Fritz Pölking on Wildlife Photography:
A wildlife photographer requires perseverance above all,
says Fritz Polking. Wildlife photography can never be
regarded simply as trophy hunting with a camera, nor can
technique ever be an end in itself. Mastery of technique, creativity, a hunter's instinct and a knowledge of
biology are all prerequisites for the attainment of a
higher goal, which is to embody ideas and imagination in
wildlife photography. Polking speaks of his photographs
as 'thought pictures'. By this he means images which find
their best expression through the medium of photography.
They bear comparison with other forms of artistic expression, such as
painting, literature and music. The
photographer must illuminate not just the joy and
excitement of the natural world, but also its tragic aspects. To represent joy and sorrow with the same
equanimity, says Polking, is to have achieved the highest
level of artistic merit in this profession.
Press, Austria, 1996)
Fritz Polking (p.
46): Fritz has been photographing nature for 40 years and
is one of the most widely admired wildlife photographers
in the world. Born in 1936, he grew up photographing the
songbirds that nested in the garden of his family home in
Krefeld, Germany. Today, he has won many awards for his photography, including the BBC Wildlife Photographer of
the Year competition in 1977. His images of the world's
wildlife have appeared in magazines including Geo,
National Geographic, Der Stern, and International Wildlife. He has published his work in more than 18 books
as author or co-author, including The Art of Wildlife Photography, and a book on cheetahs
fellow German photographer Norbert Rosing. Fritz lives in Greven, Germany.
(Daybreak 2000, NorthWord Press).
imagine a life without wildlife photography!" Fritz
Pölking certainly leaves no doubt about that. It is
absolutely fascinating with how much love, enthusiasm and
commitment he engages in his subjects. Be it ospreys in Sweden, cheetahs in Kenya or storks in Spain, the 61-year
old cosmopolitan from Greven, in Westphalia, pursues his
photo projects continuously over the period of several years. He will always be underway just to get the one
picture he needs that may be missing. His "baby"
: the female Leopard "Paradise" (Half-Tail) of
the Masai Mara in Kenya. Fritz Pölking is there to
photographically document the entire life of the big
spotted feline with all her children and grandchildren. A truly unique
undertaking! The master of
wildlife photography is among the greatest nation-wide as
well as on an international level : publications in
renown nature and wildlife magazines, numerous photo prizes, 14 books. Fritz Pölking´s
are only good photos if they raise the beholders emotions".
Born in Krefeld in 1936 he is regarded as one of the
"path finders" of modern wildlife/animal
photography in Europe. To his younger colleagues he
passes on is experience of numerous years of patient and
persistent work on subjects of wildlife/nature type of
photographic work like no other. Without iron discipline
and an extremely tight schedule, which has to be kept
very conscientiously, he would not be able to keep up all
his numerous activities. Be it photographs or books or
articles to write, every minute is filled with work. His
suitcase and backpack are packed and ready at all times
for the next "mission" after all, there
could be a phone call from Africa or a fax from America
that something special has happened or is about to happen....
and the next available flight is booked. In spite of the
high physical strain and thanks to his inner peace, he
continuously is able to take extraordinary pictures
which are in high demand all over the world.
Nature Collection, 1996)
Wildlife / Nature
Photographer on the "focusing screen":
The goal of this new column is to
put some professional wildlife / nature photographers on
the "focusing screen" . Not their photography,
but their opinions on specific things and their
experience in the world of wildlife / nature photography.
To include an interview in every "Obectief" has
not been possible up to now, but I am hoping to be able
to bring "conversations" of this sort on a
regular basis. The first one is with Fritz Pölking, co-founder
of the GDT (Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturfotografen) [German
Society of Nature Photographers] and presently still one
of the "leading masters" and part of the
ethical "think tank" of the world, of (not only)
Germany. The conversation is written as recorded, with
the objective to have as clear a rendition as possible.
did you begin your career as a wildlife / nature
photographer: Were you a photographer, a lover of nature
or a conservationist of nature?"
" Actually as a photographer.
When I was 14 years old, I saw a starling who came to get
ripe cherries under the tree in my garden at home, a
small black bird with this red cherry in its beak.....
and I thought, you have to take a picture of this, that
really looks wonderful, a green lawn and a black bird
with red berries in its beak. So I took a picture of it.
After that, I saw a peewitt and I
wanted to take pictures of it, too... and that actually
is how it all started. That was back in 1951."
nature still has a hold on you?"
"Yes, and it surprises even me,
since most of the colleagues do not find that much
pleasure in this work any more, when they are about 60 or
65 years of age, whereas it has always been the same for
me and actually has even grown in intensity. I take even
greater pleasure in photographing today than I did 20
though, in your own words, "it is hard work"?
"Yes, yes....absolutely, most
people think that is such a great pleasure to travel
throughout the world, but it most certainly is not; to
fly, waiting around constantly and sitting in hotels....
hahahaha J "
still travel to Florida, to Sanibel Island. What is the
"Yes, well, the food at Jerry´s
(Restaurant in the department store on Sanibel B.J.)
is the only really good food ...hahahah J . I always
call it a kind of vacation. If you go there during
January, February or March, the weather in Central Europe
is still pretty bad. It is rather seldom that we have
nice snow or good wintery weather in which you take good
pictures. Most of the time it rains here and is cold,
while it is warm enough over there and you can meet up
with a lot of colleagues. You can work together with them,
three of us can stand next to one another and take a
picture of a red shouldered buzzard or five of us can be
close to a heron, without it being bothered, while at
home you would have to work constantly. The animals are
so fascinating, especially since they are a lot less shy.
It may well be good for a hunter that the animals are shy,
because it heightens his pleasure of the hunt when he
ends up outwitting them in the end, but it is totally
different with a wildlife photographer. The less shy the
animal, the less scared and cooperative, the more
photographic possibilities are given to take good
pictures. To give an example: to take a picture of a
heron in Germany is practically hopeless, through being
hunted they have become so shy during the past century
and an approach is impossible. In Florida you can get up
to 20 meters close to them and they are not bothered by
it. This way, of course, you can take totally different
pictures of them. Actually, all these different reasons
are what makes Florida a special place. The colleagues
from America, Germany, Belgium, the pleasant temperatures
and the gripping motifs."
have been taking pictures for many years, what is the
most prominent change for you: the photo material, the
photographers or is it the nature?"
" When I started taking pictures, I started with an EDIXA-camera without an
automatic film transport lever, no motor; you had to
transport the film with two fingers from frame to frame.
The focusing screen was so thick, that almost no light
passed through it, shutter speed went up to 1/1000 but
you were only able to set it up to 1/250, since the
shutter was not able to follow at 1/500, and turned the
picture bright on the left and darker on the right side.
Lenses were very weak lighted and did not have an
automatic aperture, and so on and so forth. It certainly
can be said that the technical advance has been unbelievable. The quality of the
lenses, the use of auto focus, cameras that can take 6-8 pictures a sec., present
film material like Sensia-100, Velvia-50, they all are
fantastic tools. These are all things that moved the
level of wildlife photography up with incredible speed in
the past years. If you take a look at the books of the
BBC Wildlife contests over the last 10 years, you
can see that the pictures turned out more interesting and
appealing each year. The big difference for the
photographers is the fact that now, while wanting to take
a photo of a heron, you can choose if you want to go to
Sweden or Florida or somewhere else in the next few weeks.
In the past you went to Sweden anyway, today it is a lot
less expensive to go to Florida. It is cheaper to fly to
Florida then to drive to Sweden, and living expenses are
not so high there either....... With the money I need to
buy a drink in a tavern in Sweden in the evening, I could
live on in Florida for three days. Some people are still
under the impression that going to America is too expensive, but that is´nt so. You just need to know
where you can get some good fool....." hahaha J .
are your up-coming projects?"
"I am usually busy with one or
two things at a time and about four or five on top of that, which I have in my
head, but I don´t like to talk
about upcoming projects. During the lecture of Franz
Lanting we saw, that the time when photographers strapped
a camera around their neck and went off into the woods to
take pictures of rabbits and sending these to the
magazines are over. Our work has become a lot more demanding. Nature / wildlife photography has become a lot
more meaningful and achieved greater reputation in the
past ten years. Up until 10 years ago, nature / wildlife
photography formed an unimportant part for the larger magazines. Today this is not so any
more, on the contrary.
The level of publications is higher as well, as for instance, just to name
one, the Tecklenburg
Publishing House, their quality of print, the photos,
everything of a fantastic quality.
on digital photography?"
"Digital Photography will
certainly enter into the world of nature / wildlife photography. I believe that we will take all pictures as
early as in three years or at the latest in five to seven
years with a digital camera, like for instance the latest
model NIKON D1. The advantages of digital photography are
too important for us. For instance if I take a trip to
America, Africa or the Antarctica today, I have to take
three hundred rolls of film with me which I have to carry
in my hand-luggage since it is not safe to put them in
the check-in luggage anymore. So when these films are developed, I have 10.000 slides but I won´t see any of
them until I am already back home for days. After a four-week trip, I have another four weeks of
work. First to have
the slides developed, then to view all 10.000 slides,
then to label all slides I want to keep and send them off.
When I take digital photos, I don´t need to take another
film with me. So for instance, if I take 50 pictures
during one day, I can view them in the evening. Right
there and then I can send 45 pictures off to my agencies
and keep five. Lets just presume I am in Africa for four
weeks and on the second day I am able to take a
sensational photo of lions slaying a zebra or
another picture of three lions on the back of an elephant
- , I would be able to send it by GSM (satellite)
telephone to my office at home and when I get back after
four weeks, this picture has already been published
twenty seven times over. That is an advantage. Another advantage: if I have a really super picture today and
have to make 100 duplicates for publishers and agencies,
they have noticeably less quality. Today we can not make
duplicates of truly 100% as good as the original. If I do
this digitally, then all the 100 duplicates are actually originals. So with
this, all my work is actually done
when I come home. I do not have to check my slides when I
get home, because I have done that already there. Now, as
a professional, I need 1000 to 2000 rolls of film a year,
but I don´t have to buy these anymore working digitally.
It is money I can save and am able to take some
additional trips with it. So, it will happen in any case,
the question is, how many years it will take for it to happen. The cameras are already
available, but the
logistics are not. At present, I am not able to make a
telephone call from Alaska or the Antarctica with the GSM.
This will be possible when satellite GSMs are available.
But in a few years I will be able to send my data from
anywhere in the world to my home. The publishers are
still working primarily with slides, but are in the
process of slowly changing. More and more often I have
agencies that tell me: "Yes, we are in the web and
have already digitized our first 30.000 slides....",
- it is starting to roll. The effort is not worth it....yet,
but it is coming."
danger of picture manipulation.....?` one click with the
mouse and truth turns into a lie`?"
"Yes of course, but that has
been going on for a while now. I remember pictures from
twenty years ago. In the hunting magazine pictures of a
shooting hunter were seen while about twenty geese flew
away from him, or a hundred ducks. These pictures were
double exposures. Takes with a sunscreen and giraffes in
front or a leopard in a tree and the sun going down
behind him...., all of them pictures that were
manipulated. I would think that in the future there will
be a indication under every picture. Under one picture
you will find `original document of nature ´, under
another there may be `captive ´, and another one still
will have the label `fiction / illustration ´. This will
slowly but surely happen. I am already so far, that at
times when I see a truly breathtaking picture I think
"is it real or did someone just have a great
imagination?"... it would be deadly for us, if
people do not believe in our pictures any more. In
America it is already happening. If you see a picture of
a wolf there, you can bet that it is a tame wolf from a
game farm or from a zoo. Out of all pictures of wolves,
only 1% are truly taken in the wilderness. If people do
not believe in the originality of a picture any more,
then their interest to look at such pictures has already
diminished. That is why it is necessary, and it will come
to that, that every picture will have such a byline."
believe that the NANPA (= North American Nature
Photography Association), which is the largest nature
photography group, will be able to convince its members
to use such indications or labels?"
"NANPA has already tried to
implement good solid labeling for all pictures, but about
50% of the members have refused this, because they are
afraid they will sell less pictures if they are honest.
So following this, NANPA has chosen a toned down wording:
`Wild ´, `Captive ´ and `Digital ´, whereas the label
`wild ´ is pretty ludicrous. Under this labeling you can
take three frogs, set them on a mushroom and call it `wild´
... and that has nothing at all to do with `wild´ , and
is a clearly manipulated picture. But the beginning is
there, a first step. But a foundation has been laid and perhaps some
will build on it in order to have a solid labeling in
about five years."
thank you very much....."
(Reprint from the magazine OBJECTIF,
information for wildlife / nature photographers (June
2000 edition) of the BVNF (Bund für Naturfotografie in
Belgien) [Union of Nature Photographers from Belgium].