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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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This Article Features Photo Zoom
van den Berg's Gear
Canon Cameras & Lenses
EOS-1Ds Mark III
EOS-1D Mark IV
EOS 5D Mark II
EF 600mm ƒ/4 L IS USM
EF 300mm ƒ/2.8 L IS USM
EF 300mm ƒ/4 L IS USM
EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 L IS USM
EF 70-200mm ƒ/4 L USM
EF 180mm ƒ/3.5 L USM Macro
EF 50mm ƒ/1.2 L USM
EF 24mm ƒ/1.4 L USM
EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 L USM
EF 15mm ƒ/2.8 Fisheye
Quantum Qflashes
"The way I started out doing black-and-white was fake," van den Berg explains. "I just converted my color images to grayscale and added contrast and all kinds of bells and whistles to make it look arty. When I look at those images today, I can't believe that I did them like that. For me, there has to be some kind of truth or anchor in reality in the black-and-white conversion process. If you make the image too contrasty, or add too much sepia or vignetting, then it loses its grip on reality, and the viewer perceives it as contrived. There are some really good and beautiful examples of images that are done in this unrealistic manner, but that's not my style."

Van den Berg's style comes back to graphically simple and interesting compositions, combined with lighting that adds a level of polish that works wonderfully with his subjects.

"When photographing for black-and-white," he says, "one has to imagine what the scene would look like in black-and-white. It takes some time to get that right. Images with sidelighting work very well in black-and-white, and often images with a lot of contrast that wouldn't work in color at all. The normal frontlit images most of the time don't work."

Nowhere is van den Berg's affection for deliberately lit, stylized wildlife images more evident than in his image of a family of meerkats. (See Showcase in this issue of Outdoor Photographer.)

"Animal Planet on the Discovery Channel has a series titled Meerkat Manor," he explains, "and I was assigned to do the still photographs. The meerkats were obviously used to filming, so I could get very close. I placed three Qflashes around them. They were oblivious to people, and at one stage, one of them climbed onto my head to use me as a lookout point. They often use small trees as lookout points, and it saw me as a tree. It had a tick on it, and the tick climbed onto my nose and bit me, giving me terrible tick-bite fever a week later. While I had the fever, I didn't think the meerkats were that cute anymore."

Adds van den Berg, "I've always loved black-and-white, but I didn't understand it. It took me all of this time to arrive at the place in my photography where I could start working with it. And I'm just starting to learn about its rules."

You can see more of Heinrich van den Berg's photographs and order his books on his website, www.hphpublishing.com.



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