We enjoy nature. Experience animals in their environment. Often up close. Often in other countries. But how long? The extinction of species is dramatic. The living space is getting smaller and smaller.
That is why the famous photographer Joachim Schmeisser aimed his camera at some of the largest and most fascinating animals in Africa: elephants, rhinos, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, leopards and mountain gorillas – and they are all threatened with extinction.
His photo book “The last of their kind” (published in teNeues Verlag) is a declaration of love to the wild, irrepressible and unfortunately threatened animal life!
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BILD: How much beauty had to be in the photos – so that they arrive as a warning?
Joachim Schmeisser: “In addition to their fascinating appearance, each of these animals has an unmistakable personality. The aesthetic of my photography is that I photograph them as individual living beings, just as I would portray people. Only in this way is it possible for me to make this intuitive connection visible, which we humans undoubtedly have, since we are ultimately all creatures of one and the same nature. “
Joachim Schmeisser was born in Germany in 1958. He is best known for his extraordinary portraits of threatened species in Africa. In 2012 Joachim Schmeisser received the renowned Hasselblad Master Award.
How close were you really to the animals with the camera?
Joachim Schmeisser: “This approach is the hardest part of my job. In fact, it’s often only a few meters that separate me from the really big animals. It takes a lot of patience and experience and you have to approach the animals very slowly, sometimes over several hours. But only at this short distance is it possible to take such intimate portraits.
I have never experienced really threatening situations, but that is certainly largely due to the respectful handling and the avoidance of incalculable risks. However, it is a very special feeling when you look a large silverback straight in the eyes from a very short distance and you think of the loud beating of the mirror on your camera. “
What technology did you use?
Joachim Schmeisser: “I work almost exclusively with large medium format cameras, which, unlike the fast 35mm cameras, are heavier, slower and more difficult to handle, but they are very suitable for my type of photography at short distances. For action-packed wildlife photography as we are used to, this technique is completely useless. But in the range of short focal lengths of 35 to 120 mm, unbeatable in terms of bokeh (natural background blur), dynamics and detail drawing. I do not use remote cameras with remote release. “
How much perseverance did you need to get the perfect photo moment?
Joachim Schmeisser: “This can take anywhere from a few minutes to several days. The main difficulty lies in the fact that they cannot control the animals. In addition, there are weather, light, surroundings and the all-important shooting position. A lion lying flat on its side in the tall grass will often stay that way for a long time. You can only guess how and when it will rise and try to use the time to optimally set up as many parameters as possible.
I prefer very low shooting positions, which means that I lean my entire upper body out of the open car and hold the camera just above the ground. The dense, tall grass also requires manual focusing. So an extremely stressful situation that can drag on for a long time. When he gets up and presents, the time window is usually very short and everything has to be in place within a few seconds. “
How did a photo day for the book look like for you? Do you go out alone? Are you packing your photo bag the night before? Who is with you? Do you disguise yourself?
Joachim Schmeisser: “The light in the first hour is the most beautiful thing and the way to the place where you suspect a certain animal is often long. That is why our day begins very early in the morning, well before sunrise. Rivers have to be crossed and, depending on the weather, quite difficult terrain has to be overcome. The guides therefore play a very important role and we know each other from many joint projects.
My wife Kathrin is indispensable for me and has accompanied me on every trip for many years. We are a well-rehearsed team that understands each other blindly, otherwise none of this would be possible.
The technical equipment is of course crucial and has to do one thing above all: work and withstand a lot. Rain, dirt, mud and dust are completely normal and inevitable. So the cameras and lenses are checked and cleaned every evening. Camouflage makes no sense in the way I work. “
Is there anything you can tell safari tourists when they take photos of animals?
Joachim Schmeisser: “Seeing and understanding light is one of the most important components. Early mornings and evenings are usually the best times for atmospheric pictures. The light is fantastically soft, the shadows long and the colors unique. A seemingly simple scene can turn into something magical with the right lighting mood.
And: observe carefully, anticipate something, and then catch exactly the right moment. It’s actually quite simple. “