Harsha Narasimhamurthy AKA “CATMAN” – A Wildlife Photography Mentor

‘CATMAN’ that is what this award-winning photographer is called. Harsha Narasimhamurthy hails from Karnataka and is a passionate wildlife photographer and mentor. Starting as a volunteer and climbing his way up to be a mentor at one of India’s finest travel and photography companies Toehold. During his journey he has achieved many feats including multiple award recognitions.

So, let us meet Harsha and listen to his story from the wild.

When was the first time you were referred to as ‘Catman’, what’s the story behind it?

In the year 2016, I was on a bird photography tour and one of our patrons mentioned that he had never seen a single tiger in Kabini. As the discussion carried forward, jocularly I challenged him to show a tiger on our first tour together in Kabini. Guess what! A person who had never seen a tiger in 13 years of his regular visits to Kabini, saw one with me on our first tour. Not to mention, we saw quite a few tigers on our following tours as well. And this led to my nickname from the wild ‘Catman’ that has stuck with me till now.

What special skills are required and things to remember when it comes to tiger tracking?

I would say, experience is the key to tiger tracking. All you need to do is understand nature and interpret it correctly. So, when a tiger walks, its prey animals such as Spotted Deer, Sambhar Deer, Langur, Macaques, Gaur, etc. give alarm calls. These are signals of threat to their herds and group, however, these also help us to realize the tiger’s presence in that particular area.

Along with this, pugmarks and scratch marks on trees give an approximate hour of animal movement in a specific direction. Furthermore, understanding each tiger’s behaviour is important as they have a certain territory and habits. It lends a helping hand to narrow down the search.

Not to forget, the importance of patience. Waiting quietly for hours and listening to the slightest signal of the presence of the majestic beast helps substantially.

Alarm calls, pug marks, scratch marks on trees, territory and habits of wild cats helps in tracking them

Did you pursue any course on photography? Tell us how you developed your skills.

I started photography as a hobby. Honestly, I never pursued any course on photography, but I was fortunate enough to be mentored by two topmost photographers of the industry – Mr. Jayanth Sharma and Mr. Sandesh Kadur.

A list will be too long to mention all of them who have taught me various things throughout the journey of seven years in this field. I would like to use this platform as an opportunity to thank each one of them who generously helped me to become what I am today.

What are the things which you don’t brag about, but are proud of?

Genuinely, I don’t want to brag about anything, but photography and wildlife have been everything to me. I feel the happiest when I am out in the field capturing the wild moments.

A beginner comes to me with the enthusiasm of learning something new and amazing. And when this amateur photographer turns into a professional, trust me, it is simply awesome to witness. The satisfaction and cheerfulness that I see on the faces of my patron after I teach them photographing wildlife are what I am most proud of.

What might you categorize as opportunities and difficulties while pursuing Wildlife Photography as a career?

There are many opportunities, if you wish to find them.

Opportunities! There are many if you wish to find them. Consider me for an instance. I am a photography mentor. I conduct various workshops and take people on tours. I also escort private groups. So, along with funds, I get to explore various wild areas. I learn new things and build up my expertise. Where you have to pay quite a lot of pennies to do one safari, you get an opportunity to do it for free with a good cause.

Difficulties! To be honest, there are a few challenges that everyone needs to face in this industry. The thing is making money just by capturing wild images is way too difficult and primarily in India, it is not even considered a job. Along with wildlife photography, one needs to do another job for bread and butter. Most of the time, it includes leading tours, conducting workshops, mentorship, completing assignments, or interning for huge firms such as BBC, NatGeo, etc.  This is a harsh reality but facing it will make your job easier.

How should one know about, and approach various Indian and international forums, platforms and opportunities related to wildlife?

There are two ways to look at it. Firstly, if you wish to be a wildlife conservationist or wildlife biologist, there are various government and non-government organizations that work in this field where you can apply. WTI, WII, CWS, WCCS are a few of them. They have conducted a various project to stop animal cruelty such as tiger show or dancing bear. They offer volunteering opportunities as well where you can contribute in some or another way.

Secondly, if you wish to grow as a photographer, I think, Instagram is a good platform. It provides an opportunity to connect with like-minded people, share ideas and make a change. Having contacts and talking to people is fundamental to find jobs in this field.

What are some of your pictures which did not get enough accolades on social media?

To be honest, social media is a platform for me where I can reach up to higher audience and sell my business more effectively. Otherwise, I really do not pay much attention to the likes, accolades or any other superficial thing. Having said that, I respect people’s reaction, support and appreciation towards my work. It has helped me to be in this field for such a long period.  

How does your day look like?

So, I got two schedules for my daily life. One is when I am in forest and another when I am at home. When I am on field, my day starts super early as morning safari starts with the sunrise. Then there is small rest time between morning and evening safari. Sometimes, when we have full day safari, we don’t have that rest time too. Many a times, this in between rest time is used for theoretical sessions. Thus, these really are busy hours on the field.

Still of Harsha from a Safari Tour. He does a desk job and stays at home for about 20 days a month which enables him to spend 10 days in forest.

When I am not on the field and I am back in the city, I do nine-to-six-job. Planning the upcoming tours, maintaining the finances, making the itinerary, marketing the tour, talking to the guests; there is quite a lot of desk job that I have to do before going on a tour.

That’s why if you think that I am always into the wild with a camera in my hand then it’s not true. I have to be at work for 20 days of month so that I can be there in the wild for rest 10 days. No not me! Everyone has to do the same.

Tell us about your personalized photography tour, its features and takeaway.

My photography tours are basically designed in such a way that you enjoy while learning theory and practical of photography. There are various packages depending on what is the destination, how long your tour is and how many safaris you wish to do.

The general itinerary of the tour is to do theory classes in between the safaris to clear some important concepts and tricks of photography. After this, I accompany you on safaris to make you acquainted to real time challenges on field. Although I cover lots of concept in theory classes, not everything can be taught in the classroom. That’s why, hands on training sessions in the jungles are important. Once back, we generally discuss about post-processing as well.

If you wish to join Harsha Narasimhamurthy on the tour, follow him on Instagram and attend his workshops.

Instagram – @harsha_narasimhamurthy

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