The lucky side of nature photography:
Rudi Assauer, the well known manager of Schalke 04 (a German
soccer team) once said in an interview: "I would give anything to play
This tragedy as an athlete to reach the height of his career by age 25 and to
practically be finished at the age of 30, just to spend the remaining 40-50
years mourning "the good times" is something that we nature
photographers do not have.
Christian Grzimek of the OKAPIA agency (2002):
All the money spent on digital camera equipment for nature
photography is a waste of funds. It is at least 5 years too soon.
Robyn Gregg of RANGER RICK (National Wildlife, USA, 2002):
Regarding electronic submissions: It is your option to submit
electronically. However, you should know that electronic images do not compete
on a level playing field with transparencies on a light table. I don´t doubt
that they are good but they must be exceptional to go the next several steps. I
do look a them all, but pixel do not sing like silver does. Again, it is your
choice and I will work with you.
Lea Schänker of the Helga Lade Agency (2002):
This applies to 95% of all the files submitted by
photographers: the scanner used by the photographer applies an odd structure
with vertical and horizontal lines. On top of that, the pictures are in part
very dusty, the colors have mostly been processed to death and the contrast in
most cases has been over-adjusted. Only a small percentage of these pictures can
be saved. The biggest problem is the fuzziness. Every picture is so fuzzy it
gives you the impression that a softening filter was used to take it. My
speculation is being confirmed more and more, that photographers are having
massive problems with Photoshop. Colors and brightness and foremost the
retouching (stamp tool) as well as the way to scan, all in themselves fall into
the area of graphic designers. Result: save your money and go take pictures.
When writers and authors get together, they discuss how best
to devise a figure in a new book, how the character develops and how, during the
process of this work, it acquires a life of its own which becomes uncontrollable.
They do not discuss which typewriter would be the best to type the book with.
When painters get together, they discuss how a dominating
color can throw off the inner balance of a picture composition or how an
abstract object will lead the emotions of the viewer into another dimension.
They do not talk about which brushes will help you turn out the most beautiful
This is completely different with nature photographers: they
never discuss nature photography itself. They talk exclusively about their tools,
cameras, films and lenses – never about composition or how to capture a viewer.
Think about where you want to work. It is cold at the North or
South Pole, but healthy.
You can take fantastic pictures in the jungle, but there are
also a multitude of small animals who look at the human as their subsistence.
In the jungle you can have 60 worms under your skin on your
leg, digging their own corridors – simultaneously. You can get typhus,
hepatitis and malaria – again, simultaneously.
Dear Mr. Pölking,
after reading your book "Naturphotographie: Tiere,
Pflanzen, Landschaften; Wege zur professionellen Qualität" (Nature
Photography: Animals, Plants, Landscapes; Ways to professional quality) I would
like to address you directly.
I was able to gain several valuable tips from your book,
especially in the area of equipment. Nevertheless there is always the same
question I have when reading books of this sort, that is never answered. How did
all these great photographers start out? Did they sell their car in order to be
able to invest in sensible photo equipment with which they could work
professionally and with which they would be able to deliver professional work
accordingly, or did they start out with less and something more affordable? With
which of course there are certain restrictions in terms of quality and
possibilities while taking pictures. Difficult where top notch pictures are
expected for publication and the competition is great.
To make it short: Do I have to get an F5, a 4.0/600 mm Nikkor
in addition to some other high quality lenses in order to have a chance at an
eventual possibility of being published? How did you start out in order to be
where you are now?
Thank you in advance for taking the time to answer this letter.
Many greetings from Tönisvorst, your Matthias Landscheiten.
Dear Mr. Landscheiten,
thank you very much for your friendly letter. The role the
equipment plays in nature photography is for the most part highly overrated by
If a picture turns out to be good or successful in any way, it
generally depends far more on the following factors:
- The content of the picture should wake emotions and be interesting.
- It should be well designed or arranged (i.e. golden cut, main focus,
perspective, color composition, concentration on the essentials, meaning no
superfluous or loud parts in the picture).
- It should be taken very carefully on a technical level (not blurred,
correct exposure, right sharpness setting, straight horizon, correct
aperture [not too little but also not too much sharpness in depth] among
- Success is based on knowledge, on "being at the right place at the
right time", and on the technical and creative command of your tools.
This includes training: a pianist practices 6-8 hours daily, a
tennis player trains 3-5 hours daily, which amateur photographer trains and
practices at all and be it only half an hour a day? Which amateur tries for
example the meter settings, the gray card, the spot meter, the
integral measure or the sunny-16 just to mention one small and tiny detail among
The share the equipment has in the success is essentially
highly overrated by photo amateurs because it is better for ones own ego and
naturally much more agreeable to place photographic failures in nature
photography on the missing expensive technical possibilities instead of on ones
own craftsmanship or lack thereof, creative incapability or the missing
Looking at this on a neutral level it is maybe even comparable:
professional nature photographers naturally buy the best possible equipment,
just like Steffi Graf buys herself the best possible tennis racquet without
taking the cost into consideration. Of course she would win with a less
expensive mediocre tennis racquet as well; whereas a poor tennis player would
never have a chance to make the Wimbledon finals playing with the best and most
expensive racquet in the world.
That is why the best advice to someone who wants to be good
and successful in nature photography, to constantly broaden his biological
knowledge and to continuously further and practice his photographic –
craftsmanly as well as creatively – abilities and not to keep glancing
worriedly to the equipment.
Short and sweet: The way to take great and impressive pictures
through super equipment is the wrong way. This will only work if you take the
difficult road to becoming a great photographer.
A strativari does not make a good musician, an electric
typewriter does not make a good writer, a golden chisel does not make a good
sculptor and an F-5 or EOS-1 does not make a good photographer.
Unfortunately – because if it were so, then you would not
need ten to twenty years to become a good nature photographer, but would be able
to short-cut this long hard road drastically. Like for instance through driving
a cab in order to finance expensive equipment and then you would have made it
within one or two years. Sorry......
I would be delighted if I was of some help with these points.
Sincerely, Fritz Pölking