Interview with Misja Smits

Interview series
by Kristel Schneider


‘I like to surprise myself to avoid getting bored with my own pictures’


Misja Smits

Misja Smits


I am not sure anymore where I saw Misja’s work for the first time, in Dutch magazine Grasduinen (now Roots) or via the Argus photocontest, but I can still remember I was totally stunned by the color impact of her images. In my opinion Misja is one of the best close-up photographers in the Netherlands. The way she positions the tiny mushrooms, flowers and other subjects in the frames in combination of the natural color pallets is just fantastic. For those who do not know Misja Smits, I am very happy to introduce her to you on Visions and Nature. Enjoy and be inspired by her work!

Can you introduce yourself in a few lines, explain your background and how you got introduced to (nature) photography?
I was born in a little rural village (Liessel) in the Netherlands. After my secondary school I moved to the city of Nijmegen, where I still live so far. Photography has always been part of my life but it’s since 1993 when I started the study Photographic Design in the Hague that it really became important for me. After this study I started working as an employee in a photo store where nowadays photo finishing is my main task. Since 2002, when I met my boyfriend Edwin Giesbers, who is a professional nature photographer, I focused entirely on nature photography. During the last years I have shifted my attention more and more to macro subjects, such as toadstools, flowers and insects. I guess you can call me a semi professional photographer, because I always have had my job in the photo store and until now I have no plans to make my money completely from photography. It is my hobby, I have to admit it is a pretty persistent hobby, but I like it this way. The fact that I can do my own thing, without any pressure from outside, is one of the thing I like most about it. It gives me a kind of freedom in which I can develop myself in my own way and in which I can enjoy photography the most.

What originally triggered your interest in the ‘Small World’ and what fascinated you the most in these subjects ?
I guess what triggered me the most was the surprising effect of the macro lens. Of course there was also the interest in the tiny insects, flowers and toadstools and surely I loved to be out there all by myself or with my boyfriend to experience nature and its silence. However it was the thrill of the final image that attracted me the most. The macro lens was the perfect lens for me to create my own image, an image that could not be seen with the naked eye but only by looking through the macro lens. It gave me endless opportunities to play with sharpness versus un-sharpness, light versus shadow and to create my own color palettes.

All is well

© Misja Smits

(Click on the images for a better view)

When I look at your images I get a happy feeling, the way you put the subjects, color combinations in the frame are always in good harmony.
The color contrasts are well chosen in combination with a well balanced background and the depth of field. The ‘small world’ can sometimes even look smaller or bigger depending on the positioning of your subjects. When you go out in the field do you already have a combination/subject in mind or do you let yourself get inspired by nature? Do you use natural light in you photography or other tools ?

Thank you for your compliments!

All the things you mention like the placing of my subjects, the framing, the use of colors, the use of fore and background, are indeed very important for me. The  subject is not just the main thing, it is always the entire picture that counts for me. This means hard work in the field, because my desired image almost never comes easy. Sometimes it also means quitting a certain subject, even after spending lots of time on it, because the entire picture just won’t do it for me in the end.

In the beginning I used to go into the fields without any idea or subject in mind. I just went ‘open minded’ and just ran against my subjects. This worked out perfectly for me until a few years ago. Then somehow I wanted more or something else and maybe I wasn’t satisfied  with the images any more once I got home. Nowadays I go out more and more with a certain subject (plant or insect) in mind. This approach requires more research in advance. Most of the information (where the insect or the plant live, when the best season is to visit it, what the best time of the day is to approach it) I can get online and from colleague photographers. And then, when I am out in the field with my ‘wanted’ subject I let myself be inspired by nature and its environment to complete the total picture.

Very occasionally I not only have a certain subject in mind, but also a certain image. This is however a tricky approach, because when it works out fine everything is ok. But on the other hand if it doesn’t work out as I wanted it to it’s difficult to shift my attention to the idea of getting inspired by nature again.

It’s funny to see this transformation in my approach over the last years. By answering you I realize it. The thing is I never really made these choices consciously. Somehow I just follow my heart without thinking too much about why I do certain things.

Most of the time I use natural light. I like sunny conditions, in which I keep my subject in the shade (in necessary with a white/light grey umbrella) and play with the fore and background that are (partly) lit by the sun. Sometimes, such is the case with tiny subjects such as hair moss or toadstools that are positioned low on the ground, I use a flashlight to put my subject in the spotlights. This is mostly the case in the evening or on cloudy dark days during low light situations.

© Misja Smits

© Misja Smits

In another interview I read that you like to keep surprising yourself and others. Can you explain in what way and why and if you think you manage to do so ?
I like to surprise myself to avoid getting bored with my own pictures. I like to surprise and challenge myself visually. This sometimes means taking a photo of  a subject that I haven’t photographed before, but it can also mean approaching my subject in a way I didn’t do before. With a different approach I mean using a different technique or playing with a different fore and background, or by placing my subject much smaller or bigger in the frame. Actually anything that makes my images different than the ones I shot before. These differences can be very small or even invisible to an outsider but for me they can make the difference between a good and a lesser image of myself. I have succeeded when I experience the ‘wow’ effect. I am convinced I need to have these surprising ‘wow’ effects to grow in my photography and to not stand still.

What are your photography goals, destinations for 2014/2015 and what would you like to achieve ?
This may sound implausible, but apart from trying to challenge myself and hoping to be able to enjoy nature photography together with my boyfriend for as long as I live, I have no further photographic goals or destinations. Of course I do am very happy with all kind of things that cross my path, such as exhibitions, publications, selling pictures, winning awards and so on, but these are not my main goals. My main goal is very clear: to be able to enjoy nature photography.

Share with us one of your favorite personal photographs? And tell the story behind it?
This is a difficult one… But I have chosen for my picture called ‘Bride and Groom’.

Bride and Groom

Bride and groom – © Misja Smits

I made this picture of two Edelweiss specimens in 2011 in The Hohe Tauern, a National Park in Austria. Two years before I was in Liechtenstein and I searched like crazy for these flowers. Unfortunately I couldn’t find them and now, in the Alps in Austria, I just bumped into them without really looking for them.

There’s something special about the Edelweiss. Once this alpine plant nearly was extinct. This was because of tourists gathered the plant, or because of locals used the plant as a medicine for stomach pain.Therefore, nowadays the plant is protected and can be found more easily.

In the early morning the flowers caught the first sunlight. I was extremely happy with the dewdrops that were left after a rainy night. The surrounding grass, which was covered with dew drops, was the perfect ‘decor’ for the two plants which were standing so tenderly next to each other. The background was colored in blue because it was still in the shadow. Somehow the two plants reminded me of a bride and groom. To emphasize the dreamy effect I used double exposure. Double exposure is a function in my Nikon body where the camera automatically merges two exposures which are made one after each other. During the first exposure I have focused on the two Edelweiss plants, while during the second one I have un-focused my subject by focusing a little bit more close to the lens, all without moving the camera.

Do you have any exhibitions or other events coming up?
In fact I do have an exhibition coming up, knowing in the Moormuseum in Geeste, Germany. The director had visited my exhibition in Stapelfeld earlier this year and has invited me for a future exhibition in his museum during the opening season next year. I am very happy to know that my 41 images will have a new destination to show off soon.

Furthermore soon a portfolio of my macro images will be published in a French magazine. I am very excited about this because it’s my first French publication. More information about these future projects will follow as soon as possible. Stay tuned for the last updates by following me on my Facebook and website.

Before the interview Misja had a look at Kristel’s website ( and picked out images that really popped out for her and she explains why:

I like Kristel’s graphic pictures of the trees in winter. Somehow you manage to capture the essence: graphic lines/forms and a winter feeling.

© Kristel Schneider

© Kristel Schneider

I think this picture is strong because of the oblique lines that draw the attention from the left bottom part to the right upper part of the picture. The abstract lines and forms of the vegetation are perfectly framed and contribute to an abstract character of the picture. The white color of the snow and the brown/red color of the vegetation are the only ones and give a certain balance to the picture.

© Kristel Schneider

© Kristel Schneider

Lovely creative play of sharp versus un-sharp, showing a strong picture doesn’t necessary have to be sharp. This photo stands out for me because of the daring to un-focus on the main subject and by doing so making the form of the flamingo even stronger. Then there is the great DOF created by the water reflections, which contributes to a pleasing fore and background. And the choice for black and white (which may be a natural effect of the silhouette conditions or may be transformed in post processing) seems to be the only right one. Great picture with great vision!

© Kristel Schneider

© Kristel Schneider

I see lots of pictures with this moving effect coming by but only few of them have the ‘wow’ effect on me. This one surely has it. The moving effect alone won’t do it. Here everything comes together in the right way: the form of the tree-trunk comes out great, the colors of the green leaves and the colors of the red/brown soil go very well together because they contrast. Also by the creative effect the light on the tree trunk and its roots is emphasized in a positive way. I like to see an experimental picture and surely when it pleases the eye!


Coming up next, in the “Interview-Series” : Daisy Gilardini, don’t miss it!
See other interviews here





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