IFLScience Meets: Wildlife Photographer Ripan Biswas Talks Photographing New Species, Winning Competitions, And Bumping Into Bengals

Even as a photographer, getting out in the wild shouldn't just be about photos. Image courtesy of Ripan Biswas

Ripan Biswas is an award-winning photographer, having been awarded multiple accolades for his entries to the London Natural History Museum's Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, including Heavyweight and Face of Deception. Working as a science teacher and animal rescuer, Biswas still finds much time to get out into nature and capture breathtaking images – but as he tells us, it shouldn't always be about the photos.

What do you do?

I am a high school teacher by profession teaching science to my students. Apart from that I am a nature and wildlife photographer who has a keen interest for macro fauna. I am also a conservationist and an active animal rescuer around my locality.

What did it take to get here?

Wildlife photography is not a passion for me, it's an integral part of how I express myself. It's my way of telling stories which capture our connection with nature. By telling the stories of wild animals and insects, I want my work to convey the message that they are not so different from us. But telling stories through the medium of photography is not an easy task. For me, it took years of planning, hard work, observation, study and patience – these are the key ingredients to make a good story telling shot.

My portfolio is about the life of weaver ants. It shows some extraordinary and rare events in their lives. Some of their unique behaviors, like carrying a stone to the nest, are a mystery even to scientists. They still aren't sure why they do it.

I have worked for 10 years with these ants to complete this portfolio. They are ferocious when it comes to protecting their clan and their nest. They bite and pour acid in the wound of whoever poses a threat to them. As I studied them close-up, they often tested the power of their jaws and the potency of the formic acid they possess on my bare skin. But it was worth it to win a category in Wildlife Photographer of the Year was something different. It's perhaps the largest stage on which to tell your story to the whole world. So, it really takes something special to win this award.

What advice would you give to wildlife enthusiasts at a careers fair?

Follow your dreams.

ripan biswas
The Last Bite is one of Biswas' many winning photos from the London NHM's Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Image courtesy of Ripan Biswas

What's the most common misconception about your line of work?

The most common misconception about wildlife photography is that the most expensive equipment produces the best photographs. Lots of people save up for the costlier kit to get a good shot, but this isn’t necessary. I am not saying that the expensive cameras don’t produce good results, but for me spending time in the field and observing animals’ behavior is what’s most important.

I’ve won several awards for my photographs, taken with an inexpensive 18-55-millimeter kit lens. I just mounted it in reverse to the camera to convert it into a macro lens. It’s not just about big-ticket items.

Proudest moment on the job?

Some years ago, I had photographed a jumping spider and posted it on Facebook. I did not know which species the spider belonged to.  A year later, some scientists from my country described the spider for the first time. It turns out that picture I took was probably the first photographic record of the spider species. That was certainly a proud moment in my life. Of course, winning Wildlife Photographer of the Year and receiving the awards in the Natural History Museum in 2019 was also very special.

Hairiest moment on the job?

During a photography trip to Kaziranga National Park, India, I encountered a royal Bengal tiger for the first time. The tiger was close to our vehicle and I was so excited that initially I completely forgot about my camera. It was some time before my senses kicked back in and I was finally able to take some shots before it disappeared into the jungle.

What’s something you never leave the house without?

Actually, I quite often go to the jungle without any photographic gear. These trips are very important to me as they help me feel more connected to nature. However, if I’m on a photography assignment I always carry a wide-angle macro lens with me (Laowa 15mm f4).

What’s one piece of advice you'd give to someone wanting to embark on the same career?

You’ve got to work hard, there really is no better alternative. The more time you spend in the field, the more chances you have to get a better picture. Try to make full use of the time you have.

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