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
I've been completely off the grid in Namibia's beautiful desert for a few weeks. And though there's magnificent landscape imagery to be found, I was still missing the big shot. So when scouting for that one image on Etosha's dry plains the stakes where high...
The extreme conditions, most notable the dry and scorching heat, are what sets this place apart from any other location. This is actually a good starting point; in the end it's all about plurality. The world doesn't need another picture of a center framed, sideways and high point of view elephant. It has been done excessively and most of the time it is just hackneyed pulp. We all know how these creatures look like. These "proof shots" a nice to show your Big 5 checklist to family and friends back home, but they're not captivating in any other way. After failing over and over again I can safely say I'm better than that. This is not ego talking; it's a continuous drive to excellence.
hen working in these conditions I wanted that characterizing heat and drought to be the main stage of the image with the animals playing a key role. Motivated by preparation and a large amount of sunburn and dust, hours of waiting went by hoping for that single special moment to unfold. This patience paid off in an enchanted moment.
hough there's not a single elephant to be seen, it's immediately clear what massive animals are headlining this image. The dust implies heat, drought and - most of all - movement.
Jochen van Dijk
Some piloting (no pun intended) to master the craft before heading back to Africa in a couple of weeks. Psyched about the possibilities!
Is it enough for a new vertical of creativity? Absolutely! With the becoming maturity of drones new perspectives are within reach. I don't know where this will lead yet, but there's absolutely some new and transcending imagery to be found within this new technology! 🚀📷
Science says it: your brain pushes into new neural pathways when going outside your comfort zone. Quite literally, creativity creates more creativity. Though I usually capture wildlife, most of the things I apply to these images come from influences outside of the animal kingdom. Or even photography for that matter. I'm convinced it’s crucial to get perspectives outside your chosen line of work.
For this image, called "L'eau”, I had something different in mind. The goal was to replicate the sense of the so called "golden hour"; a short window of time arising just after sunrise and before sunset. At these few minutes the low rising sun creates soft lightening and beautiful long, stretched shadows. This is often used in outdoor imagery, but I wanted to use this creative thought to replicate it on a female body.
Although it's a staged shoot, it's about as real as it gets. And fundamentally different than waiting hours for that perfect sun flare or a single movement by a predator. With this kind of imagery preparation is key: it's absolutely vital to take a step back and understand the context before going to work. Naturally, the model has to feel perfectly secure. But more importantly: the stakes are high. You can't over promise and under deliver with these kind of images.
Despite the fact the stakes were high I believe this canvas resembles a great combination of personal creative expression and technique. But more importantly: it’s a image that speaks on itself. On first hand it’s evocative. You have to look harder to recognize the alluring female curves and the subtle peak of the lace lining is suggestive, instead of erotic.
People who follow me on Instagram know that I have a simple of rules to judge the quality of an image. It’s rarely the pure technical quality, such as ISO, shutter speed or aperture. More often it is that special feeling when you look at it and - to put that extra criticism into the equation - the answer to one simple question: would I actually hang this on my own wall? When combining all of those aspects nine out of ten images don’t make it to the finish line.
Although I always photograph in color, this rarely holds up in post production. The modern world simply has too much content and visual impulses. Photographers are canvassing the globe with their smartphones and there’re taken millions of images each day; Apple even advertises this in their award winning “Shot on iPhone” campaigns. Due to technology, some of them even come close to “Planet Earth-material”. How cool and beautiful they are: I find them too tense and therefore distracting to serve as interior decoration. Black and white has some kind of timelessness and peacefulness. And combined with my subject of choice, wildlife, these kind of images are clean and hold better in almost any interior.
When browsing for a company to print these images I came across the Germany based company Saal Digital. They provide a range of products, including fine art prints on baryta paper. It’s undoubtedly my paper of choice for fine art prints. Why? Well, without going in too much technical geekiness: the benefits include greater detail and definition, extended tonal range, some delicate texture and great archival properties. For short: monocolored prints on this material are, especially on a 50 x70 cm format, genuinely legit.
As I don’t want my images altered by other software I ordered using the direct online upload option. Sadly they don’t put this in the spotlight as much as the software they provide, as it is much easier to use. And more important: when not using the software app it supports TIFF-files. This means the possibility to upload (much) larger files with greater detail. The order process was straight, simple and incredibly rapid: within only 3 days I received my order. Nicely, securely packed and carefully rolled with some protective sheets in between the prints.
These guys come highly recommended for quality and speed!
Over the years I've wasted so much time photographing alligators. "Tinderbox" illustrates that time and effort eventually pay off. This image is the result of dedication and lots of trial and error. The world doesn't need another image of an alligator from an airboat or - god forbid - one of those alligator farms. Those images are great to show back at home on your iPhone, but these artificial encounters are mostly hackneyed pulp.
The sawgrass and proximity of only a few inches to this ancient predator change the whole dynamic. It brings a visceral sence of "Honey, I shrunk the kids"-perspective to the image with actually a selfie of me in her eye. This alone will make it stand the test of time. Only seconds after this image was made, she decided to release her full fiercefullness on - thankfully - my wide-angle lens.
The remote and monopod didn't survive... And I've probably never been more grateful with Nikon’s perfect equipment; I've got the teeth marks to show for it on my lens...
Jochen van Dijk
"Morning Commute" illustrates why there’s no beter place in the world to be at 7 AM than Amboseli's dry lake. Amboseli is the best canvas in the world to work on and this composition shows why: an elephant family marching through the dusty plains with Kilimanjaro as a backdrop... It’s rather simple, yet surreal due to the magnificence of these animals.
This is emphatically demonstrated by this image. When this herd crossed the dry lands of Amboseli I knew this was a special moment. The use of space to create a distinct sense of vastness near these magnificent animals is typical for this remote place.Elephants have an amazing memory and they're up to live to 60 to 70 years. They're socially much more connected than even humans are these days. “Morning Commute” illustrates this powerfull unity.
Though the Serengeti and Mara are magnificent, Amboseli consists of just flat and raw terrain without any distracting backdrops. This elemental starkness suits my clean style of photography.
Jochen van Dijk