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Early morning

Points of view – Meeting birders – Meeting photographers – The Pantanal & Photography. (Map this!)

One of our favorite movies is Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon“. It relates the story of a murder from four different viewpoints, including the victim’s. I often think how applicable it is in everything that we do, from work to family to traveling. In the rainforest one person sees colorful birds and beautiful insects, another sees discomfort, mosquitoes and heat. Some people reverently see ancient deities in high mountains while others see an irresistible challenge beckoning to them. A hike can be done at a quick, uniform pace that brings color to the cheeks or it can be done at a deliberately slow pace to observe wildlife.

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Observation Tower

At the Canopy Tower in Panama, we met avid birders. We are self professed “fair weather” birders, which means that we are interested in colorful tropical birds and tend to ignore the “little brown” ones. The birders took delight in every bird, of whatever shape or color. The little brown bird may have the most melodious call, or display very interesting behavior. By hanging out with these people, we learnt patience, the best birding spots and the enthusiasm for birds of every shape and size.

Sometimes, though, you are lucky enough to meet professionals who are experts in a particular area. And when these experts are friendly, outgoing and fun to hang out with, then you have really hit the jackpot. I will always remember the Pantanal as an extempore lesson in photography in the most amazing surroundings.

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Rickety bridge

We had always wanted to visit the Pantanal after reading about it in the National Geographic. And what a place it is! Although most of the Pantanal consists of private farms, this actually adds to its attraction rather than detract from it. The Pantanal is much more accessible than the Manu Biosphere Reserve in Peru, and the wildlife much more easily seen.

The unpaved Transpantaneira road, 147kms long with 126 rickety wooden bridges, is overflowing with wildlife. Crested Caracaras and Chaco Chachalacas are a common sight on the road, while the bridges span areas of swamp pregnant with herons, egrets and caiman, which suddenly disappear under the water with an unnerving “whump”. Kingfishers fly all around you, tall Jabiru stork walk gravely to join their flock or sometimes put on a dance for no apparent reason. I will always remember the walk back to our hotel one rainy night on a road littered with caiman, reluctantly backing away from the black umbrella that our guide was waving at them.

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On the Transpantaneira road.

But for me, the most enjoyable part was the long walks with the photographers, they, loaded with not one but two huge lenses and a monstrous tripod and us, with our smaller lenses and the relatively small tripod that they encouraged us to bring along.

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There were frequent stops in the sweltering heat, patiently waiting for that perfect shot to capture the bird in flight or with the early morning sun lighting up its colors. We enjoyed gathering around beer or at meals chatting about the intricacies of the camera to get the perfect exposure. Under common interests, strangers can quickly become friends.

We had set out on this trip resigned to the fact that we would not be able to photograph birds with our small 200mm lens. Our time in the Pantanal with the photographers was the perfect natural workshop which encouraged us to try, to do our best with what we had. Photography, specially with a tripod, can be quite meditative, as you tinker with your equipment, making fine adjustments for your next photo, looking at a world magnified by the telephoto lens, beautifully lit up by the golden rays of the rising sun.

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For more pictures from the Pantanal, click here.

4 Responses to “From the viewpoint of a photographer”

  1. Suhasini Taskar says:

    Shreesh and Neena,
    It felt really great to talk to you today after so many days. The pictures of different birds in Pantanal are a reminder of Manu Biosphere in Peru. Here at Pananal, due to great abundance of the birds it was probably easier to take close up shots. Another difference was that in Manu we were mostly on the boat and only a few times on the ground walking.
    The bright spots such as these pictures are a real joy to see when the economy here is tumbling down.
    So Shreesh and Neena, keep on going strong as ever and by the time you return to the US everything will be on the upswing. Wish you a Happy Thanksgiving (27th November) !!

  2. fred says:

    When I see a Caiman coming I just turn around and go the other way.

  3. Neena says:


    What if the caiman is between you and your safe room in the hotel?
    I suggest the black umbrella :)

  4. Neena says:

    Hello Aai,
    Since the road through the Pantanal (the Transpataneira) cuts through the swamp, it is much easier to see the water birds that collect around there. Just like Manu, the walks yielded fewer birds cloe up than the actual drive. Most of our bird pictures were taken from the car.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you too, and we will talk to you from SantaRem!

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