Nature at water level – Julien Herremans

By Joke Van Damme | Posted at: July 9, 2022

Julien Herremans is an outstanding nature photographer who lives in the north of Flanders. He has been fascinated by nature, especially birds, since he was a teen. He and his wife Linda enjoy birdwatching and photography together and have travelled to many beautiful spots, often guided by professional photographer Yves Adams. Floating hide photography has become a new passion since 2015, bringing him to places like France, Bulgaria and Kazakhstan. He’s happy to share some of his work and stories with us!

Blacknecked grebes in Les Dombes, France

Les Dombes is an area with many ponds, though most are in private hands and exploited for hunting and carp pond farming. This is France, after all!

Two French trip organizers rent some of these ponds to practice hydrohide photography. Speediness is needed as the spots are limited, and with only May and June as appropriate months, the time window is short. Amar Guillen, one of the trip organizers,  works with MrJan Gear floating hides. I have known Jan for a long time, so when he advised me to follow one of Amar’s workshops, I immediately seized the opportunity. It was very illuminating; Amar teaches you to look at your pictures from different perspectives. We learned about technique, social media photography, presentation, publication, engaging the public, and even commercial photography.

We took the train to Lyon, rented a cart to Les Dombes and hit the pond the same day for an evening session, focusing on eared grebes. The birds were clearly foraging. Chasing them with your hide is not the best strategy. Every motion should be slow, so you can catch the animals off guard. Even in a camouflaged tent, avoiding interaction is impossible as the tent is a new element in the water and is often disturbing when it moves.

To assess the bird’s behaviour as accurately as possible, I choose a position and patiently observe and wait. How satisfying it is when my predictions come true! Here, three grebes were swimming into the canal. I waited until they were far enough to position myself unseen at the canal exit, because I knew they would have to return. And when they did, I got the incredible opportunity to make images of the birds taking off. They landed back on the other side of the canal, very close to where I sat. Some of my luckiest shots to date!

One day, with almost no birds on the pond, dragonflies caught my attention. They hunt in a designated area, circling the same round and resting on the same perch. Finding that perfect image is a matter of observing them, taking a good position and waiting. You don’t even need camouflage. Just being very slow and careful is far more important.

For these images, I mounted my 500mm PF 5.6 lens instead of the FL 4.0, narrowing the minimum focusing distance to 3m instead of 5. A 1.4 converter and a Z9, 45 million pixels camera proved perfect for the job.

Watching the Kazakhstan waders

Having the right conditions is a key to successful floating hide photography. There should be wildlife, of course, but it should be at an accessible pond with walking depth. And of course, you need an excellent floating hide and a decent dry-suit. They both come in a lightweight small package, easy to take on a plane. Putting up the hide is simple and once you’re in the water, both the hide and the suit are a joy to use.

On the steppes of Kazakhstan, the wind was an important factor. We regularly had strong winds, especially in the afternoon. Controlling the hide is difficult and focusing on your subject is like playing the jackpot. You lose more often than you win. But the waves on the water surface give the images a beautiful dynamic. So I positioned myself against the edge of a mudflat. I anchored myself in a position where I had a good photo range on the mudflat, near water that drew a lot of waders. It also turned out to be a perfect spot for a beautiful sunset.

I can't say it was comfortable, lying down in mud and water, resting one arm on one of the tubes and changing position a few times to avoid cramps. But in the end, as always, it was worth it. How do you like the results?

Copyright: all images by Julien Herremans.

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