conservation area. Their films on big cats are really marvelous, and the way in which they tell stories of the big cats world out there is simply stunning.

In India, there’s Rathika Ramasamy, Kalyan Varma, Balan Madhavan Sir, there is, you know, a lot of other wildlife photographers while we’re doing incredible work. And for me, just seeing them and their work, gives a lot of inspiration to perform better every single day.

According to you what change can bring in the maximum impact on wildlife conservation?

The biggest change that I feel will have the maximum impact in wildlife conservation is policy level change. And right now, I feel there’s a lot of importance that’s being given to GDP over natural capital. We seem to be trading our ecology for our economy, which is very very detrimental and the progress at which we are you know this what’s happening in that area is shocking. I mean forests are cleared for mining projects or wetlands are given away for airports, and for, you know, luxury apartment, complexes. This is not done. I mean right now, we are going through a health crisis, there is an economic crisis as well. But, what we really need to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic is that we cannot take nature for granted. So it’s high time that we open our eyes and realize the importance of wildlife, it’s not just opening your eyes but also opening your hearts to the fact that nature is here. Nature will continue without us but if we need to sustain ourselves and ensure that humanity thrives on this planet, then we need nature, we cannot do it without it.

So, the maximum impact on wildlife conservation would definitely be policy level changes, policies, where in our environment is given equal weightage to our economy and the, although the wildlife protection act does exist. There are a lot of, you know loopholes around it, so maybe covering those loopholes, would be the way forward.

What are your current projects and when are they going on air?

Well there are a lot of projects in the pipeline, but I can’t reveal much so that’s the secret. (Chuckles)

Do you have plans to share your knowledge and experience using your own or any other platforms?

Right now, I’m not concentrating on, you know, creating an education platform. but definitely, I do help amateur photographers through webinars and interactive sessions. I do some with Canon, you know whose influencer I am. So there’s a lot of webinars that I do with Canon and partner with them to, you know, share my knowledge on photography and wildlife conservation and filmmaking, as such.




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