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Over the summer of 2022 Wildlife Photographer of the Year collaborated with British Council India and the Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata India for Young Minds for a Compassionate World, a free weeklong masterclass focusing on local conservation, wildlife photography and storytelling for young people.
Keep reading to learn our top tips from the mentors and workshops to help develop your photographic storytelling. Photographs taken by the participants are currently on display at the Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata, India.
A story can be as simple as narrating how nature has had an impact on your own life. If you've noticed something in your local area or just want to convey the beauty of nature, that's a great start!
The Young Minds for a Compassionate World workshop aimed to empower participants to share stories from their local areas. The groups learnt about the mentor's own stories and discovered their passions for photography. Everyone has a unique view on the world, so think about how you can share a fresh perspective in your own voice.
Identifying a subject is an important step in wildlife photography. By studying your subject's habitat and behaviour, you can get to know an individual's personality and think about how empathy with your 'main character' can assist the message that you would a viewer to take away from your image.
'Ultimately it is a great character that will carry your story. A character can be as ordinary as a house mouse, but in the right place and the right circumstances, each with their own challenges, even the most seemingly ordinary creatures can be shown to be incredibly engaging and dynamic and even inspire, if the storyteller tells the story with passion. In order for the viewer to care, the storyteller has to care first, and that emotion, that empathy, that understanding of a character, is what brings a story to life.'- Ashwika Kapur, Mentor
Getting to know the species and environment you want to feature in your photography will help you to prepare what you need well in advance of arriving at the site and help to inspire the messaging you wish to convey through your images.
This means getting your 'investigation hat' on and exploring your topic of interest. Whether that be through scientific research or speaking to local experts in your chosen area, research will help you to understand the biology, behaviour and beauty behind the nature in your pictures.
Working in collaboration with conservation groups can add context and meaning to your story. The Young Minds for a Compassionate World group took part in sessions led by conservation groups Nature Mates, HEAL (Human and Environmental Alliance League) and Kolkata Eco Park to better understand the wildlife and how to assist real life conservation missions.
'Collaborating with Non-Governmental Organisations is always great as it can make resonance and symbiotic relation. They can help to identify or explain an issue within their expertise and a photographer can convert that into a visual story. Photography can help to amplify important stories about nature to large audiences.'- Dhritiman Mukherjee, Mentor
No matter how badly you want to achieve your final shot, you should always respect the ethics surrounding working with wildlife. Reducing your own impact on local wildlife will not only ensure that ecosystems are conserved for future generations, but also that the wildlife or behaviour you capture in your photographs is as authentically represented as possible.
'For any nature photographer, the safety and wellbeing of the subject must come first. Therefore, in telling stories about nature and conservation, utmost care must be taken to ensure that the creatures and ecosystems we photograph are not harmed or damaged in any way. Care must also be taken not to distort the truth or misrepresent an image.' - Shekar Dattatri, Mentor
'Ethical storytelling leads to authenticity and authentic documentation contributes invaluably to a correct understanding of the natural world.'- Ashwika Kapur, Mentor
The group learnt about the ethics surrounding wildlife photography in their sessions and practiced techniques to limit their disruption to nature, including using binoculars and hides to observe from a distance.
It's important to think about the purpose of your images and why you want the story to be heard. What are the messages that you want the viewer to take away from your photographs and how can your techniques and skills help achieve that?
In 2020 during COVID-19 lockdowns in Mumbai, India, Nayan Khanolkar noticed a record number of wetland birds and exceptionally clean air due to reduced human activity. His beautiful image, awarded in our fifty-seventh Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, includes a sea of flamingos in the foreground and an urban backdrop, showing how wildlife can co-exist alongside humans.
Working close to home can be a great way to capture meaningful images and can give you an opportunity to notice how a species' behaviour or landscape changes over time. Wildlife Photographer of the Year alumnus and project mentor Ripan Biswas shared a story of a fruit stallholder who was living and working alongside fruit bats in his hometown Cooch Behar in India. He first noticed the bats whilst buying fruit and after seeing them he began to visit regularly.
'Photographing nature and wildlife close to home is very convenient as one doesn't need to go miles to take photographs. It is a time and money-saving plan (also the carbon footprint of the photographer). But the most important point is working near your home gives you enough time to study, understand and photograph the subject in a proper way.
I revisited the fruit market in this photograph several times. And day by day, I found better images. It allowed me to rectify the mistakes that I had made the previous day.'- Ripan Biswas, Mentor
Composition is a very powerful tool in storytelling. Think about how the positioning of your subject and the layers of your images work together and how height or perspective might evoke different feelings from the viewer.
For example, positioning yourself in line with your subject may give a more intense and personal feel whereas, looking down on the subject may allow you to capture the subject within the context of its environment.
The Young Minds for a Compassionate World group spent multiple sessions in the field experimenting with different camera techniques and carried out one-to-one time with the mentors to help review and reflect on their photographs.
'Light is a language of photography. As someone has correctly said, we photographers don't photograph our subject, we actually photograph light on our subject. Light can be used as a great tool in conveying certain emotions. Warm light can encourage a sensation of joy, passion or pleasure. Cool light can generate a feeling of calm or even unhappiness.' – Nayan Khanolkar, Mentor
Nayan used orange gel on his strobes in his highly commended image of a leopard to mimic the yellow incandescent light of local huts in Mumbai.
'White flash would have ruined that effect and would have looked artificial. The strobe light percolating through wall mimics incandescent bulb in the house and confirms that humans use it. The strobe on the leopard mimics an incandescent bulb that's usually there on paths between houses. In its absence the leopard would have been in silhouette and generated entirely different feeling in the mind of viewer. Lastly, the background light gives depth to the image and prevents 'emergence of the leopard from complete darkness'. - Nayan Khanolkar, Mentor
Finally, it is a great idea to review your images and think about what techniques work for you and your storytelling. Be selective with your final images and decide whether they are relevant, engaging and impactful. The Wildlife Photographer of the Year jury are always looking to see stories of nature that share a fresh perspective so make sure to enter your images in the annual competition.
Relevance: People should easily understand the subject you want to talk about from the image. Here we need the subject knowledge and understanding.
Engagement: Images can't be boring: we have to engage or hold the audience with the help of visual quality. Here is our art and skill work.
Impact: Images should be very powerful so that audience not only get engaged with the images there should more beyond. That helps build consciousness among mass.' – Dhritiman Mukherjee, Mentor
Young Minds for a Compassionate World is a project led by Wildlife Photographer of the Year in collaboration with British Council India and the Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata India.
From hands-on photography sessions in the field to meeting groups and organisations leading the way for wildlife conservation, the sessions aimed to empower young people to connect with nature and tell stories of their own.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year alumni and experienced wildlife photographers and videographers were given a platform to share their own personal experiences to give the students all the tools they needed to become wildlife photographers.