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Monday, October 1, 2007

The Wild Life

Heather Angel got her start as a biologist photographing whales and has become one of the leading nature photographers of the past quarter-century, communicating her enthusiasm for the natural world through her writing, workshops and lectures

The wild life
Snow leopard leaping from snow-covered ridge. These big cats are superb jumpers and leapers. Their natural habitat is in the mountains of central Asia, from northwestern China to Tibet and the Himalayas.
British photographer Heather Angel has been one of the most influential nature photographers for the past 25 years. Known throughout the world for her ability to supply world-class wildlife photography of almost any animal one can think of, Angel also has taught generations about her craft through writing, lectures and workshops, including the annual Nikon and Kew Gardens photo workshops, plus many books about photography. She holds an honorary doctorate from Bath University and a special professorship position at Nottingham University. Yet rather than rest on her long list of laurels, Angel, now in her 60s, roams the world with state-of-the-art digital equipment. OP was able to catch up with her as she was wrapping up an assignment in China.

Outdoor Photographer:
We noticed that you have a degree in biology. Do you think this level of understanding about nature helps your photography?

Heather Angel:
From early childhood, I had a passion for nature, so it was a natural progression to study zoology. At this stage, a career as a photographer wasn’t even a consideration. But when I began marine biological research, I used a camera as a tool to document the marine animals I was studying.

the wild life
Left: Japanese macaque mother drinking with bedraggled newborn baby clinging to her, Japan. Patience and a keen understanding of the subject’s behavior are critical for this kind of tight photograph. The longest lens in the world is no substitute for being able to get in close. Right: African elephant kicking up dust to feed on trailing Ludwigia at dusk, Botswana.

My understanding of lighting or composition was nonexistent; but as I began to write articles and to study magazine design, I began to appreciate how composition can influence potential sales.

For instance, I learned that vertical eye-to-eye shots of larger mammals looking directly into the lens invariably make popular cover shots.

Right from the start of my photography career, my philosophy has been to provide images of the natural world that depict authentic behavior within the natural habitat, and having this core understanding of biology has helped immensely. In addition, everyone knows an African elephant or a brown bear when they see one, but it’s the smaller fry that are more difficult to locate and come up with the correct name. Therefore, a basic understanding of nature is essential for knowing where to find and how to identify insects, frogs, toads, reptiles and marine life, as well as plants.

A biology degree is by no means essential, but it provides shortcuts to how and where to research information and to know when you encounter misinformation on the Internet.


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