Amateur Photographer of the Year 2017, Henrik Spranz, talks to AP about what it takes to come out on top
How does it feel to win Amateur Photographer of the Year 2017?
It’s an almost surreal experience. I started to get my hopes up a bit after performing well in some of the rounds, but I didn’t like to assume anything! I’m really happy and very proud – it’s wonderful feedback for my work.
When did you take up photography, and why?
Like many others I became interested in photography after buying a camera to record my travels – this was back in 2006. In the years that followed I was annoyed because some of the images I took didn’t turn out as I had planned. As a result I decided to learn about photography and make some progress.
Are you self-taught or professionally trained?
The only workshop I have ever attended looked at basic editing techniques, but I have a passion for learning, so I have read various books on technique, composition etc. I have learnt a bit from fellow photographers (including the woman in my life: Perdita Petzl) and also from magazines.
How do you find time for your photography whilst working as a software developer?
I am out exploring nature most weekends during spring, summer and autumn. My girlfriend (Perdita) and I do this together. We often head out long before sunrise and start with a macro shoot followed by a wildlife shoot.
Do you find photography to be a good stress reliever?
Photography helps me to create balance in my life. It clears my mind, slows down my thoughts, and allows me to be creative, which is something that is missing from my day job. Since I began photographing nature I have seen so many sunrises and faraway, silent places that sometimes I stand there for a while and just take some deep breaths to inhale the sheer beauty of the moment.
What are your favourite photographic genres?
When I started out my favourite genre was landscape photography – I still love it, but nowadays my focus is mainly on macro and wildlife photography.
You have described macro photography as like painting on the sensor – can you explain this?
What I love about macro photography is the opportunity to be creative. While butterflies and other insects are still being torpid you have time to choose a perfect viewpoint, wait for the right light, do your best to include the colours and textures of the habitat in an idealised, abstract or impressionistic way. The result is something like a painting.
You say that you like to have a macro lens on you all of the time. Why is this?
Most of the time I have a macro lens with me – even when I intend to shoot landscapes. Sometimes I find mushrooms or wild orchids in a forest, near a gorge or close to my favourite lake. When conditions are not quite right for landscape photography they can often be fine for macro photography.
If the conditions are poor how do you control the urge to come back with something for your efforts?
If I’m visiting a location and the conditions are poor it can be frustrating, but there are usually alternatives. When the light is bad for landscapes you can sometimes shoot macros – even on an overcast day. If it’s too windy for macro I use the chance to carry out a recce for next time.
Are there any photographers who inspire you?
My greatest inspiration is Perdita. We constantly push each other to new, higher levels. There are also many French macro photographers who inspire me to play around with background bokeh and experiment more with composition.
Did you enter all of the rounds in APOY? Which ones did you find the hardest?
Yes, I entered all of the rounds in the competition, but it was difficult for me to compete in some of the genres because there are so many fantastic specialists out there. The landscape round was particularly challenging because the standard was especially high and it’s actually just a sideline for me.
Do you have a favourite image from those that you entered?
I am fond of the wildlife images – in particular the hamster, ground squirrel and black-veined white butterfly pictures – but the shot entitled Weave, which won the Creative Eye round, came out exactly as I intended so this pleased me immensely. It’s part of a series entitled Forest’s Soul, which features experimental pictures of forests during every season. I had it in my mind for some time, but had to wait a while for the snow.
You say that your style is more romantic than documentary – can you tell us more about this?
I can’t deny that there’s still a child in me that has its own view on nature – it wants to see the natural world as a fairytale full of wonders. To communicate this impression I need to choose the right conditions and techniques. Bokeh is very important in my wildlife and macro work, as is the use of bright exposures and pastel colours.
Are there any conditions that you tend to favour?
Nothing can beat the light at, or immediately after, sunrise for my kind of macro photography. Some days I feel that an image puts itself together, but on other days things just don’t work out and a little rant can help! After calming down and listening to some birdsong I usually give it another try.
How much post processing do you carry out?
Some viewers think that I carry out a great deal of post-processing, but I don’t. I usually tweak the white balance, make some tonal corrections, work on colour contrast and curves, reduce noise, sharpen, and remove any sensor dust. What I don’t do is remove or add objects, change the composition or manipulate the main elements.
What has photography taught you so far?
Everything needs time – you can’t force things, especially in nature. To get my work to where it is now took me hundreds of hours and I am still developing. You need to find your own style and please yourself in the first instance.
How do you go about planning a photo shoot?
It depends on the genre: when I’m shooting macro I have the location sorted but I need to be there when the conditions are right, which usually means getting in position before sunrise. There are times when I have an image in mind, but still need to find the right subject to create it. When I shoot landscapes I don’t expect to get my best pictures the first time that I visit a location. It’s much more important to scout out the area.
Can you tell me about the equipment you use?
I use a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and my most frequently used lenses are a Canon 180mm f/3.5L Macro, a Canon 400mm f/2.8 L IS and a Canon 16-35mm L IS.
Any tips for next year’s entrants?
Don’t be discouraged if you’re not a specialist in every genre. You can’t rule all of the rounds!
Henrik’s image placements in APOY 2017
- Round one: Monochrome, no points
- Round two: Hit the Streets, 43 points
- Round three: Small Wonders, 49, 43, 40 points
- Round four: City Clickers, no points
- Round five: Into the Wild, 49, 47, 22 points
- Round six: Creative Eye, 50 points
- Round seven: Land Lovers, no points
- Round eight: Face to Face, no points
As overall winner of APOY 2017, Henrik wins Sigma kit worth more than £2,000, namely a SIGMA 85mm F1.4 DG HSM Art lens (£1,199.99) plus a SIGMA 35mm F1.4 DG HSM Art lens (799.99) and a SIGMA USB Dock (£39.99). To see more of his photographs visit www.spranz.org.