Interview with Floris Smeets

Date of birth: 13th of May 1986

How did you become passionate about nature photography?

My passion for nature photography can better be described as my passion for nature. Photography just sort of came with this passion. From a young age I already wanted to capture the things I see when I’m out in nature, so I started to bring a camera with me. From 2010, my interest in photography itself grew a lot and I pushed myself to become a better photographer. Yet, my passion for nature remains my main motivation to go out with the camera.

What do you take with you on a photo shoot?

What I take with me on a photoshoot depends a lot on the subject. I like to stay for longer periods with my photo subjects to get the best results, which means in some cases that my photo bag ends up being the smallest bag in my luggage. For instance when photographing musk-oxen during the winter months, I easily end up with a dog sledge full with equipment. For a trip like this, I normally bring two camera bodies, a 500mm f4, a 100-400mm f4.5-5.6, 17-44mm f4 and a 14mm f2.8 just in case there will be northern lights at night. Until now I have always photographed with Canon, but just started to also test Sony. At the moment I don’t know yet with which brand I will continue to photograph. I rarely use a tripod for photographing wildlife. I want to be as free as possible, being able to change the composition quickly. For landscape photo trips I also take two camera bodies, a 100-400mm f4.5-5.6, a 105mm f2.8 macro, a 85mm f1.4, a 17-44mm f4 and a 14mm f2.8. Additionally I bring a set of Kase filters and a tripod. One part of my equipment which I always have with me, is the Mr. Jan Gear “Boris” photo backpack. I’m out with my photo gear for 20-25 weeks per year and need a photo backpack which can fit all my equipment, sits comfortable on the back, can easily be modified from tour to tour, fits all airline hand luggage regulations and can take a beating. So far this bag does this job perfectly.

What subject do you prefer to photograph and why?

My favorite subject to photograph are wild reindeer. I love a challenge and this subject poses some of the best challenges there are in wildlife photography. In order to find the animals, you really need to get to know the subject, the area they live in, how the animals use the area and how the weather and season influence the behavior of the animals. Wild reindeer are extremely shy. So when you finally have spotted the animals, then the sneaking can begin. One wrong movement or a bit of sound can give away your presence and scare off the animals. It sometimes can take hours of sneaking and waiting before you are finally in position to photograph. When this moment finally comes, you are treated with one of the most photogenic deer species I know of. This in combination with the stunning mountain landscapes they live in, makes this subject my favorite.

What is your favorite nature preserve?

I’m not sure if I have a favorite nature area where I prefer to photograph. I live in Norway and am quite fortunate to have a lot of nature around me at all time. I love to be out in the area close to my house, because of the wolf which live in these forests. Their presence adds a lot of excitement to being out with the camera, even though the chance of seeing one is very small. We have many forest grouse and moose in our area, so I mainly photograph these. Otherwise, I’m often in Dovrefjell National Park to photograph musk-oxen, reindeer, grouse, arctic fox and landscapes. Dovrefjell never manages to bore me, there is always something to photograph. After photographing for 8 years in this area, I still come home with images I never took before.

What is your favorite shooting position?

When photographing wildlife I prefer to work with a low angle. I like images with a nice soft foreground (bokeh), which in some cases partly hides the animal. When photographing landscapes, I like to switch it up. In some cases I will put my camera really low to the ground, close to a subject in the foreground and in other cases I like to get a higher perspective in order to get a wider foreground.

Which nature photographer do you admire?

There are quite some nature photographers which I admire. Not only because of how beautiful their images are, but because they put the welfare of the animals upfront. Wildlife photography has become quite popular. The popularity results in some cases in severe disturbance of the wildlife because of the masses of people being drawn to certain hotspots. Some people seem to always want to get closer and closer until the subject is chased away, or extreme action shots have to be provoked by unnatural measures (like baiting for instance). This seems to become more and more normal and accepted. There are many professional photographers who work in this way and their images are stunning. It just doesn’t inspire me at all and doesn’t push me to become a better photographer. Photographers who stick to the ethics, put the animal welfare upfront and still come out with stunning images, are people who inspire me and motivate me to keep going out with the camera. Conservation photographer Melissa Groo from the USA does just that. And she is not afraid to open her mouth when she sees other photographers acting out of line. Something which should be done by more of us. I also admire the work of Neil Aldridge, who truly helps the wildlife with his photo stories. Luckily there are many more like them and I admire every single one of them.

What quality must a nature photographer absolutely have?

A quality a nature photographer absolutely needs to have, is first of all respect for the nature. Secondly it all comes down to patience. You can’t force nature.

Which light situation do you prefer?

I love to work with backlight. It often gives more atmosphere to the pictures.

Which setting do you prefer: Manual-Aperture Priority-Shutter Priority?

I photograph for about 95% of the time in “M” mode. I prefer to be in full control of all my settings and leave nothing to chance. When photographing wildlife, the background can change rather quickly. I don’t want to have to adjust the exposure during moments of action, because of shift in background. By photographing in “M” mode I only need to take the light on the subject into account, which is less variable in many cases. The remaining 5% of the time I have the camera on “AV” (aperture priority). This is when I have the camera next to me in my car when driving, just in case I come across wildlife. Because these encounters last often just for a few seconds and I don’t know what I will see or where I will see it, I prefer the camera to calculate the shutter-speed.

In percentage terms how much time do you take to create an image and to process the image?

Often I have only a few days between tours. So I have almost no time to edit my pictures. Therefore, I really push myself to take the images in a way so that I need to do as little as possible on the computer afterwards. In the last few years I have really pushed myself to make better compositions in the field. Now I almost only edit pictures which don’t need to be cropped at all. Also the use of filters for landscape photography, has drastically reduced the time I need to edit a picture. My editing is really basic and most of it is done in Camera RAW, with the finishing touches in Photoshop. I would guess that I spent about 90-95% of my time on taking the images and 5-10% on editing them. But to be honest, I wish I would have more time for editing so that I can edit a larger proportion of my images after a tour.  A 75% to 25% relation would be better.

Do you have any advice for future nature photographers?

What I would like to say to any future nature photographer is, always work with respect for nature. When you do that and always put nature first, photography will become easier because it becomes easier to work with the subjects. When it purely comes to photography, look at the work of other photographers but keep focused on your own work. Don’t follow other photographers blindly. Try to find what you really like yourself in nature photography. Look at images which speak the most to you and try to find out what it is in those images that speaks to you. Once you start to see what you like in an image, photography will become easier and easier.

 

You can find out more about Floris Smeets on his website: https://www.florissmeets.com/

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