Alumni Speak

Delhi girl reveals deep, dark secrets of wildlife photography

World Photography Day Special: India needs more women in the discipline, says the Apeejay Pitampura alumna

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Aarzoo Khurana, a 27-year-old lawyer based in Delhi, has a passion that is earning her global fame outside her profession. Khurana, whose wildlife photography finds space on prestigious platforms such as BBC, Nat Geo, Discovery, and Reader’s Digest, likes the play of light and shadow paired with wildlife. To enhance the beauty of animals, she focuses on creating a story through her craft, capturing ‘the right thing at the right moment.’

When did you begin with photography?

I do not have a formal background in photography. I completed my degree in LLB from the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi in 2019. Prior to that, I pursued a B.Com from Motilal Nehru College till 2015. I started doing photography purely as a hobby and my interest was sparked around 2012-2014 when the digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera was in vogue and every youngster in my generation wanted to possess one to click pictures and upload it on Facebook.

“I woke up at 4 AM to capture a sedge of cranes. When I saw the outcome of a photo I clicked in which the cranes were calling amid dense fog, I could not believe that simple things could turn out so beautifully with the accurate usage of light and shadow.”

During my first year of under-graduation, I started doing some research and found myself hooked onto nature photography. Soon, I asked my father if we could purchase a 700D Canon DSLR because I wanted to learn the basics by doing some weekend courses. I recall bunking my morning classes at college to capture natural subjects here and there. As I was preparing for LLB entrances in 2015, I used to do photography during my study breaks.

How did you train for the profession?  

Wildlife photography became more than a hobby for me. Following my curiosity, I once visited the Bharatpur wildlife sanctuary and met Rathika Ramasamy, the first Indian woman wildlife photographer recognised globally. She informed me about another wildlife photographer, Sudhir Shivaram, who was providing classes on the subject at that time.  

I then had to convince my parents to allow me to pursue this “unconventional” field. Before I could commence my journey, there were several checkpoints. I had never travelled anywhere alone or without my parents, and this was a major concern for them. I waited a considerable time for Shivaram’s workshop to be conducted in Bharatpur, so I could attend it. I got a chance once there was a cancellation and then my father asked my mother to tag along with me. The request was bizarre for the camp, but Mr. Shivaram kindly agreed. I then began training under him.

Could you tell us about the first time you realised you had a penchant for capturing good pictures? 

When I commenced attending photography workshops, I used to be nervous and could not even handle a tripod. I vividly remember the first workshop where I woke up at 4 AM to capture a sedge of cranes. It was in February and I was shivering. I had tears in my eyes and thought that this field was too taxing and tough for me. As we reached the spot, I sat there and found no cranes. I was very disappointed.

After some time, as we waited, the birds came and we captured them. Later, when I saw the outcome of a photo I clicked in which the cranes were calling amid dense fog, I could not believe that simple things could turn out so beautifully with the accurate usage of light and shadow. I think my generation is not connected well with nature. For me, common animals that we see everyday, a peacock, crane, and monkey could be extraordinary, if only one spends 5 minutes glancing at them.

What is your current focus?

These days, I am handling litigation cases and also doing wildlife photography. In both these fields, I feel the representation of women is very low. I’ve witnessed that people prefer male wildlife photographers when it comes to commercial projects and this is very problematic. It is my endeavour to change that, which is why I would like to conduct wildlife photography workshops for women.

Bias originates from one’s family and then spreads onto the society at large. Even today, nobody has acceptance for a woman all set to travel alone and explore new places. It is important for families to let their daughters go and not pressure them with societal expectations. I believe that eventually, one finds their path. Tables do turn, once you start achieving. Even at school, Apeejay, Pitampura, I recall Sangeeta Gupta, my class teacher in Class 12, who always boosted my morale.

What would be your tips for women wildlife photographers?

I would advise them not to expect a lot from people and be prepared to face challenges. They must refrain from taking impulsive decisions and explore their passion fully. They should focus on carving a niche first. In India, we still have very few opportunities for wildlife photographers, so one needs to have a constant source of income. Most importantly, they should make sure that travelling is not a constraint for them.

“Even today, nobody has acceptance for a woman all set to travel alone and explore new places. It is important for families to let their daughters be and not pressure them under societal expectations. I expect a little more independence for women from the society we are living in.”

-Aarzoo Khurana, Wildlife Photographer  

Mrini Devnani is Senior Correspondent (Newsroom). She covers student achievements, interviews and contributions for the website. She was a former Correspondent covering Edutech for the India Today Group, and has a passion for Social Media and Digital Marketing. You can reach her at [email protected]

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