The great outdoors and the wildlife it brings is daunting, but with it comes boundless territories of inspiration and wonder. We’re no strangers to professional snaps and clips of landscapes and wild animals, and while achieving that level may seem like a stretch, it’s really about taking things one step at a time.
Take it from 31-year-old Shaaz Jung, who has spent over a decade exploring the South India jungle with his camera in hand. As a professional wildlife photographer and filmmaker, the Z Creator and Nikon India’s Z Ambassador Shaaz can usually be found navigating confidently through the wilderness with a Nikon Z 6 and Z 7 at his side. Amid the comforting songs of cicadas and refreshingly crisp air in a sea of green, Shaaz keeps his mind sharp and alert for the next protagonist of his story.
“With over 45 million pixels, the Nikon Z 7 allows me to create large and dramatic prints, while the Nikon Z 6 is versatile and great for capturing action,” says Shaaz. Both mirrorless cameras have been instrumental in propelling his creations to new heights. He is most impressed with the top-notch image quality from the Z 7 and for a more cinematic video approach, the Z 6’s ability to shoot full width 4K at 30fps. Talk about having the best of both worlds.
Having spent the past two years with his trusty Z series gear, he toggles between both cameras in pursuit of his passion for wildlife photography. “I love how unpredictable wildlife is and I love the challenge of tracking my subject, such as leopards and tigers, before I can photograph it.”
The nature of wildlife photography calls for many things and discretion is high on the list. Mirrorless cameras like the Z series allow the creator to stay as silent and unobtrusive as possible. Being lightweight has also provided an edge, as Shaaz is able to spend less energy lugging around heavy equipment, and more time observing the majestic creatures ever since.
What else does it take to refine the craft that is wildlife photography?
“I’ve spent ten years photographing leopards and I know it’s much harder to photograph a female leopard descend, as they often descend face down and fast,” Shaaz shares. “It was important to understand the tree, the angle and how she was going to descend, in order to successfully capture [the moment].”
While this sort of intel does not come without years of experience, it definitely helps to do some research before you dive headfirst into the unknown. Not only will it save you time and effort when you’re onsite, your calculated movements and consideration will be less likely to distress the wildlife.
“Nature is unpredictable and it’s important to understand that you cannot control what happens in your photograph,” Shaaz shares.
Be prepared that there may be days on end you return home with nothing to show for it, but that does not mean it’s been a waste of time. Shaaz emphasises perseverance as a key to digging deep into the magic of nature. “Wildlife writes its own script and to unlock her beauty, one must be patient.”
Do make sure though, that you’re not simply putting all the focus on your subject and neglecting your surroundings. The gleaming stare of the panther in Shaaz’s photograph for example, is made all the more brilliantly intense by the dark and hazy woods it’s prowling through. As Shaaz says, “your subject is only a fraction of the entire photograph. Widen your perspective and use the habitat to create unique photographs that tell a story.”
It was precisely this drive to expand his creative horizons that gave birth to a genre Shaaz coins ‘environmental surrealism’, which aims to portray wildlife as art, and has put his work in various prestigious galleries globally.
“I love how the camera has the ability to immortalise moments, relish life and inspire people in the hope that it could spark change. I want viewers to get inspired by my work, in the hope that they will learn more about our withering wildlife and beautiful flora and fauna.”
Inspirational indeed is his photograph of a pensive king of the jungle against a stormy sky, made even more dramatic and its focus heightened by a monochrome colour treatment.
Bringing to life the beauty and marvel usually hidden away from civilisation is something the Z series, with its portability and quality, has helped Shaaz achieve. He reveals that one of his favourite creations with the gear is of a black panther ambling through the woods in the morning mist. “Our cameras find it difficult to focus on subjects that are black. With the Z 7, I switched to manual focus and turned focus peaking on. The EVF allowed me to pin-point the right focus and the result was a beautiful image that I could print over eight feet wide.”
While technical know-hows are definitely useful in uncharted territories, perhaps consciously practising patience and understanding your subjects along with their habitats are more effective springboards when it comes to a wildlife creator’s journey.
‘Nuff said, go forth and venture!
Shaaz Jung is a wildlife filmmaker and professional photographer. He specialises in documenting and studying big cats in South India and East Africa. Shaaz has dedicated the past five years to documenting melanistic leopards in the wild and was the ‘Director of Photography’ for a National Geographic feature film called ‘The Real Black Panther’. Shaaz also runs eco-friendly Safari Lodges in India and Africa, where he guides expeditions into the wilderness.