Indian wildlife photographer Hardik Shelat was rewarded with the photograph of a lifetime after waiting nearly eight hours in the scorching heat. Thanks to his perseverance, he was able to witness and photograph an Asiatic lion drinking from a natural watering hole at the Gir National Park in Gujarat, India. The image features the big cat gently lapping up the water with a cut near its eye to remind us of the harsh reality of life in the wild.
Whether he's photographing birds, a rhinoceros, or a lion, Shelat demonstrates great respect for the animals and their environment. In taking care not to disturb them, he's able to capture incredible shots of them going about their everyday lives.
Shelat makes frequent visits to sanctuaries, parks, and forests as a way to improve his wildlife photography while also discovering the biodiversity that surrounds him. He hopes that people will see his passion for wildlife photography as his way to protect endangered and unique species, which he feels are vital to creating an “ideal balance to thrive on Earth.”
Read on for My Modern Met's exclusive interview to learn more about how Shelat captured his dream photo of a lion drinking.
How did your love of wildlife photography begin?
Since 2014, I have been known for my wildlife photography. It started with my love and curiosity about nature. I always enjoy a walk and having a relaxing time in an area surrounded by nature—whether it is a garden, park, riverside, or forest. During my walks, I used to capture nature's beauty but was always drawn toward photographing different candid moments of birds and animals.
Gradually, I nurtured my passion for wildlife photography. I started investing more time as well as effort while visiting various national parks, sanctuaries, and forests, where my enthusiasm was an added advantage.
What type of gear do you use in your photography?
Currently, I am using Canon digital camera 7D Mark II along with Canon 500 mm and Sigma 150 to 600 mm lens.
What sort of research and planning goes into your trips?
Before heading on my excursions, I always consider the season and weather, as India is a vast country with different weather patterns. Sometimes, the sighting of animal depends on climate.
Also, according to the season, one needs to take care of attire. I always prefer to wear camouflage clothing paired with hiking shoes, which not only don't disturb animals but also blend our presence into their natural habitat.
During monsoon season, I must also carry a camera and lens cover for protection.
I make sure to carry essential items for my trips, such as an additional charged camera battery, binoculars, memory cards, compass, torch, cap, gloves, knee and elbow guards, and last but not least, a first aid kit along with basic prescribed medicines.
In regards to your photos of the lion at Gir National Park, what can you share about your experience?
I visited Gir National Park several times and wished to capture my dream moment—an Asiatic lion drinking water from a natural source of water.
I could have photographed one when I visited last time, but the lion was drinking water from a manmade water hole.
We started our day before dawn. We roamed in the national park to ensure the availability of a natural water hole.
The moment we spotted it, we were very happy as, according to the place and marking, the probability of a lion sighting was high.
We settled on the opposite side of water hole and waited for almost eight hours. Finally, the Asiatic lion emerged from the bushes and walked toward the watering hole. We were ready with the camera, but at the same time, we were waiting for the lion's movement while being careful not to make any noise, so that we did not disturb him with any movements from our end.
Finally, the lion started drinking water to quench its thirst in the scorching heat, as it was more than 46 degrees Celsius [115 degrees Fahrenheit].
How did you feel when he finally emerged to drink?
It took many years and multiple trips to Gir National Park, and finally, my most awaited moment was captured. I was immensely content as my dream came true.
What inspires you about lions as a photographer?
Lions are the only cats that live in a group, which is known as a pride. The entire pride roars together. A lion's roar can be heard up to eight kilometers [five miles] away. They scent mark their territory using their urine to create a border. In order to survive in extreme climate conditions, they migrate from one place to another place.
Similarly, humans also spend their life with family, with whom they share strong bonds of love and affection.
The common traits which inspire me are strength and courage.
How do you ensure your safety in a situation like this?
We always maintain a safe distance from wild animals and avoid wearing bright colors clothes such as red, yellow, and orange.
As a part of precaution, we never ever get down from the jeep. We let the animals roam freely in their own home.
We also do not make unnecessary noises or tease them and let them enjoy their own space as they become aggressive only when they feel insecure regards to their existence.
What is your advice for up-and-coming wildlife photographers looking for opportunities?
Since 2014, I have shot almost more than 10,000 pictures, and after exploring many places, putting forth a lot of effort, and investing ample time, I have a diverse collection of wildlife photography.
According to my experience, patience is the key, along with being positive.