We were lucky enough to snag a Q&A session with the first person to win the Eric Hoskings Award of the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year for two consecutive years – Heinrich van den Berg.
Find out more about this civil engineer turned wildlife photographer as he shares where his love for photography originated, what inspires him, and the insight his travels have given him over the years.
Above: Hippo yawning near riverside.
1. How did you get into photography?
I have always been interested in photography, and as a young boy I used to go on holiday with my family to all the great nature reserves in Southern Africa and take photographs.
Photography has always been my first love. I studied civil engineering because I didn’t believe that it was possible to make a living from photography. I was a pathetic engineer; I didn’t have any passion for it. All I wanted was to photograph wildlife. In a way it was a blessing that I disliked engineering so much; if I had liked it just a bit more, I would still be an engineer, and not as happy as I am today. I have learned that I cannot do anything effectively if I’m not passionate about it.
Above: The dark ragged rocks, dramatically protruding in straight lines into the ocean near Tsitsikamma National Park.
2. What type of photography are you most passionate about?
I love wildlife photography – any subject that is pure.
Above: A leopard resting while conserving energy for the big hunt ahead.
3. What or who do you draw inspiration from?
My father has been the biggest inspiration. He really appreciates nature and wildlife photography, and that rubbed off on me as a youngster. Other photographers that have inspired me are Jim Brandenburg and Frans Lanting.
Above: The leaf-tailed gecko perfectly camouflaged in the wild.
4. How would you describe your photographic style?
I try to be creative and push the boundaries of still photography. When you have photographed for a very long time, you need to reinvent yourself to stay competitive in the industry.
Above: Meerkats on the lookout for predators.
5. Have you ever put your life in danger to take the perfect shot?
One of the advantages of being a wildlife photographer is that you see some incredible wild places and sometimes you get paid to go there. The danger pales in comparison to the opportunity to get a great photograph.
The most challenging experience was getting malaria during a trip to the Kruger National Park. For me, it is proof that the mosquito is by far the most dangerous animal in Africa.
The scariest experience was being attacked by a hippo while paddling down the Zambezi river on an assignment. I was in a two-man canoe with an experienced guide when a hippo picked our canoe up from below. My guide started screaming like a girl, and that was really scary: when your guide loses it, it means that you need to start panicking. But it was the high-pitched scream that made the hippo drop us.
Above: The grey crowned crane in the Grasslands of Africa.
6. Is there a photograph that you have taken that is of sentimental value to you?
It’s not really an external experience, but more the internal personal journey that has been so rewarding. I have experienced incredible sightings, from mountain gorillas to indris in Madagascar. All of these experiences add up to a really honest appreciation of how lucky I am to be able to live this kind of life.
Travelling through Africa, one sees terrible poverty and bravery and that puts everything into context. The same applies to animals. The habitats of many animals are in real danger, and I am fortunate enough to be able to photograph some of these animals and hope that it will have an influence on the future of their species. It’s rewarding to be able to convey an animal in an original way.
Above: A flap-necked chameleon mimics the colour of leaves to ambush its prey.
7. What tips do you have for aspiring photographers?
Be creative and break the rules.
Above: The Beauty of the Namaqualand spring flowers.
8. What are some of the challenges that you face as a photographer?
Photography is a wonderful occupation, and if you really enjoy what you are doing, challenges just make it more interesting. The biggest challenge is making money from an industry that people do for fun, as a hobby.
Above: A great shot of some Mangrove trees in the Umlalazi Nature Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal.
9. Have you ever missed the perfect shot?
I don’t want to talk about it.
10. What do you want to say through your photographs?
I want to show the beauty that is out there. Then if people are aware of this beauty, they may think twice before destroying it.
If this article has peaked your interest in Heinrich van den Berg’s photography, then check out his website or view some of the great work his done, currently available to purchase online through hph publishing.