How can you as a nature photographer work ‘responsibly’ in a world that is full of climate-related issues, problems and disasters?
To get an answer to that question, I interviewed Dutch nature photographer Jolanda Vlastuin. At the NPOTY contest 2021 she was highly commended in the ‘Birds’ category. Jolanda bought her first SLR in 2013 and a new passion was born. She favors macro photography and loves to apply creative elements like multi exposure and intentional camera movement techniques in her work. In her daily life she divides her attention between working with people with disabilities and her business in giving photography workshops. Furthermore she writes poetry and she paints, where in the latter she also tries to incorporate the multiple exposure technique. Time to get to know this creative centipede a bit better.
Jolanda Vlastuin was born and raised on a farm in an area called the Veluwe, one of the sparse woodland areas in the Netherlands. She started with photography after her first child was born. In the years that followed she enjoyed documenting the lives of her children. One day, while photographing her kids, she saw a slug in the grass and wondered how close she could get with her camera and kit lens. The result, a photo of the slug showing its teeth while eating, triggered her interest in macro photography. What followed was a macro lens and through the years numerous vintage lenses.
She attended a beginners course for photographers and then started practicing. The internet helped her to find all she wanted to know. Nowadays she always shoots in manual mode in order to have complete control over the light interacting with her subjects. Once or twice a week she takes her camera outside but she also still enjoys photographing her children.
Glorious morning © Jolanda Vlastuin
“My love for nature was instilled in me from an early age. I grew up on a farm near the woods, so nature and animals were always close. And my parents always taught me how important it was to respect both people, animals and nature.
Religion plays an important role in my life and my beliefs have not only taught me the importance of being a loving and caring person, but it is also a source of inspiration.
In the field of photography, nature photographers Bob Daalder and Loulou Beavers were my biggest sources of inspiration. With Bob it was mainly the soft, painterly effect in his photos that inspired me to try to create these types of photos, where minimum depth of field and such play an important role. With Loulou, it was the use of the double exposure technique that intrigued me. I first practiced this technique in post-processing for half a year before I started using the in-camera option.”
Rise and shine © Jolanda Vlastuin
“I like to go out without having a clear end result in mind. I may have some ideas in my head, but I like to be inspired by what comes my way. Of course I do take into account things like seasons and weather conditions, so that you know, for example, whether it is a promising day to look for dragonflies. But the outcome of such a day is still completely open.
When I give a workshop it is slightly different, more planned and more focussed on what techniques the participants want to use. But even then, going out with the camera around your neck offers the best chances for unexpected photos. So let yourself be inspired by what you see!”
“My religious background influences my approach to art. I see God as the creator of everything. To me He is the light and this light symbolizes loving everything around you, be it people, animals or nature. I think that’s why I approach photography as painting with light, highlighting the beauty of everything around me in a respectful way. The colors and mood in my photos are reflecting this. I often choose to keep my photos underexposed which gives my photos quite a dark look, but in the dark you can see the light better.”
Light always overcomes the darkness © Jolanda Vlastuin
“It is my ambition to show the beauty of nature. And I hope my photos contribute in two ways. First, to get people to respect and care for nature by showing them how beautiful nature can be. And because we humans are also part of nature, we must also be respectful and caring towards each other. For example, take a look at comments on social media, which are full of negativity and harsh words. We should be a little more gentle with each other.
Secondly, I hope that my photos will appeal to other nature photographers to stay closer to home more often and to stimulate their creativity. Realize that there are also photographers living in those much-visited faraway places, so why not enjoy their photos and in the meantime take your shots near you? Photos from your own environment are more recognizable to your audience which makes it easier for them to feel connected to nature. And furthermore less traveling also contributes to diminishing our footprints.”
Sleeping beauty © Jolanda Vlastuin
“I’m not a person who loves to be in the spotlights. And besides that, participating in photography contests like Nature Photographer Of The Year, is very much time consuming. But since it is only a few years ago that I started my own business, being providing photography workshops, it is helpful to get my name out. And being awarded with a ‘highly commended’ in a prestigious photo contest like NPOTY is definitely a great sign.
But remember it is important to only participate if you feel comfortable with it. And when you decide to participate, try to be original. Only then your work gets noticed by the jury”
The shy butterfly © Jolanda Vlastuin
“For me social media platforms like IG and FB are a means to get in contact with other people; friends, family and so on. At the same time these platform offer a chance to see what other photographers are doing. Not to look and copy their photos, but to get inspired. That said for me most inspiration comes from being outside. Ideas arise in your head and take shape outside.
These platforms also provide opportunities to talk about what matters in life. And to share your thoughts on the consequences of many of the choices we make. Worldwide there is a lot of attention for climate change, global warming, CO2 emissions and the like. And the terrible consequences of all these problematic issues are shown on TV from all corners of the world.
Deep in the forest © Jolanda Vlastuin
In the Netherlands, the agricultural sector is identified as one of the major culprits. Of course there are problems and a lot needs to be done, also in the agricultural sector. But the problems are not over when the farmers close their businesses. There are more causes that contribute to the problems we have. Think of the steel industry or the aviation sector. Or what we can do about it ourselves? Staying closer to home, flying/traveling less or no longer, take a critical look at the origin of our food, eat less or no meat, buy second-hand stuff, et cetera. We have to do it together if we want to change anything.”
Nature speaks without words © Jolanda Vlastuin
“Because I live on a farm, close to the woods, I had the opportunity to get out and about whenever I wanted. And as soon as I was allowed, I started my workshops again, mostly on an individual basis. Because the workshops do not form our main income, putting it on a low for a while didn’t have much influence on our daily life.
On the other hand, the effort it took and the limitations I encountered to visit family and friends made this period very difficult for me. I am a person who likes to be around people and so the effect on my social life was much greater than the effect on my photography activities.”
Always look up © Jolanda Vlastuin
At the end of the interview I asked Jolanda Vlastuin the question: “if you could ask another nature photographer one question, who would that be and which question would you ask?
Jolanda was quick to answer: “I don’t have a question for a single photographer, I want to ask a question for many of us. Why do so many wildlife photographers fly all over the world to take pictures already taken by other photographers. While we know how big the footprint is that flying entails. If you are open to it, you can also take great photos close to home. If you travel less, you may need to get more creative to get attractive photos of subjects you’ve photographed before. But I do like challenges!
If we all do something to make our planet greener, the world will be so much more beautiful. Many hands make lighter work.
Oceans are made up of many drops.
And how powerful are its waves.
Let’s take care of each other.
Waves © Jolanda Vlastuin