With a love for art and nature, photographer Hita Bambhania-Modha has set on a journey to fully immerse herself in capturing stunning images of the natural world. Residing in beautiful San Jose, California, Hita finds beauty in the landscape’s diverse canvas. With patience and a keen eye, Hita has the ability to capture and convey her connection with nature in all its beauty. Hita’s body of work is quite diverse and her passion for photography speaks for itself.
Hita, thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and views through your words and photography and for allowing us to get to know a bit about you. Your work is truly inspiring.
Can you please tell the readers a bit about yourself?
I am an artist at heart, currently expressing art through photography.
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Education. I taught in elementary schools and home-schooled my two children.
Where is home?
I live in San Jose, California, which is a valley surrounded by beautiful rolling hills.
I was born in India and came to the US as an early teenager.
After browsing through your website, I see that you’ve built up an extensive collection of wonderful photography. What is it that led you toward this field and how long have you been working in them?
My love of art and nature brought me to the field of photography. I am a self-taught artist. I learned from art books and some classes and enjoyed drawing and painting. Around 2012, I transitioned to photography, as I felt it was the most suitable medium for expressing my art. Informally, I have been doing photography for at least 20 years, however, I became more serious since 2012.
Are you formally-taught or self-taught? And what has been the best source of information along this journey (workshop, online forums, classroom, mentor, etc)?
I am a self-taught photographer. I learned a lot of basics of photography and equipment from my sister Janvi Bambhania and brother-in-law Arka Chatterjee, both of whom are talented photographers and artists.
I am constantly learning from various sites on the internet.
As I was looking for more specific guidance in nature and wildlife photography, I started searching for professionals in this area. I came across a successful wildlife photographer Melissa Groo whose work, I felt, resonated with mine. I had a valuable consultation with her. I read her informative articles in Outdoor Photographer Magazine, a very helpful resource.
I am a member of NANPA (http://www.nanpa.org), (North American Nature Photography Association), an organization that offers many resources. I am also a member of Cornell Lab of Ornithology (https://www.birds.cornell.edu/home/), an invaluable resource for studying birds. I often explore Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds and Audubon Society to learn about various birds. I use Merlin app by Cornell Lab of Ornithology for bird identification. American Birding Association (ABA) has a Facebook group called “What’s This Bird?” that is helpful in identifying birds.
My local Audubon Society offers field trips and lectures by expert birders and photographers which are very enriching.
Going forward, I plan to continue to read more books, magazines, and forums, to attend workshops, and to study the meaningful work of great photographers, especially ILCP (International League of Conservation Photographers) fellows.
Finally, I continuously learn by practicing a lot and by observing nature.
What is the inspiration for your photography?
Art and beauty in nature is my inspiration.
How do you choose what you are going to shoot?
I am drawn to beautiful things in nature. When I see something interesting, juxtaposed against a striking background, or illuminated by dramatic light, I’m compelled to capture it. Sometimes, ordinary things in good light captured from a unique angle can create magical compositions.
I often choose subjects such as birds and flowers in my own garden and in my neighborhood. I go to local birding hotspots and county parks to photograph nature and wildlife. During family vacations, I capture everything that inspires me.
Subjects, however, are just an inspiration and a springboard for further exploration and expression. I am really looking deeper for an interplay of art elements such as light, colors, textures, etc. that create interesting moods and dramatic compositions, and convey the very essence of the subject. The way I see and capture the given subject sometimes becomes more important than the choice of the subject itself. Subjects are ephemeral while the underlying art is eternal.
When shooting subjects, what do you find most challenging?
In general, following nature’s rhythm is one of the most challenging, as we have our own rhythms that don’t always synchronize with nature. Nature photography requires patience, and readiness to act when the right moment comes. The moment sometimes lasts for just a split second.
In the case of birds, I always keep my camera ready with a long lens and correct settings for birds as I am constantly on the lookout for interesting bird behavior. When I see something interesting, I am ready to shoot. Specifically, photographing small active birds in flight is currently the most challenging for me.
In the case of plants, it is also important to be aware because plants change and grow very fast. Many bloom at a certain time of the year. Once the blooming moment has passed, you have to wait for a whole year. A great example of this is wildflowers which bloom for a very short time period.
What has been your most memorable session and why?
As a child, I had read about a bird sanctuary where shorebirds migrated during winter and had been fascinated. I had a deep desire to go to this place, but never went and later forgot about it.
The first time I went to Baylands Nature Preserve in Palo Alto, California, I felt as if I had come to the place I once dreamed of going to, even though the two places are very different. I felt overjoyed seeing so many elegant shorebirds in one place. At one point, a lot of the American Avocets that were in the pond, flew up together, creating a spectacular view offering an awesome photo opportunity. I also saw beautiful raptors and their interesting behavior. This became one of my most memorable sessions and I came back with many wonderful images.
Which artists and photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, body of work and career path?
I tend to be a solitary photographer. I have a good grasp on art elements and I continue to improve the skills and techniques in order to take my work to the next level. I see a lot of photography on social media, however, refrain from being influenced by it in an effort to keep my work original and unique.
One American artist, however, that I admired a long time ago was Georgia O’Keefe, who is considered a pioneer of Modern art. Through simplicity, she brought out the true essence of her subjects. After much reflection, I feel that her way of expressing beauty has been deeply ingrained in me and I am always striving to simplify my images.
How do you keep yourself motivated and your work fresh?
As I love what I do, I have no trouble getting motivated. While I enjoy photographing nature nearby, I get really inspired when I travel to new places and come across new subjects.
I strive to stay very organized with every aspect of life. This way, my mind remains free for creative work.
I am my own tough critic. I shoot generously but share only my best work.
Share with us your favorite images and why.
Oak Tree in San Jose, California
I took this image lying down at the base of the tree with a wide-angle lens. This is one of my favorite images because the branches have beautiful complex lines and textures and the golden light illuminating the branches against blue sky creates a dramatic mood.
Seagull Family in La Jolla, California
This is an interesting image because it shows the Seagull family with a parent, nest, and adorable chicks in their natural habitat. Soothing colors and bokeh in the background further enhance the image.
Hummingbird in San Jose, California
This is one of my favorite images because it captures interesting behavior from a unique angle. Closer observation reveals beautiful harmony of art elements, such as lines, textures, colors, contrast, and shape.
Leaf against the Sun in San Jose, California
On this particular day, the sun looked different due to smoke in the air. As I was taking pictures of just the sun, the leaves of Sycamore trees kept getting in the way. I decided to juxtapose a sycamore leaf against the sun which resulted in this shot. I like this image for its striking colors and contrast.
Rustica Rubra Magnolia in San Jose, California
I like this image for its overall composition, shapes, and colors. The golden light adds dramatic mood.
What do you hope viewers take away from your images?
Awareness and appreciation for art, beauty, and complexity in nature.
What type of camera(s) do you shoot with? What is your favorite lens?
I use Nikon D810 and my current favorite lens is Nikkor 200-500mm.
My own personal experience has led me to strongly believe that a serious photographer should have the skills as well as the best gear they could afford.
What is in your camera bag?
Nikon D810 camera, Nikkor 200-500mm telephoto lens, Sigma 150mm macro lens, Sigma 50mm portrait lens, Sigma 20mm wide-angle Art lens, Litra Pro LED, memory cards, extra batteries, tripod, shutter release, reflector, 2-3 big sturdy garbage bags (in case it rains), and a mask and a handkerchief (in case I get allergies).
What piece of equipment would you most like to get but don’t have yet?
Although I am content with my current set up, someday I would like to upgrade to Nikon D850 paired with Nikkor 600mm lens.
How important is Photoshop or other image editing software in your final images?
Photoshop is very important as I shoot in RAW. All of my final images go through basic adjustments in Camera Raw. I do minor clean up and cropping in Photoshop, and further post-processing only if necessary. I believe that an image has to be strong, to begin with. Photoshop definitely enhances a good image. On the other hand, trying to edit a poor image to make it presentable often leads to frustration. Therefore, I carefully choose only the images that have potential before committing time to edit them. Also, it is important to know what can be done in Photoshop but best not to overwork the image in order to keep it looking natural.
Was there a point in your artistic journey when you started to feel really good about your work? If so, what did it feel like to get past that “tipping point?”
I started feeling good about my work after I joined Instagram. I was overwhelmed with the positive feedback and support I received from the wonderful Instagram community. I gained over five thousand organic followers in less than one year!
I feel more confident about my work, feel happy that my work brings joy to others, and feel inspired to create better work.
Do you have any projects that make you look back and shake your head? What made the experience so unpleasant?
At the beginning of my serious photography journey, I was experimenting with the basic equation of aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. During this period, I went on some amazing family vacations. Unfortunately, a lot of pictures I took came out underexposed or blurry due to my lack of skill and basic understanding. Also, I regret that I didn’t take enough pictures. The experience, however, was not completely wasted as I did get some wonderful images.
What do you think the future holds for you? Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
While I cannot predict what the future will bring, I am open to its mysteries.
At a personal and concrete level, I hope to create better images that have more depth and meaning, interact and collaborate with like-minded people, get meaningful professional opportunities, and make a positive contribution to the society.
At a more global and abstract level, a particular image shows only one aspect of one species or phenomenon at one given point in time in a multidimensional reality which consists of many factors such as sounds, time, climate, seasons, and location. Furthermore, human inventions, interaction with nature, and intervention continue to add to the ever-changing, evolving reality. Each new observation, encounter, and experience unfolds a new layer of meaning and understanding, and broadens awareness of nature’s wondrous mysteries.
Bringing together the concrete and the abstract, the ultimate goal is to understand the complexity of nature and its ecosystem in as much depth as possible, be able to capture it, and share it.