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Meet Taiping’s award-winning wildlife photographer

For self-taught photographer Mohan Raj Nair, capturing images of animals in the wild is far more fulfilling than winning any award.

Dinesh Kumar Maganathan @ FMT Lifestyle 03-Mar-2024

“Nothing good comes out of Aulong Lama”, echoes the old local saying in Taiping, Perak. Yet, award-winning wildlife photographer Mohan Raj Nair begs to differ.

Wildlife Photographer

Wildlife Photographer born in Taiping

“Whenever people ask me where I’m from, I always mention I’m from Aulong Lama because people say it’s a very bad area. But I’ve given my hometown a good name through my photography,” Mohan, 30, shared with FMT Lifestyle.

Despite only picking up a camera in 2020, Mohan has made a name for himself with his captivating wildlife shots from the jungles of Malaysia and Singapore, where he currently works as a security trainer.

Based in Johor Bahru, Mohan has been recognised for his work on three occasions – an honourable mention in the prestigious International Photography Award 2021; a spot among India’s Top 7 Wildlife Photographers in 2021; a mention in 35Awards’ 8th International Photo Awards for the 100 best wildlife photos category.

“I was very proud when I got my first photography award. In fact, it was only after winning awards that people who doubted me before started to acknowledge me.

“But for me, every picture I capture after a day of hard work, that’s the real ‘award’ for me. That makes me very happy, more than getting an award,” Mohan admitted.

Wildlife Photographer

Wildlife Photographer born in Taiping

A glimpse at Mohan’s impressive wildlife photography catalogue reveals his profound passion and dedication to nature. From majestic elephants and graceful birds to menacing-looking saltwater crocodiles and curious primates, Mohan captures their unique beauty, offering a glimpse into a world unseen by many.

Mohan’s entry into wildlife photography was almost serendipitous. Having an interest in filmmaking, Mohan was working on a short film project with his friends in 2020 when he noticed a squirrel leaping from tree to tree.

He instinctively grabbed his camera and captured a stunning picture, and with the encouragement of friends, he ventured deeper into the world of wildlife photography.

As pandemic lockdowns disrupted regular shooting, Mohan turned to YouTube tutorials and personal lessons from friends to brush up his craft, and he’s never looked back.

He recalled waiting day and night for nearly a month in 2021 to photograph the Grey Crowned Crane in Singapore. He only spotted the elusive bird native to Uganda at the Seletar Aerospace on the fourth week. It was worth the wait as the bird dropped a feather as if to acknowledge his effort.

“I took it as a sign, a gift from the bird,” Mohan said.

Mohan also had a thrilling encounter with a wild elephant in the jungles of Kahang in Johor. Following the herd deep into the forest, he unexpectedly found himself face-to-face with a wild elephant just as they were about to leave.

“My guide told me not to get too close. But what did I do? I took out my camera and started taking some photos and videos!” Mohan proudly recounted, quickly adding, “but it was so scary because anything could have happened.”

Acknowledging the challenges of wildlife photography, Mohan shared: “I love the challenge. Being a wildlife photographer meant looking for elusive animals or hiding so that they don’t see you. All of these are fun for me because they are challenging. I’m not doing this for the money.”

Mohan takes immense pride in his photography and vowed to never give it up. After all, it serves as a source of pride for his parents.

“I’ve never given anything good to my parents,” Mohan confessed. “After I won some awards and the media covered it, my family was so proud of me. My father especially was so happy. There and then, I decided I’m never going to drop this, and I will keep getting better.”

And for Mohan, the most fulfilling challenge is yet to come – photographing Bengal tigers in India.

In the grand scheme of things, if wildlife photography has taught Mohan anything, it’s that the “characteristic features and values that animals display in their struggle to survive make humans realise that they may, in some ways, be more in tune with nature than humans are.”