Imagine you grew up amidst pet animals during your childhood and your bedroom was stuffed with coffee table books about Iceland. And as a child you spent almost all your spare time out in the field, carrying a pile of field guides to identify every flower and insect you encounter because you want to know the natural world. Is that the right recipe to become a successful nature photographer once you grow up? I spoke about this and other things with Perdita Petzl, runner up in the category Other Animals and highly commended in the category Plants for the NPOTY contest 2017.
Perdita, a Vienna based professional nature photographer, just got back from a trip to the Grossglockner and was still trying to get warm and dry when we spoke on the phone. As a professional photographer she divides her time between her own photography work and conducting workshops and coaching for those who want to become better photographers. Furthermore she spends time giving lectures about photography and since the beginning of 2019 she is one of the Sigma Austria brand ambassadors. Her impressive track record earned in multiple photo contests throughout the years proves she knows what she is talking about. More than enough to make me very curious about the motivation of this busy and enthusiastic nature photographer.
“Ever since I was a child I was addicted to nature and obsessed to knowing everything. I grew up in a small village in Austria and loved to spend my time outside, toting my field guides around to identify every flower and insect I game across. Back home I collected lots of richly illustrated photo books. Mostly about Iceland, my main motivation then where I still haven’t been, but also about mammals and the underwater world.
The background has to add something to the photo, Perdita Petzl
As a teenager I stuffed the compact camera of my mother in my rucksack, probably inspired by all the photo books I studied. Back in these days you had to take your film roll away and wait for the result. It was only until eleven years ago that I got my first DSLR. My first photo project was about my dark horse galloping in the snow. Since I knew nothing about camera settings at that point, you can imagine the disappointment when I looked at the results on my computer. But it did not put me off. Instead I started to surf the internet to learn about camera settings and how to become a better photographer. I never attended any classes or anything, I just worked my way through the information I found on the web and kept on practicing with my camera. One can say I am a genuine autodidact.
I also learned how important a good preparation is before you go out and shoot. For me it means scouting the location a few times, in order to know how the light behaves through the day and where I can create a nice bokeh. I also need to know if the flowers are in bloom and if the insects are present. And for some of my workshops I need to be sure about the presence and behavior of the vulnerable European ground squirrels, the European hamsters and other mammals. Another important thing for me is to have plans for different types of weather. I love to go out for macro photography on a sunny day so I can play with the backlight. On an overcast day I love to do some experimental studies.”
I choose to create a fairy like bokeh, Perdita Petzl
“I love to show how colorful life is through my photography. By showing the colorful life of flowers and insects I hope to get people’s interest in the vulnerability of nature. And to make them start caring for the preservation of nature. Every year I notice it is harder to find insects. Around Vienna for instance it is getting hotter each year so the flowers die before they can bloom. And as a result the number of insects is declining through the years. Nowadays I choose to go to Croatia, where nature is still more intact, less influenced by people.
I hope to create awareness by showing how fragile nature is. To achieve that goal I do not use a documentary style of photography. Instead I choose to give my photos a romantic sphere using colors and light to create a fairy like bokeh. For me the background has to add something to the photo. I painted as a child and I guess painters like Van Gogh and other impressionists have inspired me to develop this fairytale style that turns out to be my signature.
European hamster, Perdita Petzl
As for the endangered European ground squirrels – Ziesel – I try to show them even more cute than they are, trying to catch the heart of people and thus helping to protect these lovely animals. Lots of people are unfamiliar with these Ziesel and destroy their natural habitats in order to build houses. Therefore I work with an organization to protect the Ziesel and we produce a Ziesel calendar every year.”
“I have always been a bit competitive. That is why I also love participating in photography contests. It gives me a bit of a thrill. Of course it is great to be awarded, it makes you feel proud of what you have achieved and it is nice to know your efforts are appreciated. Participating in photography contests also forces you to overthink your portfolio. It is interesting to see what the jury likes and decides. And it is inspiring to meet other photographers and to see other winners. I can definitely say that participating had a great impact on my work. And yes… I am willing to participate again in this years edition of NPOTY.
Because I like photography contests I always try to get the best photo while I am on location. In many photography contests no alterations are allowed except for small things like saturation, sharpness, hue, contrast, brilliance et cetera. So my motto is to take photos in the field and not behind the computer.
Take photos in the field not behind the computer, Perdita Petzl
Also remember to be patient, it takes time to develop your style. It can’t be achieved over night. And it is good to be brave and try something new, that is what juries are looking for. Many photos look alike so it is important to develop your own style. Experimenting is a good thing, thinking out of the box is necessary for your development. And while you are at it, show your experiments only to the people you trust and do not get out before you feel it is good enough.
One more advice: do what you love, not what other people love. Listen to critics and try to get better, but don’t get scared because of what they say. Try to improve on the minuses but don’t let the critics get you down. And be aware when you put your photos on social media like IG and FB. Some people tend to give unnecessary harsh criticisms. It is best to put these kind of criticisms aside.
At the same time social media are important for photographers. Being on social media helps you to reach lots of people. I for instance acquire a substantial part of my clientele through IG and FB, around 35 percent comes from abroad.”
To finish the interview I asked Perdita the following question: “if you could ask another nature photographer one question, who would that be and which question would you ask?” After giving it some thought Perdita came up with the following: “I would ask Bastien Riu how much planning is involved in his perfectly minimalistic shots.”
Urban shoot of the European hamster, Perdita Petzl