This month we sat down with one of our photography workshop leaders Nikhil Bahl to chat about why he got into nature photography, how he transformed his hobby into a full-time career, advice he’d give to others, and what he’s learned over the years.
Of course the most obvious question to ask when posing a Q & A to any professional nature photographer: How did you become interested in nature photography?
It was a trip to the Grand Canyon that sparked my interest in photography. Armed with a point and shoot camera with no zoom and a borrowed film SLR camera I took a road trip in Arizona. Of all the beautiful sights it was the scale and beauty of the Grand Canyon that was the highlight. When I got home and looked at the photos, it was obvious that they did not even come close to capturing what I had seen and experienced. There were two things I realized. First, I wanted to travel and see more of the natural world. Second, I needed to learn how to take a good photo to capture a beautiful scene/subject.
What do you think is one of the biggest lessons that you have learned over the years?
We don’t control much when it comes to nature photography. I’ve learned to take what I get and try to make the most of it. It’s important to enjoy the experience even if it doesn’t yield memorable photos.
Lots of people comment that sometimes taking something that involves artistic expression, like nature photography, from a hobby and turning it into a business can hinder your creativity. Do you think that earning a living from your craft has changed you, or your photography, in a positive or negative way?
I suppose this can be a problem if selling photos is the primary business. If a photographer diversifies their income stream it may be less of a dilemma. Art, by definition, is expression or application of creative skill and imagination. It’s about sharing part of yourself with others. In my opinion, photography has to be personal to be art, even though it can be artistic without having a personal expressionistic approach. Keeping that in mind, I try and stay true to my experience when taking photographs. If I were to have thoughts like how that photograph might sell or who would like the final image, it would definitely hinder my creativity. When taking a photograph it’s about staying in the moment for me. While my approach may evolve, currently, it is the same as when I was a hobbyist.
With reference to the above do you have any advice to other photographers who might be considering giving up their day jobs to become professional photographers?
Running a business requires a lot of work that is far less glamorous than being outside taking photos. The fact is, I spend about 70% of my time doing “office work.” About 30% of my actual time is spent in the field. A good percentage of the time in the field is spent instructing while leading workshops. All others see are my posts on social media and many think I live a glamorous life traveling and photographing wonderful places. However, it takes a whole lot more than taking pretty photos to run a photography business.
I asked this same question to other professionals when considering a full time photography career. Every one of them asked me “why?” in return. The consensus was keep your day job and just enjoy photography as a hobby. At some point I realized, it’s really up to me and I will have to find my own way if I want it bad enough.
What advice can you give people who are already photographing other subjects, whether as a hobby or professionally, but want to get into nature photography?
To be good at something, you have to love what you do because it shows in your approach and quite likely, in the results. Whatever you choose to do, it should make you happy.
With all the technical talk these days and all the modern advances in digital, do you have any advice on how to stay focused on being artistic and in the moment rather than just focusing so much on technicals?
Having technical knowhow is important in photography. The best photographers are ones that can balance the technical and artistic side. When it comes to the technical aspects of photography I always to ask myself “will knowing that bit of information help me become a better photographer?” If the answer is “no,” then I won’t spend much time on it. If the answer to the question is “yes,” then I make sure to understand it and use the information as needed.
The artistic part is what really drives me as a photographer. The challenge of interpretation is always at the forefront. I suppose photography can be as technical or artistic as the individual desires. In the end, it’s the final result that matters. Ansel Adams said it best—“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”
Meet and learn new photography techniques from Nikhil personally at a premier location this year or next!
Join Nikhil later this fall and throughout 2017 on a NatureScapes photography workshop in the United States and beyond. Whether your interest is bird, wildlife or landscape photography, Nikhil can personally teach you creative and technical concepts at amazing locations all while making new friends and memories you’ll never forget.
Bosque del Apache, New Mexico
December 6–10, 2016
One of the most spectacular national wildlife refuges in North America for photographing tens of thousands of birds including cranes, geese, and ducks. Bird photography at Bosque is a breathtaking experience at dawn and dust and one you will never forget, whether you’ve visited before or are attending for the first time! Register Now
Winter in Yellowstone National Park
January 28–February 4, 2017
At Yellowstone, Nikhil teams up with fellow workshop leader Juan Pons for a winter photographic wonderland. Our unique workshop with a small group is designed to maximize your learning and photographic opportunities at “The Serengeti of North America.” Register Now
Winter Landscape Photography at Yosemite National Park
February 6–11, 2017
Yosemite National Park offers stunning views, grand monoliths, and a few of America’s most recognizable icons making it an unforgettable experience for all who visit. Special focus on less visited areas while photographing the icons of Yosemite Valley during the day and the dreamy, starry night! Register Now
Osprey by Boat, Florida
April 15–18, 2017
In April, Nikhil travels onward to Vero Beach for action-packed osprey photography at Blue Cypress Lake. We have reserved the most coveted dates with an exclusive photography tour by boat each morning and afternoon at the peak of osprey nesting season. Register Now
Ultimate Iceland Summer Adventure
June 25–July 7, 2017
In the summertime, Nikhil teams up with ornithologist and Icelandic photographer Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson for an enchanting photography workshop in Iceland. Nikhil’s Iceland bird and landscape photography experience—paired with Jóhann’s extensive knowledge of the area and its birds and wildlife—you’ll have the best photography opportunities to build your portfolio. Register Now
About Nikhil Bahl
Nikhil Bahl is a full time professional photographer, author, educator, workshop instructor and environmentalist residing in the Washington D.C. area. Drawing inspiration from nature, Nikhil adopts novel approaches and seeks meaningful interpretations: to create photographs that transcend the commonplace, reflect deeper insights, and convey an enchantment of the subject’s beauty.
An offshoot of Nikhil’s fine art photography and love of nature is his documentation of wildlife behaviors and habitats. As a volunteer with the National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, his goal is to portray environmental stories with an artistic appeal, so his photographs educate and motivate about the imperative of conservation.
Each year Nikhil leads several photography tours and instructional workshops in the United States and abroad. His teaching encourages participants to advance beyond ordinary photos and develop their own style and vision. Nikhil is a regular speaker at photography clubs, expos and industry events. He authored the acclaimed eBook, Creative Interpretations and writes articles on the creative and technical aspects of photography.
Nikhil’s work has been published in a number of print and electronic media and his fine art prints have been widely exhibited in the Washington metropolitan area, and are part of many private collections.
See more of Nikhil’s work at www.nikhilbahl.com.