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2023 Showcase Winner: Gero Heine

By March 14, 2023No Comments
Photo of sand dunes where the light and shadow give thA Face inside the Dunes, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia, 2023 Showcase First Runner-up, Scapes © Gero Heine

A Face inside the Dunes, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia, 2023 Showcase First Runner-up, Scapes © Gero Heine

First Runner-Up: Scapes

Why is this photo special?

Nature photography is often about anticipating the unexpected.  Through our individual unique perspective of the world around us we find interesting compositions or events that may be “invisible” to others.

The Benguela current brings cold ocean temperatures from the southern Atlantic to the Namibian coastline.  That coupled with the hot and dry inland conditions of the Namib Desert create fog, which in turn filters through the sand dunes miles away from the coast.  I had hoped to photograph these unique conditions.  What I did not expect was to find the shape of a human face, complete with flowing hair formed by wind and the prevailing forces of nature.

I hired a helicopter to capture the crests and shapes of the sand dunes of the mighty Namib Desert.  I brought two cameras along; one was equipped with a wide angle lens, the other with a short to medium telephoto zoom.  Of many scenes, wildlife or landscapes, I like taking a wider view, and then a closer view.  Most of the time I prefer the close up view.  I select the locations I shoot based on personal interest and/or client ideas.  I pre-visualize the images a location could present me days, weeks, and months in advance.  Obviously things change a little once I am on or near the respective location, but my mind is already “warmed up” to anticipate the shoot.  It is almost like sport.  You train and prepare.  In this case you train your thought process and clear out some of the obstructing barriers.  This is where our unique eyes and ideas come in, and we create different images from another. Having/bringing the appropriate equipment to capture that vision comes from research and experience.

The technical stuff

I used a LEICA SL2 camera and a Leica APO-VARIO-ELMARIT-SL 1:2.8-4/90-280 mm lens, shot at 97 mm.

The settings were ISO 800, f/7.1, 1/2500 second – I am in a moving helicopter with my side door removed.  Even when hovering, I was shooting handheld in the early morning hours, and I had to have a fast shutter speed while shooting at a reasonable depth of field/aperture.

Photo credit: Natalie Wollmann

About me

I have been based out of Santa Cruz, California, for the past 39 years.  I have been a full-time professional nature photographer for the past 16 years, showing/selling my work online and in art festivals and galleries in the Western U.S.

I started photographing nature in the early 1980’s.  Even though this First Runner- Up image and my Top 100 and Top 250 images in this year’s competition are Scapes, I mostly photograph wildlife.  I have been photographing in Africa for 20 years, but also India, Alaska, Yellowstone, the Southwest, and around my Central California home.  Recently I became interested in underwater photography/free-diving.

As a child I got interested in wildlife and wild places before photography.  My mother’s love of animals may have something to do with that.  I was captivated by coffee table books and wildlife documentaries as much as toys or cartoons.  When I was 12 years old in 1980, my father handed me my first SLR.

Growing up in West Germany in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, conservationists and film makers such as Bernhard Grzimek (instrumental in initially protecting the Serengeti), Heinz Sielmann, and Willi Dolder were first influences.  Later in the 1990’s, Frans Lanting, Art Wolfe and Tom Mangelsen’s work inspired me.

A powerful image of a wild animal or landscape took me away from my current location to that place.  It wanted me to go there and see it for myself, and to protect it.  Volunteering for an Earthwatch project convinced me that I want to spend the rest of my life in this field.  The animal or the location always come first for me, the photograph second.

The process of photography obviously has been with me since those days where it was purely a hobby from the early 1980’s till the mid 2000’s when I turned professional.  I love tangible prints, and as long as people have walls, they need something to hang on them.  I learned to print black & white prints in high school, did my own cibachrome prints off of slides at a local lab in the 1990’s, and eventually learned the latest digital technologies.  I am still humbled, honored and immensely gratified when installing my work at a client’s home or office.

I am yet infatuated however with the look, feel, and smell of a coffee table book.  I shall work on my own before it’s all said and done.

I have been a NANPA member since 2009 and have had a number of images honored in the Showcase competitions, including a Top 10 in 2011 and a Judges’ Choice in 2012.

Memorable moments

Too many to list.  My first true wildlife encounter was as a 13-year-old in the Swiss Alps, when I witnessed ibex bucks sparring precariously close to a steep cliff edge, the sound of their clashing horns echoing through the mountains.

Twenty-five years later, I was with a group, tracking a lion, while on foot, in a remote area of Zambia when the curious lion began tracking us, awakening dormant, primal feelings within me and the other members of our small group.

In 2010, my image “Bison” won the Natures Best Magazine’s Windland Smith Rice International Competition’s Wildlife Category and was displayed in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in 2011.


See all of the Top 26 winning images from NANPA’s 2023 Showcase nature photography competition.

Top 26