Namibians are a varied lot – difficult to pin down, difficult to describe in one fell swoop. And yet there exists the prototype Namibian most of us automatically describe when asked by others who ‘we’ are as a collective people, the persona we like to lean on when the world asks who we are.
Passionate, charismatic, strong, hardy, salt of the earth, yet caring and emphatic, creative with an eye for beauty and a heart set on all that makes our country true: its people, its landscapes and its wildlife.
Most of us do not quite live up to that persona (how many of us truly like to camp in remote areas?), but there are some who really do come close to the prototype Namibian.
One of those people who embodies the heart of ‘a true Namibian soul’ is artist, photographer and compassionate conservationist Anja Denker. Here Anja shares her story as a photographer, her love for Namibia’s outdoors and wildlife.
1. Tell us about your beginnings as a photographer? What sparked your initial interest in photography?
I have always had an inherent passion for wildlife and nature, which I have tried to reflect in my postage stamp artworks and I think that photography was just the next logical step to take. I have tried as much as possible to work from my own photos for reference purposes for my postage stamp designs; for instance when I travelled down to Aus to spend a few days amongst the Wild Horses of Namibia and photographing them for that particular stamp issue.
I have built up a substantial reference library that way. Eventually the passion for photography pretty much took over my life and I made a conscious choice last year to just try and “live that dream”…..
2. What are your favourite photographic subjects and why?
I would put birds and wildlife in the same category; I spent many days, weeks and months in my garden photographing birds and especially try and master birds in flight, which is really tricky.
I have always loved animals and the outdoors (in that order) and can spend days and weeks out in the bush with the camera.
Animal behaviour and interaction is fascinating and to try and capture special moments of that is a challenge and can be tremendously rewarding! From the animal kingdom lions are my absolute favourites! They are such charismatic, inquisitive, majestic and proud animals, with the most soulful and expressive eyes.
I often feel a kinship with these animals – self projected I know – but I am always lucky with lion sightings and interactions and am a staunch supporter of the desert lion conservation project.
3. Tell us about your most unforgettable photographic moment or moments?
I think that the most thrilling birding moment happened right in our garden, when a pearl-spotted owlet – which had been frequenting our garden for a while – had managed to capture a rosy-faced lovebird! This small raptor is not much bigger that the lovebird and it had pinned the hapless lovebird to the ground, flew with it onto our bird bath where it perched for a while and then took off with it to our jacaranda tree.
There it swiftly decapitated the love-bird and I managed to get this on camera! It was a once-in a lifetime moment and stirred up several conflicting emotions in me and I have written a blog/photo essay about it and it was featured on Africa Geographic magazine. READ ABOUT THAT HERE
Another unforgettable experience happened in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park last year May, where we had about 15 solitary minutes with a female leopard who approached a waterhole and proceeded to drink at a leisurely pace, then headed in our direction, crossed the road in front of us and sauntered up into the dunes on the left…..I still get goosebumps when I think of it!
4. What keeps you going as a photographer? What motivates you?
The beauty of nature and animal behaviour is my main motivation. Nothing is ever the same, something can happen within a split second. This is a challenge for a photographer you have to be ready to with the camera always, to capture that special moment!
The harsh light, especially the light conditions in Etosha are a great challenge and if you can get a reasonably good photograph in those conditions for instance is very rewarding. You are also on a continuous learning curve with photography and always have to challenge yourself and try and better yourself, set yourself new standards, all this keeps me motivated.
5. What are your tips to others of how to make sure you get the shots you want? How do you approach your photography as a lifestyle?
I am a very impatient person and tend to get bored easily; however I found that with photography this is not the case at all! I can sit for hours in the sweltering sun or freezing cold at Avis dam as an example, and wait for a particular bird or observe a particular bird and try and get the particular shot I want.
And that goes for basically any situation, whether it is at a waterhole or any location. So patience for me is the No.1 criteria that any photographer has to have! I have also become much more observant and tend to see everything in terms of light as light is a crucial, probably the most important element in photography !
6. Every destination has its challenges and rewards, how does Namibia compare to other places you’ve photographed?
Namibia is a photographers dream in my mind – the fabulous sunsets, sunrises, great light, wide open spaces and absolute contrasts and abundance of wildlife the country has to offer are hard to beat!!
7. Which three photos shot in Namibia are you most proud of and why?
The owl and lovebird interaction are a firm favourite as they happened right on my front door and I managed to get fairly good photos, despite a few challenges like a garden fence through which I had to photograph some of the action and that was extreme difficult!
Another bizarre sighting I had happened also last year on a stretch of beach in Walvis Bay; an African Scops Owl must have been blown off-course and flew past me, only to land a few metres away in the sand! I was able to approach the little owl slowly and take some ground level shots of this raptor in such an unusual habitat.
Another photo I really love is one of giraffes taken recently in Etosha; I do not have the best equipment and the light conditions were not favourable at all, but the light was glorious and the photos came out not too bad 🙂 something I had not managed previously in bad light.
8. When going on a Namibian photographic expedition, what is your equipment of choice? And what do you never leave home without?
I basically have one camera rucksack, which is always packed! I have one camera only (Nikon D 7000) and my favourite lens, a 70-300 5.6 VR Nikkor lens. This lens is very versatile and I do not have to work with a tripod, but essentially is totally inadequate for wildlife photography for which you need a larger lens really.
I have a Fish-eye lens, great for experimenting and landscapes and a wide angle lens, these are always in that bag. Memory cards and an extra fully charged battery is essential, as is a good cleaning kit and I never leave without those. However, I have managed to get some good and memorable shots with that equipment only it does show that you don’t always have to have the biggest and the best – a bit of luck and a good eye also help!
9. A photographer friend is desperate to capture the best of Namibia. What top 3 tips would you give them?
Always be prepared for the unexpected, have endless hours of patience and perserverance and travel the country far and wide and you will not be disappointed! Frame your subject correctly and always think of interesting and novel ways to portrait your subject – think out of the box! Try and reflect your passion in your photography and try and use the “golden light” in the morning and afternoon whenever possible.