Gustav Kiburg is an award-winning wildlife photographer and Ambassador for Xpozer, Sony UK, Sony Netherlands and Sony Japan. He is especially well-known for his breathtaking and rare photos of the European Kingﬁsher. Gustav’s photos have been published in Digital Camera, Photoworld, and Natuurfoto. His international lectures are a must for anyone interested in wildlife photography and capturing the beauty of nature in their own backyard.
No guarantees in the wild
Photography is amazing by itself but combined with nature, it really doesn’t get any better. You’re outside, facing the elements with a single purpose — taking a shot of the wild animal you seek. You’ve prepared well, you know what you’re looking for and where you may ﬁnd it. But there are no guarantees because you’re in the wild. If you’re lucky, the animal steps (or ﬂies) perfectly into your sightline and you capture its stunning, wild beauty. If not, you don’t give up. You go home, review your plan and your equipment, and look forward to heading into wild for another hunt. The best is that when you’re hunting with a digital camera, you go home with a beautiful photograph and the animal gets to go home too.
I let the animal decide
When getting ready for a nature shoot, I ﬁrst learn everything I can about the behavior of the animal I will be photographing. I want to know it all — where I’m likely to ﬁnd them, what they’re doing at diﬀerent times of the year, what they eat, when they breed, everything. Only after I fully understand the animal can I start thinking about the equipment I’ll need. The animal doesn’t know it, but she inﬂuences everything about my trip.
The rush of wild
I can’t control nature, no one can. As a nature photographer, my subjects are always moving, which is really diﬀerent from posed photography or shooting architecture, for example. My subjects are also wild. I can’t ask the owl to “please perch on that log there” because the shot would look better. I can learn where to ﬁnd owls, where they like to perch and try to perfectly place a branch for the shot I’d like to get, but that doesn’t mean I have any control. Owls are wild, they do what they want.
If you’re shooting in a studio, you can take your time and set up everything just as you’d like. As a nature photographer, I must approach my trips and shoots diﬀerently. Since I’m outside the weather conditions and natural light have an enormous inﬂuence on my photography and the types of shots I take. I actually love bad weather because it’s good for color. When the sun is gone, the clouds act as a giant softbox, similar to what a studio photographer would use to soften light. This brightens the colors of the animals, naturally creating the perfect conditions for portrait shots. When the sun reappears, I adjust and use the increased light to shoot airborne animals. I must accept and adapt to the natural conditions as they come. It’s the wild unpredictability of nature photography that gives me an extra rush. Nature shots don’t always work as I’ve imagined, but when they do, the feeling is extra intense.
I went to photograph the Northern Gannet birds on the island of Heligoland, Germany, in April because that’s when they’re building their nests and it’s a beautiful, natural process. Sometimes people think that every shot has already been seen, that there’s nothing new. But that’s not true. That day I captured a photo of something neither I nor anyone I’ve met has ever seen before — midair seaweed theft. Right in front of my eyes one bird swooped down and plucked the seaweed directly from the beak of another. It was incredible to see and to capture in a photo.
I’m crazy about owls and went to a farm that has several resident owls. Barn owls are often found on farms because they like to nest in old buildings. I waited in the hide by the old wagon wheel where the owls like to perch, pleased with my perfect shooting position. But this time the owl surprised me. He swooped over the wheel and ﬂew up into the tree, choosing a new spot for the ﬁrst time. He sat there as if observing how I would react to this change in plans. His intense look, combined with the backlit leaves and branches, created a magical photo. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was still perfect.
Good photos start with the photographer, not their equipment
I believe that the biggest limitation is the photographer, not the camera. Of course, you can do more with higher-end equipment, but you can also take amazing photos with less expensive cameras. You just need to prepare and then trust yourself. We’re all still developing as photographers.
Years ago, I was so happy with my “perfect” shot of a kingﬁsher that I literally got in the car and sang all the way home. When I look back at that series now, I can see that it is actually far from great. But that’s a good thing. It means that I’m constantly improving my craft and I can see my photography improving. If you keep at it, you will see the development in your photos. With a little time, eﬀort and patience, everyone can do it.
“The animal doesn’t know it, but she inﬂuences everything about my trip.” -Gustav Kiburg
Read the book on Photofocus and own the printed version, too
Every other week a new photo and the story behind it will be published here on Photofocus. Clemens and Ivan have made copies of “Amazing Photography” available for the cost of shipping — $8.99 alone. The book retails for $29.99 regularly. Here are some highlights …
- More than 100 breathtaking photos by professional and hobby photographers
- 13 personal stories from pro’s and hobbyists such as Albert Dros (pro-photographer), Laura Vink (pro-photographer), Andre Kuipers (astronaut and photographer), Ori Guttin (co-founder Viewbug) and Evgeny Tchebotarev (co-founder 500px)
- 4 practical photo guides to help you enjoy your photos to the max
- 7 DIY quick fixes for unexpected photography situations
- World’s top 15 under-the-radar spots for stunning photos
- Would you rather …? A hypothetical photography game for friends
- The science behind how your photos can affect your happiness and well-being.