NMSU College of Engineering professor utilizes scientific approach to photography

Nirmala Khandan, the Ed & Harold Foreman Endowed Chair in New Mexico State University’s College of Engineering, has traveled the world photographing wildlife in unique habitats. (Courtesy photo)

Nirmala Khandan, the Ed & Harold Foreman Endowed Chair in New Mexico State University’s College of Engineering, has traveled the world photographing wildlife in unique habitats. (Courtesy photo) Tiffany Acosta

Writer: Tiffany Acosta

When Nirmala Khandan isn’t on campus, there’s a good chance you will find him behind the lens of his camera.

The Ed & Harold Foreman Endowed Chair in the College of Engineering has been a professor at New Mexico State University for 25 years, and for nearly 20 years he has spent weekends and vacations taking photographs.

“Photography, most people look at it as an art, but it is science also,” he said. “It’s art with light. You paint with light basically.”

Khandan said his hobby began because he was interested in looking at photos and expanded when he was able to afford photography equipment. A self-taught photographer, Khandan’s first subjects consisted of things in his own backyard – flowers, insects and birds.

His interest in birds has grown into wildlife. He has traveled the world going on safaris to take photos of large animals such as lions, leopards, tigers, rhinos, hippos and elephants. Through his many exotic travels, Khandan said Botswana has been his favorite for photographing a wide range of wildlife in unique habitats.

“It’s still very remote and not swamped with tourists,” he said. “It’s very tough. The facilities are very rustic you have to camp out and rough out.”

In addition to Botswana, Khandan has traveled to Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa, India and Sri Lanka, his home country, in search of rare wildlife to photograph.

“Each place has its own challenges and opportunities,” he mentioned. “I’ve gone to India several times and each time it is different. If you want to see tigers in the wild, India is the place to go. If you want to see leopards you need to go to Sri Lanka because of the high-density population there.”

“Even though it’s commercialized, I go with special photography groups so we can spend lots of time taking photographs otherwise you just drive by.”

When he is not globetrotting, Khandan said he often travels to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro. He even made a trip after December finals were complete to photograph cranes.

“It’s a nice spot to take a variety of photographs,” he said. “But, it’s a challenge to get a shot with a clean background for pleasing, crisp pictures.”

Khandan said that birds were his favorite subjects until the birth of his granddaughter, Ariel, two years ago, who is a tough subject in her own right.

A member of the Dona Ana Photography Club for about 20 years, Khandan has been recognized for his photography. In spring 2008, he won a national photography contest for best backyard photo by “Nature’s Best Photography;” and has exhibited his images along with his club members at several local shows. He also has taught special photography topics at the Annual Photographic Symposium sponsored by the club.

When asked what’s left on his photography bucket list? Khandan noted that he would one day like to host an exhibition of his work and make his first trip to Alaska.

As a civil engineering professor who has had a notable career that recently included two patents and a Distinguished Achievement Professorship at NMSU, Khandan admits his wildlife and nature photography hobby takes patience.

“It is relaxing but it is very strenuous also. It’s not like landscape or portrait photography; you need to look for the subject and wait for the moment; if you miss the right moment then you don’t have an image.”

Watch this video on YouTube at http://youtu.be/Vz9QCx7xy2w.

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