Issue 27
Through the Lens
South African wildlife photographer extraordinaire shares his love for his craft
By Jo Kromberg  ·  2016-08-01  ·   Source:


Photos by Isak Pretorius


Isak Pretorius is no ordinary photographer. One of only a handful of South Africans to have won the prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award in 2013, Isak’s life mission is to showcase nature in all her glory.


His bird and wildlife images have won multiple awards and have been celebrated nationally and internationally in many publications. His preferred genre of fine art bird photography is easily recognizable by their authentic style, simplistic design and technical skill.


Isak’s passion for nature is fuelled by the reminiscence of a classic Africa and his aim is to create conservation awareness for his continent’s natural wonders.


We chatted to him in Johannesburg, South Africa.


His story begins in 1978 in Pretoria, where he was born and lived with his parents on a small holding during his school years. "As is typical in South Africa, my family loved visiting the National Parks during school holidays, so I developed a love for nature in that way. Although I studied Industrial Engineering at the University of Pretoria and then worked as a Business Systems Analyst for many years, it wasn't until I got my first pay check and bought my first camera that I got my start in photography."


"For me what I do is for the love of nature, and not photography necessarily. I find that photography is such a great tool to experience nature in detail and to express your creativity."


"I find inspiration in the beauty of the places I go to and the subjects I find," he says.


"My aim is to take photos of the subjects, naturally wild and free, in their environment that showcases their beauty, unique features and characteristics to show a variety of angles and detail of the subjects, all done through a simple but unique compositions and my own artistic style. I try not just to document nature, but to create art. As a perfectionist by nature, I aim to get the photos right in camera, and then tweak the color and contrast in post processing to depict the scene as closely to the way I saw it through my lens as possible, without jeopardizing the authenticity of the scene."


"Conservation is part of my every day job. I believe that if I can show people the beauty of my continent's wildlife and wilderness, and get enough people to care, it would be our best chance of saving the natural world that we love," says Pretorius.


Helping others be creative


Bird photography was the first genre he became passionate about. "I love birds, you find them everywhere, they always do something interesting, beautiful and even the dullest bird can look spectacular when the photographer positions himself at the right angle and with the right light. I considered myself a serious hobbyist photographer until 2007 when I started leading photographic safaris to the iconic destinations in Africa. Today I'm a full-time professional wildlife photographer and specialist wildlife photographic guide."


So how did he make the transition from his first career to photography? "I probably always knew that this is what I really wanted to do. The difficulty was finding a way to do it. So, I went the route of studying and working in a different field first. When digital photography overtook film, it created an exciting era in wildlife photography and that was my way in. I trained myself as a specialist wildlife photographic guide and started a business where I would take people to my favorite wildlife safari destinations in Africa and teach them to create art through photography."


He says the most satisfying aspect of his job is helping guests on his safaris to take great photographs, especially if they never had those skills before or believed that they could do it. But he says it is one of the most competitive careers in the world.


"I’m lucky that I have the skills, patience and personality to transfer knowledge across to my guests in a very effective and serene way. My talent is that I can get anyone to take their own amazing photos, and that is what helped me become successful."


So what does he consider the most enjoyable aspect of the work? "To me just being able to appreciate great sightings is the highlight of what I do. But, in 2013 I won the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year for Bird Behavior. That is the most prestigious wildlife photographic award in the world," he says with a shy smile.

Not enough time His equipment is of course highly technical and heavy to travel with."




"As much as I can. I’m always trying out new "combos" or setups. At the moment I use a Canon 1Dx Mark II, Canon 5DS R, Canon 600mmf/4 lens, Canon 400mmf/2.8 lens, Canon 70-200mmf/2.8 II lens, and a Canon 16-35mmf/2.8 lens on most of my safaris. Depending on where I’m going I might also take a tripod."


"We always try to push ourselves creatively and I don’t think you’ll ever reach a level where you know it all. Technically I’ve mastered everything but I’ll always keep trying to make ordinary things look extraordinary."


He says his biggest frustration about being a wildlife photographer is time.


"There is so much to see and so little time. Travelling in Africa is also very expensive, which is a challenge."


Pretorius also dispels the myth of the "perfect shot


"Because, imagine if you get it?! Then you can hang up your cameras! Every photographer has his/her own idea of perfection and so we all strive to achieve it in different ways. My aim is to make a bird or animal look spectacular, to showcase their beauty, and I’m always trying new and different ways to improve on what I’ve already done before."


One of the more interesting facets of his role on safaris is juggling different interests and characters in his groups. "It’s interesting that the make-up of all my safaris is very diverse. I might have a taxi driver from New York and a heart surgeon from Johannesburg in the same group and everyone gets along very well. I think it’s because everyone has a similar interest and they book my safaris for that exact same reason. I’ve never had anyone complain when we have to sit and wait at a sighting in anticipation of something happening, for example. I cater to all levels of photographers and always find a way to help each person improve their photography. My safaris are very relaxed and casual with an emphasis on getting great photographs, and that’s why people book."


In another five years' time Pretorius sees himself still somewhere in the bush photographing exciting wildlife. "One of my goals is to improve the impact that my photography has on conservation. I don’t know the details yet but I’d love to see a measurable improvement in conservation as a result of what I do."


Contact details:


Email: Cell phone: +27 (0) 82 340 8625




Office phone: +27 (0) 11 463 2090


Postal: PO Box 3738, Cramerview, 2060, Johannesburg






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