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creative and inspiring photography from around the globe

Craig Hayman: The Splendor and Spectacle of the Wild

Craig Hayman is an architect and photographer based in Sydney, Australia. A South Africa native, Craig has a very diverse background. He spent years in the bush as a safari guide and a conservationist, experiences which he calls the most satisfying in his life. In addition, he also worked as a guide trainer for the Smithsonian Institute. Last year, “Wildlife in Pictures,” Craig’s 320-page book of his stunning and awe-inspiring photography of wildlife and landscape images shot in Gabon, Africa, and India was published. Aside from photography, Craig is also passionate about architecture. He currently works as an architect in Sydney in sustainable design. This week Craig talks to atlas about how his experiences as a safari guide and conservationist influenced him as a person and a photographer and shares his unique perspective on what we can do more to protect the wild for future generations. (Editor’s Note: We are showcasing again one of our favorite features on wildlife photography. Enjoy this gorgeous series from Craig Hayman!)

When did you know you wanted to become a photographer?

Craig Hayman: While I am primarily an architect, I took a serious interest in photography only in my early twenties on a journey through Tanzania. From a young age, I had been exposed to art, photography, and an appreciation of nature by my parents. I started drawing and writing long before I picked up a camera.

How long have you been photographing wildlife? What else do you photograph?

I began photographing wildlife more seriously when I moved to the bush at age 24 to work as a safari guide. Until then I had an interest, but I had never had the time to develop it fully although many years of observing animal behavior proved to be invaluable when I did pick up a camera in earnest.

Now that I live in Australia, I have been focusing on landscapes, architecture, and some portraiture. I live close enough to the ocean to hear the surf at night when the wind blows the right way, which makes me happy. Sydney is a very photogenic city. I have also taken on several architectural photography projects, including some commercial and some for my own interest.

Can you describe a little bit about these magnificent wildlife images you took?

The opening image: Subtly backlit and set against a gilded Serengeti horizon, a pair of giraffes arrange themselves in a harmonious composition. I did not think much of this shot at the time, being too consumed in enjoying the moment, but it has become one of my favorites for its simplicity and softness.

For the image above, I spent two voyeuristic days with this pair of mating lions through rain and shine. When a lioness enters peak fertility, she will push a male to mate multiple time per hour, every hour, for several days. They will typically go without eating, pausing only to drink and nap. This image was taken moments after the pair had finished mating for the umpteenth time, and the male is warning the female to give him space. When the male eventually fatigues, the lioness may mate with another male within this male’s coalition.

You published a photo book of your work entitled “Wildlife in Pictures.” The images in are stunning and powerful. What inspired you to put this book together?

The opportunity to publish a book came quite by accident. I never sought out a publishing deal, but I am very glad that “Wildlife in Pictures: has been so successful. The book has provided a great platform through which to connect with people.  Once I began work on “Wildlife in Pictures,” I wanted the narrative of the book to be as authentic as possible, including the gritty, the unglamorous, and the uncensored. The publishing house was a little more conservative and guided the book’s image selection towards mass appeal, which I can understand. I am looking for a little more leeway in my follow-up project

You had the unique opportunity to work as a conservationist and a safari guide. What was your experience like?

Without doubt, living and working in wilderness areas as a safari guide has been the most satisfying experience of my life. Living so close to nature, knowing a wild place so intimately, learning from people who have been ancestrally connected to the land for centuries shifted my world view dramatically.

To achieve this above shot, I lay on my belly on a salt pan using a 500m lens. The gemsbok (also known as Oryx) were alert and tightly clustered. They were watching me carefully, unaccustomed to seeing humans on foot. In the background, in soft focus, a cluster of baobab trees is visible. This specific copse of baobabs is known as Baines’ Baobabs. The trees are many centuries old and are visually unchanged since they made famous by European explorer and painter Thomas Baines in 1862.

How has your experience influenced you as a person and as a photographer?

As a person: As a safari guide, you learn to become an expert in human behavior as well as animal behavior.  I had a number of important role models who influenced my ideas on the kind of man I want to become. Nature teaches you to understand complexity and to look for inter-connectivity. I think that I am more patient, more observant, and more appreciative than I would have been without those years in the bush. I am also less impressed by bravado.

As a photographer: Without my time as a safari guide, I do not think I would have taken photography seriously at all. Time is vital in wildlife photography, and living in wilderness areas for three years provided time to grow, to make mistakes, and to develop my own style.

To capture this leopard, I recall frantically scrambling for my camera the moment I spotted this leopard, terrified that she would slink off before I had the opportunity to photograph her. This image was taken before I began guiding professionally, and leopard sightings like this had been few and far between. I only had a few minutes with her before she moved off to chase a squirrel. Timing is everything in the bush.  In my mind, I have a wish list of photographs I would love to take. The list grows and changes, but a moment like this had been near the top of the list.

Do you think we are doing enough to protect the wild? If not, what more can we do?

There is a tremendous amount of good work being done to preserve wild places and wild species and there is much to be celebrated. There are also many reasons to feel concerned for the future. The greatest challenge will be in addressing the underlying pressures that threaten wilderness. These are interconnected issues that center around population growth, climate change, habitat loss, corruption, and an economy married to fossil fuels and non-renewable resources.

Are there any photographers whose work inspire you?

I am a big fan of the work of Peter Beard. His images are raw, fearless, imperfect, and transcend the space between art and photography, which is a difficult thing to do in nature photography. I also have man crushes on Nick Nichols, Sebastião Salgado, and Steve McCurry. Outside of photography, I am also strongly influenced by the composition of J.H.Pierneef, a South African landscape artist. One of his prints hangs over my desk.

I love this image above for its ability to tell a story in a single image. In an unusual standoff, a female waterbuck shields her offspring from African wild dogs. After an exhausting hunt, predator and prey are at a stalemate: the waterbuck reluctant to enter the water where other dangers wait, and the dogs unable to chase the waterbuck any further. In the end, the two waterbuck swam over 100m to safety and the dogs moved on. In situations like this, onlookers often want to see a successful kill, but I was very happy to see the young waterbuck live another day.

Aside from a photographer, you also work as an architect in sustainable design in Sydney. How has one influenced the other? 

Architecture and photography are at opposite ends of the creative spectrum. Designing as an architect is a slow, laborious discipline. You have a client, a budget, a timeline, and so many rules. It can be challenging to find the creativity. Photography is quite the opposite. There are few constraints and the challenge is to introduce structure, restraint, and narrative.

An education as an architect is a great foundation for photography. Composition, light, structure, color and pattern are key elements in both architecture and photography. Learning to ‘see,’ and to be objectively self-critical are probably the most valuable skills both an architect and a photographer must develop.

Are you working on any new projects?

Short term – In June I will be in Botswana for three weeks assisting with a rhino conservation project. It is for an important cause with some inspiring people and I am excited to be a part of it.

Longer term – I am planning an exhibition in Sydney for 2016. I am also in conversation with my publishing house about a second book projectThe subject would likely not be wildlife photographyI’m interested in storytelling, in landscape, and in the stories of indigenous people and their relationship with the land.

If you had one piece of advice for aspiring photographers, what would it be?

My advice would be to focus on enjoying the process of making images. I enjoy photography most when I am up early to ensure I am in the right place when the light is perfect or out in a beautiful location trying to perfect a shot of the stars. I enjoy making images of subjects that challenge me. I relish the storytelling aspect of photography. Find the thing you love doing, bring a camera, and tell a story with it.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Craig!

For more information about Craig Hayman, visit his website.  All images © Craig Hayman.

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