Ritu Ahluwalia – An Inspiration To Women Wildlife Photographers & Aspirants

Who is Ritu Ahluwalia?

I was born and brought up in Jamshedpur, which even though is more popularly known as the “Steel City”, it happens to be one of the greenest cities in India. Then later on in life, due to my job I briefly lived in Gurgaon, Delhi, and Mumbai before finally settling in Bhopal, which is called the City of Lakes and is blessed with beautiful natural surroundings. I am at present residing here with my family for the past many years and currently heading the operations side of the business of one of India’s leading corporate’s ITES unit based in the city.

What is Wildlife to you?

Wildlife is Ritu’s “Happy Place” and in her opinion should be protected at all costs for the sustenance of future generation. In Picture: An Egyptian vulture couple atop a rocky cliff – Raneh Falls 2021

A foray into the wilderness has for me always been like going to my “happy place.”  In my opinion, when we talk of wildlife we cannot just look at it in a singular sense, but in relation to its place in the ecosystem and therein lies its definition and its importance and the reason why it needs to be protected at all costs not just for ourselves but for the sustenance of our future generations.

How were you introduced to Wildlife?

Active participation in camping, trekking, water sports and visits to National Parks helped in finding the wildlifer in Ritu
A young elephant enjoying a dip in the water from early days of Photography, Munnar 2013.

Being a President Medal awardee Guide in school, I always participated keenly in various kinds of outdoor activities like camping, trekking, water sports, etc., and this led to a perpetual craving to stay close to nature. Later on in life, this craving was further ignited by a family trip to the Bandhavgarh National Park in 2004 which was in fact my first time ever on a jungle safari.  However, over the next decade with work and family commitments taking precedence, the interest though still there, mostly went unheeded by me.  It was only about 5 years back that I consciously started giving more time and attention to my interests in photography and wildlife.

Why did you choose Wildlife Photography among the variety of other wildlife professions/hobbies?

Photography per se happened to me at a very young age when I started taking my dad’s analog camera to the various school outings and trips I went to.  While in middle and high school, I actively played basketball at various national levels, and the tournaments took me around the country, and my new point & shoot film camera became my constant companion.  Of course at the time, it was more about clicking pictures for keepsake and memories.  So, I guess the interest in photography was definitely always there, which was put to good use later in life with some brushing up of skills and some self-learning of photography techniques. 

Basically, my growing up years had a major role to play in shaping my fascination for nature, travel, wildlife, and photography, and the merger of all this happened very organically later on in life.  

How different it is to be a Wildlife Photographer being a Women?

From a photography point of view, I won’t say it’s any different for women wildlife photographers when compared to the menfolk, as technically the challenges faced, be it on the field or off it, are the same for both. 

There may though be a different set of challenges from the physical security point of view that most women photographers, especially those who enjoy solo photography outings, possibly always have in the back of their minds.  This may restrict them somewhat from the freedom of just picking up the camera and go out in the wild and shoot. So most of the times, though wanting to explore solo, they may be restricted to going out with photography groups or with another companion who may or may not share their photography interests.  So in that way I guess it’s an added bonus to have a supportive family and partner, and thankfully, I have been lucky enough to have both.

Ritu emphasizes to enhance the physical security aspect for women photographers so that they can venture into the wild more freely. In Picture: Eurasian Spoonbills meet an Asian Openbill – Thol 2019

There was this instance once on a family trip to Kanha when even after multiple safaris in various zones we were not able to sight any tiger, and before returning I really wanted to take another shot with one more morning safari. However, no one amongst the group was really keen on another early morning wakeup call, so I decided to go ahead on my own, which I eventually did and without really giving another thought to it.  However, while on that four-hour full-jeep safari, there were a couple of times the thought crossed my mind that, “Gosh, I am right here in the middle of the jungle with two totally unknown men, the driver and the guide!” Though both were thorough professionals and there was no reason for me to have these doubts, but they were there.  That’s when I realized that the administration should seriously give a thought to hiring women drivers and guides so that those women photographers who want to go on solo trips inside the national parks can do so with a free mind and a sense of security.

Please suggest few tips for Women to choose Wildlife as a profession.

Be passionate, understand technical nuances and be fully aware of the challenges to become a better Photographer
In Picture – A spotted deer fawn in the golden hour – Panna 2021

Like any other profession that you pursue and want to do well in, apart from being passionate about it, you must completely understand the technical nuances, be abreast with the latest going-ons in the wildlife and photography fields, and be fully aware of the challenges that you may have to face in your career as a wildlife photographer. 

Be ready to devote the necessary hours that the job requires.  Remember that photography, especially the one that is of topnotch quality, involves not just the time spent shooting in the field but also the many hours spent in post-processing, and thereafter, the good amount of time spent in marketing your work or workshops. 

Being a professional in the field, ultimately your bread and butter is going to be dependent on your earnings from your wildlife ventures,which may include freelancing or being employed at a wildlife magazine or conducting workshops and tours.

You must also consider the cost factor involved.  Professional wildlife photography is a pretty expensive affair because you will need to travel and you will need those big telephoto lenses and those better cameras and various other accessories and none of these come cheap.

But then if you are really passionate about it you will always find a way to overcome these challenges, and will be able to build for yourself a flourishing career in the field.

What are your memorable and most adventurous moments as a Wildlife Photographer?

Well, as a wildlife photographer you are not really looking for adventure, especially when you are in the jungle.  It is more about looking for photographable moments and opportunities and to observe closely the interactions of the wild animals within their own species and with other species. 

One of the moment which etched in Ritu’s mind was to see this Hanuman Langur in the golden hour – Kanha 2018

From the memorable point of view, well, there are quite a many that have left me mesmerized.  The golden hour outlines of a hanuman langur languishing in the jungle, a parent kingfisher feeding a huge lizard to its little one, a sambar stag in heat wallowing in the mud, a drongo hitching a ride on the back of a Nilgai, a pair of Egyptian vultures mating on top of a rocky cliff, each one of these moments and many more are firmly etched in my mind, and of course, my storage cards and drives.

What’s your advice to people who have a passion for Wildlife but love their corporate job?

With a little planning, you can pursue your passion along with your regular corporate job.
In picture – A golden jackal couple – Panna 2021

Pursue both, passionately.  You can have the best of both worlds that way.  Plan to travel to a sanctuary or a national park at least once a year if not more often, use at least one weekend in the month to go to the outskirts or the green areas of your city, especially if you are into birding, you will get a lot of subjects to observe and photograph there. Joining wildlife groups or clubs is also a great way to connect and interact with fellow wildlife lovers.

What’s your next step in Wildlife Photography? Can we expect you to become a full-time Photographer/Trainer?

At present with a full-time job that I enjoy very much, wildlife photography is something that I pursue as a serious amateur.  For me, photography is something that I indulge in for my own personal interests and self-satisfaction.  But then, every professional was an amateur at some point in time.  So may be when the “call of the wild” gets even more intense, I may just decide to dive in full time.

Team WildAlerts would like to Thank Ritu for her contribution to wildlife and for inspiring many people. Please let us know if you know any such hero who we shall talk about. Here are a couple of stories of some of the wildlife photographers and contributors. Read about them and find the person with whom you connect the most.

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