Call of the Wild

Posted Friday, 2 February 2007 by Lars Hasvoll Bakke in Interviews, Photography
I was fortunate enough to get an interview with South African photographer Nico Smit, a favourite among the Crestock staff for his amazing wildlife photography.
His portfolio contains hundreds of wonderful images of all sorts of animals in their natural environment. These images range from classics such as lions and giraffes, to more inconspicuous creatures, like stalk-eyed sand crabs and a rather mischievous-looking gang of suricates.

Captivating orange owl-eyesA supremely confident lion male
Captivating orange owl-eyesA supremely confident male lion
resting in the grass.

Nico Smit
Nico with what appears to be
his Canon 400 f/2.8 lens
Nico started out doing black and white photos almost 30 years ago, using an old classic, the fully manual Pentax K1000 camera, and progressed gradually into digital photography, selling his last film camera during the year 2005.

- Today I am glad I mastered photography this way.  With the advancements of technology I think many photographers who started photography recently with their “auto everything” cameras, often don’t learn and understand the basic principles of photography fully.

The most obvious thing to talk to Nico about, is of course wildlife photography. With a portfolio with radically different content than most stock photographers, he should have some interesting pieces of advice to bring forth.
- Being a good wildlife photographer requires that you have first hand knowledge of the wildlife species that you photograph.  Another essential requirement is patience.  If you do not succeed today you will have to try again another day.  That is what makes wildlife photography so rewarding – that element of uncertainty and anticipation.  Light is extremely important.  There is no substitute for good light - therefore the best time of day is always early morning and late afternoon.  This is also the time of day that many wildlife species are most active.  During my many visits to National Parks and wilderness areas I observed people arriving at a specific camp and spending only one or two nights before moving on to the next camp.  This is not the way to do it.  I prefer to stay at a specific location for a week or more.  It often takes days to learn where the animals are and which waterholes they prefer.  Many species, especially lions, are very territorial and by observing the whereabouts of specific groups of animals can be invaluable in getting the shot you want.

Being a professor in grassland ecology, his work revolves a lot around the same subject as his photography, life on the savanna.
- My interest in nature and wildlife was there since childhood, long before my interest in photography started.  Because of this my photography is simply a natural extension of my love and appreciation of nature.  Fortunately I live in a country (South Africa) where there are ample opportunities to practice wildlife photography.  However, it was not until I became independent as an adult (some 25 years ago) that I was able to equip myself with all the essentials (4x4 vehicle, camping equipment and good camera equipment) to undertake extensive tours to remote wilderness areas.

Reviewing his portfolio, you will see that the vast majority of his photos show some exotic critter out in the bush or on a beach, but in between all of these, there are other types of photos, showing airplanes doing an aerobatic display, golfers and greyhounds at a dog race.
- I mainly derive my inspiration from nature.  There is nothing more inspiring than being alone in nature, far from the daily hustle and bustle of city life.  I just wish I can get away to these wild places more often.  However, as a freelance photographer I also do a lot of sport photography.  I have press accreditation and have covered numerous large sporting events such as the MotoGP and others.  I enjoy my sport photography with the added benefit that it practices my skills, which is invaluable in nature photography when fast reflexes and instinctive knowledge of your equipment can make all the difference in capturing the image at just the right moment.

No matter how good equipment you use, it’s always going to be the man or woman behind the camera that decides whether or not the photos turn out good. On the other hand, if you’re equipped with a compact camera and their limited zoom ranges, you won’t get far with the lions, unless of course, you feels like getting up close and personal with them. From the looks of Nico’s equipment, it takes quite a decent budget to be able fill a photo frame with a resting lion.
- Currently I am using three digital bodies (Canon EOS 20D and 30D), with a large selection of quality lenses. I’d rather spend money on lenses than camera bodies, especially with digital that is changing so quickly.  My best loved lens is my Canon 400 /2.8 L lens. This is a fantastic lens and although many will consider it too short for wildlife, I find it to be the ideal lens for a 1.6x crop digital body. It works very well with the Canon 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters, giving me the equivalent focal lengths of approximately 600mm, 900 mm and 1100 mm on my 1.6x crop bodies.

With Norway (Where Crestock is based) being situated way up north, many seems to think there are polar bears wandering the streets here, while the fact is that they only live in an isolated group of islands, far to the north of the mainland. Some people seem to have something of the same notion of southern Africa, that hungry lions are roaming the cities and elephants stampede down main street every now and then. I asked Nico about the situation for wildlife in South Africa.
- Unfortunately, most of the large (dangerous) wildlife has dissapeared from the populated areas of southern Africa. Yet, there are still large, unspoiled conservation areas left where you can experience the true wilderness.  I normally avoid the crowded and popular tourist areas and prefer to go into the more quiet and remote areas.

Having established that a stroll in Pretoria probably won’t have you spotting the ”big five”, I wondered if Nico had any wild tales of dangerous wildlife from his photography trips in the bush.
- Since most wildlife photography is done from a vehicle it is generally very safe. I have camped on numerous occasions in the open among potentially dangerous wildlife such as lions and elephants without any fences around the campsite. Under these circumstances there is the golden rule that they will not bother you if you don’t bother them. My most frightening experiences were in fact during my work as ecologist doing research in wilderness areas. I have dealt with elephants, rhino and buffalo on foot, which is potentially more dangerous than lions. Incidents were many, but ironically it is often the smaller creatures such as poisonous snakes and insects that present a more serious threat.

Being something of a history nut myself, I couldn’t help asking him what event in world history he would have liked to be present at with his camera.
- Rather than a specific event I would have liked to be present during a specific time period in Africa.  With the rapid (and tragic) rate at which development is destroying our natural heritage I always wonder what Africa looked like before human habitation.  I was always fascinated by the tales of the early explorers like Livingstone. I wish I could have seen what he had seen during his lifetime.
With such a great number of impressive photos available, it was a hard task to select a few images for this article. As it turned out, my favourite among his photos is also his own personal favourite.
- The Kalahari (Kgalagadi as it is called now), one of the largest conservation areas in southern Africa that stretches over two countries (South Africa and Botswana), is by far my most popular destination. There is just something magical about this vast semi-desert area. The photo of a family of Suricates (meerkats) standing on a termite mound must rate as one of my favourites. They are just so fascinating to watch, probably because their behaviour remind me so much of our own. This image also sells very well.

Finally, I wanted to hear his take on Crestock, his opinion of our operation.
- Crestock is a new and upcoming stock site.  In terms of number of images and sales it has not yet reached the heights of the big sites, but I like the feel of the site and I am positive about the future of Crestock. That’s why I submit to Crestock.

The images you see here are a just a tiny fraction of all the wonderfull photos Nico has submitted to Crestock. For a better look, we highly recomend a visit to his portfolio.

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