Focused: Paige Hahn on becoming a wildlife photographer
[Courtesy: Paige Hahn]
"My passion for conservation began even before I could remember," recalls Paige Hahn.
The photographer and conservationist grew up in California, raised in a family that valued the natural world. It was this upbringing that built a foundation for living a life close to the nature, as a wildlife photographer and a voice for conservation.
As the first in our new Q&A series Focused, we reached out to Paige to find out how she got started, and to get the backstory on a few of her favourite photos.
How did your interest in conservation start?
I grew up in a family of environmental activists and animal enthusiasts in a region of the world with impressive biodiversity. Our weekends would be spent hiking through the dry rocky landscape of Southern California birdwatching and removing invasive plant species that were damaging the natural habitat. The more I learned about the planet’s environmental condition, the more I became involved, and the more I felt morally obliged to be an actor of change. But the turning point in my life was when I saw the mountains behind my home be constructed into housing developments and condominiums. The howls of the coyotes went silent. The Turkey Vultures flying elegantly above head were no longer to be seen. My sadness and disappointment turned into determination.
Did you study photography?
I am completely self-taught. Photography was never my priority until I understood the power of images in the field of conservation. I hope that if I can show someone how beautiful a certain landscape or animal is, people will be more inclined to save it.
Did the pursuit of photography help you understand animal behavior better?Absolutely. With wildlife photography, you may only have several seconds to get the perfect shot. You must understand how to predict their every move, and this comes by understanding their behavior. To give a classic example, you may patiently watch a pride of lions for hours waiting for them to wake up and as soon as they start yawning and giving off a slight growl you know it’s a sign they’re about to rise, and you must get your camera ready. While photographing animals you can observe their different noises or body movements, each indicating a certain emotion which tells you if there’s a predator in the area, if they are hungry or upset.
What is a top tip you would give a would-be wildlife photographer?
Go outside and get to know your camera. The best way to learn is with trial and error. Once I managed to take a nice photo that was in focus and the lighting was perfect I would jot down on my notepad which settings I used and what time of day it was.
Below is a sample of Paige's work, with commentary by the photographer:
"This is a matriarch in a pack of African Wild Dogs in the Okavango Delta of Botswana. The African wild dog is one of the world’s most endangered mammals. It was an amazing experience to see these animals up so close, given that they could become extinct very shortly. These animals have an extraordinary personality that is much more developed than the wolves or domestic dogs. This photo was taken after they performed their daily ceremony of circulating among the other pack members, vocalizing and licking each other’s faces to initiate a hunt. The matriarch is looking back to ensure her pack is ready to follow."
"A large male leopard in the Kruger National Park of South Africa. My team and I woke up at 4:30am to track the animals. After long exhausting hours in the African sun we nearly gave up to head back to camp until suddenly a leopard aggressively approached our vehicle and gave out ferocious roars, powerful enough to make our blood run cold. He was the most fearless animal I have ever seen in nature."
"This was taken on the Chobe river of Botswana. I took this photo from a paddle boat as the water was trembling due to the elephants swimming nearby. It was a photographic challenge to take this photo as the boat was not stable and we were trying to be cautious not to upset the elephants. It was remarkable to see the elephants emerge in the water and to see only the tips of their trunks peaking from the river’s surface."