Painting with the lens: an interview with Klaus Tamm
25 July 2016 posted by: Rosie Pook, WPY Comms Officer
'Encouraging the observer to pause for a moment and reflect.' That's Klaus Tamm's aim when photographing the natural world around him. We spoke to the four-time WPY winner about spontaneous photography, the importance of patience and his passion for protecting biodiversity.
How would you describe your style?
'Painting with the lens' would be a suitable characterisation. To achieve great images, first, it is important to me to find the animals in their natural environment and to ensure that my appearance doesn't harm or disturb them. The challenge then is to catch the perfect moment, when the animal is behaving naturally in optimal light conditions. I aim to create photography full of atmosphere, with elements mirroring impressionist paintings.
Is there a particular species you love to photograph?
Besides birds and invertebrates I am quite fond of photographing orchids on my doorstep. In particular, those you have to really look closely for since they are so tiny and hard to discover. For animals, as a new topic I would love to trail the European lynx.
What do you enjoy most about photographing plants and insects, and do you feel they are well-represented in the world of nature photography?
First of all, I enjoy being outside, whenever time allows, and simply watching and photographing pure wildlife - mostly birds and invertebrates and never caged or domesticated animals.
I also only shoot plants in the wild. However I prefer photographing when I can spot a good composition, interesting light conditions, an intriguing point of view or a certain mood - like with my photograph of wool grass (Scirpus cyperinus.)
Klaus aims for good composition and capturing a certain mood when photographing his botanical subjects, such as this wool grass
I tend to focus on tiny objects, since I am fascinated by their fragility and complexity, which you only realise when you get close. I think these subjects could be represented much more in nature photography since often they are overlooked when the more famous or bigger objects come into frame. But, even with an 'average' plant like a clover, one can create good images.
You can create great images with the most 'average' of subjects, like this clover, says Klaus
Do you usually plan ahead and have a fixed concept for a shoot?
I prefer to work more spontaneously - having been out in nature for quite a while now. But when it comes to a new subject I am interested in, I first get myself a little more acquainted and read up about it. In general, I don't use any special techniques or tricks. More important to me is, firstly, to estimate the right habitat and then wait and watch patiently, very patiently, to be ready to press the button - often when you least expect it.
Meadow canvas, Klaus's 2015 award-winning WPY entry, depicts two field gladioli in a Tuscan meadow
Tell us about how your passion for biodiversity prompted you to establish a non-profit nature conservation organisation, working to raise awareness and protect Europe's natural habitats.
It's always been my intention to sensitise people to nature through my photography and to encourage the observer to pause for a moment and reflect. Over years of watching and photographing wildlife I realised that the speed at which we are losing the diversity of species has dramatically increased. I really wanted to take immediate action - inspired by Voltaire's decree; 'We are responsible for what we do but also for what we don't do'.
This is why I founded a non-profit company called Aufwind gGmbH, to support nature protection projects. Short and long term measures will be considered both regionally and internationally in order to protect rare species, maintain ecotopes and purchase or rent areas for protection.
I am pursuing this goal without taking payment for myself and revenues from the sale of my pictures will be contributed directly to the projects. Requests and positive reactions to my photography during presentations have motivated me and I hope many people will support the idea. On the website you can find more information and, of course, pictures.
'Over years of watching and photographing wildlife I am realising that the speed of losing the diversity of species has dramatically increased. I really wanted to take immediate action.' Says Klaus
The good news is that initial success is already noticeable. In spring 2016 Aufwind gGmbH was able to initiate a project for the little owl (Athene noctua). This endangered species can only survive in a specific habitat containing old fruit trees. The trunks become hollow when ageing and it is only there and then that the little owl starts breeding. Unfortunately, old fruit trees are hard to find nowadays and require maintenance and care, which in turn requires staff.
With the support from Aufwind gGmbH a programme has been launched to locate the last little owls of the region and to finance arborists to treat the fruit trees on a regular basis for the next three years. It's not a global campaign; however, it will have an immediate effect. This I find very motivating.
What do you feel the primary purpose of nature photography should be?
The purpose of me taking photographs is simply to show people how beautiful and fragile nature is. My photographs are taken according to the rules of established nature photo contests - without elaborate post-production and without manipulation of the subjects in front of the camera.
Another of Klaus's 2015 award-winning images; Wings of summer shows a pair of black-veined white butterflies resting on a vetch flower
Are you inspired by any other WPY photographers?
There are many excellent nature photographers around, and in my eyes their work and their photographs are important because they give nature a voice and help to show people how beautiful and at the same time vulnerable our planet is. Of course, it is also important that the photographers don't harm nature while following their passion.
In the beginning I was fascinated by those who could capture wildlife perfectly in terms of technique and visibility. I still do appreciate them. During the years of my own experience, an additional facet appeared that goes beyond just documenting nature. Today I am intrigued by images of nature that look strikingly simple, yet show an unusual and/or artistic aspect such as work by Vincent Munier, Bruno d'Amici, or Sandra Bartocha and Werner Bollmann - especially with their upcoming Lys project [documenting the regions of northern Europe].
'I am intrigued by images of nature that look strikingly simple, yet show an unusual and/or artistic aspect such as work by Vincent Munier', says Klaus
What advice would you offer to anyone starting out in nature photography?
You need a lot of patience, since light conditions and circumstances have to fall right into place for you to capture the perfect moment. Successfully photographing a special scene could involve several attempts, sometimes without any success. But, the great thing about nature photography is there are plenty of different opportune moments. If you stay open minded, you might discover another opportunity for a great image.
What really helps is to know the subject. When you are acquainted with the habitat and behaviour of the species you are aiming for, you can often anticipate the upcoming action.
Furthermore, it is crucial to know your equipment and to know how to handle it. In nature photography there are rarely chances for repetition, so you'd better get yourself ready as you have to catch the moment while it is happening!
And finally a personal plea, for me it is important that the way of achieving the picture does not harm nature and its creatures.
What upcoming projects do you have planned?
For the past eight years I have been supporting an eagle owl project near my home town, Wuppertal, and have produced an observational documentary. I've also started observing wolves in their natural environment in Germany. Recently I have discovered bats to be an intriguing and challenging subject, because of their quirky flight behaviour. While I am out waiting for these animals to cross my lens I keep on falling upon beautiful plants.
One of Klaus's' recent projects involves observing wolves in their natural habitat in Germany.
ABOUT KLAUS TAMM
Klaus has been interested in nature since he was a child. He comes from a hunting family and as a little boy was fascinated by the photos of animals in his father's hunting magazines. Inspired by them, he bought himself an SLR camera with a small telephoto lens as a teenager. In 2005 he first started taking nature photography seriously and it was in that year that he bought his first digital camera.
Klaus's photography excursions have taken him to remote regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Bulgaria, Romania and Spain, and also to South Africa, South America and the Falkland Islands.
Nature photography is his hobby. Klaus runs his own waste disposal business in Wuppertal, Germany by profession. Tamm-Photography.com