While many aspiring wildlife photographers dream of going on safari to photograph the predatory mammals of Africa, what do you do once you have done that? This was the dilemma facing French wildlife photographer Laurent Baheux.
“After the lions, elephants and the other big mammals of Africa, I was looking for something else,” recalls Laurent. “I still wanted to photograph big mammals, the big hunters, so it seemed logical to take my venture to the Arctic.”
Since 2016, Laurent has been photographing the wildlife of the Canadian and European Arctic. He shot his latest series of images in June 2022, on a two weeklong trip to the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. The island is a monochromatic landscape of fjords, mountains and glaciers.
“I spent 15 days in the Arctic and for the entirety of my trip, I saw the world in black and white,” says Laurent. He was speaking not only of the landscape but of how he shoots; somewhat unusually, Laurent shoots all of his wildlife images in black and white.
Black and white is the beginning of the story of photography. I learnt shooting on black and white film and making black and white prints - learning about light and shadows.
Many photographers would choose to shoot in colour and then convert the images to black and white when editing, but for Laurent, it is essential to see what will almost be the final result.
“I have increased the contrast of the black and white setting on my Sony Alpha 1 – my go-to choice when shooting of this nature. I love to have strong blacks in my images. The electronic viewfinder is like an optical viewfinder, but with the power to see your image as you want.”
Without colour, Laurent can show textures in the animals and the landscape he sees, details that will often go unnoticed. “Shooting in black and white, I can show the light and hide and reveal different parts of the scene. I can show the scene not as a real-world but just as my world. That is why I love it.”
“I enjoy getting close to the subject through the camera. I want to give the viewer the feeling of being in the wild with the animal. This is when I turn to my long telephoto lenses.” Listing out his collection, it’s clear how versatile Laurent needs to be in such a harsh environment. “I have the FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 OSS GM, the FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 OSS G and the FE 600mm f/4 OSS GM with a teleconverter,” he continues.
It isn’t just the animal that is important, but also the animal’s environment, it’s home. This is just as much part of the story as the animal’s behaviour. It adds context to the story and this is when Laurent’s lens choice can make all the difference to a shot. “I love to have the sky with the big clouds and the mountains and the sky, so I need a shorter lens, which is when I will use the FE 24-105mm f/4.”
Laurent understands that the spectacular landscape is the home to the animals he is photographing. “You are in the animal’s territory. What happens is not up to you,” he explains. “The animal chooses if they are going to meet you. If they are comfortable, they may even approach you. But, I do usually prefer to work with a long longer lens and keep a respectful distance. I am just a visitor after all.”
For his trip to Spitsbergen, Laurent kept a comfortable distance by taking photos from a boat. “I have no problems shooting with the Sony Alpha 1 in the cold and the humidity of a boat in the Arctic. Even the batteries performed well. I had multiple batteries for my days out shooting, but I didn’t need them all. The camera just took working at cold temperatures in its stride.”
In a world where we are bombarded with images, Laurent wants to show the world in a different light, and the Sony Alpha 1 allows him to do that. “The AF system is crazy!” says Laurent. “The fact it can follow the eye of a mammal, even a bird is incredible.”
For Laurent and photographers alike, it can be difficult to make an original image.
I have to concentrate all of my energy on the story,” he concludes. “The idea is the most crucial part of taking the photo, not the technical part. I want to think about the frame and what I put in it. With the Sony Alpha 1, I can leave my trust with the camera so I can concentrate fully on the creativity.
"No cage, no pens, no circus, no zoo. In freedom, in the wild. Captivity is a physical and mental torture for every living being. Animals like men"