Willem is an independent filmmaker and photographer, environmentalist, and explorer from Cape Town, South Africa. He has travelled to over 30 different countries, including Antarctica. His adventures included a five-month backpacking trip through the untamed wilderness of North America and undergoing an 8500 km train journey through four countries via the Trans-Siberian Express. Through his expeditions and travels, his concern for the environment grew when he witnessed the destruction from man and human-caused climate change firsthand. Willem now feels his skills and talents are most needed in the documentary field to portray how we can take care of our planet.

Conservation photographer Willem van den Heever

What influence do you think a photographer can have on the environment?

Documentary filmmaker Louie Psihoyo said it best when he said: “A film is a weapon of mass construction”. I’ll add that the same goes for any strong, captivating photograph. In this invisible climate war where we are busy wiping out species at a faster rate than they can regenerate; using any form of media and art to help people not only be aware of what’s happening to our planet but make improvements towards a more sustainable future, is the best weapon one has.

Conservation photographer Willem van den Heever

As an environmentalist, what experience has inspired you to continue creating awareness?

As of recently, I’ve been spending quite some time in the ocean and underwater – sometimes with and without a camera and again not only the destruction caused by man from global warming and ocean acidification to overfishing, but the sheer beauty and wonder of the planet’s most intelligent and most important species have inspired me, even more, to play my part as an environmentalist. In the words of legendary oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau: “When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself”.

Conservation photographer Willem van den Heever
Conservation photographer Willem van den Heever

Where does your passion for photography come from?

As a kid, I remember there was always a camera in the house, mostly around my mother’s neck. I was not exposed to professional photographers in that sense, but I think there was this curiosity in me towards cameras. Once I got my first camera for my 18th birthday, I started discovering photographers, new and old, from around the world and what one can do with photography, especially with analogue photography. From there the passion grew.

Conservation photographer Willem van den Heever

What tips do you have for creating evocative photographs that encourage others to take part in a cause?

Get in there. Get close and get involved in the cause you want others to become part of. Make sure you know the essence of the story you are trying to tell. Make an effort to spend time with your subject and to read up on it as much as possible. Sometimes it’s better to wait before you just pull out the camera and start snapping away. In most cases, the strongest photographs have more to do with the time spent getting to know your subject and figuring out what you want to convey and how you’re going to convey it (rather than the actual time photographing).

Conservation photographer Willem van den Heever

What skill do you think is important in videography to effectively communicate a story?

Once again, make sure you know your subject matter and exactly what the story is that you want to tell. The time you spend on pre-production can make or break a film and be way more valuable in the end than the time spent in post-production. And then the age-old golden rule of sound – an audience will sit through bad visuals with great sound, but won’t tolerate great visuals with poor sound. When setting up your budget, invest in the sound of your film.

What gear do you use to shoot with?

For filming, I usually shoot on the Sony Alpha a7S II mirrorless camera.
For my photography, I shoot mostly analogue nowadays on the following gear:

  • Mamiya 645 Medium Format
  • Nikon FM2 Leica Mini Nikonos IV-A (an underwater film camera)
Conservation photographer Willem van den Heever

If you could give aspiring photographers one piece of valuable advice, what would it be?

Beethoven wrote some of his best masterpieces only after he went deaf. It’s believed this has mostly to do with the fact that he couldn’t compare himself to what other composers were putting out at that time. The best inspiration will always come from within, instead of from someone else’s work. A lot of people have the passion, but struggle to find inspiration or stand out in this visually oversaturated digital age. Personally, I’ve found time spent in quiet meditation brings far more inspiration than any photobook, film or museum. But most importantly, get out there and don’t be scared to take risks and be bold.

Conservation photographer Willem van den Heever

To see more of Willem van den Heever’s work, visit his website, or Facebook and Instagram pages.