Budding young photographer Rafid Yasar came into wildlife photography out of a love for animals. He uses his gifts to create general awareness about the harmful aspects of bird and animal hunting.
Rafid's dedication to wildlife of photography has added a new dimension to this arena in Bangladesh. He has garnered quite a reputation for himself, both at home and abroad.
Still so young, his work has been published by at least 62 international magazines, including Forbes, National Geographic, Daily Mail UK to name a few. He also won the Agorasmall2020 photography contest last year.
The young photographer said he once defied a danger signal to take pictures in the rough seas. There was even a time when he captured that precious by crawling underwater for 12 hours in winter in temperatures under 8° Celsius.
But then were also occasions when he would return home empty-handed after spending days in the forest. While taking pictures of wild animals or reptiles, cheating death was fairly commonplace.
There's no guarantee that a photographer will get that prized shot even after spending an entire day chasing after birds. Rafid said he sometimes gets less than 10 seconds to capture a single moment in time. Since there's no setup in wildlife photography, everything happens live.
Humans are wreaking havoc on the habitats of animals and birds by indiscriminately cutting down trees and destroying birds' nests. Whether animals harm humans or not, humans are certainly wantonly killing wildlife. This is primarily the reason why animals are not known to be particularly friendly in our country…. which is why photographers typically spend months on end in search of for animals and birds to take a picture.
The level of difficulty of wildlife photography is several notches above other genres. But is a Herculean task in Bangladesh. Due to bird hunting, deforestation and urbanisation, the numbers of animals and birds are decreasing by the day; what remains in the forest is also on the verge of extinction. Safari parks for wildlife photography are fairly widespread in other countries, but they are practically non-existent in Bangladesh.
The safari parks that do exist in Bangladesh are not well-organised either. Even though they are called safari parks, the animals and birds are reared in large cages. As a result, photographers have no other recourse but to risk life and limb to venture into the deep forest for wildlife photography.
Rafid said, "If I want to engage in dedicated wildlife photography in Bangladesh, the only way I can get a shot is if I specifically target the animal and observe its habitat day after day."
The world's largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans is also the home of the Royal Bengal Tiger. Despite the immense size of the landscape, tigers are not commonly seen in the forest. Therefore, Rafid visited the Sundarbans last year during the tiger mating season, hoping to get the shot of a tiger.
"The sea was rough. A storm started brewing after I had travelled more than halfway. Its speed was tremendous. The government later declared a #7 danger signal," he said.
"We stayed in the sea all night. The ferry was swaying to and fro the entire time. All the glasses in the ferry got shattered and it stayed within a sub-canal in the sea. On day 3, I went out to look for birds, but did not manage to get a single shot of a tiger," he continued.
He also said, "All my work is self-financed; wildlife photography involves a great deal of risk, and there are no sponsorship opportunities in Bangladesh, nor any NGOs or platforms to take us under their wing. I have to put my life on the line for my work. If the launch sank that night out in the sea, no one would take responsibility because I had gone out at my own risk."
Maasai Mara is a national park in Africa – one of 225 national parts or safari parks spanning the African continent. Animals are conserved and are free to grow and breed out in the wild. These parks attract photographers from far and wide.
Many foreign countries have NGOs that work in this sector and have strong platforms like National Geographic, Discovery, and Animal Planet. Photographers working under the supervision of these platform are free to nurture and explore their creative potential to the fullest, without having to suffer for their art like we do," Rafid said.
This young photographer went through a lot to capture photos of birds in winter. Sometimes, he climbed trees or to the top of a hill. At other times, he crawled underwater for 10 hours at a stretch in the winter season under 8°C just to capture that coveted shot.
Rohonpur Beel is located next to the Bangladesh-India border. The two halves of the Beel straddle India and Bangladesh. Rafid visits every winter during 8-9° temperatures to take bird shots.
"I dive into the water at around 6am in the morning, crawling in the water all day to find birds and take pictures," he said.
"I don't eat anything the whole day, because if you do, the body does not have the same energy as before. After spending the entire day underwater, we get up from the beel at around 4pm," Rafid added.
Rafid has to hold the camera with one hand while crawling in the water in search of birds. There's a strong likelihood of the camera falling into the water. If his camera lens slips into the water and gets damaged, the loss is entirely his own to bear.
He said that operations like this are all the riskier because Border Guards Bangladesh or the Border Security Force patrolling the border may well mistake him for a spy and pull the trigger.
Rafid often takes pictures of snakes without having a clue about the type of snake he's trying to photograph. He said, "I don't even have a snake stick and have no idea about the angle from which one should approach a snake. However, where I once used to run at the sight of a snake, I now calculate its speed and follow its movements to try and capture a shot."
Still, no entity exists to formally train them in these matters. Rafid said, "Since there is no such platform, I have to take risks without any safety support."
"If I had been a geology student or worked under the umbrella of a specific organization, I would have had the opportunity to take formal training and safely work under its supervision," he added.
Even though he has many contests overseas, there are no dedicated competitions for this particular genre of photography here. Therefore, it could take a while for that shot of a snake or a tiger to receive any form of recognition.
Behind every shot, there are labor, time, money, and state-of-the-art, expensive equipment. But media outlets often approach him to buy his work for a measly amount of money.
Rafid has now been working in this sector for six years and has received both national and international recognition. But building a career in this field is now proving to be a nightmare. Despite persevering through multiple challenges in this line of work for the past six years, he has yet to receive an accurate assessment of his work that is commensurate with the struggle he has put in. "People in Bangladesh don't understand the value of this type of photography," Rafid said in frustration.
There are many talented photographers who once used to risk their own lives to take pictures and dedicated themselves to this craft. Alas, many have now moved on to other professions to make ends meet.