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.
I returned yesterday afternoon from the last of 3 workshops I have held in the Peak District over the last 3 weeks and once again, the weather held out! It’s always going to be an unknown factor at this time of the year anyway, let alone in these parts. So, why didn’t I chose to hold it during the summer? Quite simply, light. During late March and into mid April the sun is still sufficiently low for all-day photography unlike in June and July when it is very much an early morning or early evening shoot. In between these times, the sun is too high and the light too cool. Also, in March and April, the weather starts to improve and the days lengthen.
On this visit, I stayed in a delightful B&B called Crown Cottage in Eyam, situated in the centre of this historic Plague village. I couldn’t have asked for a more comfortable stay and Janet and Ian really do make you feel welcome. So, if you are ever up this way, I can’t recommend it high enough. Next time, I’ll give myself more time to look around as it has a remarkable story of how the village dealt with the outbreak of the Plague in 1665.
Another great bunch of photographers, and although at times it was quite blustery there was just sufficient sunshine to keep us going, and of course the scenery was as spectacular as ever. Two members of the group decided to stay till sunset in the hope that the weather was going to clear to give us that beautiful evening light and indeed it did. Well, for around 10 minutes anyway! But, it was just long enough for us to set up our tripods and shoot a few frames. The sun then hid behind clouds for the duration so we sat, chatted and enjoyed the moment. It’s not all about taking pictures you know!
The 2009 wildlife Photographer of the Year recipient, José Luis Rodríguez, has been stripped of his title. Why? Evidence has come to light that the wolf pictured jumping over a gate was in fact a ‘model.’ Much has already been written about this, with particularly interesting views on Niall Benvie’s 3-way blog with Andrew Parkinson and Paul Harcourt-Davies. I won’t go into too much detail other than that the investigation first came to light in the Finnish magazine Suomen Luonto where they show striking similarities of the background between the winning image and that of the Cañada Real Center zoological park near Madrid and a tame wolf named Ossian. It was in fact other Spanish photographers that brought it to attention as they didn’t want the reputation of others tarnished.
The competition rules clearly state ”Images of captive animals must be declared. The judges will take preference to images taken in free and wild conditions.” The photographer claimed it was a wild wolf and indeed still does. Many had suspicions over the authenticity of the image, an overriding factor being that it was jumping over the gate as opposed to creeping through it, which would be much more normal behaviour for this notoriously shy species.
It’s a great shame that this has happened in the most prestigious wildlife photography competition and to be honest I’m surprised this hasn’t happened sooner. There seems to be an overwhelming desire these days by many wildlife photographers to succeed, whatever the cost. Whether it be by digital manipulation, using wildlife models (passing them off as wild) or photographing schedule 1 species without a licence, such as a kingfisher at the nest. Now, I’m not condemning the use of captive wildlife or falconers come to that. Indeed it is common practise to use them and you could argue that by using a controlled animal such as a jaguar or golden eagle you don’t disturb it in the wild. But it’s when it is passed off as being wild or when manipulation in the computer is such that it is no longer a true representation of what was seen that I feel the line has most definitely been crossed. Ultimately we can only look to ourselves and reach deep inside to our own ethics and morals before even thinking about entering a ‘dodgy’ image into a competition in the hope that no-one will ever find out. It absolutely baffles me. I’ve been photographing wildlife since I was a boy because I love to be outdoors and experience nature’s wonders first hand. If I happen to get anywhere in a competition then that is simply a bonus. When it becomes the sole purpose of your work, then I feel its time you choose something else to photograph.
Having been commissioned by Outdoor Photography magazine to write a piece on the Peak District, I thought it would be an idea to hold two one-day landscape photography workshops in the same location at roughly the time the images were taken, being March. The article will be out next month in the March issue.
The piece itself centres around two gritstone edges called Baslow Edge and Curbar edge which lie to the west within the National Park, approximately 11 miles east of Chesterfield. This is where the course will be held. We will be combining the two with another spectacular edge just 8 miles north called Stanage Edge.
This is arguably the park’s most famous edge from which wonderful views abound in all directions.
We begin the day at Stanage Edge at 08.00 hrs, break for lunch around midday then onwards to Baslow and Curbar Edges until sunset. It will be on a first come first served basis and will be restricted to just 6 participants so that each benefits from myself as opposed to unfairly, I think, spreading myself thin amongst more.
The price will be £105 per person which includes tuition and a pub lunch. For more information please click here.
I have only been to this location once, in 1992. Those of you that are familiar with seal photography will know where Iam talking about and for those of you that don’t, all I will say is that it is on the Lincolnshire coast. Please read on to find out why I do not give it’s exact whereabouts. Back then, it was hardly known of and indeed all I wanted to do as a 22 year old was photograph grey seals that autumn. I understood through popping into my local library (this was, after all before the days of the web) that they come ashore from October to February to breed and give birth along the Norfolk and Lincolnshire coast and further. So, I first wrote a letter that summer to the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust who gave me the address of the warden who I also then wrote to. All this communication by ‘snail-mail’ took several weeks but in the end I was given details of where I should be able to find them.
I was advised by the warden to only go there at the weekend, for a very good reason. I drove up on the Friday with my dad, booked into a B&B then went to the local pub for lunch. Whilst at the pub we chatted to locals who gave us directions as to where the best spot is for seeing them so later that afternoon we parked the car where they suggested and walked along the dunes where lo and behold there they were! What a sight I thought. All the letter writing and driving had finally paid off. I remember taking quite a few shots but at the same time being mindful that I only had a certain amount of film with me. Seems funny looking back on it in this digital age that you had to consider things like that.
The following dawn we both walked across the beach, which took around half an hour to where the main colony was. The early mist cleared and I began shooting with seals all around. But, the images I was really after were of the seals swimming, perhaps with their heads bobbing in the water, typical of this species. But the North Sea didn’t play ball. It was very rough and they were concealed most of the time by the waves. In my concentration I forgot about the waves and all of a sudden my wellington’s were filled with ice cold sea water. Not very pleasant I can tell you! My dad however, in typical fashion, came prepared with spare socks and bags which I slipped my feet into and then back into the wellies. Arh, warm and dry again. On the Sunday however a kind of estuary occurred between the sea and main beach which the seals seemed to be enjoying. It was like a mill pond. I set up the camera on the tripod and just sat there while cows and bulls swam close by, sometimes so close they filled the frame too much. I looked behind me to see my dad with two pups that had come up to him. Looking back I wish I’d taken a photo of that moment but was too focused on the job in hand. How many others were there to share this? Three at the most. Colleagues tell me it’s a very different matter these days. Donna Nook is a ‘must’ for nature photographers fuelling their need to photograph these animals and for pro’s to further saturate the market with identical looking images. On Alamy alone there are 2746 images if you type in the location and my own agent has 186 images and I’m sure they have a lot more taken here which the author has omitted from the caption. Many thousands now go there and every year there seems to be stories about irresponsible behaviour by photographers, getting too close and stressing the animals.
I don’t think there were many photographers that knew of that site at the time as within months of me submitting the images to my then agent Planet Earth Pictures they were were being used in newspapers, calendars and magazines and even Getty took a few. Certainly images of them were few and far between and unlike others I didn’t immediately start doing workshops there to make a few quid, one of the main reasons I believe for the surge, even before internet forums. I’m personally very reluctant to give away subject locations these days of those areas that may attract large numbers of photographers and indeed only do so to a few like-minded friends and colleagues. This isn’t because I’m worried that they may take similar or better images and put them in the market place in competition with me but that ultimately the subject may become stressed by the sheer number of others in that vicinity. And anyway, surely by doing your own homework you will benefit from producing your own set of fresh images and the personal satisfaction that comes from doing so.
Last year I worked on a site for several weeks photographing a short-eared owl from my car. Using a hide wasn’t an option as it hunted in a field adjacent to a road. I would sit there patiently most afternoons observing and photographing until one afternoon I turned up and there were at least 8 photographers semi-blocking the road with their cars, standing next to the field, cameras on tripods, noisily chatting to one another. The owl did appear but of course headed for the far end of the field and eventually crossed to another some distance away. A perfect example of inconsiderate behaviour by those that were acting as though they were on an outing, comparing lenses and tripods than actually taking into account the well-being of the bird and observing from a discreet distance, inside their vehicles.
I have to say that I’m reluctant to go back to the same seal colony as I fear it will tarnish the perfect memory of spending two whole days with the seals and my dad on an almost empty beach. Instead, I’m looking for a fresh venue and I think I may have just found one.
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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