The key is to love and re­spect what you’re pho­tograph­ing. When you re­spect your sub­jects, you can start to take good shots

Jorge Camilo Valen­zuela, wildlife pro

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B orn and raised in Chile, Jorge Camilo Valen­zuela now re­sides in France, but for most of the year he can be found in the depths of the Ama­zon or Bor­neo.

Heat and hu­mid­ity make the jun­gle one of the most dif­fi­cult en­vi­ron­ments for photography, but Jun­gle Jorge can’t imag­ine work­ing any­where else…

When did you first be­come se­ri­ously in­ter­ested in photography?

It was when I was on hol­i­day in Costa Rica about 20 years ago. I’m 40 now and I be­came a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher 12 years ago. I went to film school and worked in cinema and TV ini­tially, and then I came back to my first love, the still.

Was it on hol­i­day in Costa Rica that you dis­cov­ered your love for the rain­for­est?

Yes, be­cause it’s such a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment. In Costa Rica the hu­mid­ity is 90 per cent, there are so many pitcher plants in a sin­gle tree, and you see fauna so near, it is amaz­ing. I fell in love with that. Also, when I was a kid I read Na­tional

Geo­graphic and ev­ery time I watched a doc­u­men­tary I’d say “I’m go­ing to do that”.

In those early years in cinema, where were you work­ing?

In France. I was a cam­era­man – it was very tech­ni­cal, but af­ter a few years I was bored! I wanted to go back and live in the jun­gle.

Which rain­forests have you ex­plored?

I’ve worked in all the ma­jor rain­forests of the world. I’ve worked a lot in the Ama­zon, where it runs through Peru, Brazil and Colom­bia. I have also worked in the moun­tains in Uganda, and I work a lot in Malaysia, in Bor­neo. I only look for species that are en­dan­gered. That is the point of my work, to show that it is im­por­tant to save the en­dan­gered species of this world.

Of all your trips into the rain­for­est, which one is the most mem­o­rable?

My first trip to the Ama­zon was the most in­cred­i­ble. I was very thin, I had no

mus­cles, but I bought a lot of cam­eras and I was set to work for four months on a fea­ture for a mag­a­zine. I tried to learn to climb the trees so I could learn about the canopy, but I broke my foot three days be­fore I was due to leave. My foot was blue, yel­low, pur­ple. It was very swollen, dou­ble the nor­mal size. My doc­tor said, “Don’t go, you’re crazy!” I thought, ‘I have a six-month per­mit from the Peru­vian gov­ern­ment to be in the rain­for­est, I have bought my ticket for my flight. Ev­ery­thing is ready. So I go!’ I went with a bro­ken foot. I weighed only 67 ki­los and had 50 ki­los of lug­gage.

On a bro­ken foot? You are crazy!

Yes! But that shows you my de­ter­mi­na­tion. It was painful the whole time I was work­ing. But it was amaz­ing be­cause when I went into Peru there was no-one else in the jun­gle, be­cause they’d had some po­lit­i­cal prob­lems with a para­mil­i­tary group. It was fin­ished, but still peo­ple did not want to go into the jun­gle. This was 2002, and there was no-one: just me, my guide, and the boat. The only peo­ple we met were the lo­cal In­di­ans. It was like dis­cov­er­ing a new place. Ev­ery­thing was new to me: the noises in the jun­gle at night, the birds, frogs, bats; there was noise all the time. I lived there for four months and for me it was my great­est ex­pe­ri­ence.

Which has been the most dif­fi­cult an­i­mal to pho­to­graph?

The jaguar was very dif­fi­cult. I had been into the jun­gle four times and ev­ery time I wanted to see the jaguar but I never did. All the sci­en­tists and re­searchers said to me, “Oh Jorge, we have been com­ing here for 10 years and we’ve never seen a jaguar.”

Then one day my boat­man and I were in the river very early in the morn­ing, and he says “Jorge! A jaguar!”

I wasn’t ready. I’d just wo­ken up and I had only the 300mm lens on my D2x, and it was very early. The 500mm was in my bag,

but you can’t change lenses early in the morn­ing be­cause there’s a lot of hu­mid­ity, and the mois­ture gets in­side your cam­era. I saw the jaguar there and said to my­self, “Oh, my God, what do I do?”

My boat­man said, “Jorge we must cut the mo­tor. If we don’t, he’ll run away.” So we drifted very slowly with the river.

Then I said, “I need to go close to the river­bank.” So I jumped into the river. The boat­man said, “Are you crazy?” I said, “I don’t care, it’s the first time I’ve seen a jaguar, so I need to.” It was crazy be­cause there were caiman, there were

snakes. I made my way over qui­etly and waited for him to look up so I could take my photo, and then he walked away very slowly, like a king. He was not scared of me, he just walked away. That was the first and the last time in 12 years that I have seen a jaguar in the wild, in the Ama­zon, in his habi­tat. A lot more pho­tog­ra­phers are us­ing wide-an­gle lenses in re­mote cam­era set-ups. Do you work that way at all? No, but I tried re­mote shoot­ing once when pho­tograph­ing a danger­ous snake. I have a pic­ture of me pho­tograph­ing a vine snake just 10 or 15cm away from me with a 105mm macro. I’m not scared of snakes; you just have to take it slowly. If it’s mov­ing you stop, then you wait and you can go. It can take two or three hours to take a shot like that. If he can feel sure you’re not a dan­ger, it’s okay. You can shoot as close as maybe 10cm, it’s no prob­lem.

What is your desert is­land lens?

The Nikon 400mm f/2.8. I can go any­where in the world with this lens. The fo­cal length is great, and be­cause it’s f/2.8 it’s per­fect when the light is poor. In the early morn­ing in the jun­gle, which is when most an­i­mals are ac­tive, the light is very low. I only use flash for in­sects and rep­tiles, never for mam­mals.

So you usu­ally shoot wide open?

Yes. In the jun­gle there’s so much cover, I need the wide aper­ture.

What equip­ment do you re­gard as es­sen­tial to your jun­gle photography?

Two cam­era bod­ies. You need one spare be­cause you never know if a rain shower is go­ing to cause prob­lems. A spare is also handy if you want to use dif­fer­ent lenses for the same shot: you need a long lens for

I am not scared of snakes. You just have to take it slowly. If it’s mov­ing you stop, then you wait and you can go

Jorge Camilo Valen­zuela Jun­gle pho­tog­ra­pher

the face, and some­thing else to show the body and sur­round­ings, but some­times you can­not change lenses be­cause of the hu­mid­ity. I have the 70-200mm on one body and the 400mm on the other.

Which cam­era bod­ies do you use now?

The D4. Two of them. Soon I will switch com­pletely to the D4s, but first I will give it a trial when I go away next. I also have a spare body, which I some­times give to my guide. It’s a D2x. It’s my war­rior cam­era!

Why is that?

Be­cause it has stuck with me in the Ama­zon, it’s been to Africa, to Bor­neo; it goes ev­ery­where in the world. I have bro­ken my foot while us­ing this cam­era, I have bro­ken my leg, I have fallen down many times, but the D2x al­ways works! In the hu­mid­ity, when it’s rain­ing, when it’s hot, it al­ways works. So it’s a war­rior.

So you’ll never sell it?

Never! It’s my first big pro­fes­sional cam­era and I will never sell it.

What was your first Nikon cam­era?

I bought it long time ago. I was in Chile at the time. It was a film cam­era, the F5.

How much do you take on an ex­pe­di­tion?

I take two Pel­i­can cases. I al­ways pack a 105mm macro. It’s my favourite lens for snakes, rep­tiles and in­sects. I also take a 10mm fish­eye lens, 12-24mm zoom,

70-200mm f/2.8, and 300mm and 400mm f/2.8. I used to take a 500mm f/4, but I sold it be­cause when I tried the 400mm f/2.8 I thought, ‘Gosh, I won’t use that again’.

Do you use tele­con­vert­ers? No. I don’t feel you get the same qual­ity, the same sharp­ness. If I want to get nearer I walk closer! I don’t need a tele­con­verter, I don’t want to change the qual­ity.

You shoot a lot of video. What’s your pref­er­ence, stills or video?

It’s two dif­fer­ent kinds of shoot­ing. For photography you look at the light, the com­po­si­tion, the ex­pres­sion, and in one photo you must tell ev­ery­thing. Video is dif­fer­ent. When I do a video I write a sto­ry­board with a script and I try to do some­thing very pro­fes­sional. As with a photo, you fo­cus on the face, and then you can track and zoom, but to cre­ate the am­bi­ence you need the sound. I use a Marantz pro­fes­sional recorder and I record in full HD and Dolby stereo. For me sound is 50 per cent of video.

Why is that? A good video with­out sound is not a good movie; if you look at a good video with good sound that’s a good movie: to hear the sound of the an­i­mals, when it’s rain­ing, the wind, ev­ery­thing has to be there.

Jun­gle Spirit is your big project (see box, above left). It’s an app, and it’s been an ex­hi­bi­tion. Will you do a book, too?

Well, first I need to find a good edi­tor and a pub­lisher! Yes, it’s in­ter­est­ing be­cause it’s not like a book about the Ama­zon or Bor­neo, it’s 12 years of my life. It’s 12 years of one guy work­ing in the rain­for­est in Southeast Asia, in South Amer­ica, in Africa, so you can see the changes, the evo­lu­tion. It’s dif­fer­ent sto­ries. It’s com­pli­cated.

That’s why I put the app to­gether on the App Store, be­cause then I can in­clude ev­ery­thing and con­vey the mes­sage of Jun­gle Spirit. With the book I’ll prob­a­bly have to make a DVD about the mak­ing of it, to teach peo­ple about the pas­sion of be­ing a jun­gle pho­tog­ra­pher, be­cause it’s not an easy thing to do.

Where in the world would you like to pho­to­graph that you haven’t yet been?

There are two places. One is Su­ma­tra for the tigers. An­other is more than one place; it’s a project I have started, to pho­to­graph all the na­tional parks in Chile. That’s 107 na­tional parks! You start with the desert in the north and end up in the south near Antarc­tica. It’s a very big project, and I’m scared I do not have enough time to do it. I started it a few years ago, but I can­not stop Jun­gle Spirit ei­ther.

You need a lot of time to fin­ish one project. I have only two projects: Jun­gle Spirit, where I can open up a new line by adding new coun­tries, and Chile, which is a project for a movie, photo ex­hi­bi­tion and a book. Th­ese will take up the rest of my life.

Are you the sort of pho­tog­ra­pher who deletes a lot of images as you work?

When I started I shot a lot. I saved a lot. Now, I don’t save so much. I wait for the light: if there’s no light, I don’t pho­to­graph. Some­times the light is too bright. When it’s too bright I take a rest. I work from 5am to 8.30, maybe 9am, then come back to camp to break­fast, shower and sleep. I’ll go out again at around 2pm or 3pm un­til sun­set. I take my time, I find a good spot, wait for the light. I want the best photo I can get, so I wait for the right mo­ment. I don’t shoot in bursts. I delete as I go along.

Be­ing in the field for so long, how do you stay on top of your im­age work­flow?

One day I may take 20, 30 or 40 pho­tos and then an­other day noth­ing. So the

red -and-green

macaw, Ama­zon (bot­tom)

Nikon D2x, Nikon AF -S 400mm f/2.8G ED VR, 1/2000 sec, f/4, ISO300

Ama­zon (top)

Nikon D70, Nikon AF -S DX 12-24mm f/4G IF -ED, 1/60 sec, f/8, ISO200

Jack­son’s chameleon, ugand a

Nikon D3x, Nikon AF -S 300mm f/4D IF -ED, 1/250 sec, f/4, ISO320

Blue-and -gold macaws, ama­zon Nikon D3x, Nikon AF -S 400mm f/2.8G ED VR, 1/2500 sec, f/2.8, ISO320

Jaguar, ama­zon Nikon D70, Nikon AF -S 300mm f/4 IF -ED, 1/250 sec, f/4, ISO400

The Mighty ama­zon Nikon D70, Nikon 12-24mm f/4G IF -ED, 1/8000 sec, f/5.6, ISO320

In fant orang­utan, borne o Nikon D4, Nikon 400mm f/2.8G ED VR, 1/500 sec, f/3.2, ISO500

Pygmy ele­phant, borne o (top left)

Nikon D4, Nikon AF -S 400mm f/2.8G ED VR, 1/500 sec, f/2.8, ISO320

Pit viper, borne o Nikon D2x, Nikon AF -S 105mm f/2.8G VR, 1/640 sec, f/5.6, ISO250

Macaque, bor­neo

Nikon D2x, Nikon AF -S 500mm f/4G ED VR, 1/1250 sec, f/4, ISO250

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