Thanks to Nature Photographer Frans Lanting We See a World We Never Could Imagine (video)
Whether working on assignment for National Geographic magazine or the Smithsonian Institute, nature photographer Frans Lanting gives us a window on a magical and mysterious world. At least, it is mysterious to most of us!
He “stalks” the wildlife, sometimes with the help of locals. Some 30 odd years ago, Lanting was in Madagascar on a mission to photograph the elusive “Aye-Aye”. This private, nocturnal primate only gets to about 16 inches in length. Up until his trek, there were few photographs documenting their existence.
While the animals are unique, and therefore exciting, to westerners, they actually created fear in the minds of the local people. According to Lanting’s wife, Chris Eckstrom, who is also an accomplished videographer and writer:
“The local people are so fearful of those creatures that they often didn’t even want to hear the name pronounced,” Lanting adds. “It’s associated with evil and bad luck.” But a farmer finally led him to a place where an aye-aye could be seen in the tree canopy scooping out the flesh of a coconut.
While some photographers may not appreciate the booming ranks of nature photographers, for Lanting and Eckstrom it is a good sign. The advent of smartphones that are capable of taking good photos gives people the ability to document, and be aware of, social and political issues in a way that was not possible even just a few years ago.
Amateur photographers can also get very creative with their smartphones and apps. “I think we are just seeing the beginning of a new era in photography,” Lanting says. “What it does to the more deliberate kinds of photography…hopefully it’ll stimulate a small percentage of the people who start with this to consider taking the next step from taking pictures to making photographs.”
Lanting’s work would typically be categorized as “realistic.” That is not to say that he doesn’t have an eye for composition. Nor does it mean that he doesn’t sometimes dabble in the abstract. Case in point, the zebra in this shot–clearly recognizable despite the close up, and filled with subtle, hidden meaning.
Working closely with Eckstrom, his wife and creative partner, they share an artistic vision. They, of course capture the beauty of the scenes and creatures they photograph. More than that, they interpret those scenes in a way that tells a much deeper story.
That story often goes beyond a specific animal. He may enlarge an animal, such as a small frog, and shift his focus and point of view, in order to tell a much larger story than that of the individual being.
Safety is an important concern for all nature photographers, including Lanting and Eckstrom. Approaching the animals is not exactly what they teach in school–except the school of experience.
“You can’t go to school for this kind of work. You have to learn by doing it,” Lanting says. “I made all the mistakes myself. I just got better and better at it.”
Lanting and Eckstrom have learned to understand the animals and to read the situation. That is what helps them to remain safe and gauge what is appropriate in that moment. Even so, the reality is wildlife is not 100% predictable. Since they are on foot–or on their stomachs–they are easy targets, and therefore have to be extra cautious in their approach to the work they love.
Not only are they aware of their own safety, they are aware that their presence could make the animals uncomfortable, which can cause them undue stress, or result in unneeded danger to the nature photographer.
Animals give signals, Eckstrom adds. “If you watch carefully, they’re letting you know how comfortable they are with your presence and your approach. If you read their language, then you either know that it’s OK to move in a little bit more, or back off,” she says. Elephants, for example, flap their ears, raise themselves up, and shuffle their front feet.
A skilled wildlife photographer, Lanting takes landscape photographs as well. Be sure to check out his work on his website.
Read the original article by Menachem Wecker on SmithsonianMag.com–there is lots more about nature photography and what it is really like to be a photographer in the wild!