Ramdas in conversation with wildlife photographer David Kooijman, from South Africa.
Which is one photograph or experience that has remained with you?
There are many photos and experiences that remain with me. Each photo tour brings its own memories, but of course some are more vivid than others. One experience I remember in particular was when we were in Namibia in the Etosha National Park. It was early in the morning and our guide drove us along one of the gravel roads. The sun had still to rise above the horizon, but it was already getting light. Our guide heard a lion roaring and we soon found him lying down while roaring. He was quite far from the road, so not ideal for photos, especially with little light. We thought we were in for a long wait, because cats sleep most of the time. Even though this lion was far from asleep, he didn’t seem to be going anywhere soon. I decided I had time to change the lens on my camera with a longer focal length. As soon as I took off the first lens he got up! I quickly changed my lens and started taking photos. He kept on roaring while walking through the bush.
The photos I took were not the best quality, because the lens I used then is a little soft and I used a high ISO, but I like this one where you can see the lion roaring.
The roaring of a lion is something you can hear very far and is a way for males to tell other males to stay away from their territory. We later heard from other people in the park that he had been spotted with a female after we’d seen him. Maybe he wanted to announce his arrival.
The sound of the roaring and the (for me) unexpected behaviour, makes this a special sighting. Together with the surreal landscape of Etosha, this remains moment I will not easily forget.
How did you get into wildlife photography?
I started with landscape photography which is something I love. I love the nature and capture Nature’s beauty with my camera. Landscape photography can be practiced almost anywhere, which is a big advantage over wildlife photography.
I love Africa however, and its wildlife is amazing. The game drives or safaris are one of my favourite activities when I’m in Africa. I just can’t get enough of them! Seeing the animals in their own environment is spectacular, independently if it’s a bee eater or an elephant.
So I started as a landscape photographer, and I still am, and slowly added wildlife photography to my skills. Now I do both, which is great. Landscape photography provides me with composition skills I maybe would never have known about had I started wildlife photography right away.
What has been your inspiration in wildlife photography?
My inspiration is my love for animals. Already as a kid, I loved animals and would read all about them. Now that I’m fortunate enough to spend parts of the year in South Africa, I can show this love through my photography. What I love is wildlife photography is the unexpected, the not knowing. It is much easier to prepare for landscape photography; you cannot always prepare for the weather, but you have a lot more control over your composition. In wildlife photography, you won’t know exactly what you are going to find. Animals are not lined up or in fixed positions. The animals do not pose, so you have to be patient. A good guide is very important in this regard. Not only will s/he do the driving for you, so you can concentrate on taking photos. S/he also knows the behaviour of the animals, where they were the other day, etc.
The not knowing what you’re about to see is also the beauty of wildlife photography. Even though I want to come back with nice photos, I already enjoy being out there, looking for the animals. The photography is a bonus!
Your journey on how you started and now — with regards to kind of equipment and experience?
I had started with an analogue camera with films. I mainly took photos of our holidays. I took my photography to a different level once I got a digital camera. It was just an entry-level DSLR with a 15-85 mm lens. The lens was of quite good quality and the zoom range is very useful. What I loved about digital photography that I could now edit my photos. I could now unleash my creativity. Before I had the film processed in a lab, but how it was done was beyond my control. Now I’m in control again.
You don’t need to buy the most expensive camera to be a good photographer. A good photo is about composition and light. Once you know how to make a compelling composition and use the light to obtain the effect you want, you might want to upgrade your camera and lenses. But the more expensive camera does not make more beautiful photos by itself: it needs a good photographer!
Today I’m using two camera bodies, one with a full-frame sensor and one with an APS-C sensor. I have several lenses, like a 16-35 mm f/4, a 70-200 mm f/2.8, a 24-105 mm f/4 and a 50 mm f/1.8. Another vital piece of equipment is my tripod. I make most of my landscape photos using my tripod. This way I know my photos will be sharp in any condition.
I use the APS-C camera mainly for wildlife because of its increased reach with respect to full-frame. I always keep my other camera-ready with a wide-angle lens. This gives you a completely new perspective once you get close enough to wildlife.
What are the challenges faced by a wildlife photographer on a regular basis?
The main challenge of a wildlife photographer is time. The more time you spend in the wild, the more possibilities you have of coming back with that special photo. We often don’t have an unlimited amount of time, so we have to compromise and be ready once the opportunity arises.
Since the animals do not pose for you, you need to anticipate their behaviour. This is not always easy and takes practice. You need to learn about the behaviour of the animals beforehand, so you can be ready when the animal makes a move or does something that can be predicted.
The third challenge is patience. You need to spend time with the animals, so they don’t mind your presence and behave normally. And then wait for the photo you have in mind…
Your views on raw images and photoshop images?
If you want to edit your photos, taking your photos in raw format is essential. There is more information in a raw file than in a jpeg. In addition, a jpeg is already processed by your camera, while a raw file is not. Raw files need editing and leave you in control. I always take my photos in raw format.
Almost every photo you see publish online and in printed media is edited. You bring out the best of a photo when editing it. I use mainly Adobe’s Lightroom CC to edit my photos, this is where I can put my personal touch on my photos, where I can show the emotions I felt when taking the photos.
So, I’m absolutely not against photoshop, on the contrary, for me it’s necessary. Of course, there are many ways to edit a photo, but that comes down to taste and creativity. What for me is too much can be acceptable to someone else. This is a debate that goes on forever and will probably never stop.
I don’t like to make composite images, meaning putting two photos together. Like a sky replacement or taking the photo of an elephant and placing it on a different background. I do however eliminate powerlines or poles from a photo if it makes the photo look more natural. This is my approach and I think everyone should do as they please. The only thing is that I would like to know that it’s a composite. Don’t say it’s a single photo when it’s not.
What are the special techniques that you use during photography?
For landscape photography,I use the HDR technique a lot. I take five exposures of a scene: two dark, one correct, and two light. I can then blend these together on my computer. This way I obtain a lot more detail both in the highlights and in the shadows. This technique is especially useful when there is a lot of contrast in the scene.
I love to play with long exposures using ND filters. A neutral density filter is a dark filter that allows you to use longer exposures. This can create motion blur in water or other things that move. You can create a smoky sea or light trails of cars. The effect is not easy to predict, but it’s lots of fun.
Your favourite picture and the story behind it?
I have many photos I like and picking one favourite is not easy. One of my favourites though is this photo of the white horses of the Camargue. The Camargue is an area in the south of France and large parts are marshes just behind the beach. These horses are semi-wild because they are left to themselves in the marshes most of the year. Especially the females and young horses. They are resistant to the mosquitos and roam the area in peace. All horses have an owner though and the stallions are used for riding.
This herd was led through the low water and they made them galop though the water. Even though not a completely wild situation, the situation was perfect for action photos. This photo shows the group of horses running through the water with all the water drops splashing around. I love the composition with the horse in the centre stealing the scene. I transformed it into black and white because I feel the white colour of their skin comes out better with a dark background.
What are the important things to be noted to become a good Wild Life photographer?
First of all you need to love Nature and especially animals. You need to feel a connection with wildlife. This will somehow show in your photography.
You need to be patient. When you see a good wildlife photo, you don’t see all the time it took, and all the photos that are not shown. Of the thousands of photos that a wildlife photographer takes only a few are made public.
You need to be willing to be in a not so comfortable situation. If you want to take photos of the flamingos in Camargue, France at sunset, prepare for many mosquito bites. If you want to make a photo of a kingfisher the moment it dives into the water, maybe you need to be in the water. Often the effort is easily forgotten once you come back with a great shot, but it’s something to keep in mind.
What are the earning potential for someone in Wildlife photography?
This is difficult to say and depends very much on the area you’re in and what you want to earn from. Most wildlife photographers are not in this field for the money, but because they have a passion for Nature and photography. That does not mean that you cannot earn well as a wildlife photographer. You will need to diversify your earnings. Fine art prints, stock photography, printed and online media each have a place.
I have chosen to teach photography through my workshops and tours at Nature Photo Tours. We organize a photography tour and workshops in Europe and Africa. In Europe, the tours are focused on landscape photography. We go to Tuscany in Italy for the rolling hills, to Provence in France for the lavender fields and to The Netherlands for tulips and windmills.
In South Africa and Namibia our tours are a combination of landscape and wildlife photography. Southern Africa offers spectacular landscapes and amazing wildlife. During our tours we show you the natural wonders and teach you about photography. You may also visit www.naturephoto.tours for more information.