Yannick Bindert: Photographing wildlife through the lens of a professional safari guide

Posted on February 11, 2016

FF

Before we get into your philosophical and technical approach to photography, you’re doing this interview from a pretty special place. Can you tell us what it’s like to wake up each morning in the plains of Africa?

YB

It’s a truly incredible feeling. I wake up everyday with the sunrise, as the birds start calling. If I’m lucky, there is a herd of Elephants walking by my tent as I am getting ready for the day. It’s a real privilege to be able to work and spend time in bush. I can only recommend it.

Yannick Bindert with a Bull Elephant in Makuleke, Pafuri, Kruger National Park

FF

That sounds amazing. You’ve always been quite an adventurous one – you’ve also spent times in the Arctic/Antarctic, open seas and high peaks. So what are some of the most memorable experiences you’ve had photographing these various places around the world? And do you have a preference for marine versus terrestrial subjects?

YB

It’s hard to pick a favorite when it comes to photographing animals. I definitely tend to focus on terrestrial mammals, but also thoroughly enjoy having marine wildlife and birds in front of my camera. The fact that they pose more of a challenge to photograph makes a successful shot very rewarding. The memorable moments are too many to all recount, but a few that stand out are watching Humpback whales bubble-net feeding in the Antarctic, spending time with Grizzly Bears as they emerge from hibernation in the North West of Canada, photographing the amazing scenes of the Arctic in Svalbard and its Polar Bears, and finding myself 5 meters from a Bull Elephant during a bush-walk in the northern Kruger just 10 days ago.

However, while these encounters with the ‘big’ animals tend to be the most memorable, I also get a lot of pleasure out of photographing what might be considered more mundane wildlife, be it insects, birds, or reptiles. I try to treat every subject that ends up in front of my lens as if it is the most important animal in the world, which makes the encounter much more enjoyable and usually results in better photographic results.

A herd of walruses from Yannick Bindert’s series called Arctic/Antarctic

FF

Clearly you have a love for nature and wildlife. You also have pursued photography academically through the SVA MPS program. What are some concepts from that program that you’ve applied in the field? Is there any “photography rule” that you think should be broken? I’m guessing it can be challenging to apply strict rules when you only have fractions of a second to catch wildlife!

YB

I have learned a lot during my time at the SVA, a lot of it technical knowledge and what to do with your photographs once they have been captured. One thing I find myself using everyday in the field is keeping to a rigorous workflow with my photographs. It helps a lot to streamline the process. As far as rules that apply to fine art photography, it is true that it can be challenging to implement or adhere to them when photographing wildlife. However, I always keep them in the back of my mind and that helps putting together better compositions. I have found myself incorporating aspects of other fields of photography, such as portraiture and landscape to better tell the story of my subject. I think the most important thing to keep in mind when photographing wildlife is to continue to have fun with it and not be afraid of trying out something different and creative; it often results in some very interesting work. For example, most wildlife photography tends to be very polished and sharp, but I have found that photos taken in low-light situations or with a slow shutter speed can also result in work that better conveys the way I want to show my subject.

FF

That’s a good segue to my next question which has to do with developing a concept and delivering a message. You do this very deliberately in your “Wild Encounters” series. Clearly animals can’t tell us messages directly like humans can, so how do you approach that side of your work when crafting a series of photographs?

Work from Yannick Bindert’s Wild Encounters series

YB

Telling a story and delivering a message to the viewer is central to my work. It is very apparent in ‘Wild Encounters’, since it is a series of photo-composites, which gave me a lot more control over the manner in which the message comes across. When dealing with ‘straight’ photos of animals, this is a bit harder to do but not impossible. A single animal can tell the story of the entire species and the challenges they face. For example, a photo of a de-horned Rhino or an Elephant carcass with the tusks missing can illustrate the drastic measures which now have to be taken towards the conservation of the species and the challenges they face through habitat loss and poaching.

I have found that a lot of my work has an overarching tone of melancholy found in the beauty of wild animals which are quickly disappearing from our world, both physically and psychologically. Animals were the first to lend themselves to human metaphors, helping early man make sense of his surroundings and lending their names to human qualities. A world without wild animals, to me, would be a world with a lack of meaning and beauty.

On a less philosophical note, crafting a series involves a lot of time in the field, patience, and understanding of the animal you are photographing; as well as an idea of what issues I want to shine a light on as a photographer.

Work from Yannick Bindert’s ‘Wild Encounters’ series

FF

When it comes to taking the images and their messages to you audience, how do you approach print? Is there a certain medium or finish you choose to show your work in or do you typically experiment with new mediums for exhibition?

YB

That usually depends on the venue. In the past, I have mostly shown my work in the traditional way: a print in a wooden frame with good quality glass in front. I have started experimenting with new mediums recently, namely printing directly on metal and having a print mounted on plexiglass. I have been very happy with the results for both. I also plan on experimenting with printing on canvas for some of my work, but I feel it is more appropriate for landscapes.

yannick_opening

Yannick Bindert at the opening of ‘Natural Selection’, Feb 2014

FF

You recently started working as a safari guide in South Africa. What kinds of tips do you recommend for those going out to shoot nature, whether it be on your safari tour or in a different wilderness?

YB

Taking photographs in the wild can be just as daunting as it is magical. As photographers, we like to try and control every aspect of the shot and that is usually not possible out in nature. The best tools to equip yourself with when shooting in nature are patience, good reflexes, and flexibility. I am often asked how to go about getting ‘the’ shot while in the bush, and the answer is simple: build up to your best possible photograph; take an ‘insurance shot’, and then try something different to make it better. That could mean repositioning, waiting for different light, or even just waiting for a subject to exhibit a specific behavior. The most important thing is to remain flexible and to be ready to improvise.

From Yannick Bindert’s Botswana series

FF

Are there any common misconceptions photographers have before going on the tours? Or things you think they could have prepared better before going?

YB

I think that ties into the last question a bit. Most people going on safari or a similar bush experience have never seen animals as they are in the wild, in their natural state. They tend to approach it like a visit at a very large zoo, which can lead to disappointment as a sighting does not necessarily mean it is a good photo opportunity. The best thing to do to be prepared is to have an idea of the photographs you want to create while in nature and keeping an open mind. The only predictable thing about Nature is its unpredictability.

FF

Your wildlife photography is only the first step for creating your work. Can you talk a little bit about the other steps that happen before the images are ready to go to print?

YB

There are quite a few steps that take place before and after I press the shutter release. Since the elements of predictability and control are low, I spend a lot of time preparing for a shoot by studying the area, its habitats, topography, the flora and fauna, and put together a mental list of shots I would like to create during my time in the bush, and try to visualize how I can accomplish creating those shots. Being prepared helps a lot to accomplish your goals, as does knowing your subjects and setting.

After the image is captured, there usually is a big process of editing. I tend to overshoot in order to make sure I don’t miss ‘the’ shot. While editing, one of the most important things I try to keep in mind, apart from the technical quality of the photograph, is which shots fit the story I am trying to tell. I usually go through 4 to 5 rounds of editing until I have distilled the shots to the 20 to 30 best ones for a story or series. Once this is done I start post-processing them, which goes through a up to three rounds to ensure proper color correction and the like. The next step is printing some artist proofs, which help me do some final post-processing tweaks and give a approximate idea of the rendition I am looking for from the final print. I then send a final digital file and the artist proof to my printer and work with them to get to a final print that is ready for exhibition.

Yannick Bindert shooting in South Africa

Yannick Bindert shooting in the jungle of Ecuador along the Napo River

FF

You’ve got quite an exciting year ahead of you as a working safari guide. What are some of the main things your excited about for 2016!

YB

This year has quite a lot in store for me. It is the first time I am spending so much time out in nature with the opportunity to take photographs, as opposed to the 2 to 3 week trips I used to do. I am starting work at the Girassol Lodge in the Gorongosa NP in Mozambique in about a week and will be working there for the next six months, which I am extremely excited about. I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to spend so much time with my wild subjects and am looking forward to guiding people through the bush while being able to take photographs. There is something about being out in nature that connects us with one another as humans and reminds us that we are just a strand in the incredible web of life that is found on Earth.

FF

That all sounds pretty incredible. So of course my final question is this: what animal have you yet to photograph that you hope to snap in Mozambique?

From Yannick Bindert’s ‘Khutzemateen’ series

YB

There are a few of them, some of which I have had the opportunity to see before but not to photograph: the African Palm Civet, the Aardvark, the Ground Pangolin, the Bushpig, the Oribi and the Suni. Not to mention a huge diversity of birds and bats. Some of these will be more of a challenge to photograph than the others, but that’s what makes a successful shot rewarding.

On a similar note, I am also planning on doing some work on the wildlife in the US in the foreseeable future, namely with the Bear and Wolf populations.

FF

Thanks for your time and we can’t wait to see the new work!

You can view more of Yannick Bindert’s photography on his website here or by visiting his page on Facebook.