Hannes Lochner is one of the world’s only true wildlife photographers in that it’s his main source of income, and since he’s on the verge of launching his new coffee table book Planet Okavango, we decided to chat with him and find out more about “living” in the African bushveld. You’ll find that the pages of his four previous books, namely the Colours of Southern Africa, Colours of the Kalahari, The Dark Side of the Kalahari and Kalahari Phototips are filled with incredible photographs and stories… before you know it, you’ll find yourself daydreaming of or even planning your next wildlife photography tour.
“The Kalahari was my home for six years and is a very big part of my life.”
On a two-year project in the Kalahari (for a 220-page book) Hannes focused on photographing and telling the story of a leopard called Luna. The thing that made this project so difficult was that she only made her appearance about once a week, so with a low average of four sightings a month, he always had that lingering feeling that he wouldn’t be able to get enough useable shots to fill the book.
Luna was a very shy leopard but tolerated him to a certain degree. If Hannes got too close, he would notice a change in her behaviour and keep his distance. “That’s the great thing about long lenses – you don’t have to get too close; so you can get the shot while still respecting the animal’s boundaries.”
To further ensure that he got amazing shots, he’d camouflage cameras at the watering hole and, using a PocketWizard, trigger the shutter release from a distance of about 50m. “I’m in control of the camera the whole time: I pre-focus, control all of the settings manually and wait for the animal to be in the frame before triggering the camera.”
For Hannes, the highlight of the Kalahari project was spending time at the leopards’ den. It was when Luna had her cubs that he had the opportunity to photograph her two fur balls for almost a month on end. What made this experience even more special was knowing that it was only him and the leopards out there. The little ones got used to him and later started playing around the vehicle. The father even joined in and visited the family a few times. Having all four leopards there and getting the shot was quite the treat and a rare sighting.
The Okavango Delta
His latest book, Planet Okavango, was a tough one – they got stuck in thick mud and the vehicle broke down more than a few times. But it was truly worth it as you’ll see when you start paging through the book.
In the book, Hannes has an incredible shot of an impala in the mouth of a hippo that won him the Nature’s Best Photography Africa – Mammals of Africa award. He said that it was photographed on the very first day out in the Okavango Delta: As wild dogs chased impala, they ran into the water. Hippos killed the first impala but the second survived. A crocodile killed the third impala, a fourth also survived and then wild dogs caught the fifth impala. What a sight it was to see on their first day out!
The woman by his side
Noa does all of the film. Having a photographer and videographer in one vehicle can be an extremely challenging feat as with photography you can move about in the car, but with film you can’t move, otherwise the camera will move. So, they really had to work hart at getting footage for both their art forms. Hannes also says that after spending eight years together in the vehicle, he couldn’t have asked for better support. “She’s amazing – show me one woman who will sleep in a tent for eight years…”
Hannes’s gear list
What goes into Hannes’ post-production?
Post-processing is quite a touchy subject when it comes to photography, especially wildlife. So it’s just obvious that I’d ask him about his thoughts on the topic. “I don’t enjoy editing, but I do have to clean my sensor due to dust out in the bush.” That’s why Hannes has come to enjoy competitions as they give you rather strict post-production guidelines and if you don’t follow them, you don’t win the award. So generally, Hannes will use the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year guidelines in his own day-to-day editing: adjust contrast, sharpen the image and add a bit of colour if needed.
What he enjoys about working in nature
He enjoys staying in places for a long time as it’s only then that you really get to know the environment, its movements and its wildlife. The best thing about working in the bushveld is that it gives you the chance to get to know the animals and their different personalities. “It takes time, but it’s worth it.”
1 Camera – 1 Lens – 1 Location – 1 Month
This was a particularly difficult question for Hannes to answer… There was a very long, silent pause followed by him asking: “Just one lens?” After some time, he answered: 400mm f/2.8 lens with the Nikon D810 camera and location, anywhere in the Kalahari – “dis my plek daai”.
Chatting with Hannes was a truly humbling experience. He works extremely hard to do what he enjoys most and it’s remarkable hearing all the stories he has to tell. His heart lies right here on the African continent and as for the future, he wishes to explore all the splendours this land has to offer.
“The safest place in Africa is out in the bush… surrounded by wild animals.”