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Nature photographer Gheorghe Popa about expression, magical forests and poisoned beauty

by | Oct 10, 2020 | They let Nature Talk

 What is needed to turn a teenager, born and raised in a small village in Transylvania, into a successful nature photographer who amazes his audience with photos that combine both the beauty in nature and it threats at the same time?

To get an answer to this question I had an interview with the Romanian nature photographer Gheorghe Popa, winner in the category Fred Hazelhoff Portfolio Award for the NPOTY contest 2019.

 Gheorghe, who is a pharmacist by trade, has always loved photography but it is only over the last five years that his photography started to become more serious. He began posting his photographs on National Geographic in the section ‘Your Shot’ and the editors encouraged him by selecting his photos in the Daily Dozen section where his work received the highest votes several times. It is fair to say that in just a couple of years he succeeded to build a very impressive trackrecord. His drive to make top-level photography made me curious about the motives of this passionate nature photographer.

Inspiration

“I was born in Aiud, a small town in Transylvania located at the base of Apuseni Mountains, so I can honestly say that nature has always been a part of my life and also an important source of inspiration. My passion for photography dates back from my teenage years but it was only since the appearance of digital cameras, that it became more accessible to me and I started to take things seriously. My frequently outings in nature brought along a natural desire to photograph what I saw but especially to convey in an artistic way things that were seemingly bland or uninteresting for most people. Add things up and it is clear that my passion for nature photography was and still is something natural for me.

Being an outdoor guy the forest is my place to go, Gheorghe Popa

Next to nature itself there are several photographers that inspire me. One photographer I like a lot is Ignacio Palacios. I think he is an excellent photographer who can take on any photographic style or subject.

I love traveling, especially with my wife, and it is safe to say that my passion for photography led me to travel to the farthest corners of the world; from Northern Europe (Norway, Faroe Islands, Iceland) to the Sahara desert and even to Patagonia. When I am not traveling I like to take photographs around my home. Being an outdoor guy the forest is my place to go. I am fortunate to live close to the forest where I like to go with every chance I get. For me such trips are always an opportunity to spend time with friends, usually camping, waking bright and early in the morning and taking long hikes that usually ends with a pleasant exhaustion. Also from a photographic point of view, the forest is also my favorite subject. I simply like to spend time out there with my camera. I don’t necessarily set myself a goal and just photograph what inspires me at that given time. So for those spontaneous photo trips I don’t need to prepare or study in advance. 

Express the world as I see it or as I want to show it, Gheorghe Popa

That is different when I start working on long-term projects like Cuejdel lake or my current and most successful photographic project Poisoned Beauty. For such huge projects I always study the phenomenon I want to document.”

Ambition

“With my photography I simply want to express the world as I see it or as I want to show it. For me this means I have to deliver top-level photography and I am becoming increasingly better at it. I have won several prizes in the last couple of years, a part of my work is published in National Geographic magazines and I am proud to say that one of my photos is available for sale at the National Geographic Fine Art Galleries in USA.

I set out to photograph Cuejdel lake in all seasons, Gheorghe Popa

Because I live close to Cuejdel Lake I set out to photograph the lake in all seasons and at all times of the day. There are even people who think that with my approach I turned this place into a tourist destination. After four years I had gathered a bunch of special photographs taken in different seasons, culminating into an article in the Photographer’s Diary section of the National Geographic Romania magazine. Thanks to my series of Cuejdel Lake I became an internationally known photographer and it made me win the Fred Hazelhoff Portfolio Award at the NPOTY contest 2019.

My current project ‘Poisoned Beauty’ tells the sad story of Geamana village from Apuseni Mountains, that turned into a tailings pond for the waste from processing copper and gold. Poisoned Beauty is an artistic protest that draws attention to the ecological disaster through a series of abstract aerial photographs. The incredibly beautiful shapes are the result of the discharge of chemical substances in the tailings pond combined with various natural factors such as snow, rain, wind, et cetera.”

Poisoned Beauty is an artistic protest that draws attention to the ecological disaster
through a series of abstract aerial photographs, Gheorghe Popa

Photography contests

“The first time I participated in a photography contest was only after I was encouraged by a friend. But then I really liked it to compete with the other contenders so I kept entering every year and it grew into a habit. I guess I like to compete. Of course I have also entered this years edition of the Nature Photographer of the Year contest and I have high expectations.

I think that in general the importance of participating in competitions is the fact that your portfolio is reviewed by a jury usually made up of professional photographers. This is very important because otherwise it is almost impossible to show your work to a professional editor or photographer. And of course winning high level competitions like NPOTY also motivates you on the long term, which is probably the reason why I have been practicing photography so passionately for the last 5 years.

Impression of Cuejdel lake, Gheorghe Popa

I would recommend photographers who are thinking about participation in competitions to take the step and plunge in because they have nothing to lose. My advice to them is to follow the best competitions to see at what level the prizes are awarded. This is very important because you learn a lot from both the jury members and the competitors and it is very motivating.

As a photographer you are always looking for a way to show your photographs to as many people as possible. Apart from entering competitions for me publishing on a platform like Instagram is a way of achieving this. And it also offers a way of discovering other people’s work. What I find amazing is that nowadays we have access to an unimaginable quantity of photographs directly from our phones almost anywhere and anytime.” 

To finish the interview I asked Gheorghe the following question: “if you could ask another nature photographer one question, who would that be and which question would you ask?”

It did not take long for Gheorghe to come up with the following: “I would like to ask the renowned American photographer and conservationist Art Wolfe: how do you educate yourself to take better photos?”

Erik Ruiterman

Erik Ruiterman

Hi there! I am Erik Ruiterman. I love birds and photography so I am an enthusiastic nature photographer. I like writing as well so I am a blogger. And because there must be food on the table I also work as a consultant. Due to my training as a fashion photographer my view on 'natural beauty' has change for ever. You can find my portfolio on Nature in Stock. (https://www.natureinstock.com/search?s=ruiterman) My photo adventures often form the basis for my blogs in which I try to view the phenomenon of nature photography in a relative way. For me that is always with a wink and a nod. You can of course find my blogs on this site. But also on topic2.nl.

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