Our European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is running until 15 January. We spoke to photographer Marijn Heuts about his photograph, Intimacy through the keyhole, as well as his approach to wildlife photography.
Tell us the story behind your photo Intimacy through the Keyhole...
It was a cold, foggy morning during the rutting season for red deer (Cervus elaphus). Before dawn, the site was completely covered by fog and darkness. Only the stag’s rutting calls gave away their presence.
When dawn broke and the first rays of the sun penetrated the fog, most of the animals were already retreating into the woods. But one pair of lovers stayed for another moment. I positioned myself behind an oak tree and focused through a gap in the canopy to gain an intimate insight into their turbulent love life.
Heuts' photograph Intimacy through the keyhole, which is featured in the exhibition, Marijn Heuts
How did you go about getting that shot and how long did you have to wait for it?
The most difficult part was finding a gap in the canopy that gave a clear enough view of the deer. That required careful, small movement of my gear and me. Therefore, use of a tripod was impossible. Since I was using a heavy 500mm lens, I had to increase the ISO to get a shutter speed that still enabled me to get sharp results.
When I saw it happen, I could execute the plan I had had in my mind for quite some time. It took several days of visiting the site over three years before the deer took a position that made shooting through the canopy possible.
Did you use any particular equipment?
Nothing except my camera and long lens. No tripod as mentioned.
What are the difficulties of wildlife photography you face?
In the Netherlands, most animals are very wary so getting close is usually the difficult part. Not in this case, as the deer are used to people and get relatively close. The difficulty was trying for a photograph that had not been taken before. Not easy, with the enormous number of wildlife photography enthusiasts visiting the deer during the rutting season and the thousands of images made every day of these enigmatic animals.
Little Fox, Marijn Heuts
Although I mainly focus on landscapes and abstract images, I find it very hard to resist a good old game of waiting every now and then. I can spend hours on end in a hide or under a camouflage cloth to wait for birds or mammals to show themselves.
Kingfishers, badgers and foxes are animals I go after just about every year. No matter how many images of them I have already ‘bagged’. There’s always a better image waiting to be made. And also, just sitting in a quiet spot, watching animals go about their thing without being disturbed, is something I really enjoy. It’s almost like meditation.
Where do you go to look for shots?
Heather landscape, Marijn Heuts
I spend most of my photography time (very) close to home. It enables me to go back time and time again, get to learn the landscape and its inhabitants and research the best vantage points for landscape photography. When the weather is right, I can go to the right spot immediately and don’t waste a perfectly good sunrise searching for a composition that will probably never materialise. Also, images from your own backyard can really aid in showing other people in your area how beautiful and diverse our direct surroundings can be. You don’t need to go far to find interesting things.
Autumn intimate landscape, Marijn Heuts
When the skies are full of puffy pink clouds, I will go for the drama of the larger landscape. After all, it would be a crime not to include a perfect sky in your images. But when the weather is more adverse, or the sky is just plain boring, I will mount a longer lens and start looking for more intimate landscapes. Small, hidden corners in the forest that I normally pass, on my way to something more dramatic, now become the subjects of choice.
Ice abstract, Marijn Heuts
It’s not all about landscapes. I really enjoy trying to find abstracts, patterns and shapes in common subjects. Subjects that don’t scream ‘photograph me’ right away. This kind of abstract images can be found just about everywhere, as long as you move slowly and with an open mind. It pays to look down every now and then, because sometimes images are literally there right at your feet.
What would you like people to think about when they see your work?
My main goal would be to create a longing to put on the hiking boots and go explore nature yourself. But also, I would like people to look longer than just a first glance and make up their own story to go with the photograph. I don’t want my images to be so obvious that they tell the whole story at first glance. Let people dream, fantasise, imagine. And then go for a walk. On a larger scale, it would be nice when exhibitions like this one create awareness among people about the natural world and the need to preserve what we have. One person at a time, every single one counts.
How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started in your career?
I have been a nature photographer for about 12 years now. When I started out, I mainly focused on birds and wanted to fill the frame with as many feathers as I could. Nowadays, I hardly photograph birds and am more a landscape, abstract and detail photographer. I guess one does not only grow as a person but also as a photographer!
Lion portrait, Marijn Heuts
About 90% of my work is made within a 20km radius from my home. That said, over the years I have developed a strong love for the African continent, and especially its wildlife. I try to get the dust of Africa on my feet as often as I can. There’s nothing that gets my heart beat faster than the sound, smell and feel of the African bush. Think campfire, braai and roaring lions and laughing hyena’s at night.
Wildebeest crossing, Marijn Heuts
Africa is not only about the enigmatic big cats: lion, leopard and cheetah. The common plain game such as zebra, giraffe, antelope and wildebeest are wonderful subjects in their own right. Especially when lit by the rising or setting sun, hidden by dust clouds or soaked in a heavy downpour. Or when their numbers are larger then one can comprehend such as during a frantic river crossing in the Maasai Mara.
What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife in their local environment?
Stay true to yourself. It is all too easy to be taken away by the heat of the moment, the work of others on Facebook and the next hot subject. Go out when you want to, stay home when you just don’t feel like photographing. Go after the subjects you like, enjoy discovering a new area and be open to the opportunities it has to offer. Enjoy adverse weather, try new things, dismiss preconceived ideas and find beauty in nondescript, small things in nature. Don’t be driven by the ever-worsening rush for likes and approval by others. After all, it’s a hobby, isn’t it? Before being marked a mister-know-it-all, I should mention the above mainly comes from experience! Been there, done that.
What have you been up to since the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 competition? What projects are you working on now?
I am not really a photographer that works on long-term projects. I go with the seasons and photograph whatever comes my way. That said, I just finished a multi-year project on a local nature reserve. That started out as a small collection of images 10 years ago and grew into a ‘thing’ I had to finish over the years. I am also working on documenting a long list of nature reserves for a handbook for the conservation organisation that owns them.
I am more and more spending time on my writing. I love to write about nature photography and contribute to books, magazines and websites. Finally, I am offering photo tours to (currently) Norway, South Africa and Kenya and just returned from an amazing two weeks in the Maasai Mara.
What are your favourite scenes to photograph?
I consider myself an allround nature photographer and like landscapes, abstracts, macro, birds and mammals. Possibilities of the season and moment dictate my subject, but also so does my mind. Abstract photography and intimate landscapes are only possible when my mind is clear and calm enough to be open to that kind of subject. Sometimes that just does not work and then I resort to more obvious subjects like landscapes and animals.
Marijn in the heather, Marijn Heuts
You can see Marijn's photograph in the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition until the 15 January 2017 and you can follow Marijn on Twitter @MarijnHeuts.