Marsel van Oosten is a professional nature photographer from the Netherlands. Along with his partner videographer Daniëlla Sibbing, they organize specialized wildlife and landscape photography tours and workshops around the world. Van Oolsen has extensive experience working and travelling throughout Africa. He explains some of the creative process for some of his most famous photographs. Be sure to check out his website Squiver Photo Tours & Workshops if you are interested in taking part of his travels.
This was shot on a dusty afternoon in Kenya. I like dust as much as I like fog as it can really add a lot of atmosphere to your images.
In this case I positioned our vehicle such that this small herd of wildebeest was between us and the sun. Shooting towards the sun brings out all the subtle texture in the mist and turns everything into soft silhouettes.
This was shot at sunrise at a waterhole, next to our camp in South Africa.
As often around this time of day, there was no wind and the water was like a mirror. There was only one hippo in the water, and was keeping an eye on me constantly. The golden sunrise colors reflected nicely off the surface of the water.
It’s hard enough to make original pictures, but with some subjects it simply borders the impossible.
When I was at Victoria Falls last year, I thought about the billions of photographs that must have been taken there, and I almost decided to just visit the place without my camera. That was until I spoke with some of the local people, who told me that they had seen a bull elephant crossing the Zambezi river the day before. During my research I had not seen any images of the falls with an elephant in it, so I decided to stay a few extra days and try my luck.
The course of the Zambezi is dotted with numerous tree-covered islands, which increase in number as the river approaches the falls. As the dry season takes effect, the islets on the crest become wider and more numerous, and with the water level of the Zambezi dropping, once submerged walkways and fresh foraging possibilities present themselves. This elephant was apparently aware of this.
On the third day I left very early with a small boat to reach my location. On my way to the edge I suddenly saw the lone bull wading through shallow parts of the river, but it was far away and light levels were low, so I decided to continue to the falls. I took some sunrise shots and half an hour later I saw the elephant approaching the falls. I quickly collected my gear and moved carefully towards the edge where the water plummeted into a 360ft chasm – not particularly nice when you’re afraid of heights… I set everything up in order to include as much as possible of the falls and made a composition. Luckily the elephant was aware of my preference to shoot into the light, so his position couldn’t be better.
After I took the shots, I knew I had just witnessed and captured something very special. Later that day local people confirmed this by telling me that they had never seen an elephant so close to the edge of the falls before – exactly what I wanted to hear!
This image was featured as a double page spread in National Geographic.
In 2010 and 2011 I spent several months in the Sahara of northern Africa. Why the Sahara? A few reasons: 1) I wanted to search for landscapes that I hadn’t already seen a kazillion times before, 2) I like the clean shapes and graphic lines you often find in the desert and I think it fits my photography style, and 3) I was looking for new workshop destinations that hadn’t already been done to death.
This shot features one of the many monoliths in the Western Desert. I had spotted it after climbing a high plateau and decided to set up camp close by. The shot was taken just before sunrise. Nice thing about many of the monoliths here is that they’re made of very light, cream colored rock that changes color dramatically around sunrise and sunset. Erosion goes fast here, so the landscape will look completely different in just a couple of decades.
As a wildlife photographer we only have very limited influence on our subjects and the circumstances, and for me that is what makes it so addictive – you never know what you’re going to get, and you keep wanting to go back for more and better.
For most of the subjects that I shoot, I have the perfect image already inside my head, I just have to try to get it on camera. Knowing your subject and being at the right spot at the right time is part of the work, but unfortunately with wildlife you also have to be incredibly lucky.
And lucky I was when I was flying in a microlight over the giant red sand dunes of Sossusvlei during the Namibia Untamed tour. We were heading back to the lodge when I suddenly saw this small herd of oryx running right in front of us on a giant sand dune. I always have two bodies with a 24-70 and 70-200 when I’m in a microlight, because you simply cannot change lenses in an open airplane. I quickly grabbed the D3 with the 70-200 and shot a short burst before we had passed them. It was over in seconds. When I looked at the images back in our camp, I couldn’t believe my eyes – the near perfect choreography. I could have never previsualized an image like this, simply because it would seem absurd to think it would be possible.
This shot was published as a double page spread in National Geographic earlier this year.
It was taken in a small ghost town in southern Namibia, a few kilometres inland from the Namibian coast. Once a small mining village, developed after the discovery of diamonds in the area in 1908, to provide shelter for workers from the harsh environment of the Namib Desert. The village was built like a German town, with facilities like a hospital, ballroom, power station, school, skittle-alley, theater and sport-hall, casino, ice factory and the first x-ray-station in Africa.
The town declined after World War I as diamond prices crashed, and operations moved to another place. It was abandoned in 1956. The geological forces of the desert have been claiming back her territory ever since, and have turned the town into one of the most surreal places on earth.
This shot was taken inside one of the family houses. Most people think that this is a composite image made in Photoshop, but it’s not – it’s exactly like this. I think the confusion is caused by the surreal qualities of the image, as it is almost like a Salvador Dali painting.
Even though I have visited Namibia countless times, it still amazes me that it is still possible to create unique and powerful compositions, even at a popular and often photographed place as Deadvlei. The trees you see here are dead camelthorn trees that are hundreds of years old. The extremely arid climate prevents them from rotting and their skeletons turn the location in a very surreal and at times eery place. For this particular shot I used the shadow of the dune in the background as a natural ND grad for the bright foreground. I waited until the shadow line reached the base of the dunes and exposed for the bright red sand, turning the trees into powerful silhouettes.
When I spotted this location a day earlier, it was frontlit and the background was horribly distracting. I decided to return the next day at a time that the background would be in the shade and spend some time with a local raft of hippos. After an hour or so, they had become used to my presence and that’s when these two youngsters started chasing each other, which was a lot of fun to watch.
Shot in Lower Zambezi NP, Zambia.
This was shot one early morning in Madagascar. The trees you see here are baobab trees, and they look like they are standing upside down – roots up. I usually try to avoid this kind of wide angle distortion, but in this case I deliberately chose to use it as it emphasises the height of the trees. The oxcart was essential for showing the scale, so I waited until one appeared in my frame. This photograph was published as a double page spread in National Geographic.
This was shot just after sunrise in the Menabe region of western Madagascar.
These baobab trees are of the species Adansonia grandidieri and are endemic to Madagascar. Baobab trees – about 30 meters in height and up to 800 years old – are known locally as renala (Malagasy for “mother of the forest”), are a legacy of the dense tropical forests that once thrived on Madagascar.
The trees did not originally tower in isolation over the landscape of scrub but stood in dense forest. Over the years, as the country’s population grew, the forests were cleared for agriculture, leaving only the baobab trees, which the locals preserved as much in respect as for their value as a food source and building material.