Hi Bart! In the beginning, what inspired you to become a photographer? It has been a long journey. I was a keen bird watcher in my youth and spent most of my time outside in the woods – not to take photos but to observe birds and insects. I watched nature and its inhabitants so intensively that at some point I wanted to take photos of them. That’s why I initially bought a camera: I wanted to capture what I was seeing through photographs. I was around 21 at that time. A few years later, in 2004 or 2005, my interest and passion in photography kept growing. I noticed that I wanted to do more than casually take photographs, so I started to pay attention to photographic details such as composition and light. That was when I actually started photography as an artist.
Southern emerald damselfly - Ename, Belgium © Bart Heirweg | www.bartheirweg.com
It is clear you have a passion for landscape photography. Have you ever thought about trying other photography themes? Nature photography has always fascinated me, it is my true passion and I have been doing it for so many years now. For some reason I find inner peace in nature, it’s a place to relax. I am an outdoor person and cannot function very well without nature, so I stick to landscape photography because it allows me to be outside. I don’t like doing portraits, weddings or other genres. Well, I once was a wedding photographer for a good friend, but it isn’t my natural habitat. I feel most comfortable when I am outdoors, walking around, watching the landscape and wildlife and taking photos.
How would you describe your style? My style is quite romantic because I try to show the beautiful things in life. The composition of silent nature, weather conditions and lighting can be breathtaking. If you ask an artist to recreate the beauty of nature, no one would be able to do it. It is almost impossible because of its uniqueness. I cannot think of anything else with that degree of beauty. I try to show the beauty through my artwork – that is why you can always find a trace of romance in my photography.
Metal teeth - Wissant, France © Bart Heirweg | www.bartheirweg.com
What is your inspiration? I’m inspired when I see a large landscape and its weather conditions. That is the starting point. I love how natural light can transform a landscape, how it breaks out of the sky and how it hits the land. It is amazing how Mother Nature can create such wonderful moments. Consequently, you could say that flora and fauna are my biggest source of inspiration. I just go outside with my equipment, walk around for a while until I suddenly feel an attraction.
Beach of Audresselles - Audresselles, France © Bart Heirweg | www.bartheirweg.com
How important is digital retouching for you? I try to limit post production as much as possible. My philosophy is that the picture has to be correct in the first place, so I try to get the best image outside in the fields. I look for the best composition and then I start to shoot. However, you have to use post production to add contrast, enhance the colors and correct the brightness. I only make the necessary changes when I edit my images, so I would not remove objects or create a new sky with Photoshop. The great British photographer Joe Cornish once that said that you should retouch as much as necessary and as little as possible. That is my approach.
Have you ever retouched a photo too much and regretted it afterwards? It can happen if you saturate the photo a little bit too much. You look at the image and the green or blue shades are too intensive. However, I try to avoid that because that is not my photography style, and I hope my followers do not feel that I overuse digital retouch. To sum it up, photography is an artistic thing and that includes small embellishments such as editing and retouching, but I attempt to stay within the boundaries I set for myself.
Buachaille Etive Mor - Glencoe, Scotland © Bart Heirweg | www.bartheirweg.com
In your opinion, what is crucial to succeed in the photography industry? There are several reasons why you succeed as a photographer, you have to have the whole package. When we speak about nature photography, there is a common issue – a lot of people do nature photography, but most of them aren’t actually nature people. My photography grew out of my deep passion for nature. I have been watching nature for many, many years. However, there are some people who say from one day to another: ‘I am a nature photographer.’ But they don’t have the knowledge about it or the passion for it. They do not know where to find certain animals, how the light works, how the landscape lives and how the weather works. They do not have the same passion as someone who has been doing it for the majority of his or her life. Passion and knowledge are very important things to have in my opinion. Another point is that, despite being a good photographer, you have to know about social media and get your name out there. You have to be able to talk to and inspire people and communities. Moreover, you have to go for it and truly commit to it. Photography can mean very long working hours and it is not the best paid job. You need to have devotion and passion. I put in 200 percent and not everybody does that.
Do you believe photography is a learnable craft or is natural talent a requirement? It is a combination of both. When I compare photographs from a few years ago with my current work, I can see that I improved a lot. However, you need to have natural talent to truly make great artwork. My grandfather was a painter and a great artist, he used wood and stone for his unique creations. I do not have this kind of talent, I cannot even draw a man on paper. But I have another talent – for some reason, the feeling for good compositions is inside of me. I developed it by looking at other photographs, by reading, studying and trying new things. So yes, I definitely think that you can learn a lot, but you also need to have some talent. I would say that it is 50 percent natural talent and 50 percent learning skills.
Godafoss - Godafoss, Iceland © Bart Heirweg | www.bartheirweg.com
Do you have a role model? Yes, there are a lot of photographers whom I consider very good. I have a fondness for the English landscape photographers Joe Cornish, Bruce Percy and Charlie Waite. They have been a source of inspiration for sure. There is also a French wildlife photographer, Vincent Munier, who is one of the best photographers at the moment. I get inspirations from photographers with well-balanced compositions, who can put a second layer in the photos. I learn every day from these incredible photographers.
What is your favorite photograph from your portfolio? In my own portfolio I have a few favorite photos, I cannot choose just one. The best images are the ones which are less obvious, where I feel I created a new composition, that there is something that I have not done before. When you shoot photographs like that, you feel that you climb up the ladder. Those are the most rewarding images for me. When we talk about photographs from others, I have a few ones such as “Mandalay I, Myanmar” from Charlie Waite or the “Lofoten 2012” series from Bruce Percy.
Flakstad mountains - Vareid, Lofoten, Norway © Bart Heirweg | www.bartheirweg.com
How do you deal with criticism? Well, I don’t like criticism, but it keeps me sharp. In the beginning, I might feel offended and not understand why someone criticized my work. But then, I start looking at the photograph and ask myself: What might be the reason? Did I misjudge this image? Can I improve? So I try to use criticism as catalyst to become better and learn. Even the best artists in the world produce works that are highly critiqued.
What kind of equipment do you use? Believe me, it is a very heavy bag. I always take my tripod which is more than essential as a landscape photographer. Then I usually carry two cameras: a Nikon D810 and a Nikon D4S. I have lots of lenses from 14 to 400 millimeters, but I don’t take all of them with me – only three or four. In addition, I use Formatt-Hitech filters to balance the exposure and I carry lots of accessories such as cards and batteries.
Do you have an assistant? (laughing) No, I don’t have an assistant. Some people offered to come with me and carry my bag but I need to be alone outside. I am most creative when I am on my own because then I don’t need to pay attention to anyone. During the creative process I want to do my thing: go where I want, do what I want, whenever I want. That’s the only way I do my artwork – alone. On the contrary, I do enjoy being around others and talking about photography in my workshops. I enjoy teaching and learning from others.
Winter waves - Dyrholaey, Iceland © Bart Heirweg | www.bartheirweg.com
What advice do you give to young landscape photographers? The best moment for landscape photography is the early morning. When I started as a photographer, it was very hard for me to get out of bed so early. My advice: Get out of bed, even if it’s 3:00 am! When you see the beautiful morning atmosphere you’ll forget the early rise immediately. Sometimes people in my workshop say that they want to shoot images as I do, with the same light and the same atmosphere, but they say: ‘I can’t get up so early.’ That’s not a good attitude. If you want to make extraordinary images, you have to get out of bed. Period.
There is an amazing photograph on your website: “Against the waves”. What was the story behind it? Oh, if you could see the weather on that day! That was in Iceland and the weather was so unbelievably bad. There was a rough snow storm going on, so it was very windy and cloudy. I could not stand upright, it was too stormy. But here is a secret: You usually get the best images in the worst weather conditions. I saw big waves hitting against that rock and the gulls flying around, it was magical. I just felt it deep inside of me that I had to get a shot – that was an artistic moment.
Against the waves - Rekjanesviti, Iceland © Bart Heirweg | www.bartheirweg.com
Find more information on www.bartheirweg.com