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Ultimate Tigers-Bandhavgarh National Park, India
2023 Trip Report

Regal is this cat with stripes. A few years ago, Joe Van Os introduced me to the alluring and diverse sub-continent of India when he assigned me to the Ultimate Tigers photo safaris. With Bengal tigers being the focus of the tour, I hadn’t yet realized the exceptional wildlife diversity at hand when visiting India’s tiger parks. Tigers would go onto introduce me to more of the beauty and wonderful variety found in the forest habitats of India’s wild lands. This year’s tour focused on Bandhavgarh National Park in the state of Madhya Pradesh in central India.

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When I first started leading photography tours in India, I had my concerns with reliably finding tigers—let alone getting great photographs of them. I quickly learned that much of the success of having a productive tiger safari came down to the planning and the “how to” of it all. With the emphasis on planning, the Van Os team knows how to put things together for the best possible photo tour and this tiger photo safari is no exception.

One of the first factors to consider is timing. To most, the jungle would appear to be a dark and expansive place. In actuality, the more you know and understand it the better you will be as a photographer. JVO knows the rhythm of the jungle, thus our safari is timed around the dry season when most of the trees have dropped their leaves and we have better windows into this forest world. Naturally the parched conditions also focus wildlife activity around the park’s limited water sources.

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Great camera equipment will do you no good, however, if you still don’t find the cats. This is why we carefully choose our local operator. They hand pick the most knowledgeable safari driver/guides for us, thus ensuring the best opportunity to find tigers from day to day. Our local guides work tirelessly on every excursion to locate and track tigers as they move through the park. Naturally it is very beneficial to know the timing of an individual cat’s daily routine to be in the right place at the right time for successfully photographing these magnificent cats. The guides’ ability to find tiger sign in the form of pug marks (tracks) and to then be able to read those clues as to interpret what is happening in the tiger world, is crucial to a fruitful photo tour.

In addition to all the prep and best local guides, the Van Os Photo Safaris team includes three highly sought-after full-day tiger permits for everyone on each tour which, once again, pays off with more great opportunities for photography. Full day safaris means that when all other safari vehicles are leaving the park for the mandatory five-hour midday break, we would set up at a selected waterhole and wait for the arrival of our quarry when the midday heat would draw them to water. It’s almost like having the park to ourselves!

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Tiger numbers at our chosen photo safari locations have always factored into our planning and things appear to be getting better for tigers. This year’s visit to Bandhavgarh National Park coincided with the release of the 2022 Indian tiger population survey. The report indicates that conservation efforts in place since 1972 have had a positive effect on the total population of India’s tigers. It now appears around 3,000 tigers roam India’s parks, reserves, and open spaces—about double the 2006 population estimate. India’s tigers account for nearly seventy percent of the world’s known wild tiger population. Of course, for tiger photography, that bodes well, too!

As wildlife photographers we are benefiting from advances in modern camera and lens technology that favor the prepared photographer. These photographic technologies allow us to obtain good images while shooting in far less favorable conditions than we were able to just a few years ago. I can say tiger photography would be a very different challenge if we were still relying on the film cameras of yesteryear (or even digital cameras from several years ago) to bring home the images. Jungle light can be a tricky mix of every kind of light from harsh midday sun to the soft shadowy light of thick forest.

Temperature can affect wildlife behavior and it was certainly varied during our Bandhavgarh stay. Initially cooler mornings kept the cats back in the thicker areas of the jungle, but when afternoon temperatures warmed things up, the tigers would often find their way to a favorite waterhole for a drink and a cool soak. This provided for a great stakeout situation and was a productive strategy using our full-day safaris permits.

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Our timing and various strategies for locating tigers to photograph during our seven days paid off. The group observed and photographed over 18 different tigers on multiple occasions. Large males, sub adults of both sexes as well as mothers with cubs up to 15 months old were photographed during our stay. Our most often utilized lenses were our 100-500mm zooms and up to and including the 600mm telephotos. That said, I do know great images were also made on shorter focal length lenses like that in the 70-200mm range.

While tigers are always the focus of any photo safari here, there is far more wildlife photography to do while seeking out these charismatic big cats, and this year’s photo safari was no different. Down time between tiger sightings produced opportunities for images of a variety of Indian deer and elephants as well as jackal and wild boar. And our feathered friends were abundant. Virtually every place you stopped during a safari there were numerous bird species, from raptors to songbirds as well as the ever-present raucous peafowl which can be easily photographed.

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The challenge of tiger photography is very real, but the best planning and trip execution will undoubtedly go far to improve your ability to get great tiger photos. Tiger photography can become addictive as there are limitless ways to photograph what have been elusive and dynamic subjects in the past. In fact, much like an African photo safari, a tiger safari in India casts a certain spell over any enthusiastic nature photographer. I can wholeheartedly say that after the success of this year’s trip, I am already looking forward to the Van Os Photo Safari next year.

Upcoming Related Tours

Ultimate Tigers

Photograph the world’s largest living cats and other Indian wildlife for six shooting days in one of the world’s most impressive tiger reserves. Special government photography permits in Bandhavgarh National Park allow unrestricted daytime entry for three full days. Only two photographers per safari vehicle.

March 31 - April 11, 2025
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