Snap Stories is a monthly column I write for a travel magazine. ‘An evening of chasing and photographing sheep in the mountains’ was published in February 2014.
Photographers keep dreaming of images all the time. Every photographer would have a dozen images conceptualized in their heads, which they would be hoping to make sometime in future. These concepts may have come from multiple sources – pure imagination, photographs or paintings seen in the past or from a place they have visited during their journeys.
One such concept that buzzed in my mind was to photograph a herd of sheep going home in the evening. I was hoping to catch a dramatic moment when the sheep would kick up the dust and scatter the evening sunlight, and their furry translucent coat would glow at the edges as the sunlight bounced through them. It would have a dreamy atmosphere, where the dust would dull the details and also weaken the strength of the sunlight, creating a fog-like effect on a magical evening.
Of course, such encounters can’t be planned completely. One can always make an attempt to be at the right time and place, but it would still take a lot of luck to see that precise thing cooking up in your mind unfolding into a reality.
I had one such moment last week when I was travelling in the highlands of Ladakh, photographing its winter landscapes. One evening, I arrived at a grassland where I was certain to find large herds of sheep and perhaps some yaks and cows as well. Being winter, I was expecting a snowy landscape where sheep would forage on whatever grass available on the surface, not buried under snow. But on arrival, I discovered that there was no snowfall in the season and the ground was still dry and dusty. I could see dust being kicked up by the hooves from a distance and it was almost time for sunset, allowing some anticipation to build up inside me.
When we reached closer, I saw nearly half-a-dozen flocks of sheep slowly being herded home by their owners. As they walked in unison, as sheep always do, the air was filled with thick dust and sun glowed mildly through the blanket of dust from behind. It was precisely that moment I had dreamt of, happening in front of my eyes.
Before I knew it, I was out of the vehicle chasing those sheep and firing away a series of photographs of them glowing in the sunlight and the shepherds trying to organize them to get back home. It was a bitterly cold and windy evening, with temperatures probably down to ten degrees below zero in this region with depleted oxygen. But in the excitement of realizing my imagination, none of these really mattered and I was behind the sheep for the next 15 minutes, trying to keep pace and make as many images as possible. It was only when the sun went behind a mountain and drew a curtain to the magical scene that I realized I had walked nearly a kilometer with the herd in a frenzied pace. The resulting images made it all worthwhile.