Since I became a photographer one of my ambitions was to take portrait shots of birds from up close. Such shots posted by leading wildlife photographers on their social channels captivated my attention and only served to urge me on to shoot some of my own. But the question and it was a big one, how was I to get close enough? I had heard about hides but never had the opportunity to see one or shoot from inside one. But as they say, opportunities open up at the most unexpected moments! A lesson I learned early in my quest and the one reason my photography equipment is always stored in my car boot.
On a recent holiday to Hampi, a popular destination for tourists to soak in the ruins of ancient India, I casually inquired on one of the many Whatsapp groups that I belong to about birding in Hampi. I promptly received two references. A telephone call, and a reference later, I had a session scheduled for the next morning. I started at 5:30 am, drove 12 kilometres out of this sleepy town to meet my messiah at a traffic junction. The lovely man waiting for me ushered me down a small pathway between two village houses leading to a modern construction – a future guest house for wildlife photographers. The room had a display filled with wildlife and photography magazines. Breakfast was laid out on a dining table at which sat a young photographer on a similar mission as me, assembling his gear with the finesse of a soldier assembling his weapon. The plan was for both of us to be to be taken into the forest another 10 kilometres in.
We set out immediately after gulping down the delicious breakfast laid out by our kind host. We were guided to the hide – literally a tiny makeshift structure with two small, square holes cut out for the telephoto lenses. The hut was so tiny, there was barely room for one let alone two. Hides are deliberately constructed as small and as natural as possible. The smaller and less obtrusive a hide, the more readily it will be accepted by the birds. Hides are also situated to ensure there is enough natural light and from the right direction. Our host pointed us to the two stools and told us to get our equipment set up. Dawn was breaking and the party was about to get started! Outdoor photography is always best during the golden hours and the light just seemed perfect. Even then I was very anxious, fidgeting constantly – watching the light change intensity, adjusting the settings to ensure a healthy shutter speed and waiting for my coveted shot.
I didn’t know how much longer I could sit still when out walked a Grey Francolin, a Painted Spurfowl and some Peacocks and as casually as you’d have it they started feeding, oblivious to the hide, to the sound of the shutter, to me. The birds were in perfect light and I couldn’t have asked for a better setting. This photograph of a Grey Francolin strutting around was one of the first images I ever took from a hide.