Insights from Pro Nature Photographer Interviews

If you want to improve your nature photography, one of the best ways to achieve this goal is to see what professional photographers are doing and then try to emulate them.

Some people have said you should not copy others but try to obtain your own style. We disagree with this, as we improved our nature photography by following advice from professional photographers and then trying to capture photographs like those that they had made.

wildlife bird owl

Photo by Renier van Loggerenberg; ISO 320, f/5.6, 1/500 exposure.

Why reinvent the wheel? Learn from people who have tested certain photo gear, have come up with solutions to photographic problems, and have developed photo techniques that work. This is how we learned, and you can, too.

Under the umbrella of nature photography sits four categories of photography, namely wildlife photography, bird photography, landscape photography, and macro photography. Some photographers specialize in just one of the four areas while others will have an interest in two or more of the categories.

We have interviewed some of today’s best nature photographers in all four categories, and when we read the interviews we noticed that there were many similarities between the them but also a few differences.

sitting dragonfly

Photo by Joel Tonyan.

The Similarities

  • All are successful nature photographers who sell their images and have published books.
  • All have a balance between creative vision and owning quality photo gear. They realize that simply having the latest camera and lens is not going to get them quality photographs.
  • All of them have creative vision and demonstrate the Five P’s that work together to give them their creative process.

The Five P’s of Photography

  1. They are patient and wait for the right moment even if it means waiting in extreme weather or coming back to a place day after day.
  2. They have a purpose when they go out each day on their photo safaris. All the wildlife and bird photographers are situation-driven and not subject-driven—they will photograph any subject in good light instead of driving around all day looking for the ‘big-five’.
  3. They are all prepared for their photo safari. They have read their camera manuals and they come prepared with knowledge of animal behavior, weather patterns, and seasonal variations. And just because they are professionals doesn’t mean they stop learning. They attend photo conferences, they network amongst each other, and they even learn from their students!
  4. They photograph nearly every day; they realize that practice makes perfect. You cannot expect to come on an African safari and get great photographs if you have used your camera only once or twice during the previous year. There are many opportunities for you to put into practice these photographic vision tips—from shooting at home to going to zoos.
  5. Having passion for photography and nature will give you the motivation to achieve the other four P’s and you can hear the passion coming through in their answers to the interview questions.
beautiful landscape

Photo by Rob DeGraff; ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/250 exposure.

The Differences

The differences between them is what gives each nature photographer his or her unique photographic style.

  • All have top photo gear but some, like Moose Petersen and Arthur Morris, seem more excited about new gear than the others.
  • About half shoot with Nikon while the other half shoot with Canon. A few, like Darwin Wiggett, use Sigma lenses.
  • Moose shoots only JPEG for his wildlife subjects (at the time of writing) while the rest shoot only RAW files.
  • Mike Moats does not use flash but only ambient light and reflectors.
  • Mike Moats uses small f-stops like f/32 and then sharpens in Photoshop, while others like Jim Zuckerman prefer to use larger f-stops but then use software like Helicon Focus to get greater depth of field.
  • Some have created new products or new uses for old products by solving problems. Todd Gustafson came up with his Todd-Pod for use in open-top safari vehicles, and Arthur Morris pioneered the use of a Lens Pen for cleaning of camera sensors.
  • Most love using Photoshop while Martin Harvey outsources this task and Moose does not use Photoshop on his wildlife images nor does he crop any images.
  • Most have not been exposed to danger while Daryl Balfour was nearly killed by one of the Kruger Park’s big-tusker elephants, Tshokwane.
  • Most travel to Southern and East Africa and other exotic places while Moose stays in the USA and Alan Murphy gets most of his incredible bird photographs in his back yard at home!
  • Most enter—or used to enter—nature photo contests. Arthur Morris has won numerous contests while Nigel Dennis has never won, yet both are extremely successful nature photographers.
  • Most work away from home and their spouses while others, like Daryl Balfour and Joe McDonald, work with their wives.
  • Most agree that image and book sales are declining, so many are turning to other means of revenue such as eBooks, site guides, video, photo gear sales, and photo safaris.

What stood out for me in these interviews is that there are no shortcuts to improving your photography. If you follow the pearls of wisdom provided by these professional nature photographers, your photographs have to improve, while at the same time you will start developing your own unique photographic style.

About the Author:
Mario Fazekas (kruger-2-kalahari.com) is a wildlife photographer living in South Africa.

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