I have a few time honoured rules when photographing in the wild - stay low, get close and work against the light. Following this shoot in India, I added another - “always stay calm”.
We had seen two tigers at breakfast time when the park is accessible to all. It was a decent moment, but nothing sensational. At 9.30am the visitors must leave and then we and a handful of jeeps had until 3.30 pm on our own in the 1600 km² of Ranthambhore. These are precious hours as tiger behaviour becomes more predictable as the temperature rises. Given the acreage of the vast park there is every chance of working alone.
Much of the hottest part of the day (around 44°c) was spent looking for an adult male tiger who my guide for six years - Vipul Jain - knew to have been in the area in the last few hours. Back and forth we went in rotation to the tiger’s favourite three watering holes, but there was nothing. Our cold-water supplies were low and our energy even lower.
Just as I was ready to throw in the towel at 2.40 pm and submit to the comfort of air conditioning and a cold shower, Vipul saw something with his discerning eyes and our driver sped towards a small cave in the escarpment. There, at the front of the cave, but out of the heat, sat the tiger in the best lit spot I can ever remember with any animal.
When we arrived, I remember saying to everyone “stay calm”. It was time to take a deep breath and think. The tiger was going nowhere as long as we kept our cool and went to work. If the tiger moved either a metre backwards or forwards the light was gone.
I think we just about stayed calm and therefore so did the tiger. You work for moments like these.