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Local photographer walks on the wild side

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Shooting at Benson Marina

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Having a passion for nature and especially viewing wildlife has evolved into capturing glimpses of them through photos.

And some of those snapshots are definitely attention grabbing. For example, how many photographers in Cache Valley have shots of wild tigers or rhinos?

Sudipta Shaw does.

He also has an unfair advantage.

The 31-year-old was born and grew up in eastern India near Calcutta. He is currently a doctorate student at Utah State University in the chemistry and biochemistry department. He hopes to be done with my Ph.D next year.

Shaw came to Utah in 2011 to study. He has fallen in love with the area and especially making trips to Yellowstone National Park. Shaw has visited there six times.

“Yellowstone is my favorite,” Shaw said. “Yellowstone is so close.”

He caught the photography bug in 2003. Shaw came across a contest put on by the Wildlife Institute of India for college students. Someone who knew he was interested in wildlife encouraged him to enter.

“It was more of a poster presentation, but I’m terrible at drawing,” Shaw said. “So, I pulled many facts about animals and birds and pasted them, which is not how you are supposed to do a poster about wildlife. There were no surprises when I didn’t win.”

Two photography magazines caught his attention on a trip back home from the university in India he was attending. The purchase of those two magazines at a train station ended up having a huge influence on him. One of the magazines focused entirely on wildlife for that issue.

“I was lucky I picked that one,” Shaw said. “That’s how I got interested in photography.”

For the next four years he purchased several magazines on a regular basis and learned about photography. He used a analog camera to begin with.

When Shaw moved to the United States, he got a hybrid Sony camera that was digital. In 2013, he switched to a DSLR.

Animals and especially birds have been his favorite subjects to photograph. He also likes landscapes.

“I have really like being in the proximity to nature and wildlife since I was a child,” Shaw said. “It’s been long-time passion for me. ... I’ve liked wildlife for ever.”

What does it take to get a good photo?

“In the beginning it was really difficult, especially flying birds,” Shaw said. “When I was using my analog camera, I don’t think I was able to take any good picture of a flying bird, maybe one or two. Since  I’ve bought the SLR, because of the faster frame rates and the capability ... technology is the key these days in wildlife photography.”

Birds of prey are his favorite feathered subjects. Osprey, harrier, peregrine falcon and the American kestrel are some he listed. But Shaw also enjoys other birds like the yellow warbler, which is plentiful in Cache Valley. The most rare bird was a gray catbird. He has an ap on his phone called Merlin Bird ID that helps him identify birds.

“Last summer I was able to follow a pair of ospreys for the entire summer,” Shaw said. “I have photos of the parents, the babies and I have one photo of the father carrying a trout.”

Besides making treks to Yellowstone, Shaw spends time at Benson Marina, Newton Reservoir, the Bear River Bird Migratory Refuge near Brigham City, Antelope Island and Farmington Bay. Most of those places are full of birds.

“I find bird photography is more challenging than animal photography,” Shaw said. “... It’s really difficult, especially the small birds when they are flying.”

Patience and being willing to spend time in the outdoors has paid off. He has many photos of birds in flight.

“You can’t take a picture of bird without sitting for, maybe hours,” Shaw said. “You have to be extremely lucky to take a good picture, especially with birds. Animals are larger, so you can maintain a distance and take a good picture, but with birds, there are so many small birds that if you are not close, you are not going to get a good picture. And when you get close, they are going to fly. You have to be really patient.”

It is also important to Shaw to not disturb the subjects he is shooting or the habitat.

Does he have a favorite animal or bird?

“Bird, I would say osprey and northern harrier,” Shaw replied. “Animals, tigers.”

While he has shot lots of tigers in national parks in India — including eight tigers in four days on his last trip back home — his quest in the U.S. is to get a photo of a wolf. He has seen wolves three times in Yellowstone, but at a far distance.

“I don’t need to get close to a wolf, but would like to get a decent photo,” Shaw said. “All I have are wolf dots.”

He does have a 150-600mm lens, but still wolves have been too far away.

National parks in India are different than in the U.S. Shaw explained how private vehicles are not allowed. Visitors must use vehicles provided by the park, which are open air and don’t give the occupants much protection.

“I took some friends who had never seen wild tigers,” Shaw said. “When they saw their first tiger, they were both excited and scared at the same time. The tigress was about 20 feet away from the vehicle.”

Shaw chuckled while telling the story. He also had a close call with a domesticated elephant that was crossing a bridge where he was taking some photographs. He lost track of how close it was getting.

“When I saw the trunk moving right in front of my face, I got really scared,” Shaw said. “That was a domesticated elephant, but still, an elephant is an elephant. That was not a close call with a wild animal, but a big animal.”

As his photography skills have improved, his luck at photo contests back home in India have not. However, Shaw did win an award for a photograph of a bison in Yellowstone two years ago in The Herald Journal’s annual Great Outdoors Photo Contest.

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