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Into the ‘Wild’ with Sankha Wanniatchi

Sankha Wanniatchi, is one of Sri Lanka’s foremost wildlife photographers, a title he dons proudly. A businessman by profession, Sankha cherishes the beauty of nature in its simplest of forms, he holds a Diploma in Management and Marketing from the Australian College of Business and Technology, while being CIM qualified. A product of S.Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia, he aspires to capture the beauty of the wild as authentically as possible.

The youngest of five, married to a like-minded wife who shares the same sentiments and compassion towards animals. Their compassion excels beyond words as they’ve managed to rescue a kitten and a dog whom they consider family.

A self-proclaimed neutral guy whose family and friends consider a ‘wild-child’ probably due to his agrestal hairstyle, which by all means complements his untamed nature, tells us that he loves the wilderness more than anything else in the world. When out of the jungle he prefers cooking & travelling with his wife, admiring and spoiling himself with luxury watches and finally getting behind a four-wheel drive.

We might have a ‘real’ Steve Erwin in the making here!!!

One of Sankha’s brightest moments was when he reached the “Top Ten Best photographers” category of 35 Awards, an international photo contest which received 20,900 photographs under the ‘Rare Frame’ category, where 5,462 applications were sent in from 129 countries. This was not only a bright moment for Sankha but also for Sri Lanka as well.

“I never considered myself as a wild-life photographer, although I was an observer of nature and wildlife since childhood. I’ve always been a frequent camper and a visitor to our beautiful jungles in Sri Lanka and about 12 years back, Ranga, a friend pushed me to invest in my first Camera, which was a Nikon D90. That’s the start of my journey into photography and which now has become my main hobby and passion.” Said he.

An individual whose love for wild-life ranged way before purchasing his first professional camera now enjoys framing detailed moments of the wild the way his eyes perceive. “If an image is not sharp enough or not up to my expectations, I will not use that image for anything. Also, I try not to increase its sharpness using Photoshop or any other software.” Says the wild-life photographer.

Detail and accuracy, a significant aspect of photography is something Sankha pursues when shooting with his Canon 1DX, with the use of multiple lenses Canon 500mm f4IS2, Canon 7D, Canon 24-105mm f4L and Canon 1.4X Teleconverter Mark 3 he’s managed to capture some of the most scintillating.

Great pictures should blow your breath away. It should tell a story when you look at the image. It could be anything, but the technique should be perfect. To do this you need to have a good knowledge in Photography, Animal Behavior and in and out of your camera. Amazing shots don’t often come by but when they do make sure you make the most of it. At times you’ve got to work hard for a single shot and it may take hours or even days to capture that ‘perfect’ moment but when you do, you’ll know that you have framed something amazing.”

Q: Which would you consider is your best work and why?

I am most fond of my Bee-Eater shot – which I captioned “Playing with food”. Whilst I received an honourable mention awarded by IPA (International Photography Awards) for this shot, I myself am very happy with it because I hit my desired level of clarity, timing, and details simultaneously and successfully. It was taken in Yala National Park, whilst I was actually waiting for a leopard!

Another one of my favourites is the Elephant on a rock. I captioned it “The lonely rock climber”. I love it because it’s a rare sight that I was lucky enough to witness at Gal Oya NP and capture. Its probably the first in SL.

I would fail my most sought after subject if I didn’t have a favourite leopard shot. That said, The Death Bite, The Golden Light, and Teaching who is Boss are three of my most favoured shots. The Death Bite was captured in Wilpattu NP, when a young wild boar (piglet) was hunted by a female leopard within seconds and climbed on to the tree right next to us to claim its hunt. The Golden Light was also taken in Wilpattu NP, where a young female leopard was crossing a sandy road a few meters away. The sun was setting behind me which paved the way to the perfect lighting, a beautiful backdrop and a serene shot. Teaching who is Boss was taken in Yala NP – It’s the moment of a big male leopard (which I assume is the father) teaching a young male cub who is boss and that his territory is the cubs temporary home until he is old enough to find his own. It was an action packed fight that I was able to capture with crazy levels of adrenaline.

When paying constant visits to the wilderness, one has to take extreme caution and safety measures and also get an idea of how animals behave. It could be extremely detrimental to both the animals and to us. The National Parks of Sri Lanka generally have stringent regulations, which need to be adhered to when entering a protected area or a sanctuary.

Apart from the safety aspects, a lot of dedication is needed as it’s going to be a hell of a lot harder to capture frames of interest. “Wildlife photography is my passion, and so waiting 4 hours at a stretch, or more, to click a spotted leopard is no big deal. I have skipped more meals than I can count tracking animals. I’ve gone on tours with absolutely no sightings and as heartbreaking as that is, I have never given up.” Shares Sankha.

According to Sankha having a DSLR sure helps a lot as it enables capturing pictures with better quality and clarity a tad easier and best of all it tends to stand out from the rest but if you aren’t too serious about wild-life photography you could use any camera as long as it captures a decent shot.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of being a photographer?

I get to spend time with nature. Being in the wilderness is detoxifying and its in a sense a kind of meditation for me. It has also allowed me to educate like-minded people about conservation and responsible wildlife photography.

Q: What advice could you pass on to our readers?

To all those who aspire to be wildlife photographers, please remember that it’s not about you, it’s about them. You are going into their territory and so you must respect them. Always maintain a distance and its never a perfect shot if you have taken it by disrupting your subject.

Wildlife photography isn’t essentially easy. Patience and knowledge of animal behaviour are key to your perfect shot. Irrespective of the gear you use, if you do not have the patience to track an animal, which sometimes may take up to days to gauge the animal’s next move, you will be disappointed. It will also be extremely challenging with work commitments for many. In my case I’ve to juggle between running my own business and spending time in the forests, it can be challenging but I make it a point to visit the jungles during an extended break that way there is more time to focus on the shoot.

Don’t think too much though, if you aren’t already a natural with time and experience you will be able to exhibit those special moments you witnessed with your eyes.

Sankha Wanniatchi is a wild-life photographer & activist by passion

Follow his facebook page Sankha Wanniatchi Photography for more breath-taking shots.

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