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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Concepts Of Nature


Andy Rouse is among the top wildlife photographers in the world. His new book takes readers into his overall thinking and approach to photography.

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Rouse’s wildlife images bring him to the brink of danger, where he relies on his extensive experience to read when an animal is agitated or alarmed. In those situations he clears out, but because he can read wildlife so well, Rouse often is able to get a one-of-a-kind shot. He has embedded himself in situations that look precarious to the less experienced, but result in provocative and compelling photos, like a female hippo (above) in South Africa or a leopard (below) preparing for a night hunt while the sun sets in Samburu National Park, Kenya.
Outdoor Photographer: When you work on terra firma, do you build and photograph from a hide or blind?
Rouse: I prefer not to have a hide, but sometimes it’s necessary such as when I photograph Capercaillie—they’re like big wild grouse you find in places such as Scotland and Scandinavia. I’ll get in a hide at 4 o’clock in the evening and be silent until 6 a.m. the next morning. Then I’ll be ready for that half an hour in the early morning when they’re active. It’s worth it. It’s such a fantastic privilege to actually see it. All I have to do is sit still.

Outdoor Photographer: How do you get so up close and personal, yet stay out of harm’s way when you’re trying to photograph the bigger animals?

Rouse: I’ve had experts take me out and keep me alive to photograph grizzlies and other animals that can be dangerous to photograph. I hire the best. I learn from them. I don’t fire off a thousand pictures a minute. Instead, I sit and watch. What does that body posture mean? Also, a lot of what I do comes very naturally—little things such as imagining how the animal sees me. For example, I never break the horizon with my body shape. I always stalk so I’m coming out of the sun—just like the Spitfires did during World War II to take on the Messerschmitts. I have to use every advantage that I can. At the end of the day, an animal such as a deer or a hare has all the advantages over me because of their sense of smell. I had a sea change when I moved from 35mm film cameras to the Pentax 645. It made me work slower and think about composition and light more. Those lessons stayed with me after I moved to digital.

Outdoor Photographer: How much postproduction work do you do on your images?

Rouse: I have a strict policy on my images: I will only retouch, I will not manipulate them. I’ll balance backgrounds, foregrounds, colors and light, add some saturation, and remove dust spots or an annoying branch. That’s fine, as long as I don’t change the essence of what that picture is. It’s like you have two dolphins jumping and you put a third one in, or you take a panda from a zoo and put it in a mountain habitat. To capture the true essence of an animal, it has to be in its actual habitat.

The problem is that a lot of people don’t connect with the wildlife we have. Someone says, “Oh, the polar bears are endangered.” How many people can relate to that? People see wildlife on TV. I like to use my pictures to connect people with these animals. They’re worth protecting. Sometimes the pictures, especially the ones of young animals, you could say are cute. But if it makes somebody look at something and want to save it, then I feel I’ve done my job.

Outdoor Photographer: Would you agree that the camera has become an important weapon in the battle to protect wildlife?

Rouse: Definitely. I really like what organizations such as the ILCP [International League of Conservation Photographers] are doing. They’re trying to do a very good thing—making a cohesive voice of wildlife photographers and trying to make a difference. These are photographers working together despite the inherent competition in the field of photography. Let’s compete against the people who are trying to destroy the world.

To see more of Andy Rouse’s photography, visit www.andyrouse.co.uk/.

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