The New Indian Express, 27 March 2017

Here is the transcript from the Edex Live edition of The New Indian Express:

Blessy Mathew Prasad finds out why Toehold is the one-stop solution for aspiring wildlife photographers and travellers.

One look at Jayanth Sharma’s pictures and you can’t help but let out a sigh of wonder. That’s the power of each of his pictures. Be it the exotic polar bear standing on the tip of a melting iceberg in Antarctica, the monumental wild elephant in Africa walking right into the camera, the ‘just-in-time’ picture of a crocodile about to attack a wildebeest or the powerful gaze of the Asiatic lion that sends shivers down your spine — these are pictures that evoke emotions, tell stories and make you fall in love with nature, especially the animal kingdom. And of course, make you feel bad about your 9 to 5 job within four walls, while there are people out there living life on the edge and capturing the beauty around them.

 

Toehold Jayanth Sharma

 

There is hope, however, for those of you who want a taste of it. Toehold, a travel and photography company, founded by Jayanth in 2010, has a range of services for those who want to dabble in photography as a hobby and not as a full-time career. From organising workshops to renting out professional photography gear and conducting photo tours around the world, Toehold is a one-stop solution for photography enthusiasts.

Jayanth, who was born into a family where photography was a business, quit his IT job to pursue it. He had a great passion for nature and wildlife, coming from a city like Mysuru that is full of sanctuaries. In 2004, when DSLRs became popular in the country, he started investing in them. He grew as a photographer, got published and even won a few awards.

When asked how the idea for Toehold came about, he says, “In my early days of photography, I was always looking for advice on what to do, what technique to use. There were many full-time schools where one could enroll. The other option was to learn from the internet. But both had their own disadvantages, especially for someone who wants to take it up as a hobby, not as a profession. I realised that there are so many people who are embracing photography. We wanted to provide a platform where we could provide people with the knowledge of how to take pictures.”

Toehold currently has offices in Bengaluru, Pune and Mumbai where they conduct monthly workshops on photography techniques. “After we empower people with the knowledge of photography, they need the equipment to actually execute their creative thoughts. We realised that people who are interested in travelling or photography as a hobby might invest around 20 days a year. And people would not buy the gear just for those few days. So, it made sense to rent out our gear as a natural extension of the learning process,” says Jayanth, elaborating on their other services.

The meat of their business, however, is taking people out on tours and expeditions. “This is a very niche travel concept because very few people travel for photography. A few years ago, people would say, ‘Hey I need a camera because I’m going to Ladakh. Now, mindsets have changed. Now, people say ‘I want to take pictures of landscapes, where should I go?’ So, there’s a whole shift in attitude,” says Jayanth.

Toehold also helps people plan vacations.Since they have the first-hand experience of the place, they are able to bring field expertise into travel planning and give tourists remote guidance. So far, Toehold has been operating in six of the seven continents, including Antarctica. “Africa is about 30% of our business. We go to countries like Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Botswana. We have some exotic destinations in the Americas to spot jaguars; we go to Chile to find mountain lions. We also go to Antarctica to find penguins and polar bears. High up in the Arctic, there’s a Norwegian territory called Svalbard, one of the best places to spot whales, walruses and polar bears. There are a few other places in Asia, including India and Russia, that we visit,” he says.

To help us imagine what they do, Jayanth tells us how they spot polar bears. Usually, on a cruise, there are about 12 clients. There’s a 24-hour watch from the bridge next to the captain, where people scan for polar bears. Once they are spotted from afar, the clients are notified and sent in smaller boats to get a closer look.

In an African safari, there is a photographer-client ratio of 1:7. “Let’s say there is a lion and people are taking pictures, one of my colleagues will stand behind them and give instructions for taking better pictures. This sort of on-field instruction is what people need,” says Jayanth, and we’re sure that his clients agree. What better way to learn the art of wildlife photography.

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