Nature Is First Prize: Photographer Wim van den Heever Talks The Falklands Penguin Shoot, Nature, and Travel.

"Always Remember: Being out in Nature is first prize – capturing that special moment is an added bonus!" -Wim van den Heever

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Wim van den Heever is a photographer out of Africa who seeks to share and immortalize his intense love of travel and nature,

After a phenomenal shoot in the Falklands (where he was able to capture a group of penguins congregating before initiating their daily search for food) Wim was greeted with global acclaim and exposure. While the scenery is beautiful, the almost anthropomorphic quality these animals possess in these images are truly something to behold.

Although Wim is enormously grateful that he has been able to translate his love of photography into a successful career, it is his connection to nature that makes these experiences worth while for the veteran artist.

He is so intent on sharing the splendor of the world's most photogenic climates, that he has started Tusk Photo, a safari service for tourists seeking to capture once in a lifetime images and explore the world's wonderful countrysides.

We spoke about his craft, Tusk Photo, and his fondness of the outdoors.

Prox: How has traveling helped you grow and evolve as a human being? What are some character traits you felt you may have been lacking before you became serious about photography and travel?

Wim: I have been extremely fortunate that photography has taken me to various, often remote parts of our awe-inspiring planet.

The terrifying grandeur of the Himalayas to track the elusive snow leopard, the remote Okavango where daily battles between lions and buffalo are played out, to the incredible spectacle of the wildebeest migration, and the lonely splendour that highlights the daily struggle of the dwindling penguin population for survival... each and every continent has filled me not only with awe, but each has given me a deep appreciation of our world and a deep desire to protect our heritage. 

I have learned to respect nature, and to do whatever I can to preserve species that are under constant threat from mankind's greed. Finally, I love sharing these experiences with others, and enjoy their wide-eyed wonder and share their excitement as they observe animals in their natural surroundings.

Prox: Could you discuss Tusk Photo for us? What did you set out to accomplish when you created it and how has your relationship to Africa and nature strengthened the brand?

Wim: I grew up in a home where we took every opportunity to visit Game Reserves in Southern Africa. Photography became almost second nature, and as an adult I saw that the best way to share my love of photography and of nature with others was to offer not only a safari, but one where one could return with beautiful photographs rather than a camera full of snapshots. At Tusk Photo we take pride in sharing our wildlife knowledge with our guests as well as ensuring that each guest has the necessary guidance for those once in a lifetime shots.

I feel very at home in the African bush, and have learned a tremendous amount from my time in the Wild. I know that my profound love of the bush and the wildlife that dwells there is shared by the people who accompany me on our safaris. Our photographic guides at Tusk Photo are equally fervent in their love of the bush and their respect for nature is imparted to all who join our trips.

Prox: The Falklands shoot you did has gotten quite a bit of attention. Why did you choose to shoot there and how did the penguin shots come about? Did those shots make you more curious about penguins from a scientific standpoint?

Wim: I always aspire to visit the last of the Wild places, where I derive great pleasure from seeing the world as it should be - as nature intended. I spend time in these far-flung wilderness areas whenever I can. I try to reach these remote areas not only alone, but also accompanied by our Tusk Photo guests, so that we can appreciate the beauty together, and capture our images to later share with the world.

The Falklands provides an unexplored gem with very few visitors. There are no luxurious, lavish hotels, and almost no infrastructure for a tourist. But it is an ideal destination for a true nature lover.

Global warming is having an increasingly disastrous effect in many corners of our world, and the effect on the penguin population in the Falklands area is pitiful. I knew that if I did not travel there now to capture photographs and to bring some awareness to their plight, that it could be too late. 

Because of global warming, some of the Penguins that live there have to swim many more miles to reach the krill and other food sources that they need to survive, and then, having eaten, they have to head back to shore. They cannot eat enough for such an extended daily journey, that should be only ten to twenty miles and many perish each day because of hunger in the breeding season. It is a heartbreaking sight to see the dwindling numbers.

These plucky little birds have very close family ties, and understanding their habits and daily routines are a basis for good photography. I was very lucky with the weather when I took the series of penguin images, and had many clear, ideal days for photography. The sunrises and sunsets were indescribably beautiful, with iridescent colours lighting the sky, sea, and shore. Knowing that I needed to be on the beach as early as possible, I rose each morning before dawn, to reach the shoreline before sunrise. I crept there in the dark, and lay down in the waves lapping the shore and tried hard to resemble a rock. I knew that any disturbance would cause the birds to scurry away. Morning after morning I lay there, soaked, cold, and waiting for for that magical time when everything comes together. And finally there it was. The penguins came down from their roosting places to stand on the shore together, and to greet the rising sun before they set out on their sad quest for food. The sun rose with a spectacular splendour that morning, there was no wind, and the penguins behaved exactly as I had hoped they would. I fired off a number of shots, and these are the shots that are being seen around the globe. 

Prox: While an understanding of elements and composition cannot be understated, how important are the locations in which you shoot? Should amateur photographers be discouraged if they can’t shoot in exotic locations at first?

Wim: I have always believed that being at a special location is the first prize. Getting the photograph of that moment is the second prize. Visiting a destination simply to get 'that' image is going to lead to disappointment. The destination should be an end in itself that fills one with the joy of experiencing true, raw nature. 

Each and every continent has wonderful wildlife gems that should be accessible to those who live there. So it is not necessary to always travel to foreign shores if that is not feasible for an individual. 

No-one should be deterred if they cannot reach these Wild, isolated places. If one cannot travel far, a look in ones own backyard can deliver some wonderful photographic surprises, from birds, and insects to small mammals. You can set up a scene anywhere. Simply get out, open your eyes, and do it!

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Prox: What are some of the tools you’re shooting with currently? Do you have a favorite camera(s) series and lens selection?

Wim: I use a number of different cameras and lenses, depending on the location that I visit. Because I am currently doing quite a bit of nighttime photography I tend to favour the Nikon D810 because of its encompassing dynamic range. And the lenses I choose are specific to the destination and the type of images to be shot there, remembering that I enjoy both landscape and wildlife photography. 

I have an extensive array of lenses from 8mm to 800mm – all super fast with exceptional quality as a pre-requisite.

And yes – I’m a very big Nikon fan.

Prox: Who are some of your favorite artists, businesspeople, or intellectuals?

Wim: My list of favourite influential people would be too long for these pages. These are people in different walks of life who have inspired me for different reasons. Many, (like Elon Musk), have shown me that anything is possible, others have demonstrated how they use their money and influence for good. Artists have inspired me with their approach to our world and photographers have given me a pathway that I have followed willingly. Businessmen have taught me that life consists of more than just a dream, and that a good business brain is an essential for success, and to fulfill those dreams. Those who have probably influenced me the most through the years include Albert Einstein, whose biographies are an inspiration to anyone who reads them. I have read all of Steve Job's books, and I admire the way he went about his business. No, he did not invent the computer or the computer mouse, he perfected them. Similarly, he did not invent music, but his iPod perfected the way music is delivered to people. In the same way, I did not invent photography, but I do try to make each image count! And finally there is Richard Branson, a man who built an empire from humble beginnings using sheer grit and determination. My aim is to take what I have learned from each of these men, and to carry on living a fulfilling life ...

Prox: Could you give us some tips for aspiring photographers?

Wim: Perseverance and patience are essential. You cannot expect to pop out for a morning and to return home with a camera full of winning images.

Get to know your subject! The more you know about an animal, bird, or insect, the easier it will be to predict its behaviour and to place yourself in an ideal position for the best possible image.

Use the best camera equipment that you can afford, in this, quality is better than quantity. Rather have one or two really good lenses than five that are substandard. And the same is true for your camera body.

Always Remember: Being out in Nature is first prize – capturing that special moment is an added bonus!

Prox: Final Thoughts?

Wim: In less than a hundred years from now there is every possibility (if we as mankind do not change) that there will simply be no wilderness left. Maybe all we will have will be images from a magical bygone age ... it is my aim to capture at least some of that beauty as a record for future generations.

Wildlife is an immense privilege that we need to respect and strive to preserve. Photography is a joy, and the two together can create a very satisfying pastime or career path for those who wish to experience its ever-changing surprises.

For information on Wim and Tusk Photo, drop by the official website, or follow him on Facebook.

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