Deep in the sun dried African grass, the rhino she’d dubbed "George" watched us as we studied him. Next Anette took us to a special water hole in Namibia where a leopard teased a bathing bull elephant, a moment later we were in Botswana, at the site of an underground “castle”. Meerkats looking like ever-vigilant pranksters, poked up then disappeared down a zillion hidden “doorways” only to reappear and do it again. Every image is a story. The animals play, feed, sleep, watch, and tease each other - and us!
A computer screen is much too small to hold the dynamic animals in her images - they demand to be experience in person!
Images That Teach You to See
Before Les and I packed for our first trip to Africa we did our homework. We read African stories, watched movies and documentaries, made species lists and bought maps and bush guides, but it was Anette’s photos that prepared us to really see Africa. Her images of lions, rhino, oryx and other animals feel like personal introductions, not just to “wildlife” in general but to the individual animals, beleaguered and majestic, carving out their lives in shrinking bush neighborhoods. You feel Anette’s images. And they teach you to see.
Recently, I was finally able to get to know Anette and ask her a few questions. I found out that she is not only a great photographer and passionate wildlife conservationist, but she’s also straightforward and has a great sense of humor, too. And when she writes, e-mails, or DMs, her notes are filled with jokes and emoji.
Anette grew up in Germany, the daughter of a forest ranger. Even as a small child of five or six she would accompany her dad into the forest, there he taught her how to become still, disappearing into nature’s rhythm, a technique that shows in her work today. She began taking photos of wildlife very young, but when her husband’s company transferred them to South Africa in the 1990’s “something clicked.”
This is How Anette Describes her Photographic Epiphany
Anette: When we lived in the 1990’s in South Africa, we went nearly every weekend to national parks or game reserves. This made the click in my head 😉
Anette: At that time we had no kids. [Then] I raised our kids and before that I did as well photography. When the kids did not need [me] anymore 24/7, then I started again to do more with photography.
[Note: Anette has two teenagers: a daughter now 19 and a son 16. They both love nature but, Anette says, “They gained most of their nature knowledge through Sir David Attenborough’s documentaries and other nature documentaries, as well from us parents. They of course went with us on safaris in Africa and other places on the globe. Both of our children love scuba diving very much as well.”]
Elephants, Leopards and …
Tourists Acting Like Nut Cases!
Roberta: Your African wildlife images are well known, but you also shoot in Asia, India, the Arctic and other places. How do you decide what to photograph next?
Anette: Usually I decide the animal first. But most of the time something better crosses my way :)
Roberta: Something better? Like the the time you were photographing a herd of elephants in Namibia – until that intruder species, homo-sapien touristas, created extra excitement?
Anette: They (the tourists) behave sometimes like nut cases!! I have many stories about those homo sapiens in the wild going nuts (laughing). Once I thought I would get the picture of the year: a Leopard attacking a woman, because her husband told me all the time, “There are ONLY elephants [here],” and a leopard was just 5-6 meter in front of them, which they did not see, even with me pointing to it. Then I just took my camera and started taking pix of what the leopard did. Here is one of them
Anette: She (the leopard) got ready to jump! That woman was so lucky!
Anette: [When the tourists finally went away all they left behind] was a herd of angry elephants … even I had nearly to move away from this place. They (the elephants) started threatening massive!
Roberta: Wow, that woman and her husband were really crazy; they could have been killed. Sometimes, common sense goes out the window. Tourists just don't think about their own safety.
Anette: What do people think to get out of their cars in a national park with wild animals walking around, when on every corner is a sign saying, "Stay in your vehicle." Animals are wild! No idea what people think! They might think they see everything, but they don’t! … I told them [about the leopard] a few times.
The husband yelled at me, these are ONLY elephants. And the elephants got already angry with all the noise the tourist made. I watched the leopard and this animal got ready to jump on the woman. She was lucky that she went just in time back into her car! Even that I pointed the leopard a few times and they understood me, these tourists still stepped out of their car to take selfies with the elephants in the background and most likely the leopard as well. Which I ask myself: Why do tourists ignore warnings and do not listen, when someone tells them there is a leopard, which can kill them in a few seconds? How can tourists be so careless with their lives in a national park with wild animals?
Roberta: Yes, some tourists are oblivious to dangers, behaving as though the wild animals are following a Disney script. In reality every species has its own survival code – and none include selfies. Have you ever had a close call when photographing wildlife?
Anette: Getting stuck in the middle of an elephant herd. They came out of nowhere. Also once on a walking safari when we saw suddenly beside us the guts from an antelope. The lions were just 10m in front of us in the deep grass. We were actually happy that they had food already!
Roberta: The only thing more frightening than a fed lion 10 meters away is a hungry lion! What did you learn from the experience?
Anette: To open eyes and ears very wide!
Roberta: Good advice!
Hitting the Polar Bear Jackpot!
Roberta: If you could go anywhere in the world to photograph wildlife – where would it be?
Anette: Antarctica, Galapagos, Svalbard again …
Roberta: I love your image of the polar bear in Svalbard in the dark. What can you tell us about him?
Anette: I assume you talk about the polar bear with the full moon. This moment I think all photographers on this tour never ever will forget in their lives. It was like winning the jackpot at one side on the other very overwhelming with emotions. Being there at the right time and at the right place. To get the privilege to be there and to be able to photograph this bear under the full moon. To see how the bear was nestled between rocks to sleep.
Taking the image itself was another challenge. [We were] in a wobbly zodiac with 6 other photographers together. I was sitting in the back of the zodiac and had the lenses of the other photographers in my way. For me was only one choice left, to stand up, which I did. Getting in the rhythm with the waves and wobbling zodiac.
Roberta: I can imagine you trying to balance camera and lens while trying not fall into the laps of your companions! But it paid off! That is a once-in-a-lifetime image!
Space for Wildlife Has Decreased
Roberta: In your years of photographing in the wild have you noticed changes in the animals or the environment?
Anette: Yes I did. The environment has changed quite a bit. The space for wildlife has decreased in many places, sadly global. We humans take more space on the planet every year and do not think of nature and wildlife. Actually nature does not need humans, nature will develop as it has already for millions of years. We humans and wildlife need nature badly to survive.
Tips on Equipment + Patience ...
Roberta: Let’s talk about the technical aspects of photography. You did a great blog post called, “What’s in My Camera Bag?” with lots of helpful technical hints, but many of us wildlife tourists just want a good image or two to show our friends, we need to start with the basics – a camera.
What camera and accessories would you suggest a person buy if he has no photography experience but still wants to take nice wildlife images when he travels?
Anette: Actually the FujiFilm X-T1 with 2 good lenses … covering the wide angle and zoom.
Roberta: And if you had only one lens?
Anette: My 70-200mm & 2x converter. This lens gives me the best opportunities and freedom in composition.
Roberta: You started leading wildlife photography workshops about 3 years ago and encourage beginners to join. What is an amateur’s biggest struggle?
Anette: I would say composition, knowing the camera inside out, be patient and follow your mood :)
Cold Weather Photography Secrets
Do Not Forget the Ice Cleats!
Roberta: Your next workshop, co-hosted with Ade Photography, is scheduled for Japan in February 2016. The description on your site says “chilly” then “cold to very cold” then suggests ice cleats! Isn’t it very challenging to photograph wildlife in those conditions?
Anette: The most challenging to take photographs in cold conditions is when you start to get cold and your body starts to shake. This causes blurry images when no tripod is used :) When ice or snow is present, slippery conditions, get the cleats out before you slip with a camera in your hand.
Anette: Cloth wise, wear good thermo cloth under your jacket and pants. By now there are very good thermals on the market with Merino wool. Wear a beanie and the most warm shoes/boots you can get. I wear the Muckboots which I can use “down” to -40 degrees. When the feet are warm, the rest of your body will be warm too, well most of the time. I as well wear special gloves for winter photography. I can leave them on to operate the camera without any hassle of missing a button when changing settings…etc.
Anette's Secrets for Photographing
Animals in the Wild
Roberta: What is the most important thing someone should understand about photographing animals?
Anette: That animals are not waiting for the photographer.
You need to find them, patience is involved. Also try to learn to “read” from their behavior their next steps. :)
Roberta: Ahh, “patience” again! I think it’s the most difficult technique to master!
Roberta: Is there a second key tip?
Anette: That they [photography students] learn to not only to take photographs [but] also that they first see nature with out a viewfinder in between. That people appreciate and enjoy the natural world. It is presented to them on a golden tray, wild as it can be. Learn from that. :)
Keeping Safe on Location:
Roberta: Of all the diverse places in the world that you go for wildlife are there any you don’t feel comfortable in as a photographer?
Anette: Actually no. We lived in many places in Asia as well in Africa. I know how to behave to get around without any trouble anywhere so far. When you stick to the rules you won’t get any problems.
Roberta: Any other advice to tourists who want to see and photograph wildlife?
Anette: My advice when doing self drive, stay in your vehicle all the time. Follow the signs and use only the areas [to get out of your car] where [it says] you can leave your vehicle.
And Take Your Time
Get Comfy & Enjoy Nature
Anette: Second advice, when arriving at a waterhole, settle down for 1-2 hours and wait and see. Sometimes you will see the leopard or the lion popping up in the high grass. Elephant herds stop by to bath and drink and many other animals as well. Best time as usual mornings and late afternoons. During the day the normal game will stop by to drink, Antelope, Zebras or the funny Bee-eaters taking a fast bath during a flight over the water.
Take your time and never drive to a waterhole and leave within 5min. You will miss all. Get comfy and enjoy nature with all its sounds and smells :)
Roberta: That is beautiful advice for life as well as wildlife viewing.
The Beauty of Raw Nature
Roberta: Your photos touch the hearts of people all over the world, what do you want people to learn from your images?
Anette: I want to show the audience the beauty of nature, and teach them how to appreciate it. My images capture a variety of moments that I have personally experienced, and I want them to appreciate the wildlife, to learn what it truly is. The beauty of raw nature, and not what we see in zoos.
I think Anette manages that very well indeed!
Honors and Awards
Anette is a member of the Society of German Wildlife Photographers and the Royal Photographic Society. Her work has been seen in many prestigious magazines including GQ/Conde’ Nast, NAT GEO, X-rite, MacGroup, Datacolor, and Eden Travel.
Anette’s inspiring nature and wildlife images have garnered many prizes. Below are some of her recent honors.
• Travel Photographer of the Year 2015 – Nature & Environment – Special Mention
• International Photography Awards – IPA 2015 – Travel Photography – 1st Place
• Black & White Spider Awards Contest – 2015 – Wildlife – 3rd Place
• Nature’s Best Photography – 2015 – Outdoor Adventure – Highly Honored
• Society of German Wildlife Photographers – GDT – 2015 – Prize of the Jury
• Society of German Wildlife Photographers – GDT – 2015 – Landscape – 2nd Place
• Prix De La Photographie Paris – PX3 – 2015 – Travel Photography – 1st Place
• Prix De La Photographie Paris – PX3 – 2015 – Nature / Wildlife – 2nd Place
• Prix De La Photographie Paris – PX3 – 2015 – Nature / Wildlife – 3rd Place
• Prix De La Photographie Paris – PX3 – 2015 – Nature / Wildlife – 3rd Place
• Prix De La Photographie Paris – PX3 – 2015 – Overall – 9x Honorable Mentions