Interview with Jim Brandenburg (part 1)

Visions and Nature
Photographers interview
Jim Brandenburg by Kristel Schneider 

‘Nature Photography is my language; I speak it better than English. It is a very personal intimate thing to me’.

The series of interviews with Nature Photographers is coming to an end and I thought with Jim Brandenburg I have a real Grand Finale.

Jim Brandenburg

When I first got in contact with Jim’s work I was still very young: I can remember that I was amazed by the images and it was via my parents that I had the opportunity to look in the National Geographic Magazines. It was much later that I connected, the images that had inspired me with the name Jim Brandenburg. And now when you read a lot about Nature Photography you know that Jim is a living legend and that he had inspired many other photographers all over the world.

I am very happy and honored to have this exclusive interview on Visions and Nature.
As for me it was a real personal joy to talk with Jim; he is the kind of person that speaks with so much enthusiasm and spirit that after hanging up the phone I immediately wanted to go out in Nature and take photos.
I Hope you feel the same after reading his interview that will be published in two Blog posts (part 1 and part 2).  

Short background
Minnesota native Jim Brandenburg traveled the planet as a photographer with National Geographic magazine for over 3 decades resulting in 23 magazine stories, several television features and many National Geographic books.
Over the course of his career, Brandenburg received a multitude of prestigious national and international honors for his work. Four of Jim Brandenburg’s images have recently been chosen to be part of a unique collection that represents the “40 most important nature photographs of all times.
Brandenburg was the recipient of the World Achievement Award from the United Nations Environmental Programme in Stockholm, Sweden, in recognition of his using nature photography to raise public awareness for the environment.
Brandenburg has published many bestsellers including: Chased by the Light, Looking for the Summer,Brother Wolf, White Wolf and Minnesota Images of Home.
More information about Brandenburg can be found on his web page

Who is your inspiration?  
That’s always a difficult question as so many things influence us, but I have always been interested in art ever since I was very young.
I think all kinds of art influence us. When I was a teenager I was quite successful as a musician – I played with the Everly Brothers and Chuck Berry. Then I studied art at the university and started painting. The French impressionists had a very powerful effect on me. In photography there is maybe one photographer who inspired or influenced me: Ernst Haas. It keeps surprising me how few people know him. The work of Ernst Haas is amazingly powerful and contemporary as if it had been shot today. He was the fist person to use 35 mm cameras for magazine photography. Color and B&W.He must be almost a hundred years old now. Remarkable talent!

Then there is a whole bunch of people that inspire me, amongst whom a lot of painters. There is no one in particular that really comes out powerfully but definitely hundreds who influenced me and will continue to do so.

What do you like or do not like about Nature Photography?
I came to photography because of nature, I was always extremely interested in nature. I painted it, and as a child I was a hunter. I grew up in a culture with a very deep hunting tradition. I hunted until I started caring and feeling about animals so much that in the end I did not understand why we had to kill them. So I traded my guns for cameras when I was 14 years old. It felt so natural to me. Since then I have been out every day to look at the tracks in the snow or to listen to the birds and look at the animals. Nature for me goes very deep. Nature Photography is my language; I speak it better than English. It is a very personal intimate thing to me on the other hand I do not understand people very well especially when the world gets crazier and crazier. Even if I like a lot of people, nature is a more consistent force. It is something we came out of millions and millions of year ago, and we have to cherish it. I am always surprised that so few people have a deeper passion for nature, and how much of the world never thinks about nature.
Business like Nature Photography has changed. It has become a bit bizarre. In the old days, when we were still using Kodachrome cameras, you really had to understand photography and be really good at it to survive. Nowadays, take someone with a moderate amount of talent but who has never made a picture in their lives before. They go to the camera store and buy even a cheap camera. In the same day that someone can make a magazine-worthy picture, if they have some sense of composition.

There are ten – even hundred – thousand photographers out there doing this and they have destroyed the Nature Photography business in terms of income. In terms of magazine photography, books and photo publishing, there are so many photographers that are willing to give their images away just to be published, just for the fun of it.
And I don’t say this with anger, just if you ask me what is the worst part in Nature Photography then this has totally changed my income and I had to think about changing my perspectives, doing other things next to it such as making movies. And of course I have nothing to complain about, I am the luckiest person in the world but for those young new talented photographers it will be almost impossible to make the same career or even make a good profit in Photography as I said.

Still the good thing about Nature Photography is that it brings happiness and joy. All these thousands of people are in contact with nature, they enjoy it and they love taking photos. That makes me happy.

Do you have any tips for Visions and Nature readers who would like to become   professional nature photographers?  Jim’s answer to this question and  more will be published in: Interview with Jim Brandenburg (part 2).
Coming soon on Visions and Nature.

Interview with Photographer: Leon Baas

Visions and Nature
Photographers interview
by Kristel Schneider

 ‘…more attracted by the bugs on the beautiful flowers than by the bride. ‘

I have come to know  Leon via Wildpixels, a Dutch nature forum. We were both moderators for the macro section. Leon’s work made me look  at macro photography differently. The first images I saw by him were insects surrounded by spectacular light. Looking at these images I always wondered how he could do that? He politely answered  sorry, I can’t go into much details about my technique otherwise everybody will copy it.  Luckily this has not been the case, Leon created his own style and mastered the techniques so well that  Canon’s office was decorated with his work in 2008. After this, everything moved fast and his images were published in many magazines (such as Focus, Zoom , Cameramagazine etc.) and on websites. I am very pleased to introduce his work to you and hope you will enjoy it -Kristel

Leon Baas at work

I started with photography 12 years ago. It then was nothing as it is now. It didn’t have any line in it and I would shoot everything my eyes saw. By doing this I learned more and more to look for details. My next step was wedding photography, which I did together with my wife. But to be honest my eyes were more attracted by the bugs on the beautiful flowers than by the bride.  Luckily my wife made the wedding shots so we got away with it.

My interest in nature photography grew fast the following years, especially macro photography. I learned to look for the perfect compositions and lighting techniques. I pushed myself to high standards, which I couldn’t reach at the time. I just wanted to create the perfect lighting and exposure. – Leon.

Who is your inspiration?
I  get my inspiration mainly from reading about a lot of old and new nature photography from which I have learned a lot of tricks. I learned a lot about photography by listening to other great photographers.

My toilet has been filled with a lot of photography books because this is the only place in my house I have nothing else to do except waiting for things to come. Your camera manual is the first book that will end up in a drawer. Now you know where you should  put it instead.

What do you like about Nature Photography?
I love the amazing world of insects. It’s a hard world with no rules. Sorry, just one rule…eaten or be eaten. An always different world and that fascinates me every time. Again and again.

Photographs are Copyrighted © 2011, Leon Baas — All Rights Reserved

Are there things you don’t like about Nature Photography?
I prefer to work alone and do not like to be disturbed when I’m doing my work.

Do you have any tips for Visions and Nature readers who like macro photography ?

  1. Try to get as low as possible. For example. spiders will look even more impressive when  you can get even lower that the animal
  2. In the morning the animals are very slow. Just take advantage of that moment and don’t forget your tripod.
  3. Try to approach your subject as slow as possible. Before you know it they will fly or run off. The use of a 100mm lens or longer will help you  get a safe working distance.
  4. To lure insects you can make your garden more attractive to insects. By placing a butterfly box or a real insect hotel you can get some really nice species in your garden. You can make your own insect hotel by drilling many holes in an old tree stump in different diameters like 6, 8, 10 en 12 millimeters. Water is very important and lures a lot of insects to your garden like butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies, even newts, frogs and other water specious.

What are your specialities?i
I have specialised  in making photos of insects in surreal areas. I try to achieve it by applying special exposures with special colored flashes, to make their world more dramatic.  I also focus on habitat macro photography which shows insects in their habitat with an extreme depth of field.

Photographs are Copyrighted © 2011, Leon Baas — All Rights Reserved

Share with us one of your personal favourite photographs?
It is a photo with a take off from a ladybird. A photo with a moment that will never come back. I am really proud of this picture I have to say.

Photographs are Copyrighted © 2011, Leon Baas — All Rights Reserved

Describe how it was taken?
For this photo I used two coloured flashes. One for the background and one for the object.  The background was a coloured canvas.

That day I was photographing mushrooms. I had everything ready when the ladybug climbed against the mushroom.  An exciting time for me to watch. What I hoped for happened. And I’m still happy with the result.

You are now on Visions and Nature Blog, a Nature and Landscape Photography Blog from Kristel Schneider. Do you know her work?
I know Kristel as a serious photographer who does her work very good and thoroughly.I love her enthusiasm and surprising themes.

When you look at her gallery which image pops out for you and why?
The photo ‘’drop on a leaf’’ still appeals to me most.
But her other work is also surprisingly good.

Interview Kristel

Nature photographer Mike Moats has interviewed me about Macro Photography for his Blog: Tiny Landscapes.
You can read the interview here.

Interview with photographer Marsel van Oosten

Visions and Nature
Nature Photographers interviews


Most nature Photographers are obsessed with reality, with nature as it is, with ‘truth’

Marsel van Oosten (about)

When I started this item, interviews with nature photographers, Marsel was at the top of my list. I was not introduced to Marsel’s work by one of his nature photos. But one with the title flow: in an old, deserted diamond mining town near the Namibian coast. I had it on my desktop for a long time. I loved its great study of line, shape and texture!

By following his work I noticed that I liked the images which conveyed atmosphere and mood. A great example is his personal favourite: an African elephant standing at the edge of Victoria Falls.

Taking photographs began as a way to escape from life in the fast lane. After a trip to Tanzania things started getting more serious, close encountered with the animals of the Serengeti fuelled my passion for wildlife photography.
And five years later I swapped my established advertising career for the precarious life of a nature photographer, a move that demands unyielding devotion ad commitment
, Marsel

Who is your inspiration?
My biggest inspiration is a German landscape painter, Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840).

What made him/her inspire you, with what kind of image(s)?
Friedrich incorporated people as small elements in some of his landscape paintings, giving scale to the image and adding drama. This is what I like to do most with my wildlife photography as well – the animal as a part of a much bigger scene.

What do you like about Nature Photography?
I have worked as art director, and later a creative director, in advertising for over 15 years. I have created myths; worlds of make belief, using images that are far beyond reality. What I like about nature photography is in the first place nature itself, but also the fact that nature can be just as impressive or touching, and often even more, than the fake world that we see on billboards and in commercials every day. In many ways my switch to nature photography is basically an escape to reality. And finally, I like the fact that in nature photography you don’t have full control over your subject, nor over the circumstances. This is often frustrating, but in the end it is what makes me want to try over and over again to get the shot that I have in my head.

Are there things you don’t like about Nature Photography?
Nature photographers can be very fundamentalistic. Most of them are obsessed with reality, with nature as it is, with ‘truth’. They condemn everything that has to do with image manipulation; some even to the extent that removing a piece of grass from the image is considered not done. Photography is an art form, and art is all about freedom of personal expression. The camera is just a tool for the photographer in the same way that a paintbrush is a tool for the painter. Unless you’re shooting for forensic evidence, scientific research or the news, there should be no reason to limit yourself artistically in a way that you’re merely taking photocopies of reality. Nature photography, from a creative point of view, is by far one of the weakest genres. Look at wildlife photographs from two decades ago and compare them to the images that are taken now – the differences are very small. We’re basically still doing the same thing in the same ways; only our cameras and workflow have changed. When you look at fashion photography, nude photography, advertising photography, and even news photography, you see that those genres have changed a lot. There is a reason that art galleries don’t take nature photography, and wildlife photography in particular, serious, and this is it. There is no real creative component in it, it’s all the same. As long as nature photographers keep being more focused on photocopying reality instead of on creating artistic images, our genre will never be seen as art.

Do you have any tips for Visions and Nature readers who would like to become professional nature photographers?
Think again. To earn a living from nature photography is virtually impossible. Contrary to much more commercial photography genres such as fashion and advertising, the subjects in our photography don’t really change. As a result, there is little to no demand for new nature photographs – the market is already saturated. The introduction of digital photography has made this even worse, as so many people are now into photography, and nature photography is probably the easiest genre to get into. Amateur photographers are willing to give their images away for free if they can get published in magazines, resulting in publication prices falling down. Micro-stock, images for as little as $1, are another example of how difficult it is to earn a living from just selling your photographs. There are already millions of photographs of lions, deer, elephants, bears and penguins etc., so demand for new images of the same subjects is extremely low. If you want to become a professional nature photographer, you have to be better and different. A good way to find out if your work is indeed better than the rest is to participate in photo competitions. If your work wins on a regular basis, then your photographs stand out from the crowd. It’s still no guarantee for commercial success, but at least it will help people to notice you. And of course: go out and shoot.

What are your specialities?
I am very fortunate that I’m pretty all-round. Most wildlife photographers are poor landscape photographers and vice versa. I’ve been very successful with my wildlife images, but also with my landscape work, and I’ve published a book with a lot of travel photography. I think that probably has to do with my background in advertising, where I had to do an ad for a car one day, and a commercial for ladies underwear the next.

Wildlife photography is my speciality. In my photography composition is crucial, and I go to great lengths to get a clean and graphic look with strong shapes. The habitat is very important for me and I often say that I’m a wildlife photographer that thinks like a landscape photographer.

Share with us one of your personal favourite photographs?
My personal favourite photograph is that of an African elephant standing at the edge of Victoria Falls. For me, this image is the perfect example of what I like to do most; a combination of landscape photography and wildlife photography in a single image.

Describe how it was taken?
I was visiting Victoria Falls when I was shooting for the Wild Romance book, and I heard from one of the local guides that an elephant had been spotted in the vicinity of the falls. I decided to stay some extra days, hoping to get a shot of the elephant and the falls in one image. I think it was the third day that we saw this particular elephant halfway in the Zambezi River, feeding on the fresh vegetation on one of the many small islets. A few hours later it suddenly walked all the way up to the edge of the falls, and I had to run to the edge myself in order to see as much of the falling water as possible. When I had taken the shot, I knew it was very special. Later I heard from the locals that no one had ever seen an elephant that close to the edge of the falls before.

You are now on Visions and Nature Blog, a Nature and Landscape Photography Blog from Kristel Schneider. Do you know her work?
When you look at her gallery which image pops out for you and why?I didn’t know about Kristel’s work. I had a look at her website and the image that pops out for me is the one of a fly hanging on grass; I like the composition and the lines in the background. I do wish the fly was a bit brighter though. Click here so see the image Marsel selected.


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