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About the Art: Misja Smits

Our European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is running until 15 January. Here, we chat to Misja Smits about her work and her stunning photograph ‘looking for shelter’.

  • About the Art: Misja Smits, Looking for shelter, Misja Smits
    Looking for shelter, Misja Smits

Tell us the story behind ‘looking for shelter’.

Looking for toadstools is not always easy. Sometimes I look for days and find nothing worth shooting. However, in the autumn of 2014 on the Wadden Island Ameland this scene asked for my attention. Without even looking through my macro lens I recognised these photogenic toadstools. I like to play with sharpness versus softness and this setting was just ideal.

How did you go about getting that shot?

The setting was already there, all I had to do was to keep the toadstools that were situated in bright sunlight, in the shadow. To do this I used a white umbrella.

I did a little bit of 'gardening' with the soft moss in the foreground. A little pressing of the vegetation here and there makes a great difference when shooting with the macro lens flat on the ground.

The toadstools that I put into the shade turned a little bit blue. The background however which was lit up by the sun turned into a warm light yellow colour. It was obvious for me to focus on the little toadstools and let the big toadstools in the front be a soft sort of 'filling'.

  • About the Art: Misja Smits, 'Me working on Ameland with the toadstools. This is a similar situation to the awarded picture of the photo contest. Often I use my umbrella to keep away the sunlight from my main subject. Then the tripod is there to prevent my umbrella from walking away', Misja Smits
    'Me working on Ameland with the toadstools. This is a similar situation to the awarded picture of the photo contest. Often I use my umbrella to keep away the sunlight from my main subject. Then the tripod is there to prevent my umbrella from walking away', Misja Smits

Did you use any particular equipment?

Like almost always when shooting macros, I used my viewfinder because of the low shooting point. Since I have no tiltable screen on my full frame Nikon D610, I am forced to do so. Also, I used a white umbrella to keep my toadstools out of the sun.

  • About the Art: Misja Smits, My equipment: Nikon D610, Tamron macro lens 90mm 2,8, Nikon 24-85mm, Tamron 70-300mm, viewfinder, umbrella, flashlight, knee pad, tripod., Misja Smits
    My equipment: Nikon D610, Tamron macro lens 90mm 2,8, Nikon 24-85mm, Tamron 70-300mm, viewfinder, umbrella, flashlight, knee pad, tripod., Misja Smits

What are the difficulties of wildlife photography you face?

One thing is on the creative level. I have to keep myself innovating. This is not always easy since I am very critical about myself. When I notice myself repeating a way of shooting, it is not good enough anymore. This can be quite frustrating, especially when I have no new ideas left at that time.

The other thing is a more practical difficulty. It is hard to find natural areas that are not yet discovered by other photographers. I prefer shooting alone or with my boyfriend Edwin Giesbers. When there are lots of people around, I am unable to concentrate.

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

I hope they will be surprised and inspired.

  • About the Art: Misja Smits, 'A Silver Studded-blue with the last sunlight of the day in the background. In front of the lens there is some vegetation which causes the extra bokeh effect.', Misja Smits
    'A Silver Studded-blue with the last sunlight of the day in the background. In front of the lens there is some vegetation which causes the extra bokeh effect.', Misja Smits

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started in your career?

Photography has always been a part of my life. I started with black and white photography in my early twenties when I developed and printed everything myself.

In 1992 I started at the Art school in Den Haag. In 2002, I started to focus entirely on nature photography and I gradually shot more and more macro photography.

My favourite subjects to photograph are toadstools, flowers and insects. Independently of the subject, I prefer to play with lots of soft bokeh and only a little bit of sharpness in the pictures. It is a challenge for me to 'paint' with light and forms.

  • About the Art: Misja Smits, 'Me sitting in a flower meadow in Italy last summer. Often I forget to take off my backpack when I am so focused to act soon in case of an insect posing for me.', Misja Smits
    'Me sitting in a flower meadow in Italy last summer. Often I forget to take off my backpack when I am so focused to act soon in case of an insect posing for me.', Misja Smits

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife in their local environment?

Learn where your heart goes to and try to develop yourself in this one subject. Go back and back to the same subject.

Also, look for pictures from other photographers whenever and wherever you can to get inspired. Enjoy the work of others, but don't envy it.

What have you been up to since the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 competition? What projects are you working on now?

Last winter I worked on my printed portfolio. In my opinion, this is so important. Nowadays, we are used to seeing our digital files on a screen and we forget what the files look like when printed. These prints are important for me to stay in touch with my photos. Also, in case of a digital 'disaster', I still have my prints to look back at.

Now it's winter again, I am sorting out and processing my work shot in the past spring and summer. I have no big projects going on but I am just enjoying the subjects that appear in front of my lens...

See Misja’s work in the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition until 15 January.

Send us your own wildlife pictures using the hashtag #horniman.