Building a Nature Photography Career – An Interview with Nikhil Bahl

by Greg Downing | November 2, 2016

Copyright Nikhil BahlThis 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.

Bird © Nikhil Bahl

Winter cat © Nikhil Bahl

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.

Pair of birds © Nikhil Bahl

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.

Duck in water © Nikhil Bahl

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.

Artistic shot of a bird in flight © Nikhil Bahl

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.

Waterfall © Nikhil Bahl

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.”

Dewdrops on blades of tall grass © Nikhil Bahl

Waterfall in autumn forest © Nikhil Bahl

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.

Artistic photography © Nikhil Bahl

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 nature photography 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.

Artistic interpretation of trees and fog © Nikhil Bahl

About the Author

Greg has been traveling the world teaching professional and amateur photographers for more than 15 years hosting his instructional workshops and seminars. Instructing photographers of all experience levels Greg has earned a reputation for his gracious and generous teaching style.

Greg's images are known for their unique style, exacting composition and strict attention to detail. As an internationally recognized photographer, his numerous publishing credits include books, advertising campaigns and editorial publications such as Birding Magazine, Outdoor Photographer Magazine, Birder's World, National Geographic and many others. Especially passionate about birds, his images can also be found in printed form in several Wildbird Centers on the east coast, as well as appearing in private art exhibitions.

In 2003 Greg founded www.NatureScapes.net with E.J. Peiker and Heather Forcier. Today Greg is the Publisher, President and sole owner of the company and oversees all operations from his home base in Parkton, Maryland.

As Greg travels the world taking pictures he enjoys meeting others, teaching and sharing his passion while making new lifelong friends in the process.

To see more of Greg's work visit his website at www.gdphotography.com.

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