Extremely talented and passionate nature photographer Marsel Van Oosten speaks on his photography stints, Journey as a photographer and some valuable lessons on being the one and much more. His love for nature and the wildlife is obvious through his words and pictures.
We are confident that this Interview with a photographer of his caliber should encourage, enlighten and outreach every aspiring photographer in this field.
Few words about you and your photography stint?
I am a professional nature photographer from The Netherlands. I live in Amsterdam with my wife and videographer Daniella Sibbing. Together we organize specialized nature photography tours and workshops for small international groups of all experience levels to destinations around the globe. The reason I call myself a nature photographer, is that I like both landscape and wildlife photography.
How special is wildlife photography and traveling for you?
I love animals, I love being out in nature, I love photography, and I love traveling. To be able to combine all those things in my daily work makes me feel very fortunate. Even though we’re used to traveling all over the planet and spending time in the most amazing places, we still realize how special it is to do what we’re doing. Most people think that we’re on a perpetual holiday, but it’s not as romantic as it may may sound. The life of a nature photographer is not easy, to say the least, and it’s very, very hard work.
Few memorable moments on a safari with photographs?
It’s hard to just pick one or two moments, as there are so many memorable ones. We’ve seen lions kill an elephant, a hippo saving a baby zebra from being eaten by crocodiles, and we’ve been charged by lion, rhino and elephant. Those are obviously intense moments, but often the quiet and subtle moments can be just as memorable – like watching swans wake up around sunrise in a frozen winter wonderland in Japan, or setting up your tent in the middle of the Sahara.
Your gear and what role does they play in a wildlife photographer’s career?
I shoot with Nikon cameras and lenses. I currently shoot with D3s, D4 and D800 cameras, and my lenses include a 14-24/2.8, 17-35/2.8, 24-70/2.8, 70-200/2.8, 105 macro, 200-400/4, and a 600/4.
My gear is important, because they are my tools. Any artist needs good tools to get the best results. However, the importance of expensive, professional gear is highly overrated. A good photographer can take great shots with even the simplest camera. Good pictures are shot with your head.
How do you prepare yourself before a tour/safari?
I try to spend as much time as possible on preparation. Luck favors the prepared, and luck is very important in both wildlife and landscape photography. As a nature photographer you have only very limited influence on your subject and the conditions, so I like to control as many variables as possible in order to be able to work as efficient as possible. That means carefully studying animal behavior, weather conditions and the effect on the landscape and the animals, etc. You can never be too prepared.
According to Marsel, what does it take to become a wildlife photographer?
Talent is the most important thing. You can buy all the gear there is, learn to master all the buttons, bits and bytes, and travel all over the world – in the end it’s all about creativity.
You also need to be very passionate about it and willing to work your *ss off. Nowadays there is very little money to be made with nature photography, which makes this even more important.
The vast majority of people that want to become a nature photographer have an over-romanticized image of the lifestyle. It is extremely hard work and it never stops.
In an age where there is a camera in every phone, more photographs are being taken every day than ever before. To stand out from those billions of pictures is not easy, and you have to create more than just a good shot for people to notice it and for people to want to buy it.
Having traveled all around the globe, your favorite spot for wildlife photography?
That’s like asking for my favorite food – it changes according to my mood. Africa is unrivaled for wildlife photography because there is such an abundance of animals and it’s fairly easy to find them. The Masai Mara in Kenya is probably the easiest place in the world to photograph wild animals, but it has become incredibly busy with tourists. For the best wilderness experience I therefore prefer other countries in Africa to photograph wildlife, like Botswana or Zambia.
One of the best places in the world to combine wildlife photography with landscape photography is Antarctica – arguably the last remaining wilderness on this planet.
Your achievements so far, and what do they mean to you?
My work appears regularly in magazines such as National Geographic, it has been displayed in galleries and museums, and I’ve won first prizes in almost all major international nature photography competitions. Photography is not a science – whether a photograph is good or not is very subjective and almost impossible to measure. To win an award is good for your ego, but it doesn’t mean you’re there yet – maybe you were just lucky. If you’re consistently successful in major competitions though, and people keep buying and publishing your work, that means that you must be doing something good, and that’s a nice feeling. However, it also means that you have to keep raising the bar for yourself constantly, if you want to continue to improve. I like that challenge.
How difficult or interesting is it to study animals nature and how do you capture it?
It’s not difficult to study animal behavior, if the animal is there. The problem with wildlife is that it is unpredictable and that a sighting can be very short. I usually use local guides and biologists that know the species and the area well – their knowledge is invaluable.
One memorable incident on a safari/tour with a photograph?
I once tried to photograph some lions.
- What is your idea of happiness?
To be able to do what you love with the person you love.
- Who is your Inspiration?
I get my inspiration from all over the place, not just from one person and not just from photographers.
- What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I won the title International Nature Photographer Of The Year two years in a row at the prestigious International Photography Awards (IPA).
- Where would you like to live?
We travel so much, that we don’t really feel the need to move to another city or country.
- Who are your heroes in real life?
I have no heroes.
- What is your present state of mind?
At this moment we’re driving to our next location in Japan, and I’m anxious to know how much pack ice there is in the harbor.
- Who are your favorite authors?
Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris
- What is your favorite motto?
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Thanks again for providing 121 Clicks with this opportunity to interview you. Any final thoughts for our readers?
If you want to become a better photographer, don’t start with spending all your money on expensive professional gear. It’s like buying a Ferrari before you even got your driver’s license. It’s shameless self-promotion, but you’re much better off spending some money to join me on one of my photo tours. You learn a lot in a relatively short time, you have great fun with like-minded enthusiasts, and you return with great photographs – regardless of the equipment you use. Like I said earlier – good pictures are shot with your head, so that’s where you should start.
You can find Marsel van Oosten on the Web :
All the pictures in this post are copyrighted to Marsel van Oosten. Their reproduction, even in part, is forbidden without the explicit approval of the rightful owners.