Seeing Something Special
As any student of nature will tell you, change is progressive. Adaptation and innovation create new niches and species thrive on diversity. Could it be the same with wildlife photography? In a time when camera technology makes it easier than ever to take sharp, detailed pictures, is doing something different essential to stand out?
In the past few years, wildlife expert Andreas Hemb, has set himself that very task.
© Andreas Hemb | Sony α9 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS + 1.4x Teleconverter | 1/1000s @ f/4.0, ISO 100
“In part of my work,” Andreas explains, “I’ve been moving away from pure documentary shots and trying to discover another aspect of wildlife photography, which I think is more about capturing the emotion of being there. I call it ‘the borderline between dream and reality’ and it’s more about evoking a feeling than capturing the animal. Maybe you’ve seen a ‘normal’ shot 1000 times before, but if you can show things in another way, it wakes an interest.”
Drawing on a broad background in photography, Andreas is well placed to push beyond the limits of regular wildlife photography. In fact, having previously been a landscape photographer, there are lots of similarities to draw between scenic photography, and the images he now creates.
“I was always interested in observing wildlife,” he says, “and that evolved through shooting landscapes, when I wanted to put something living in the picture to make a greater connection. As beautiful as the scenery was, it was like there was something missing. Life always adds a dynamic to the picture, and to the experience.”
© Andreas Hemb | Sony α9 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS + 1.4x Teleconverter | 1/500s @ f/4.0, ISO 125
Although Andreas uses landscape photography staples, his expertise in capturing wildlife is essential to ensure he gets the perfect shot. “You have all the normal aspects of photography, like being able to understand the light, the background and so on,” he says “but then you have the animal to capture in a special moment, too. So you still need good fieldcraft, making the animal okay with you being there: close enough to be able to take the picture, and also to understand its behaviour – the way it moves, the way it reacts to things around it, so you can anticipate – because the actual moment you want to capture can be gone really fast.”
On recent shoots in his native Sweden and in Florida, shooting with either α7R III or α9, Andreas has produced a wonderful range of artistic nature shots. For instance, when using panning techniques on a Snowy Egret taking a fish, “I followed it with a shutter speed of 1/60sec,” he explains, “much slower than one would normally use for wildlife shots, and the intentional motion blur leaves the head sort of sharp, letting you see what it is but with the wing and the background blurring out.”
© Andreas Hemb | Sony α9 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/60s @ f/4.0, ISO 100
Panning is greatly aided by his Alphas’ In-Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS), he says, “because I’m looking for subject movement but not complete blur. I look for movement in different ways, but almost always the IBIS is helpful. You want most of your image sharp, but you want movement in the right place, so there’s that contrast which draws the eye. In panning, it’s also really useful that I can switch the IBIS mode to recognise that I only want stabilisation in one axis, and I can do that right from the lens, like the GM 400mm f/2.8, which helps a lot in terms of speed.”
Other Alpha features Andreas relies on for these shots includes the instant feedback from the EVF, and Silent Shooting mode. “Silence is so important in wildlife photography,” he explains, “because you can’t risk scaring the subject. With the mechanical shutter chattering it can sound like a machine gun going off , but on the α9 I can shoot 20fps, and they don’t even notice.”
© Andreas Hemb | Sony α9 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/80s @ f/2.8, ISO 4000
For shots like silhouettes and backlit subjects, the EVF and histogram really come into their own, he says, “because you’re getting that instant feedback, and know instinctively how you need to adjust for the light, either manually or with exposure compensation. Shooting in low sun is so much easier, and you don’t hurt your eyes, either! The silent shutter, IBIS and the EVF come together in low-angle shots like the silhouetted waders, and the swan in the glittering water, where I was using a floating hide to get close.”
© Andreas Hemb | Sony α7R III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/25s @ f/10, ISO 100
Another of his Florida shots shows an alligator, swimming in calm reflections, where Andreas has cleverly inverted the frame. First you see the trees and sky, and then the alligator. It gives you an almost primeval shock when you spot the predator. “It’s a super simple technique,” he laughs, “and a bit of a surprise. An example of a very simple way of doing something different. Hopefully, like the other shots, it stops you and makes you think about the beauty of the wildlife, and ultimately how we might preserve it for future generations to experience, too.”
An image can contain so much more than just a reflection of our surroundings. I strive to get past the documentary aspect of photography; an image should provide feelings.