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Retro Kolkata Exclusive : Interview with Wildlife Photographer Alissa Thakker from Kenya

Wildlife and natural habitat conservation is extremely important. As a photographer, I strive to educate myself and my audience on the importance of appreciating our wildlife. I want to recognize conservation efforts and depict the beauty of any wild occurrence. I want to establish that connection between people and wildlife, and if my photos have the ability to do that, and spark interest in conservation and travel then that’s my goal.

Retro Kolkata : First of all, thank you for accepting our invitation for an interview as our Guest Photographer. Let’s have a jump into the past. When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer and how did you go about pursuing this dream?

Alissa : Once the pandemic hit and international travel was restricted, I decided to explore the national parks in my own country - Kenya, and take up photography more seriously as it had always been something that I knew I loved to do. My family and I planned many trips out to the Maasai Mara National Reserve where I got the opportunity to expand on my photography skill set and develop my love for the wild.

Image © Alissa Thakker

Retro Kolkata : Have you had any formal photography training and if not, how did you get to where you are today?

Alissa :I have been trained by wildlife photographer David Lloyd and Pareet Shah, who served as brilliant mentors for me - teaching me the ins and outs of wildlife photography and conservation. Apart from going on photo safaris with them, I find the best way to learn and grow within the niche of wildlife photography is to just keep practicing and experimenting. I experiment with different methods in post-production, which allows me to grow my artistic skills. I also play around with my camera settings and figure out the optimal settings for shooting different scenes.

Retro Kolkata : Why did you choose wildlife photography in particular?

Alissa :I was introduced to wildlife at a fairly young age, being brought up in Kenya I was fortunate to have such an early exposure to Wildlife and national parks. My family and I have always been big fans of the Maasai Mara, so game drives quickly became one of my favorite activities.

Image © Alissa Thakker

Retro Kolkata : Which part of the world have you found most exciting as a wildlife photographer?

Alissa :I have only explored wildlife in Kenya. I have been to several national parks, including Amboseli, Maasai Mara, Nairobi National Park, Samburu, and Ol Pejeta. The Maasai Mara has always been my favourite, as it is extremely dense with game and the savannah landscape is stunning.

Retro Kolkata : What exactly is wildlife and natural habitat conservation & why is it important ? How can you as a photographer help protect wildlife and conservation?

Alissa : Wildlife and natural habitat conservation is extremely important. As a photographer, I strive to educate myself and my audience on the importance of appreciating our wildlife. I want to recognize conservation efforts and depict the beauty of any wild occurrence. I want to establish that connection between people and wildlife, and if my photos have the ability to do that, and spark interest in conservation and travel then that’s my goal. Right now, it's just about sharing my stories from the wild and showing people that these animals are worth saving, and we should really do all we can to maintain their ecosystem.

Image © Alissa Thakker

Retro Kolkata : How much research do you do prior to going out on the field? Is it important to know a lot about animal behaviour to get the perfect shot?

Alissa : Understanding animal behaviour definitely helps with wildlife photography. For example, knowing how many times a leopard yawns before they come down a tree can help with the timing aspect - so that you are aware of when you need to concentrate on getting the perfect shot. Knowing animal behaviour also allows you to understand the subject better, which can yield better images.

Retro Kolkata : What’s your go-to gear setup when out in the field?

Alissa : My current go-to gear setup when out in the field is two camera bodies - typically the Canon EOS R6 and the Canon 7D Mark II. The EOS R6 is usually assembled with my telephoto lens which can shoot up to 600mm, and the 7D Mark II is attached to a wide angle lens, which can shoot as wide as 18mm. I’ve found that this setup allows me to be more versatile, as I can quickly change from shooting up-close to shooting wide.

Image © Alissa Thakker

Retro Kolkata : What are the main challenges that you face as a wildlife photographer?

Alissa : The main challenge I face as a wildlife photographer is patience. Oftentimes, wildlife photographers take huge risks on weather, location, and animals and more often than not we are left without our expectations met. Some days, you will have a large number of high quality sightings in the span of a couple hours, but other days you will drive for hours in the scorching heat with no game in sight. Waiting hours for an animal to wake up, or come out of a bush can lead to magical experiences and even more magical photo opportunities. Patience is a virtue, and definitely pays off.

Retro Kolkata : What is the rarest animal you photographed? Are there any on your wish list that you have yet to see?

Alissa : My dream sighting is the elusive black panther. I have always wanted to see a black panther, and I am currently planning a trip to Kabini Wildlife Sanctuary in southern India as they have more sightings of black panthers and tigers - which are also on my bucket list of sightings. I would also love to see the black panther who was recently spotted in Loisaba, Kenya. Caracals remain on my list of animals I wish to see.

Retro Kolkata : What would you say your most remarkable wildlife encounter has been?

Alissa : One of my most remarkable wildlife encounters has to be a sighting with a famous male lion named Half-Tail. I remember looking through the viewfinder at this male lion and making eye contact with him for a couple of minutes. There was this mutual respect, and understanding. I understood my place as nothing but a visitor in his world and I wanted to replicate those feelings into the composition and final edit. I emphasized the contrasting highlights and shadows. On the right side, I wanted to tell a story of his strength, his power, his danger, and his significance - which is why I darkened that side. But I also wanted to reflect his beauty on the left side. His gorgeous golden mane, his striking eye contact, his whiskers, the blades of grass. When I look at this picture I see both sides of this male. His beauty, but also his darker sides.

Image © Alissa Thakker

Retro Kolkata : What advice would you give to young photographers who are just starting out and considering pursuing a career in wildlife photography? Alissa : I would say keep going, growing, shooting, and creating. I would encourage young photographers to break boundaries and to not be afraid to experiment and find new and unique ways to capture moments.

Retro Kolkata : We (Retro Kolkata) are trying to build one single stage for all the artists, because we believe that artists are the most beautiful creation of God and geographical boundaries can never break their unity and harmony. Please say something about our initiative and any special message for your followers.

Alissa :This is a great initiative by Retro Kolkata, their mission to support content creators is inspiring and truly impressive.


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