Meet the Photographer: Nikhil Bahl

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Nikhil Bahl is a professional photographer and educator from the Washington D.C. area. A passionate environmentalist, Nikhil aims to convey a sense of beauty and wonder of the natural world through the images he captures. We’re pleased to welcome Nikhil as a new contributor to Outdoor Photography Guide. Read more about him here.

Outdoor Photography Guide: How did you get started in photography? Specifically how did you make the leap into doing it for a living?

Nikhil Bahl: As a web designer, I created designs for my clients. At some point, my need to create something for myself grew stronger and I took up photography as a hobby. As my interest and skills grew, photography developed into a passion. In turn, this lead me to teaching photography at a local arts center. After the demand for my images and my workshops grew, I let go of the day job to be able to focus on photography full time.

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OPG: Do you have any formal training in photography?

NB: I’m mostly self-taught, although there were a few photography workshops that got me going. Once I had a handle on the technical side, I continued to learn from the challenge of photographing new subjects and situations, along with a lot of experimentation.

OPG: You’ve traveled to some amazing places – do you have a favorite location?

NB: That’s a tough question to answer! Each location has its own charm. However, there are several places that I seem to revisit. Yellowstone National Park is probably my favorite location in the United States. Outside of the US, Iceland is currently my favorite photographic location.

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OPG: What subjects do you enjoy shooting most?

NB: In terms of photography genres, I enjoy landscapes, wildlife, and macro photography. I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of telling a story through a photograph. Wildlife seems to lend itself best to such an approach. I’m really inspired by the natural world and that’s where I’m always looking for alluring subjects and compelling stories.

OPG: What’s in your camera bag?

NB: For camera bodies, I have a Nikon D4, Nikon D810, and Nikon D500. For lenses, I have a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, 24-120mm f/4, 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6, 200-500mm f/5.6, 600mm f/4, and Tamron 180mm f/3.5 macro lens. I also carry Nikon SB-910 and SB-600 speed lights, polarizing and ND filters from Singh-Ray, Gitzo tripods, Induro monopod, Kirk Bh-1 ballhead, Wimberley gimbal head, and a host of accessories.

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OPG: What’s your favorite lens and why?

NB: When I first started out I gravitated to the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. It seemed to best capture the way I saw back then. Now I tend to use my whole set of lenses and let the subject and the situation dictate which lens to use. The lens that helps me capture my vision is the one I reach for, as each situation is different.

OPG: How important is post-processing to your photography?

NB: While post-processing is essential, it does not come close to being as important as my capture/creative process in the field. The kind of light and how it is used plays a very important role in what an image looks like. I have found that scenes and subjects that are appropriately illuminated by good light don’t need a whole lot of post-processing. Post-processing can play a bigger role when I’m dealing with challenging situations, like high contrast scenes, very low light, etc. In general, I use post-processing to add finishing touches to my in-field capture. I enjoy being out in the field, not spending time in front of the computer.

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OPG: What is it about photography that drew you to it as a creative medium?

NB: It was a visit to the Grand Canyon that truly kick started my desire to learn photography. Unable to capture the grandeur in front of me and the sense of wonder I felt, my interest was piqued and my journey into photography began. Sharing the beauty of the natural world with others is always invigorating. Creatively, the challenge of interpretation keeps me going. When it comes to photography, the learning never stops.

OPG: What is the goal of your work? What do you aim to convey with your images?

NB: Initially, I gravitated to photography with the desire to create something that was personal, with nature as my primary inspiration. Now however, the photographic challenge of creating meaningful interpretations that reflect deeper insights and convey an enchantment of the subject’s beauty is what I strive to capture. At times, this cannot be achieved with one image but with a body of work. I also try and portray environmental stories with an artistic appeal, so the resulting photographs educate and motivate about the imperative of conservation. Through photography, we have a chance to persuade people to respect the natural world by filling them with a sense of wonder.

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OPG: Why nature photography?

NB: I marvel at all things that are nature. It fascinates me. It enriches me. I find serenity and a sense of being when I’m in nature. In short, photography is my way of sharing my love affair with nature.

OPG: If you could describe your photographic style in one sentence, what would that be?

NB: I’ve never really thought about this because I feel my photography is constantly evolving and interests changing. Also, saying that I have a specific style is somewhat restricting. Let me take a shot at this anyway. At its best, my photography is stylistic realism that dabbles in expressionism, impressionism and occasionally the surreal.

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OPG: What motivates you to teach others about photography?

NB: Sharing nature and my ideas on how to interpret it through photography is a very satisfying experience. Having people attend my workshops to improve their photography is a privilege and to see a photographer grow in just few days is a reward in and of itself. In workshops, I customize my instruction based on the participant’s needs and guide them in any way I can. It always amazes me how two people can stand in the same spot and create a totally different photo.

Teaching photography has made me think deeper about my own approach. Knowing techniques is one thing, but knowing the reasons behind the choices we make and when we use those techniques is what makes a good photographer. Helping a photographer find that personal vision is what I most enjoy about teaching.

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OPG: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in photography, or just starting to develop their eye?

NB: Don’t be afraid of the technical stuff. The goal should be to master the technical side of photography and then enjoy the creative side. It can be very frustrating but you must persevere. Practice! Practice! Practice! Whenever you get the time. There is no substitute for experience in the field. If you can get to the point where the technical side is second nature, you will unlock a whole new level of enjoyment in your photography.

The cameras, lenses, tripods, etc. are just tools. Get the best you can afford. Use them, but don’t fall in love with them. It’s how you use the tools that matters most.

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OPG: Where are you planning to go next?

NB: I just got back from a great trip to Costa Rica. Wow! What an amazing variety of birds. Soon I will head to New Mexico for wintering birds and then to photograph the amazing winter wildlife and mystical landscapes of Yellowstone National Park.

To see more of Nikhil’s work and view his upcoming workshop schedule, visit his website at www.NikhilBahl.com.

Stay up to date with Nikhil’s adventures by following him on Facebook: Nikhil Bahl Photography

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