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Sunday, 10 February 2019 17:58

His own ‘recipe’ for the wilds

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi
There is no such thing as a right place and a right time, says award-winning wildlife photographer, Navy doctor Lalith Ekanayake

Patiently, he “dug in” and waited in his vehicle. All the others came and went, casting weird looks at him and wondering why he was there without moving. They simply could not see anything.

It was an overcast day, with intermittent showers coming down in Block 1 of the Yala National Park in the south. He had seen ripples in a small waterhole and decided not to stick to his guns but to his camera and also his place. When he looked through the lens, he saw the eyes of a big crocodile just above the waterline. That was “normal”. What was “abnormal” was a host of small crocodiles close by.

“This was very unusual,” says award-winning wildlife photographer Dr. Lalith Ekanayake who is also Surgeon Rear-Admiral of the Navy, instinctively “knowing” that something was about to happen. It was far away from the naked eye, so he changed his camera settings and waited………1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 hours.

Then it happened – an “unusual” photograph and 1st place at the Sanctuary Wildlife Awards 2013 in India– a hapless deer had come to take a sip of water and the predator-prey scenario was re-enacted like the millionth time or more in the wild, only this was different. In this extraordinary photograph, the deer had already been killed, but in a fraction of a second there was a different movement – the crocodile ripping the skin off the deer in a swirl of spray in mid-air.

Numerous are such examples from this self-taught photographer, who started off as the “photo-catcher” to his batchmates in Medical School and is “still learning” how to improve the art that is photography. There must be something in his technique, for many are the special photographs which have brought him trophies and accolades.

The photographic mantra of Dr. Ekanayake is that there “is no such thing as a right place and a right time”.

Getting down to basics, he points out that when taking a photograph, there is no control over 50% which includes environmental conditions, light, the movement and expressions of the animal. When capturing photographs in a National Park (NP), there are restrictions on the photographer’s movement as well, leaving manoeuvrability only with camera settings, the lenses to be used and the physical position of the photographer.

“This is why it is very important to foresee the situation and prepare the camera accordingly. To do this, you have to develop your own recipes for catching that good picture,” he says, citing the example of two people attending a cookery class, but only one becoming an expert cook.

Study photographs which have won awards and read up on different photographic techniques, says Dr. Ekanayake, referring to technological development in this field – the evolution of cameras from reel to digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) to mirror-less, leading to the camera-game changing.

Referring specifically to wildlife photography, he says that one should not focus only on iconic animals such as the elephant, leopard or bear. Very small species including butterflies make “wonderful” photographs too. Usually, a cloud of butterflies would be the typical photograph but when he saw a mass of pale-yellow common albatross, his mind worked differently and he got a beautiful ‘layered’ picture.

Picking up another example, Dr. Ekanayake asks us what we would do if we saw a Grey-headed Fish Eagle devouring a fish. The usual photo capture would be its big eyes, vicious talons and sharp beak. This is just what he captured too in the Yala NP, but at a different angle, making it a stunning composite whole.

Of course, his favourite photograph is the ‘leaping leopard’ taken about eight years ago at the Yala National Park, another winner. ….this time at the National Geographic ‘Travel Photographer of the Year’ competition.

He recalls that unforgettable moment in time. The leopard was making ready to jump from the branch it was on after a monkey. It simply was not possible to get a clear shot as the branches were blocking the view, but quick-thinking changed an ordinary blurry image to a stunning winner — he changed the camera settings from matrix to spot metering (which reads a small area) and managed to get a super silhouette of the Big Cat.

Taking wildlife photographs is now beyond simply recording a shot, it has become an art packed with creativity, adds Dr. Ekanayake.

How to take that memorable shot
A Lecture on ‘The art of wildlife photography’ will be delivered by Surgeon Rear Admiral Dr. Lalith Ekanayake on February 21 at 6 p.m. at the Jasmine Hall, BMICH, Colombo 7.The lecture is organized by the Wildlife & Nature Protection Society (WNPS). All are welcome.