In the third part of our series on SmartFrame’s Ambassadors, wildlife and fine-art photographer Arjun Anand discusses his passion for photographing tigers and why he uses SmartFrame.
SmartFrame: What does life look like for you right now?
Arjun Anand: It’s hard not to be able to go out and photograph, but there are other things that can be done. The book I’ve been working on is finally going to print next week, so in about a month from now I should be doing an official launch – so that’s a silver lining for me.
The book maps the journey of me getting into tiger photography, and then eventually ending up with one tiger who I spent three years photographing, who then turned out to be a man-eater. He killed three people, and then, of course, he was captured. I was following him since he was a baby, but it just so happened that he turned out to be a man-eater, giving this twist to my story, and eventually leading to the book.
I first saw him when he was about eight months old, and he had this aggressive streak in him. He was a little different; he had stunning blue eyes, which made him stand apart. That’s how my initial interest in him began, and then it became an obsession. With each passing month, my hopes of him ruling some of the choicest parts of the national park diminished. I realized something was wrong. He was pushed out by one tiger, and then another tiger, and eventually, he was pushed out to the fringes of a park near human habitation. Eventually, he started killing cattle and domestic goats, and ultimately human beings.
S: Were you already photographing tigers before then?
A: Yes. I’ve been visiting tiger reserves since I was about seven or eight years old, but the photography part came much later. I was spending so much time in the wild, and I thought I might as well spend that time doing something constructive. I had no initial interest in photographing animals, but I wanted to use my time for something. And so I started photographing tigers.
I studied the work of leaders in the space, David Yarrow being one of them. Steve Winter and Nick Brandt, too. I studied their work and their focus – how they created focus on a body of work, as opposed to just photographing things randomly. So when I saw this tiger, I realized that this was the only way to succeed. With everyone being a photographer – with Instagram, mobile phones, cameras being so cheap – how does one really stand out? By focusing on one thing and completely owning it. Nobody else can do a book on that tiger as, unfortunately, he’s enclosed now. So that space is something I own as it’s not easy to replicate.
S: You have a varied background, trading derivatives and developing business automation software among other things. But you were photographing from an early age, correct?
A: I would photograph things but nothing I would share with anyone. I remember when I got my first DSLR, maybe 20 years ago, I was obsessed with trying to freeze motion. For me, that was a big thing. I would just take pictures of a bird flying, for example. It was nothing worth sharing, but for me it was not easy as I had to learn to be creative. I don’t think I’m creative at all. For someone like me to get into this area, I had to study the works of great photographers, not only in wildlife but in other areas such as fashion, glamour and street photography. I was questioning why these photographers did this and that, and that was a really interesting journey. And that taught me what I know today.
S: How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your work? What would you normally be doing?
A: I had a few projects lined up. The tiger that became a man-eater – apparently, his mother gave birth to a new litter. My plan was a continuation of sorts, to try and perhaps draw analogies between the two litters. Unfortunately, time has passed and I think the cubs are big now, so I’ve lost out on that opportunity.
I had some other non-wildlife projects as well, but they can’t be done. The thing is, you study some of these brilliant artists and see that there are millions of opportunities available – it’s just a case of actually trying to find one. I think it was Irving Penn who would photograph cigarettes in an ashtray, and cigarettes on the floor, and stuffed cigarettes that he would collect. That’s something most photographers would ignore, but he did it in a fine-art way. It taught me that you could do anything.
So I did lose out on certain opportunities, but others will come up. For example, the human interaction with nature – and not only wildlife but landscapes too – is quite a ‘hot’ area. This pandemic happened because we messed with nature, so [there’s a case for] trying to get the human elements with wildlife and landscape, and creating stories that combine these.
S: When do you imagine you will be able to start your next project?
A: For the book, I re-edited a lot of images that were on my website. So the website has been down as I’ll be changing a lot of the images, and adding new features and so on. I’m going to be focusing on promoting the book online, but I will be doing one-on-one Instagram talks called Tiger Talks. I’ll be interviewing professionals and amateurs – anyone who likes wildlife, basically. It’s called Tiger Talks, but it will eventually move into the broader wildlife area.
It’s not really about technique, more about how you travel, what you travel with, where you share your images and so on. It’s less about the technical stuff. If I tell you I shot this image with an aperture of f/16, you may try to emulate it but you wouldn’t be able to do it as you don’t have the same light, and you don’t know what my artistic vision is for that image. So from my point of view, it doesn’t make sense to get into technical details of it, unless you’re also there to experience the light and the process. So I want to focus on the softer side of things.
S: How did you come to use SmartFrame?
A: I emailed someone at SmartFrame to say that I had been looking for this kind of solution for a long time. I was involved in a non-photographic venture that involved publishing product images online, and the need for it came from there. I come from a family of intellectual property lawyers, so I understand the importance of intellectual property, copyright, trademarks and so on.
I always wanted to protect my images but I couldn’t find a solution. I realized you had to share low-quality images with ugly watermarks on them. And I did that – most people do – but in the back of my head, I was always looking for a better way.
I saw a website – I forget which it was – and realized I couldn’t right-click on an image. And that’s the first thing I used to do on photography websites, not because I wanted to steal the images, but because I wanted to see if it could help me with my own website. I tried right-clicking and other things … I come from a semi-technical background, so I went into the page source code where I was able to get a link to the SmartFrame website. I went to the SmartFrame site and signed up for a trial – and it took me less than a week to move to the paid version.
I’ve not actually got around to promoting my website as I’ve been focusing on the book, but I wanted a solution in place. I’ve hired a PR agency to help me promote the book, and when it’s released I’ll be sharing links to my website and they’ll be more focus on it. And now it makes my life easier as I don’t need to work on a solution – I’ve found one.
S: There’s a lot of functionality to SmartFrame, and we know that some photographers prefer to use many features and others only a few. You’re a fan of the Hyper Zoom feature, is that right?
A: Yes, it’s a fantastic feature. Once the book comes out, I want to promote the print sales side of things, not just for this collection but for other projects I’m working on. I think it’s very important to give users a gallery-like experience – and that’s where this feature comes in. People can zoom into my images and see exactly what they are getting.
That experience is important as, with e-commerce nowadays, a lot of companies have returns policies, and a lot of people have this misconception that sharpness is the most important thing in an image. Well, it’s not. Some of the most expensive photographs you’llsee being sold are not very sharp. I want to let the user experience what they are getting before they place an order – and from that perspective, Hyper Zoom is an extremely useful feature.
S: Do you look at the analytics side of SmartFrame?
A: I do look at the analytics. I’m still learning how to use it, but I think it’s important, knowing how my images are being shared, how my images are being used and so on.
S: Did you previously have a problem with image theft?
A: No, but I was using very low-quality images, and you can’t do much with them. They can’t be printed, for example, and if you do print them it’ll be an ugly print. You would need TIFF files or high-resolution JPEGs at the very least, which you cannot get as I have not posted these online anywhere. I want to be able to use large images, which I do now with Hyper Zoom. And I don’t want them to be accessible to anyone else, so the security features and the ability to stop them from being misused is invaluable.