Nature Photography is a Soldier’s Undertaking

Photograph/Gabriel Fuchs

Photograph/Gabriel Fuchs

I have made one of these realisations—again—about photography. This time it is about nature photography. It is like being in the army. I served in the army and observing my photographer friend Anita doing nature photography, it reminds me about my army days. First, she stakes out some ideal spots for nature photography, be it some Welsh hills or Indian mountains. This can take anything from a day to weeks. Then she will check the weather forecast so that she has a statistical chance of getting good photos while avoiding rain or snow pouring into her camera. After that, Anita will pack her backpack not only with lenses, but also with food, water, an extra sweater, and a blanket.

Then she will hang a tripod on the outside. The whole thing looks like an army backpack with some kind of grenade launcher hanging on it.

Once all this is done she will go to bed, only to get up—and wake up anyone else in the vicinity—at 4.00 am so that she can be wherever she wants to be by 5.00 am in time for the “golden hour” when the light is supposedly right. With her fully loaded backpack. Often there is some serious trekking to do in order to get to the place, whereby the previous night will have been spent in a tent. Or simply outside in the dead of night if one is really hardcore. Then there are the clothes. Nature photographers often wear heavy walking boots and trousers and jackets with all kinds of pockets, just like soldiers. Nature photographers hoping not to scare away animals even make sure that their clothes have some kind of camouflage pattern.

And then there is the waiting. Leave it to a photographer to decide that nature is best enjoyed at sunrise or sunset, and it seems like the rest of the time is spent waiting. Just like all the waiting one does in the army. There is also the stuff one may have to smear in the face, be it mosquito repellent or sun-cream (if one risks being outside at some other time than sunrise or sunset). Like I did not smear enough camouflage colour on my face when I was in the army.

Yup, preparing and executing nature photography is just like the army, only more so. Being a Para Commando should not be tough at all if one has done some serious nature photography. “Upgrade” nature photography by adding some animals to the photos and—tadaaa!—enter the National Security Guard (NSG)! Animal photographers can spend weeks in some ditch or hut waiting for some shady animal to show up. Just like the NSG can sit in some ditch for weeks overlooking some terrorist house/cave. Being an NSG member isn’t really much tougher than being a serious animal photographer. And by the way, those NSG chaps are also trained to handle camera equipment. Without knowing too much, I suppose that this must be a major part of their training, given what camera equipment can be like these days. And they really need to know that difference between a tripod and a grenade launcher before hanging anything on their backpacks.

I’m telling you, D-day must have been a piece of cake to plan compared to what a nature photographer plans. If ol’ Eisenhower would have been a photographer, he could have planned and invaded France even before the Germans did. That would surely have surprised that Austrian corporal in Berlin. Not to mention the French. And we would have gotten good photos of the invasion as well.

But hey, the army could be fun, especially when things did not go as expected. Only then could we actually experience something new. Just like nature photography. How fun is it if the sun rises as usual? That is never going to bring anything new. The times I have seen Anita excited—in nature that is—is when all of a sudden there are wild dark rain clouds adding drama or when the fog enters with the rising sun behind it, adding both drama and an unexpected orange glimmer to everything. Then it is all like burning napalm. Which, again, brings me back to my days in the army. We once set a forest on fire with napalm so that the exercise would get more realistic. Consequently, any natural born soldier will make for a natural born nature photographer. And vice versa.

This article originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: September 2010, better photography, Gabriel Fuchs, Nature Photography, different strokes, the similarities between army and photography, how to accompany a nature photographer, how to photograph nature, photographer Anita