The Heart of the Matter!
One of Europe’s most admired wildlife photographers, Jasper Doest takes his audience into the spirit and essence of the natural world; while his pictures reveal just how fragile this beauty is.
About Jasper Doest
Jasper Doest has been working as a professional nature photographer for several years now. He grew up in Vlaardingen, in the western part of the Netherlands. To him, photography is about the emotion contained in the frame. Whether it’s a travel documentary in Mexico or Poland, a photograph of a grebe in his home country, or an image series about Arctic foxes on Svalbard: he stresses on the emotional engagement of the subject with his audience.
His work has received multiple awards, including the Wildlife Photographer of the Year and GDT European Nature Photographer of the Year. Several international journals and books, such as National Geographic, BBC Wildlife and National Geographic Traveler have featured his photographs and articles. See More of Jasper Doests work here.
Saevus catches up with the award-winning lensman in this Interview.
Congratulations, Jasper, for your recent accolade as ‘Travel Photographer of the Year’! Your background comprises a degree in biology, and you have also worked at a camera store. How has this contributed to your journey as an award winning photographer?
What, according to you, are the important qualities needed in a successful nature photographer?
Thank you. Honestly, I’m not sure whether I see a direct relationship between having a biology degree and my recent success as a photographer; although an analytical mind is certainly one of the qualities that has helped me throughout my career.
As a photographer you want to take your audience on a journey to the unknown, supported by your own imagination. And the only way to amaze people is to be amazed yourself. Be open to new experiences and personal emotions, analyse them and try to find ways to translate these experiences on a two-dimensional frame. Your technical abilities will help you throughout the process, but they are not a primary concern. It is not technical perfection that moves the heart.
How effective do you think photography is as a form of story-telling?
Without visuals, it is very hard to communicate with people. There are many things you cannot explain to others without actually showing them what you’re talking about. So, I think visual storytelling is an essential form of communication within our society.
People have always searched for visual forms to express themselves, from ancient rock paintings, to the oil paintings of masters like Rembrandt and Van Gogh. The still image has always been there and always will be. Still photography freezes time and moves your imagination, and the ability to share such stories with other people is priceless.
You’re a pure wanderlust! When and how did the travel bug bite?
I think the curiosity to explore the unfamiliar will eventually help you appreciate the familiar and the overlooked, and open your mind to new ways of viewing the world surrounding you. I’m always searching for the characteristics that make a place unique; the more you’ve seen, the better you’ll be able to understand and appreciate a place, which will eventually make you a better photographer.
What equipment accompanies you when you go out on your photo expeditions?
Every photographer searches for the tools that are right for the job. For me that’s currently Canon equipment, mainly EOS 1DX and 5D3. Together with their highquality optics (I use a wide variation of lenses from 16mm up to 800mm), these cameras allow me to explore my creative abilities in such a way that only my imagination is the limit; which is exactly the way I prefer it.
We’ve reached a point where we can’t blame the equipment anymore; it is the photographer who makes all the difference.
What are the changes that technology has brought into the process of photography and its output? Are you happy with these changes and the way the profession is shaping up today?
The industry has amazed me. While working at the camera store I would have never thought that photography would develop the way it is still doing. I believe we should embrace all these changes and use them wherever they come useful. And I can’t think of any technological development I’m not happy with. It helps us photographers do our job, so why would we complain?
However, I do believe that it is time the market realises that the effort we put into our work is what makes the difference, and we should be compensated accordingly. While the technological developments are really helpful, the market has not really been of much support. There is a lot of mediocrity around these days, good enough seems good enough. I do think it is time that the media raises the bar and appreciates good photography like it used to in the past.
Of all the different elements that make up a picture, which one aspect is the most important according to you?
Emotion. A photograph should move the viewer and make somebody’s heart beat faster. It is the only way we can reach out and make a difference.
Among the innumerable experiences you’ve had in the wild, can you share with us some truly memorable moments?
If you want to take your audience into a new world, you’ll have to submerge yourself in this environment as a photographer—become one with your surroundings. When that is appreciated and accepted, magic will happen. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had many of these interactions with a large variety of animals, including polar bears, elephants, Arctic foxes.
I’ve seen birds laying eggs right in front of me, and walked for two hours over the mudflats half-a-metre away from an adult cormorant. These are moments that are hard to explain, and I feel very lucky to be able to share them with a wide audience through my photography.
You just visited India, and we would like to know your views about the wildlife here, particularly on their potential for photographic opportunity?
India has incredible potential. I’ve heard many people saying you either love or hate the country. And while logistics sometimes can be a challenge, I loved every bit of it. The buzzing life on the streets and the relationship between humans and animals was very inspiring— food for many stories.
I will definitely come back to India to see what I can do. Being the second largest growing economy in the world, India’s future will be very important for the world and I hope the country will take good steps in terms of sustainable development. We need the people of India to care about wildlife and we need to have the world care about nature conservation in India.
What role can photographers play in the nature conservation movement?
Photography is great way to express yourself, but it is an even greater conservation tool. We see a lot of beautiful images of wildlife, but what is really needed is a great story to complement it. Photographers need to think beyond the image alone, they should highlight the species and its importance in our environment—and we could have some great conservation stories to urge on change.
As I said, without photography, there can be no visual message. Our future is on the line, we need people to start caring about our environment on a daily basis. We need to make them aware of the valuable conservation work that has been going on and we need to persuade them to choose their local decision-makers wisely. Our planet needs sustainability. Photographers can provide a voice for the ones who can’t speak for themselves, before it is too late. They can initiate change. That is the power of photography.
First Appeared In: Saevus Wildlife India Magazine, Tete-a-Tete, Vol.3 Issue 4, June 2014