Gerry Ellis - The Camels of Pushkar

Each year this time the moon begins to fill over the arid western landscape of India and from miles, hundreds of miles, come the lazy loping strides of camels, a few dozen, then a few hundred and then in the thousands.

My trip to Pushkar was one of those fortuitous accidents when you give your travel schedule a bit of breathing room and you remain open to changing the plans at the last moment.

The camel fair is world renown among desert lovers (and camels as well). For years every time I heard whispers of western India they included the camel fair. But I wish whispers would have been shouts in my ear, if so I would have detoured from somewhere in the world to get here years ago – what an amazing sight!

Arriving late in the afternoon my guide Anaruk led me through the dusty back streets of Pushkar past the security guards (no alcohol is allowed into Pushkar during the holy holiday that embraces the camel fair) and after a couple minutes to assess the situation I bee lined it for the central watering trough. After all – in a desert where must everyone and everything convene? Water.

In the end I committed over an hour just here – most on video – the comings and goings of endless camels and there tethered herders. The noise alone making the experience a joy to witness (those will get added to this blog when I get back to Portland in mid Dec – check back).

After years of chasing stories around the world I have learned its best to identify the key location that draws the subjects (like this watering trough) and then work out. Here in the sand dunes of Pushkar I locked on to a group of camels and there colorful and animated owners and followed them from the water.

The technique paid off handsomely and over the late afternoon and following morning by following a select group I not only got more intimate images but also engaged with them, discovering more about their lives and got some incredible video and audio!

Sifting through feed to insure his camels eat well and look their best

Even camels lie down - eventually – a super wide 1Omm and a very close look at a camel’s muzzle.

Dusting the nostrils with tumeric – to the camel’s vociferous objections – but the powder insures flies stay out and prevents infection.

Pushkar dunes are an endless parade of boys moving camels from old owner to new, small groups

According to Amit, my new camel friend and expert, who traveled over 400 km to bring his camels for trade – this is a perfect camel – apparently others agreed – he sold it for the two new female camels and cash.

Postscript: The still photography in Pushkar was second to my video work – so I was often grabbing shots along side taping. The XTI works well for this as it’s fairly quiet and small, being seldom noticed as everyone’s attention was captured by the “TV…TV” of the Canon XA’s wide display screen. In most cases I shot with the 28-200mm zoom, but was prepared with the 10-22mm in my pocket.

Gerry Ellis - Wanderings in India

I’m starting this photo blog a several days into my travels in India – and I’m convinced this is one of the GREAT photography destinations left in theworld—colorful, exotic, chaotic, sensory overload—few places can hope to match the intensity of life on this sub-continent. It certainly can be a challenge to ones patience, wits and stamina, but if you are up for the adventure the visual rewards are amazing!

My equipment challenge this trip is balancing photography (both still photos and video) in a lightweight package that doesn’t overwhelm my other obligations while traveling. Video is becoming a bigger and bigger part of our (GLOBIO’s) online children’s encyclopedia (see for examples of how we use both) and since the focus of my photography and travel these days is on behalf of the organization I’m trying to accomplish expanding our video collection and yet have some still photography flexibility.

I’m carrying both a new Canon HD-XA high def video camera (which I love – more on that later) and to balance the load something new and much smaller for stills, the Canon Rebel XTI body and two Canon lenses – the 10-22mm zoom and 28-200mm zoom. The XTI and lenses are small enough to poke in a couple of large pockets and deliver a large enough image to do anything with (10 megapixels image at RAW). After two decades of hauling 25-35 pounds of cameras and lenses around the planet I was looking forward to the freedom and hopefully exciting results.

India is a long flight from the States, no matter how you carve it up and after nearly a day of travel a morning arrival at a very crowded and undermanned Indira Ghandi International airport in Delhi took over two hours to negotiate, as lines packed to make it through immigrations—a hint of the crushing humanity awaiting on the streets.

On the Streets in India
Delhi streets reflect India’s approaching nightmare – becoming the world’s largest population – eclipsing China in the billion plus category. Its also on the street where you get to know one vibrant part of Indian life and there are only two ways to properly immerse yourself in it – by foot or tuk-tuk.

Tuk-tuks come in people powered and motorized versions—and on any densely crowded street both are equally efficient. The point is they get you IN” the traffic of street life.

The motorized versions often make better subjects that shooting platforms.

I prefer the pedal powered version. They are open giving you 360 degrees of shooting options, you can even stand up (cautiously) for a bit of height and they are eco-friendly.

Three hints to shooting in the streets
  • Prepare to shoot wide, as wide as possible (I love this Canon 10-22mm zoom)

  • Make certain you have a 2gig card, at least, the images will come fast and furious, and

  • Don’t look at your images while shooting! For all the great things digital has brought to photography, the one bad is the urge to look at every shot just after you click the shutter – stop it – you're missing shots. Keep your eye in the viewfinder and keep shooting—life isn’t going to wait for you to pat yourself on the back for a nice photo.

  • To test the Rebel XTI I mixed it up a bit between Auto and Aperture Priority – both were very accurate – and while I tend to the AP side for a bit of control I wouldn’t hesitate, especially at a super wide 10mm to just sit on the Auto.