The art of TRAVEL

We re­veal the year’s best travel photos shot on a Nikon

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If you fol­low the paths of other pho­tog­ra­phers you end up do­ing the same thing that they did Frans Lant­ing, na­ture pho­tog­ra­pher

One the world’s most revered na­ture pho­tog­ra­phers, Frans Lant­ing has no for­mal qualifications or train­ing in his cho­sen field. Like his equally fa­mous con­tem­po­rary, Se­bas­tiao Sal­gado, Frans is an econ­o­mist, hav­ing com­pleted a mas­ter’s de­gree in the sub­ject be­fore mov­ing to the United States to study en­vi­ron­men­tal plan­ning. But soon af­ter cross­ing the At­lantic in the ’70s, he be­gan to pho­to­graph the nat­u­ral world in earnest, and never looked back… When you were younger and a stu­dent study­ing eco­nom­ics, what part did pho­tog­ra­phy play in your life? I was sur­rounded by na­ture of a sort when I was grow­ing up in a small town in The Nether­lands. It wasn’t na­ture on a grandiose scale like you find in the United States or else­where, of course, but I’ve al­ways been drawn to the nat­u­ral world. Pick­ing up a cam­era was a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion of that, but I didn’t do that un­til my early 20s and then Ihad no clue what I was do­ing. It took me awhile to fig­ure out that I was ac­tu­ally bet­ter off be­ing a bit more me­thod­i­cal about teach­ing my­self. Did you have any men­tor in those early days – some­one you looked up to or who helped you? There were a cou­ple of pho­tog­ra­phers in The Nether­lands who were ac­tive and quite ac­com­plished, so I sought them out and they took me un­der their wing. Out of that came my first book,

Vi­sion­soft­heDutchLand­scape, which has be­come a bit of a col­lec­tor’s item. But I pretty much did things on my own, be­cause there weren’t a lot of re­sources back then. It’s un­think­able for begin­ner pho­tog­ra­phers to­day to imag­ine a sit­u­a­tion where you can’t go to the in­ter­net to find ev­ery an­swer to ev­ery ques­tion; where you’re not sur­rounded by mil­lions of images of ev­ery kind that can in­spire you or can baf­fle you. Pho­tog­ra­phy was more of a closed uni­verse back then. When I ask other pho­tog­ra­phers in the field of nat­u­ral his­tory and wildlife who in­spired them, your name is men­tioned a lot. Who were the pho­tog­ra­phers who in­spired you early in your ca­reer? In the UK there was Eric Hosk­ing, who was a real pioneer in bird pho­tog­ra­phy. When you look at his work to­day most of his por­traits look very con­ven­tional, but he was in­ge­nious. He brought a deep un­der­stand­ing of birds to his craft, and that re­ally ap­pealed to me. Then in the USA there was a whole gen­er­a­tion of Na­tion­alGeo­graphic pho­tog­ra­phers who were do­ing things that I thought were un­be­liev­able. A pho­tog­ra­pher called Ernst Haas, who wasn’t a nat­u­ral his­tory pho­tog­ra­pher, pub­lished a book called TheCreation that be­came a big in­flu­ence on how I looked at the world and how I tried to cap­ture it with my cam­era. Speak­ing of Na­tion­alGeo­graphic, how did your re­la­tion­ship with the So­ci­ety be­gin? Like ev­ery pho­tog­ra­pher, I had dreams of con­tribut­ing images to the So­ci­ety, and for me it came about step by step. I started do­ing work for mag­a­zines around the world first. I moved to the United States in the late ’70s, then started con­tribut­ing to nat­u­ral his­tory pub­li­ca­tions in Europe, and to British and Amer­i­can pub­li­ca­tions, then I started do­ing as­sign­ments for big­ger mag­a­zines such as Life and Geo.

In those days the magazine world was much richer and there were more pos­si­bil­i­ties to in­ter­act with ed­i­tors and art di­rec­tors than there are to­day. It was a mat­ter of get­ting pub­lished first, then once I started do­ing things that were a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from what is con­ven­tional, ed­i­tors and art di­rec­tors started pay­ing at­ten­tion to my name and to what I was do­ing. You are also well known for your books, es­pe­cially Jun­gles and Oka­vango. I like to come up with im­age ideas that can help to tell a story. For mag­a­zines this story needs to be spe­cific, and it re­quires an edi­to­rial point of view. But some­times th­ese ideas can grow into some­thing big­ger or more con­cep­tual. That typ­i­cally leads to some­thing like a book or an ex­hi­bi­tion, or an event. De­pend­ing on the scope of the work, it can take a cou­ple of months or a cou­ple of years to pull to­gether.

Jun­gles was a good ex­am­ple of that. It looked at the trop­i­cal forests around the world that had been cov­ered many times by other pho­tog­ra­phers, writ­ers and philoso­phers. Oth­ers had tended to shoot or dis­cuss them quite lit­er­ally, so we de­cided in­stead to look at th­ese forests con­cep­tu­ally – to por­tray the things that hap­pen in all jun­gles, the things they have in com­mon, rather than a load of images or­dered by lo­ca­tion. Whether images are from the Congo or In­done­sia, they help to

In those days the magazine world was much richer and there were more pos­si­bil­i­ties

cre­ate a mo­saic of themes and ideas. We de­vel­oped chap­ter ti­tles in­clud­ing Anar­chy and Or­der, Form and Evolution, Colour and Cam­ou­flage, then started look­ing for and cre­at­ing images to fit th­ese themes. But your mul­ti­me­dia show Life was a far more am­bi­tious un­der­tak­ing, com­bin­ing images chore­ographed to music. How did that pro­duc­tion come to mind and what was in­volved in de­liv­er­ing it? In the case of Life, my am­bi­tions grew into an at­tempt to look for the roots of diver­sity on our planet. Of course, I’m not the first per­son to dream about what the Earth looked like when it was much, much younger.

One of my en­dur­ing sources of in­spi­ra­tion is David At­ten­bor­ough. One of David’s sem­i­nal TV se­ries,

LifeonEarth, was quite sim­i­lar to Life. He took a par­al­lel ap­proach to go to see what he could find, which got him a lit­tle closer to wit­ness­ing all of th­ese phe­nom­e­nal things that helped to shape the Earth as it is to­day.

But my wife Chris – who’s also my cre­ative part­ner – and I took this idea in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion for Life. We wanted to make it a lyri­cal por­trayal. Of course, the evolution of a liv­ing planet is a sci­ence story, but as soon as you start recit­ing sci­en­tific the­o­ries a lot of peo­ple’s eyes tend to glaze over. So we wanted to make the work more ex­pe­ri­en­tial, to lure peo­ple into a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery that was based on a set of images that would act as step­ping stones from the present day to the be­gin­ning of time.

We had to be care­ful about where th­ese step­ping stones were, be­cause each of them needed to lead log­i­cally on to the next one. It re­quired as many de­ci­sions about what not to fea­ture as choices about what to show. In that sense you can compare cre­at­ing it to the work of a sculp­tor – you have to con­stantly say ‘no, no, no’ un­til you end up with things that are re­ally worth show­ing and shar­ing.

The Life pro­ject also in­volved dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy to put to­gether the whole mul­ti­me­dia sym­phony, in­cor­po­rat­ing dig­i­tal edit­ing and dig­i­tal pro­ject­ing tech­nol­ogy. Just 10 years ago when we pre­miered that per­for­mance, the tech­nol­ogy was barely there – it was a leap into the un­known. When I think back to what we tried to do back then, sweat still breaks out!

The evolution of a liv­ing planet is a sci­ence story, but as soon as you start recit­ing sci­en­tific the­o­ries, peo­ple’s eyes glaze over

Was Life the most fear­some as­sign­ment that you’ve ever un­der­taken, then?

Well it was fear­some in the sense that if you com­mit your­self to put a show on, live, in front of 2,000 peo­ple in a con­cert hall then there are a lot of things that can go wrong.

But it was also a re­ally in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to be­come a col­lab­o­ra­tor in a huge cre­ative team that in­cluded a com­poser, a sym­phonic con­duc­tor, an or­ches­tra of 60 peo­ple, a visual chore­og­ra­pher and a pro­jec­tion co­or­di­na­tor. In a team like that you have to un­der­stand a lot more about how you’d like other peo­ple to view your pro­ject. Your mis­sion can’t just be, ‘I want to make my pho­to­graphs look good’, be­cause that’s just a small part of the equa­tion.

You have ex­pe­ri­enced a lot of changes since switch­ing from film to dig­i­tal. In mak­ing that tran­si­tion, did you take to dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy im­me­di­ately?

The change over from ana­logue to dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy was some­thing that hap­pened over a pe­riod of years. I was do­ing dig­i­tal prints first be­cause it be­came ap­par­ent to me early on that dig­i­tal print­ing tech­nol­ogy was su­pe­rior to the old E6 method where you had vir­tu­ally no con­trol over the con­trast and colour fidelity, and that led me on a path to dis­cover and ap­ply scan­ning tech­nol­ogy. I was guided by some­one who has be­come a real guru in that tech­nol­ogy, an early Ap­ple en­gi­neer called Bill Atkin­son. Then even­tu­ally I switched over from ana­logue to dig­i­tal cap­ture as well.

Let’s look at cam­eras: what was your first dig­i­tal SLR?

I’ve used Nikon D-SLRs for years, but I also use Nikon 1 cam­eras be­cause I think mir­ror­less tech­nol­ogy is one of the more in­ter­est­ing branches of the dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy tree. I also use my smart­phone a lot. In fact, I’m work­ing on a pro­ject at the mo­ment that com­bines images that I’ve taken on my smart­phone with music, for an­other per­for­mance piece that is steadily grow­ing.

But I’m also go­ing right back to the be­gin­nings of pho­tog­ra­phy. I was in Antarc­tica re­cently for a voy­age that aimed to get closer to the work of Frank Hur­ley, who was Shack­le­ton’s ex­pe­di­tion pho­tog­ra­pher. It’s ex­actly 100 years now since the crew made it back to safety af­ter the En­durance went down.

I’ve been fa­mil­iar with Hur­ley’s work for many years and I’ve crossed paths with the places where he worked a num­ber of times. In Antarc­tica I used

the same type of cam­era that he used af­ter the ship went down – it’s an early model Ko­dak fold­ing cam­era with roll film.

What was that like to work with?

It felt hum­bling. I use lots of dif­fer­ent cam­eras for dif­fer­ent pur­poses, such as cam­era traps in sit­u­a­tions far afield, but also close to home. I think that’s one of the amaz­ing and be­wil­der­ing things about pho­tog­ra­phy to­day – there are so many dif­fer­ent tools avail­able now, and it’s not a lin­ear process any more.

Many of your images now have an iconic sta­tus. When you took them, did you feel you’d got some­thing more spe­cial?

I think images such as Ele­phants at Twi­light (above) and Scar­let Ma­caw

I think my images such as Ele­phants at Twi­light (above) have grown both in my mind and in the minds of other peo­ple over time

in Flight (page 92) have grown both in my mind and in the minds of other peo­ple over time. When you take an im­age you’re so pre­oc­cu­pied with the tech­ni­cal chal­lenges that it is hard to take a step back and to ap­pre­ci­ate it in con­text, but I feel grat­i­fied that images like th­ese have made some con­tri­bu­tion to the per­cep­tion of the an­i­mals, as well as to the lex­i­con of images that ap­ply to ele­phants and macaws. It’s not easy to come up with a dif­fer­ent point of view.

No, in fact it gets harder in this dig­i­tal age with so many more images be­ing taken. How do you ap­proach it?

When you’ve been do­ing some­thing for a while it’s im­por­tant that you con­tinue to chal­lenge your­self, in­stead of re­ly­ing on your rou­tine and in­stincts. The Antarc­tica pro­ject with Hur­ley’s cam­era is one way I’m stretch­ing my­self, and adapt­ing to the re­al­i­ties of In­sta­gram is an­other ex­am­ple of this.

Be­ing on In­sta­gram is a whole new way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing that is much more spon­ta­neous than putting to­gether a book or a sym­phony that can take years. So I can re­spond to cur­rent events, like when the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment an­nounced a ban on the sale of ele­phant ivory. I could re­spond and share that in­for­ma­tion with hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple around the world in­stantly.

On the topic of con­ser­va­tion, a lot of peo­ple are fear­ful of what Don­ald Trump’s new pres­i­dency may bring. As some­one ac­tive in con­ser­va­tion, are you wor­ried?

I don’t want to get dragged into the mun­dane de­tails of the new po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties, but I do be­lieve that no mat­ter who is in the White House in Wash­ing­ton DC, there are many paths to progress if you be­lieve in a more sus­tain­able re­la­tion­ship be­tween peo­ple and the planet.

So it’s still pos­si­ble for any­one to make a dif­fer­ence, start­ing lo­cally or start­ing per­son­ally. We can all make de­ci­sions that, even though they may not have a big ef­fect on the planet at large, are at least steps in the right di­rec­tion. I think that the closer to your­self you be­gin to make change, the more ef­fec­tive you are.

Plus, by band­ing to­gether with like-minded peo­ple you also can scale up your en­gage­ment. So I don’t think that what­ever hap­pens in the US will stop ev­ery pos­si­ble path to­wards pro­tect­ing our planet.

On an­other note, what has been your proud­est or most mem­o­rable mo­ment as a pho­tog­ra­pher?

Oh boy! I don’t look at my work as a top 10, so I’ll have a hard time an­swer­ing.

Okay then, what has been the most em­bar­rass­ing mo­ment?

Oh, there have been quite a few of those as well! It’s hard to think of one par­tic­u­lar case, but in gen­eral terms it was so dif­fi­cult in the film era to do things right – es­pe­cially when you were work­ing on lo­ca­tion, with no way to see whether you were ac­tu­ally ‘in the zone’ or not. Since I-ex­per­i­mented a lot in­stead of pro­duc­ing con­ven­tional images, my hit rate went way down.

One of the tools I used to help me over­come this was a Po­laroid cam­era back that I could at­tach to a 35mm SLR cam­era. It was a very in­ge­nious de­sign by a leg­endary cam­era en­gi­neer and re­pair­man named Marty Forscher for New York com­mer­cial pho­tog­ra­phers to use [to pre­view their shots] while they were on lo­ca­tion and sur­rounded by art di­rec­tors and stylists. Jay Maisel, Pete Turner and Iused them early on, too.

This cam­era back used Po­laroid film, so I could pull out 35mm-sized prints of what­ever I wanted. That was a god­send, be­cause I could in­stantly see bet­ter un­usual ex­po­sure tech­niques, or whether or not mixed light­ing would ac­tu­ally pro­duce any good re­sults.

It also means that some of my best work is only avail­able as a very small Po­laroid print in an edi­tion of one!

If you could do it all again, is there any­thing you would do dif­fer­ently? What would you tell those want­ing to fol­low in your foot­steps?

I would like to re­visit all of the places I have pho­tographed over the years to shoot them bet­ter, with cam­eras that can do so much more.

To other pho­tog­ra­phers, I would say take risks cre­atively. If you fol­low the paths that have been trod­den by many other pho­tog­ra­phers be­fore, you just end up do­ing the same thing that they did, and that is no way to dis­tin­guish your­self or to cul­ti­vate your own per­sonal style.

When you’ve been do­ing it for a while it’s im­por­tant that you con­tinue to chal­lenge your­self

Frans Lant­ing is speak­ing at The Pho­tog­ra­phy Show on 19 and 20 March 2017. For more de­tails visit www.pho­tog­ra­physhow.com

As iatic chee­tah caught by cam­era trap No ex­po­sure info avail­able

Eleph ants at twi­light No ex­po­sure info avail­able

Antarc­tica No ex­po­sure info avail­able

col­lect­ing katy­dids at night No ex­po­sure info avail­able Orangutan ju­ve­nile No ex­po­sure info avail­able

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