The sun was beginning to set, and wildlife photographer Lex Hes was hoping the lions would spring into action before the sun disappeared altogether. Then, just as the last rays of the sun moved below the horizon, Hes got his wish. A male lion sat up and the sunlight caught his profile.
“It was absolutely beautiful. I managed to get two photographs before the light disappeared,” he said.
That photograph earned the Johannesburg naturalist and wildlife photographer a couple of awards and the image was used all over the world in advertising.
Like many wildlife photographers, Hes is interested in how we as humans have an impact on wild areas and ecosystems.
While vacationing in the Cayman Islands, Hes, 62, was approached by the National Trust to share some of his knowledge about preserving the environment. That suggestion resulted in a presentation last Thursday at the Lodge at the Strand on West Bay Road.
Trust members heard, if it were not for tourism and people coming to look at mountain gorillas in Uganda, that species might be extinct. Since people are paying to see these animals, however, the locals who live there have a reason to protect the gorillas and other animals.
Using this mentality in Cayman, he said, would give people the incentive to protect animals here as well.
“These beautiful, incredible animals are a part of a natural world and we need to do everything that we can to protect it and to ensure that it stays around forever,” Hes said.
From a very young age, he said, he was captivated with animals in the wild.
Born and educated in Johannesburg, South Africa, he has been involved in the world of wildlife photography for the past 40 years. He is now a popular freelance nature guide who imparts his wealth of knowledge about Africa’s ecosystems with others.
His father, an enthusiastic amateur photographer, gave him his first camera.
Later, his uncle gave him a camera that had interchangeable and telephoto lens, which allowed him to take wildlife photographs.
Hes taught himself photography by reading books but said he just seemed to have a natural eye in terms of composition.
His first profession was as a safari guide in the 1970s when he was around 19. By then, he was already a keen amateur photographer.
He started getting serious about his photography and by the age of 21 he was selling his photographs to publishers.
From a young lad, he said, he always envisioned living in the wilderness and being in contact with wild animals to observe them and understand the natural world.
He said there are obviously potential dangers in wildlife photography and Africa has many dangerous animals: lions, leopards, elephants, buffalos, hippos and lots of species of snakes.
Definitely, he admits, there were times he found himself in a pickle.
One night, a pair of huge elephant bulls visited while he slept on the back of pickup truck. He awoke to two elephants standing over his vehicle sniffing him and the truck.
He could feel and hear their heaving breathing from their trunks just inches from his head.
Hes uses a 500mm Nikon lens, a 70-200mm that gives wider views, a 300mm lens for medium range and a few landscape lenses for his wildlife pictures. Some pictures are spur of the moment while others are set up to happen.
Dutch photographer Hugo von Lawick and his work in Africa inspired Hes as a young man. More recently, he said, it has been South African photographers Peter Johnson, Anthony Bannister and Brendon Cremer that have inspired him.
For those thinking of getting into wildlife photography, Hes said not to be too careful, just fire away and take as many photographs as you can.
The biggest piece of advice he gives to any aspiring photographer is get to learn about the natural world that you are photographing. The more you know about nature, the better your photographs will be.
Hes has published five books: ‘Leopards of Londolozi’, ‘Bush School’, ‘Attracting Birds to Your Garden in Southern Africa’, ‘The Complete Book of Southern African Mammals’ and ‘Wild South Africa’.