(January 31, 2023) His Instagram page is a gateway into the wilderness. If the beautiful dusky leaf monkey of Malaysia stares right back with those distinctive eyes in one capture, the other has a stunning diademed sifaka revelling in his natural habitat in Madagascar. That’s Arshdeep Singh for you – the teenager behind the phenomenal snapshots that have earned him a credible place among the wildlife photographer fraternity. And he is just 15 years of age.
It was a splendid snapshot of a treetop douc that earned this boy from Jalandhar the tag of Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020. “When I started, I never expected to gain so much recognition at such an early age. I am happy that my photos are loved by millions,” says Arshdeep in an interview with Global Indian.
He continued the winning streak by bagging the Asian Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021, and very recently, a picture of a ‘winking’ owl earned the teenager the Junior Award at the 2022 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. The photo clicked in Bikaner during a family trips, helped him bag the prize, making him the only Indian to make the cut.
It runs in the family
Born in Jalandhar to a businessman father and a homemaker mother, Arshdeep’s fascination for nature and the wildlife translated early on into a passion for capturing them on his lens. He was all of five when his dad Randeep Singh gifted him a DSLR on his birthday, after seeing his young son’s raw talent. “My dad loves photography and pursues it as a hobby. When I was three, I would often see him holding large cameras, and that sight enthralled me. I wanted to do the same,” recalls the boy, who got tips from his father and learnt from YouTube videos.
His first camera forays were capturing snapshots in his grandmother’s backyard, which impressed his father immensely. Soon he started accompanying his father to the outskirts of Kapurthala to birdwatch. “Dad has been my teacher. His love for wildlife rubbed off on me and I started learning photography from him,” reveals the Apeejay School student.
Following the trail
An avid wildlife enthusiast, Singh loves to explore the fauna across the world. From the tropical forests of Malaysia to Madagascar’s enchanting woodland, the class nine student has explored wildlife across continents. On a trip to Vietnam in 2020, he came close to the red-shanked douc langur, taking a photo which won him the Wildlife Photographer of the Year. On his father’s business trip to the Son Tra nature reserve, Vietnam’s last coastal rainforest, and a habitat for the langur, he captured the mercurial creature. After reading about the endangered species, Arshdeep, waited for more than an hour to capture the douc. “I took more than 1,000 pictures but was unable to get that perfect shot of the treetop douc. After more than an hour, I found the perfect one. If you look at the langur, he looks like he is wearing a grey coat and black-brown pants – that’s what makes this photo so incredible,” says the teenager, who won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020 in the 11-to-14-year category.
The accolades, they keep coming
His passion and love for photography have earned him accolades internationally, though the teenager still has to battle fiercely against his family and school to earn respect. “Only my father was supportive of my decision to pursue photography. My mom and grandparents were quite unhappy with my choice. Like every family, they wanted me to focus on studies. Even my school was against it as I was missing classes,” divulges Arshdeep.
However, his accolades and a great body of work have helped change perspectives. “My mom is super proud and so is my school. I now strike a balance between my passion and studies. I mostly indulge in photography during vacations or weekends,” says the boy, who is greatly inspired by Vijayan Thomas, a renowned wildlife photographer.
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Wanderlust through his lens
Singh loves nature and often travels to the hills of Himachal with his Nikon D500 in search of impeccable shots. “Between landscape and wildlife photography, I prefer the latter. While the landscape hardly changes, there is always a thrill in clicking wildlife as nothing is certain. However, it does need a great deal of patience,” he reveals.
Patience helped him earn the award-winning shot of owlets peeping through a pipe. Then a 10-year-old, Arshdeep spotted a pair of owlets in a pipe one balmy Sunday morning (2018) on his way to Kapurthala for birdwatching. “I remember it was 6.30 am when I saw the owlets, and asked my dad to stop the car. Although dad was sceptical as owls are nocturnal birds and not easily spotted in the day, I was sure. We patiently waited for an hour after which both the owlets peeked up at the pipe, and I got a picture-perfect shot,” smiles Arshdeep about the photo that won him the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018. “It was such an amazing moment that I couldn’t sleep the entire night,” reveals the wildlife buff.
A nature lover, he has travelled to over 15 countries, and is keen on creating a greener world. “I have planted trees in my backyard, and would like more people to take the initiative. It’s high time we maintain the ecosystem and help wildlife enjoy their habitats,” affirms Singh.
Accolades aside, Arshdeep wants to help people learn photography. “I am keen to launch a course for amateur photographers. It’s important to give back, and I wish to do so with my course,” Singh signs off. Photography changed his life, and he now wants to help others do so too.