Frans Lanting is regularly hailed as one of the great nature photographers of our time and, when it comes to nature photography, I cannot disagree.
Born in Rotterdam in 1951, Frans Lanting, after earning a Master’s Degree in Environmental Economics, enrolled on a post-graduate programme in Environmental Planning at the University of California at Santa Cruz. He left after 2 years to fulfill his passion of wildlife photography. Since then he has produced numerous stories for National Geographic magazine, as well as illustrating and co-authoring some of the finest books on wildlife ever produced. At least, in my humble opinion. He is a founding director of the NANPA (North American Nature Photography Association) and, extraordinarily for a nature photographer, serves on the board of the National Council of the World Wildlife Fund. He has been the recipient of the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year award and received top honours in the 88 and 89 World Press Photo competition and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands inducted him as a Knight in the Royal Order of the Golden Ark, that country’s highest conservation honor. Those books which he has produced include Okavango, The Forgotten Ape, Living Planet, Madagascar: A World Out of Time and Life: A Journey Through Time. I own just one: Eye to Eye. A beautifully produced lavish, coffee table book that illustrates perfectly his skills as a nature photographer. The New Yorker once wrote “No one turns animals into art more completely than Frans Lanting.”
I first became aware of his work back in 1987 after purchasing a copy of National Geographic which ran a story of his titled “Madagascar: A World Apart.” Very little was known of this island back then and he even photographed a species of lemur which hadn’t yet been named! Three years later he had another, this time on the Okavango Delta in Botswana. He spent a year living in the region photographing elephants, eagle and hippos. He would sleep during the day and follow a pride of lions at night, lay under camo neeting close to a waterhole where lions would pass by just yards away, too intent on quenching their thirst to take any notice. It was these images that really brought him into prominanace and which led to him being awarded BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year. This is really where his influence on me began. He had a different take on wildlife photography and used techniques which were rarely seen before, most notably, mixing flash with daylight. This practise is now used quite often by some and I can tell you, it’s a a darn sight easier with digital that it was with film! With the latter, you first had to run a series of tests then wait for the processed film to view them. Nowadays, you can just shoot and change settings as you go. Infinitely easier, requiring less calculations. Frans produced some beautiful images this way and one which sticks in my mind is of an eagle coming in to take a fish from a pool on the Delta where the background has this streaky, blurry quality and yet the bird remains sharp. It seemed to emphasise the power and speed of the eagle more effectively than if it were taken using just daylight. He also freely used wide-angle lenses up close to show the animal in it’s environment. Again, this technique was shown in his Okavango piece illustrating a bull frog in a pond where he used an 18mm to exaggerate it’s size but also to link the frog to the pool. It’s 21 years old now but it’s a timeless image. I still have these editions and look through them from time to time.
If there is one photographer that a beginning or, for that matter, experienced photographer should study and learn from, it is Frans Lanting. Visit his site here to see examples of his breathtaking imagery and where, if you can afford it, purchase a print.
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About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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