What influence does craftsmanship, acquired during your professional career, have on your second life as a successful nature photographer?
To get an answer to that question, I interviewed the 70 year old Dutch nature photographer Piet Haaksma. Piet was highly recommended at the NPOTY contest 2018 in the category ‘Birds’ an at the NPOTY contest 2019 in the category ‘Plants and Fungi’. Piet successfully ran his own bakery but it left him little room for his great passion for nature photography. Since his retirement, ten years ago, he spends many hours outside with his camera, trying to capture the inspiring calm and quietness of the natural world.
Time to find out what drives this successful and enthusiastic nature photographer, who claims it is very important to stay curious, especially when you are getting older.
Piet Haaksma was born in the north of the Netherlands, in the province called Friesland. His love for photography started when Piet was about 20 years old. Nature photography was always his favorite. To be able to photograph he even traded his moped for a photo camera. His dad ran a bakery and Piet followed his dad in this profession. Due to his busy schedule as a baker, he stopped photographing, but about twenty years ago he picked up his camera again. And this took off after he retired about 10 years ago.
Love-in-a-mist, Piet Haaksma
“My main interest is landscape and macro photography, but I also enjoy architectural photography. This broad interests means also I have to go out with a heavy camera bag. But leaving lenses at home almost certainly leads to regret, because I usually leave the wrong lens behind. So when I do that, I have to be creative with the gear I have. Looking back at my photos, brings back memories to the places I have visited.
I spend a lot of time in Friesland but also like to visit the Veluwe, the well-known forest area in the Netherlands, looking for interesting woodscapes. The old beech trees, which you can find at the Veluwe, were left standing because they were too winding to be used as planks. Unfortunately, these beech forests are starting to thin out as the old trees begin to fall. Photographing woodscapes is complex, you have to look carefully for the right composition, but you can get surprising results.
Recently I have added a drone to my gear. That gives you a completely different view of the world around you.”
West Frisian coast, Piet Haaksma
“For me, Geurt Besselink is a very inspiring photographer and mentor. I’ve been a part of his photography club for a long time. Geurt taught me to look at the world compositionally. Every time we came back from a photo trip and looked at the results of the club members, Geurts’ photos always stood out. His photos always showed a different perspective.
I find being part of a photography club very inspiring. The photo club not only offers a lot of hands on training but also the opportunity to look at others a lot. It is interesting to try and understand how each photographer looks at the subjects in their own way. The same goes for post-processing. Post-processing is not only fun to do, it is also an important step in getting the most out of your photo. If you don’t put in enough effort in post-processing, your photo won’t stand out. Being part of a photo club is also very useful here, you learn the little secrets that each photographer has developed over the years.
Another photographer I would like to mention in the context of inspiration is the French nature photographer Vincent Munier. His work is a good example of extreme photography. He goes all the way and goes through a lot of heavy circumstances to get the pictures he wants. I find this dedication very inspiring.
And during one of my last photo trips I met an 87 year old, but very fit travel companion. That also inspires me enormously.”
Rio Tinto, Piet Haaksma
“Before I shoot somewhere, I like to prepare by researching the place I want to visit. This means that I look closely at photos that have already been taken on the spot. Not to copy them, but to get an impression of the location and the possibilities it offers. Because of this, I already have the pictures I want to take in mind when I go that way. This way I spend less time searching on the spot and I can spend more time shooting both the pictures I had in mind and researching what else there is to photograph. And that is how I get the most out of my photo trip, such as my visit to the Rio Tinto river or my trip to Rügen, Germany. But you also have to be flexible, the circumstances can always be different from what you determined during your research.
Google Earth can be a great help in preparation. But also a site like locationscout.net, which shows pictures with location information. It helped me during my trip to the Harz Mountains in Germany, for example, to find a good point of view to photograph the steam train in the autumn landscape or to locate the most beautiful waterfalls.”
Waterfall in the Harz, Piet Haaksma
“People say they like the calmness and quietness in my pictures. I like to shoot peaceful and minimalistic pictures with respect for nature, photos that keep your attention a bit longer. And I think this tells something about me as well. I am a fairly quiet and modest person and ones character echoes on in ones work as a photographer. Not only in your favorite photographic styles but also in the subjects and the places you go to photograph.
It is difficult to describe what defines the photographer, but it becomes clear. At our photography club most of the pictures don’t need a name assigned to it. By looking at the photos it is obvious who is the photographer. “
Lake IJssel, Piet Haaksma
“I think it’s important that nature photographers show the public the beautiful wonders of nature we still have. And I don’t just mean the well-known areas such as the tropical rainforests or the ice caps, but also the little nature that is left in the Netherlands. It is then up to the viewers to understand that it is worth preserving this natural world as it is important for the survival of our world and thus for the generations to come.
Fortunately, our youth is much more aware of the fact that it is no longer the proverbial five to twelve, but already twelve o’clock. They are doing a great job of pointing out to my generation the threats we have poured out on the natural world. Unfortunately, our awareness in this area leaves much to be desired. It is about time we start listening!”
Halle, Belgium, Piet Haaksma
“Participating in photography contests like Nature Photographer of the Year is an important part in becoming a great photographer. I dare to say I have always been a craftsman during my bakery career, thriving to keep up with the top. Always thinking about who or what I needed to succeed. In those years I used to participate in many bakery competitions. It motivated me to improve my quality, trying to get my assortment at a higher level. This is very common in the baking industry, every baker has to perform at its best and stand out in order to stay in the market. That is why bakers are well organized.
And it is the same with photography. For sure it is possible to stand out and get rewarded but then you have to deliver more than just snapshots. Invest in time to look around at photo competitions and find out how and why the winners win the prizes. Walk around with your eyes wide open. Don’t be sad if you are not one of the winners but try to understand why someone else’s work gets rewarded. All the winning photos are man made so you could have taken every picture hanging there. Just ask yourself why you didn’t. See it as a personal challenge to reach that level. Take a close, good look at the winning pictures, study the compositions, themes and post processing of the rewarded photos. And keep in mind it is nice to be a winner, but the road to that victory is maybe even more rewarding.”
Sunbeams, Piet Haaksma
“I am active on social media like IG, FB and 1x.com but I prefer the latter to showcase my work. Photos published on 1x.com have passed the curators, they are finished, they have a certain quality. Of course IG and FB offer a huge stage and contribute to your brand awareness. FB is slowing down a bit at the moment. However, I also find FB inspiring. I get to know a lot of photographers there and sometimes I also discover interesting photo locations. So for me it is an attractive source, not as much for the likes but as a source of inspiration for my own photo trips. IG may be slightly more serious for photographers than FB. IG also offers a nice search mechanism, making it more easy to find your interests. But remember that you have to ‘earn’ your followers instead of buying them by the thousands. That is just fooling oneself.“
Drenthe, Piet Haaksma
“The Covid lockdown period meant not going abroad for a while. But as I already did most of my photography nearby, it wasn’t such a problem. Social gatherings, such as our photo club, were closed and that was a shame. The visits to the photo club were a source of inspiration for many people. I see now that some people quit with photography due to the fact that they lost that source of inspiration. Luckily we just had our first meeting again. Seeing each other at the club is much better than via zoom meetings. And these social contacts are important, especially when you get older and no longer work. You have to get yourself in the game, no one will do it for you“
At the end of the interview I asked Piet the question: “if you could ask another nature photographer one question, who would that be and which question would you ask?
Piet gave it some thought and answered: “I would ask the French nature photographer Bastien Riu how he creates the atmosphere in his photos that is so characteristic for his work.”
Norway, Piet Haaksma