Iceland is so raw, geologically challenging and visually disconnecting that it’s not surprisingly home to some of the biggest box office titles. Whether it’s Star Wars, Justice League, Game of Thrones or The Fast & the Furious… they all set up production here in Iceland. And though I wouldn’t compare my style of photography anywhere near these blockbusters, an equation can be made. Motion pictures are nothing without emotion, just like still photography is nothing without emotion. It has to be contextually, have some kind of narrative and enduring beauty.
Mark Twain once said: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why”. With this image I knew why. I have had a prolonged idea in my mind. And when crafting it at more than 60 degrees north during one of Iceland’s heaviest storms since a long time it came to life. The idea was focused around serenity, exile, motion and raw power. The idea preceded me and was evolved over the last years, influenced by elemental rawness from TV series such as Game of Thrones.
Even though, Iceland is probably the most challenging location I have ever been. This image - The Fallen Ones - was made on a day with wind gusts up to 180 km/h, road blocks and an everlasting pouring rain. Tourist prolonged their overnight in the hotel and the roads were dead empty. But that’s the way I wanted it. The weather alert is called an “alert” for a reason; you want it to be as raw and dramatic as possible. There’s no point in coming here all the way and taking an average picture with glossy, postcard style skies.
If it was easy everyone would be doing it. I know how to use a camera. But that is not a transcending skill. In 2019, everyone’s a photographer. We’re the most content spoiled generation that has ever lived. And so, the pressure for someone who tries to stand out of the crowd is irreversibly higher than ever. It’s about dedication, perseverance and - ultimately - luck. And the harder I practice, the luckier I seem to get…
Everyone recognizes a horse. But recognizability without a surprise element leads to dullness. I wanted to have that doomed skies to tell the dramatic story about these tough horses. And make no mistake; these are wild horses and as bad ass as they come.
Jochen van Dijk
“Richard Parker” - Today’s International Tiger Day. This largest animal of the world’s big cats are on the brink of extinction; 97% of all wild tigers disappeared in the last century, with only around 3,000 left alive.
David Attenborough was quoted saying: “People are not going to care about animal conservation unless they think that animals are worthwhile.” This emotion can be achieved in different ways, but one of the most original was the iconic tiger in Life of Pi.
This image was named after the iconic tiger of the movie, Richard Parker. Though the tiger was partly CGI, a real tiger was used on set. By bringing a real animal you set a standard to bring emotion to the main character. The same goes for this image. It’s not computer generated; the shot was from 2 meters of the cat and from the ground up. Neither was the halo around his head. By photographing directly into the sunlight there’s a natural halo which brings emotion to this image.
If anything, this images shows why these big cats are worthwhile.
I’ve photographed elephants all over Southern and Eastern Africa. And even though places like Chobe and Amboseli prove to be prime stages to witness these prehistoric animals, this image is rather special to me.
It was made a few weeks ago in “Sibuya”; a fairly small game reserve in the Eastern Cape. You may have heard of it as it was all over the news in the last days. Headlines of the unbelievable story of three suspected poachers who where hunting for rhinos and instead found the mauling jaws of the reserve’s lion pride were published across the globe. It is tear-jerking story which illustrates that animal poaching is indeed a serious issue. Sadly the world needs these kind of stories as an everlasting eye opener.
When visiting this place I got into conversation with Adriaan Louw. Adriaan is a professional wildlife tracker and guide with years of experience in trailing dangerous game such as African lions and leopards. He knows Kruger and the Timbavati as the back of it’s hand. Just to be short: this guy has been places. In those bushfire-lit evenings we talked about the other side of those impressive game drives. Because where people hope to spot an elephant, rhino or lion; poaching and criminal tradecraft are just as well everyday - serious - business. Unfortunately…
When returning to the solar powered tented camp and showing this image, Adriaan’s reaction was rather emotional. Completely silent and tears dwelling from his eyes he said: “This is your job as a photographer”. “Not just make pictures, but to show the world these animals’ emotions”. It’s is undoubtedly the the biggest compliment I have ever heard about any of my images.
This feeling grew over the last week. The feeling it’s not about technical greatness but emotion. Even though it’s razor sharp and perfectly balanced with the dust flying. The feeling that it’s not a “proof picture” but an intimate portrait. Deliberately made with a very wide angle lens and from the ground up. It’s the only way to capture the greatness of this animal and to make the camera an emotional extension. Just as cinematographer Emmanuel - “Chivo” - Lubezki did in Leo DiCaprio’s masterpiece this portrait was named after…
Jochen van Dijk
After more than 20 hours at sea learning how to do it wrong, it took only 5 minutes to finally get it right.
To say Cape Town is quiet this time of year is an understatement. The tourists are gone for the winter and the city is silent and chilly. These winter months are however peak season to witness one of nature’s most imaginary events. In False Bay, just 45 minutes off the coast of Cape Town, Great Whites attack high protein seal pups on their way back to Seal Island.
The fascination for these prehistoric predators continued to push me back to South Africa for the last three years. And even though I don’t have Captain Jack Sparrow’s sea legs, I grumbled numerous times at 5 AM wake up calls and walked through deserted hotel lobbies to make the drive up to Simon’s Town; a small naval town just south of Cape Town to board one of the vessels.
It’s not a motivational trip. The natural predation of the seals is rare and due to the shark’s imminent extinction and climate changes, chances are declining every year. A good day on sea means there’re probably only 5 or 6 breaches. Combine that with the uncertainty of what breaches from under the abyss and 360 degrees of water to cover with no time to be setting up equipment provides a challenge. It’s a low percentage approach and there’s a small change a photographer’s is at the right place at the right time. It’s a numbers game which can only be beaten by undergoing the trip and hope for the best…
It was this one morning in June when we sailed off at first light. The signs were hopeful. No rain, the swell wasn’t too bad and from the start there was a great deal on shark activity.
When returning to Simons Town I was exhausted. On the boat I couldn’t successfully proof the image on the small camera LCD and I was afraid my focus was slightly off due to the wide aperture and splashing water. However, when I loaded the images onto my computer I immediately saw this image was more than I could have hoped for. It’s pinsharp with a perfect focus on the predators’ teeth and you can actually see the individual waterdrops splashing off. At the end it came down on just 5 minutes out of the 24 hours or so I spend at sea, but it was perfect...
Looking back three years ago, on my first trip to photograph these prehistoric predators, I couldn’t have made this image. It’s plural; the difference between “Jaws” and “Sharknado”. What makes it special is that it is built on three years of trial and error and the result of dedication and perseverance.
Jochen van Dijk
It’s been a tough day in Africa. Looking for the iconic Black Panther, the line from the recent Marcel blockbuster proved to be true: “she never freezed”. We struggled with remote set-ups, predictive analysis and light for several hours. However, she kept sneaking away and we had to follow in her footsteps as her humble servants.
As we were loosing light and time everything came together in only 2 seconds. She’s just as comfortable in this spotlight as she is sneaking away in the darkness. Special credits for Robert and the team for keeping me safe and making this image possible!
Jochen van Dijk
I arrived in Cape Town prepping for tomorrows shoot at sea. Clouds are gathering and the wind is blowing, but there’s confidence that eventually the swell won’t be to harsh. It’s a good challenge to have or as Bob Marley said: “Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.” Anyway, it did not seem to matter to this boy as he oversees all ships going in and out of False Bay.
Jochen van Dijk
New York's skyline has wel been photographed. It's difficult to capture an image that's different than your everyday "I was here" image of this iconic view. Luckily, the two birds came in at exactly the right moment...
Jochen van Dijk
With the year’s ending I’m flicking through some recent images and this one jumped out.
This image was made a few flights and a long way from home in southern Uganda. For me, it visually resembles some of the feelings you get when photographing wildlife.
You can’t walk up to a lioness and expect to make a great image. You get it wrong a thousand times before finally get it right. And if that doubts you, you shouldn’t start in the first place.
The only way these images work is when you’re positioned at eyesight or below. So your only option is really to get as close as you can and when everything’s going together you feel that adrenaline rush. Without being energized by that uncertainty you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing.
There’re many blurry, not well composited lion images. However, every woman has something of a lioness in her. So the trick is to capture a resembling sensual composition, the full sense of serenity of the grass and intelligence from her eyes speaks in a viral image.
She is indeed “The Queen”…
Jochen van Dijk
I’ve said it before: Amboseli is the best place in the world to photograph. And after a few days in this place I stand by these words. When you come up to Observation HillI at 7 AM you realize there’re few places in the world that are more amazing. To try to capture this feeling with a camera would be - well - pointless. The best moments are never to be photographed but always remembered.
Amboseli’s one of a kind landscape has very few tension points and the big herds of elephants are truly breathtaking. The wide view over the iconic dry lake is amazing and different every time. It’s conservation at its finest.
Photographing in Africa often resembles capturing the beauty of these endless African savannas and creating stunning images of magnificent sundowners. But the truth is, this is kind of bullshit and not telling the whole story.
People often ask me two question: “why photograph wildlife?” and “why the black and white toning?”. The reasons are rather simple and lie surprisingly close to each other. These creatures, whereas it would be lions, gorillas or elephants are on the edge of extinction. And so I want my images to resonate a sense of timelessness. As if they could very well be made 2017 BCE or in 2017...
Africa’s problems are reaching beyond poaching, HIV and poverty. Just like many other countries we are the problem. Whether it’s elephants in Africa or the billions of “raised for food” animals in the Western Hemisphere; we are just with to many people using too much natural resources.
Ultimately, I’m not interested in creating works for sale. And it’s not about getting about getting action packed shots which do great on Instagram or Facebook. It’s about creating awareness for these animals so I can get my children and my children’s children to see them in the wild before they cease to exist...
Jochen van Dijk
Boom! This is the big shot of 2017. It’s the kind of image you think back of when collecting your luggage from the conveyer belt.
Especially in 2017 it’s really hard to come up with a transcending image. And then again: the most dangerous thing you can do in life is play it safe and follow the premeditated rules.
I wouldn’t dare to make it if the tusker wasn’t fully comfortable of my presence. Though not habituated, he stayed in the vicinity all night and was calm when approaching him the next morning.
This is about as good as I can do and I think it’s almost perfect. Normally I work with remote controlled cameras and have a trial and error session with settings, framing and location. For this image I was actually controlling the camera by myself from the ground up at just three meters of this big tusker. The result is an impressive “Honey I shrunk the audience”-perspective image of a 40 year old bull.
Jochen van Dijk
Queen Elizabeth National Park, Ugand
Kibale’s rainforest is probably one of the most difficult places I’ve ever photographed. Naturally there’re no paved roads, marked signs of wildlife‘s whereabouts or water points to hydrate. But what’s more challenging are the humid air, extremely tight vegetation and difficult lightening conditions. It’s nature at it’s rawest and challenging at it’s core.
Although chimpanzees aren’t aggressive by nature, they are extremely territorial. When tracking them, this is actually a good thing. You know where to find them. However; this is just the starting point for a good image.
We all know these primates. Whether it’s from the CGI in “Planet of the Apes”, Disney’s “Cimpanzees” or zoos. However, the world doesn’t need another image of these primates from an artificial encounter with a downward positioned angle through reflecting glass or from way up in the trees. This has been well-done and there’s rarely anything interesting in such images. My goal was to be eye to eye with these almost human like creatures to express the emotion in which we can relate to so much.
can safely say I succeeded. After walking hours with fully packed gear through the jungle and kneeling in the mud to get as close as possible I can indeed say I didn’t just photographed him; I actually worked for this image.
The eye conveys a very primal and almost dangerous emotion. I was on this alpha male’s territory and he knows he’s boss in Kibale’s “Planet of the Apes”-esque rainforest.
Jochen van Dijk
I fell in love in Africa and it’s most iconic wildlife in the world. But poaching may destroy it forever. Last year alone, there’re 35.000 elephants killed. If you do the math that results in one elephant kill every 15 minutes of every day. For jewelry, utensils, religious figurines and so on… Normally, I’m interested, excited and confident about the future. But this road we’re on is a dead end. Our children’s children will not see these prehistoric animals.
Chobe breeds them big. These creatures deserve the attention of any Hollywood blockbuster. And this is exactly why this image is so special to me. It’s as if you’re looking at a movie poster of Optimus Prime at the box office. No distraction, just the characterizing tusk, trunk and eyes.
Jochen van Dijk
The story behind this image could easily be about how portraiture is not that different from wildlife photography. About how working with wild animals is - in some ways - less challenging than unpredictable people. About how crystal sharp Nikon’s fancy glass is. It’s not about that. Because it’s not the ideas that count. It’s the execution. It’s what we make. It’s what we share…
These images share a story. Not as in a great context, technical quality or great composition kind of way. These children narrate about contradictions which will bring some perspective to our everyday life. All born on a dusty field with nothing more than a foorball, some scribbly thoughts in my iPhone’s Notes app and yours truly doing his best to hide he actually can’t play soccer…
Is it about trying to find the truth in misperceptions about what we want instead of what we need.
Or about trying to survive in the struggle everyday life can provide.
Is it about being grateful about the end of a hard day's work.
Or worry about the never ending story on how to provide for the next day.
Is confidence about walking into a room with your head held high.
Or when you don't have the continuous drive of having to prove yourself better than others.
Is it about the rushing from one meeting to another.
Or about the rush you feel with a rather spontaneous encounter.
Remember: busy isn't the outcome of success; it's a lack of priority.
So do shit that matters.
Try new things.
Do new stuff.
Pursue risk without being reckless.
And don’t be another brick in the wall.
You can't safe Africa on your own.
And don't even think about feeling sorry for the people.
Just remember that life's worth living.
Make the small things count.
And remember: when nothing’s for sure, anything can happen.
Jochen van Dijk
The Victoria Falls, situated on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia, have been well-documented. Named in honor of Queen Victoria of Britain by Scottish Congregationalist David Livingstone, the falls are one of the most famous tourist sites in subsaharan Africa.
As most images are documented in a photojournalism style, I decided to take on “The Smoke that Thunders” as a fine art project. And what better way than to access these Natural Wonders of the World than from the sky?
What's key in having a great photograph in 2017? It's not technical quality; today's iPhones have better specs than digital SLR's from even a few years ago. It's also not about a perfect hustle with your aperture, shutter speed and ISO. "P"-mode on cameras nowadays do an excellent job on auto-pilot. It's also not about getting a series of lucky, machine gun style shots. We're the most content spoiled generation and there's probably too much visual content. Less is - indeed - more.
I'd argue that wildlife photography is about technical excellence and luck. Logistical excellence and research outnumber the odds in favor of the artist. Luck is when timing meets preparation. And when great content, access, perseverance and research morph into one you'll get some visceral imagery. This all crossed my mind when preparing for the big shot in Chobe, situated in northern Botswana.
I wanted the image to emphasize the animals which take center stage in these characterizing wetlands. Yet again I didn't want yet another uninspiring, uncreative and unpersonal application for a "Big 5 checklist" image.
This immediately brings a few challenges. For one, you can't work from a distance. With a 400mm you loose context, control and intimacy. "If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough", as quoted by Ansel Adams is undoubtedly true.
Second, there's no interesting way to photograph big animals other than from the ground up. You want a low point of view to evoke their massiveness. So working from high up a Land Cruiser is out of the question.
With this in mind I made my setup on the river beds, waiting for the perfect light, composition and hoping every crocodile was in line of sight. Eventually the big shot came... Although I wasn't lying flat down this is actually what makes this image work. The headlining tusker is pin sharp, but the appearance of the hippo and grasslands in one still changes the whole dynamic and brings a strong visual context to this image.
Jochen van Dijk