Under South African Skies
The Wildlife Photography of Heinrich van den Berg
There can hardly be anywhere offering a greater diversity of subjects for animal and landscape photographers than southern Africa. And world-renowned photographer Heinrich van den Berg has taken full advantage of this wealth.
He started taking photographs swhile on holidays with his family in the national parks of South Africa. This hobby eventually turned into a small family business. Now if they go on a photo trip together one will use a wide-angle lens and the other a telephoto. In this way each can concentrate on one type of shot and not have to worry about other kinds of photograph. "This kind of frees you up a lot", he says.
Heinrich grew up in the eastern coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal, which is very diverse with mountains, bush-veldt and coast. There are great mountain landscapes, with bird heights where one can photograph vultures and black eagles. The bush is particularly good for rhinos and cheetahs. And on the coast there are interesting animals such as the log-head turtle, and whales can be photographed from the beach. There are mangroves too with many smaller animals.
The third area in which he works is the western part of the country with its deserts and semi-deserts. The best place here, he maintains, is the Kalahari Desert, in particular the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park. Here, he says, it is easy to get great photographs: The background is always out of focus, the colours are lovely and the light is beautiful. "It really is a dramatic place to photograph. In Namibia too there are many interesting kinds of animals like red-footed geckos or flamingos that one does not see in the wetter parts of the country.
The wildlife in the desert is very sparse and van den Berg has to drive around for a long time before finding something to photograph. But then it's really worthwhile. Alternatively he waits at an interesting looking place for something to happen. "Ninety nine percent of the time it's worth waiting, though".
On the danger aspect van den Berg says that it is very difficult to predict what animals are going to do. Especially leopards and hippo can change their mood very fast. Others, like the lion, are easier to 'read'. But one has always to be careful.
Initially Heinrich tried to capture animals full-frame. Now he often zooms back to get more of the environmen. This, he says, is as important as the animal itself. That way you can show the character of the animal better. The leopard, for example, is a very secretive animal. To show it sitting on a rock in an open area is not true to his nature. Much better would be a shot of the animal hiding in tree.
For the Animal Planet series on the Discovery Channel Heinrich made photographs of meerkats. Because these animals are the subject of a research project they are now habituated to humans and can be photographed at very close quarters. Heinrich used this opportunity to make photographs with a variety of wide-angle lenses and with flash lights, which didn't bother the animals at all.