Photographing Wild Tigers: Part 1 – When to go?

If you have yet to see a wild tiger, what are you waiting for? There is quite simply nothing on Earth that compares to a wild tiger! November is tiger time! At the beginning of November, the national parks reopen after their annual monsoon closure. Tourists are allowed back into the parks to see and photograph the Royal Bengal Tiger. This extensive guide is all about the Indian Tiger Safari…

Prepare yourself!

Photographing these mesmerising big cats in the wild takes a steady hand. There is no safe, double-lined fence for you to walk up to and poke a lens through, or laminated safety glass. In fact, there’s nothing at all between you and a very wild 3-metre long, 250kg, apex predator. This in itself can take some adjusting! Not to mention a spare set of underwear…

My first experience of trying to photograph tigers in the wild was comical. I shot hundreds of frames (in slide film) of everything the tigress did: Walking, sitting, licking, walking away, standing behind bamboo, behind more bamboo… I kept 3 frames out of a wild burst of joyful photographic abandon. I binned hundreds of blurry, badly exposed, and just plain awful shots that often missed the subject altogether. Basically, they were all rubbish!

This was because it was my first time. I was inexperienced, unprepared and overwhelmed by the encounter. You see, tigers are extraordinarily beautiful. They are staggering to behold. They can also be terrifying. There are very few creatures left on this planet that will look to make a meal out of a fully grown human and the Royal Bengal Tiger is one of them.

Royal Bengal Tiger
Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Bandhavgarh National Park, India with Canon EOS 10D and 100.0-400.0 mm lens at ¹⁄₂₀₀ sec at ƒ / 5.0 on ISO 200

Why you’ll get butterflies!?

Tigers trigger an instinctive fight or flight response in every animal, including us humans. It’s why you’ll get butterflies when you see them. All the blood is draining away from your digestive system, ready to fuel your brain and muscles for a fight for survival.

You can really sense this when they look at you. They stare straight through your eyes and burn a hole straight into your brain. Right then and there you instantaneously realise that they deserve your respect and you should give it to them. Seriously.

Are you looking for a tiger photo safari? In April and May 2019, my friend and colleague David Lloyd is leading two groups to Bandhavgarh National Park. Click here for more info.

“Join us on a 9-day tour of India to photograph its tigers. This trip has been designed so that we can see and photograph India’s magnificent Bengal Tigers for 6-days straight at one of India’s most rewarding tiger parks, Bandhavgarh National Park. Plus, we secure the best zones in advance for our twelve drives in the park. You can even combine this Tigers of India tour with Wildlife of India. You can combine both for a truly incredible 24-day wildlife and tiger experience with a massive 20-days in the parks and a whopping 37 drives.”

When is the best time to see tigers?

Mainstream ‘tiger parks’ like Ranthambhore, Bandhavgarh and Khana all close during the monsoon season. So, from June to the end of October you can really forget about tiger safaris.

The one notable exception is Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra state. This is open all year round. November is the start of tiger season and you’ll be able to visit to the National Parks right through until the end of May.

Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris)
Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Bandhavgarh National Park, India with Canon EOS 10D and 50.0-500.0 mm lens at ¹⁄₅₀ sec at ƒ / 8.0 on ISO 200

November, December, January

Visit the tiger parks from November to the end of January for lush green foliage and atmospheric misty meadows. January is very cold and the fog/smog is infamous for travel disruption, so ideally you should avoid January.

Personally, I love November. There’s something about the rich greens and that orange fur. A wonderful combination. Arguably, the parks are at their most beautiful and most photogenic at this time of year.

It can be really cold. Evan a light frost is not unheard of in late December and January. Many first-time visitors assume India is just hot, wherever your are. Not true. In December and January, northern and central India are chilled by southerly winds, blowing down from the icy Himalayas.

The other trade-off, with all that lush foliage and tall meadow grasses, is that seeing a tiger becomes more difficult. In Bandhavgarh and Kanha, the bamboo thickets grow into vast green walls, drastically limiting your view from the vehicle tracks. Something to keep in mind.

February & March

It’s peak tourist season because the fog and chill have both lifted and the heat of the dry season has yet to build. February and March are very popular, with pleasant daytime temperatures. This comfort draws in hoards of tourists, both local and international. I avoid this time. The parks are just too busy. I also avoid Christmas, New Years and all public holidays.

Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris)
Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Bandhavgarh National Park, India with Canon EOS 10D and 50.0-500.0 mm lens at ¹⁄₈₀₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 200

April & May

It’s hot! Damn hot! In April, daytime temperatures soar passed 40°C. The foliage, previously lush and green, shrivels and dies. Towards the end of April and into May, mid-afternoon temperatures can break 45°C! But, it’s definitely worth any discomfort. This is the best time to see tigers!

By now, the vegetation has died back, providing unrivalled visibility through the forest. All the small rock pools and seasonal rivers have evaporated. The higher temperatures and general desiccation of the park, drives the tigers to visit their waterholes and the few permanent rivers. If you want those iconic photographs of tigers in water, this is the season for you.

Worried about the heat?

Well, you’d be crazy not to be at least concerned. Honestly, I don’t like seriously hot temperatures, but this is somehow bearable. Firstly, it’s a very dry heat, which does make it more tolerable. High-humidity is a bigger problem to health and equipment.

In April and May, the air is just so dry and hot, you barely sweat. Moisture instantly evaporates from your skin. As much as we’d like to throw ourselves into those waterholes, for us humans, there are effective strategies for dealing with the high temperatures:

  1. Drink litres of water, even if you’re not thirsty, even if you’re worried about needing a pee-break in the park;
  2. Daily intake of rehydration salts, like Dioralyte™, whether you’re feeling ‘under the weather’ or not;
  3. Routinely soak your hat and a neck-gaitor with cold water. As you drive along, the water evaporates, sucking the heat out of your skin. It’s what the locals do;
  4. Cold showers will cause a rapid drop in core body temperature. Highly recommended after every game drive;
  5. Limit the hours you spend out in the park and so reduce your exposure to the fierce heat.

Click here for Part Two: Tracking Wild Tigers

“Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed Part One of my guide: “Photographing Wild Tigers”. I’ll be posting more seasonal guides and ‘top tips’ on here in the coming months. Make sure you don’t miss out by subscribing using the quick form below – just click the button. You can even decide on the type of posts you want to receive. My other feature articles, photography guides and Photo Stories are always accessible from my homepage.”

Subscribe Me