Interview with Kristel Schneider

Date of birth: 13th of March 1968

How did you become passionate about nature photography?

My elder brother had a Nikon camera in his room and of course his young little sister was not allowed to play with it. But that camera kept intriguing me, so with my first after-school-weekend job, I saved money to buy my own, an analog Minolta. In my twenties I loved to travel to Asia. That’s when I started taking pictures of people in their surroundings. It was much later that I got interested in Nature Photography. But the “nature seeds” had already been planted in my earlier years. I was brought up with nature and when my friends went to the beach in the south, my parents took us to the mountains, the Italian Dolomites. I grew up in a little village in the middle of Holland, a place surrounded with forests. On Sunday afternoons you would often find us in the woods.

Later on, due to my job and me living in Amsterdam ‘the need for nature’ was tucked away till I moved to France and became a professional photographer. Being close to nature and be able to spend a lot of time in it, made me look at the world differently. Photography can make you see how beautiful the area around you is, and realize how very fragile and vulnerable it can be.

What do you take with you on a photo shoot?

I don’t really have a standard ‘ready to go’ bag, as a lot depends on the trip, the photo shoot itself, or even the season. But it always includes my Canon body and the 70-200mm lens.

The contents of my bag varies whether I have to hike a lot or not. I can take my 300mm F4 and one of my wide angle lenses and Lee filter set or I can also decide to take my old manual “heavy” lenses or a macro lens. My bag has too much stuff in it that I should get rid of, but a walking GPS, a thin emergency blanket, a little whistle, a little note book and some hot tea in a little Thermos along with sandwich/cookies are not to be missed.

What subject do you prefer to photograph and why?

As a nature and landscape photographer I shoot many different subjects – flowers, close-ups of nature, different types of landscapes – but a red line in my portfolios are trees. I inherited my love for trees from my father. As a child I did not always enjoy the long walks in the forest but when I took more interest in nature I saw what my father loved in trees: the interesting shapes, the colors, the power they can express. The older the tree the more ‘character’ it has. Trees are a great photography subject to explore.

What is your favorite nature preserve?

In the Auvergne there are two Regional Nature parks with many Natura 2000 sites and nature reserves. It’s hard to say which one is my favorite though. Each one has its own character and beauty. There are volcanoes, mountains, forests, so each can be enjoyed in different seasons.  Over the years I have lived there, I have explored them a lot, which now allows me to know when and where to go to enjoy nature at its best.

What is your favorite shooting position?

This question made me laugh!

My shooting position all depends on the subject and in which angle I can get the best composition, reflection or light effect. Sometimes I am happy there is nobody around to see my shooting position, especially when I am crawling on the ground all focused on the subject or when I lay down with my face in the wet ground to get a shot of tiny flowers.

Which nature photographer do you admire?

Admire is not the word I would use but there are a lot of photographers that inspired me over the years. Moreover I still discover new talented photographers.

Back home my parents had a subscription to the US National Geographic magazine. I think Jim Brandenburg was one of the first photographers I got introduced with via NG and I still like to follow his work. When I just moved to France a photographer introduced me to a Japanese photographer, Shinzo Maeda. And when I mentioned his photography work to my father, he stood up and said, ‘I think I just bought one of his books on a flea market’. It can’t just be a coincidence!  After this book A tree, a blade of grass, I bought some others and I got inspired by his vision, the way he looked at landscapes and tree close-ups.

What quality must a nature photographer absolutely have?

Quality number one, in my eyes, is a certain respect to nature, which is more an attitude than a quality, in fact.

Second, a photographer must be able to ‘see’ and not only ‘look’. Creativity is important to stand out from the crowd. You have to know enough technique to follow your heart to express what you feel through a scene you create.

Which light situation do you prefer?

I like the early morning light best. Everything is fresh and clear then. Unfortunately you do not always have these perfect conditions so it’s a nice challenge to see what you can do with the natural light at a particular moment and see how a scene can be best translated in a frame, be it in a more graphical or abstract way for example.

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

You can say I am ‘a manual’ photographer. I like to have control over the settings. In my photography I do not always like to have everything sharp, I often use little DOF (depth of field) depending on the subject.
I also use manual focusing as it gives me more freedom and I can choose the exact point I want to have sharp in the frame.

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

90 % in the field and 10 % at home processing the image. Every image needs to be processed but not too much.

Which processing program do you use?

I use Camera Raw for the first basic processing, like white balance, lens correction then Photoshop.

Do you have any advice for future nature photographers?

Create the images YOU like not the ones OTHERS like. Follow your heart and focus on a personal goal, subject or project. That is the only way you can grow in your photography.


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