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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Shades Of Wildlife

South African photographer Heinrich van den Berg strips his dramatic wildlife images of color to create dimension and add emotion. They’re stunning, graphic, refined and evocative.

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The lion is the only social cat species. This cub is receiving special attention as its mother assures the survival of the pride.

African wild dogs live in close-knit packs with sophisticated social structures. After a kill, they're unique among predators in that they feed the weak and young first.
The list of world-class black-and-white wildlife photographers is a short one, but even if it were pages long, South African photographer Heinrich van den Berg certainly would belong near the top. A wildlife photographer with a tremendous portfolio of color images, van den Berg's new black-and-white body of work is astounding. He creates polished images that go far beyond typical wildlife photography—and typical black-and-white photography as well.

"I believe that if black-and-white photography is done correctly," van den Berg says, "it can convey much more emotion and a deeper meaning than color ever could. It's as if by subtracting color, the viewer is forced to add his own emotion to the images. Color photography is like a novel that spells everything out in detail, whereas black-and-white photography is like poetry—its strength isn't in what's said; it's in what's left out."

Leopards, like all cats, spend most of their time at rest to conserve energy.
Not much seems to be left out of van den Berg's black-and-white wildlife images, showcased in his newest self-published book, Shades of Nature. His images have a commercial slickness, a refined feel not unlike studio photography. Part of this look is achieved through lens selection and lighting, while some of it comes from the way the photographer converts color digital images into black-and-white. Most of it, however, is a simple reflection of his personal aesthetic, refined through years of practice.

"The more time one spends photographing in an area and spends photographing the same subject," van den Berg says, "the more one is able to peel away the clichéd way of seeing. It's very important to go through the process of first capturing the clichéd images before you can move on to a more creative level. But it's important to spend enough time to be able to move to that next level. With the first images on a shoot, the images are either too busy or too simple. It's only after spending some time with the subject that the images become graphically slick.

"I like simplicity in wildlife photography," he continues. "The most iconic images in history have been simple. I use a variety of lenses, and I love doing wildlife photography with wide-angle lenses to pull the viewer into the scene. I use Quantum Qflashes for my flash work. They're compact, durable and strong enough to give a bit of a studio light effect, even in the harsh African light. By using a variety of lenses to create different perspectives, as well as adding some flash light to the images, it's easier to create that studio effect."

A Nile crocodile emerges from an egg. Having no sex chromosomes, incubation temperature determines the outcome.
Van den Berg's studio effect is brought full circle with deliberate conversion to black-and-white. He doesn't shoot film, much less black-and-white film, as he hated his early experiences with it. He shoots with a digital SLR and converts digital image files into black-and-white—not to hide pedestrian color work, but to see something different, something that color photos can't quite provide.

"I believe that in the process of photographing," van den Berg says, "one needs to capture as much information with the camera as possible, in the most practical way. I would have loved to shoot in black-and-white, or with medium-format cameras, but by shooting in black-and-white, I'll be erasing digital color information on the shoot that I could probably use in the postprocessing."


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