Charles Kearton is taking the photograph
of a Lark´s nest in 1890.

From the early days of wildlife photography

Wildlife (Nature) Photography began towards the end of the 19th century. Ottmar Anschütz (1846 – 1907) took his famous picture series of Storks in 1884 and R.B. Lodge made the first homestead pictures of a breeding peewit (lapwing) in 1895. Something not generally known is: general photography is in part a child of Wildlife (Nature) Photography; more adequately phrased: The mainspring to the discovery of photography came from one of the fathers of this medium, whose desire it was to take photographs of Nature.

William Henry Fox Talbot wanted to document the impressions of his travels more precisely than his drawings enabled him to. So he searched for a fixer, in order to make the blackened Silbernitrate resistant to light. In 1834 he started his experiments and in August of 1835 he succeeded in taking the first photos.

In 1851, outdoor photography was made possible when the "Nasse Kollodium – on glass method" published by Frederick Scott Archer was replaced through the, in 1880 introduced and factory-made "Gelantine – Dry Plate". This new plate was twenty times more photosensitive and 4 years after its implementation, Anschütz took his sensational pictures of the Storks. Already as early as 1912 did the Zoological Society in London have an exhibition on bird photography, that counted all of 174 different bird species and of which 95% of the pictures where already taken outdoors.

Richard Kearton

One of the first bird photographers was Richard Kearton. He was born on the 2nd of January, 1862, in the small village of Swaledale (England), where his ancestors had lived as farmers since 1350.

In the Fall of 1882, when Kearton was almost 21 years old, Sidney Golpin visited Swaledale to hunt ducks. Kearton showed him the moor in its entire natural beauty and with all its fascination, thus highly impressing Sidney Golpin, who as a result of this, invited Kearton to London and gave him a position in his publishing house.

Kearton started writing articles on nature and soon his desire to illustrate these articles with his own photos of the natural world of birds, grew. Richard Kearton "invented" the camouflage tent, which is still used by bird photographers today, in a more developed form. He discovered, that birds hardly took notice of other animals such as cows, horses or sheep. So his first camouflage tent resembled a cow. His later versions of camouflage tents were more and more abstract, until finally the realization compounded the future of bird photographers, that a camouflage tent could resemble anything and everything but the "epitome of evolution", the human. Apparently free-living birds did and do not think very highly of him at all.

Together with his brother Cherry, he traveled throughout Great Britain all the way to St. Kilda. He described his adventures on this group of islands off the coast of Scottland in probably the best book ever written about St. Kilda: "With Nature and a Camera". He published many photos, books and gave numerous lectures. By the time of his death, on the 8th of February 1928, he was regarded as the classic master in the art of bird photography.

Eric Hosking

Eric Hosking was born in 1909. Already as a schoolboy, he answered the questions of many "aunties" what exactly he wanted to be when he grew up, with a statement contrary to the usual ones of all children his age that wanted to be engineers, and said : "bird photographer". This answer had one little flaw: there was no profession called "bird photographer". This profession did not exist before Eric Hosking, nor did it exist after Eric Hosking. He was the first and last and he actually was the only bird photographer as such, ever.

In the meantime there are numerous aficionados of pictures about nature and birds who live from nature photography, or they at least try to, but none who have specialized themselves solely on bird photography like he did. Nowadays many live for bird photography, but none has ever been able to live from it, like Hosking did. Eric Hosking has published uncountable pictures and numerous books about birds and bird photography. In 1970 he published his biography "An Eye for a Bird", with a preface from Prince Phillip of Edinburgh. An indication as to the status and prestige a bird photographer like Eric Hosking was able to enjoy. Just imagine, here in Germany: the biography of Herman Fischer published with a preface from president Richard von Weizäcker. Imaginable? Would the book be bought? Hoskings biography saw several editions and a paperback format.

Hoskins success as bird photographer started when he was attacked in 1937 by a tawny owl in Wales and lost an eye in the process. All the media reported it and over night he became famous in all of Great Britain. Since then, all bird photographers wear a face mask, like fencers, while photographing owls on these islands. Eric Hosking died on the 22nd of February 1991, in London, at the age of 81.

Hermann Fischer

Hermann Fischer was born on the 2nd of November 1885. All of his life, he took pictures of animals – arduously and very successful. He died shortly before his 90th birthday in 1975, in Braunschweig.

He was the shining example of an entire generation of wildlife photographers in Germany, after the war. His book, published as a new edition in 1953 "Tierjagd mit der Kamera " (Hunting animals with a camera) turned into the bible of wildlife photographers of an entire era.

Hermann Fischer started painting before the first world war and after receiving a scholarship from the city of Braunschweig, was to be admitted to the School of Art in Weimar. World War I changed all of that. H. Fischer returned wounded to Braunschweig and started working for the car company Büssing. 1923, he started working on his own as a wildlife photographer. He may have been the first German, who actually did what many enthusiastic young photographers try to do: to work and live as a freelance photographer.

He illustrated books by Hermann Löns and Meerwarth. His pictures were such a sensational success, that we can hardly imagine this in our time, where the market is swamped. The areas he mainly worked at where the Lüneburger Heide, where he documented landscapes, people and animals. His work shaped an entire era.

Walter Wissenbach

Walter Wissenbach was the first master photographer of a new generation of wildlife photoraphers following Hermann Fischer. He brought the technique of "short flash photography" created by Eric Hosking in England throughout the second world war with the light barrier, to Germany and was the first one to have tremendous success with it in the fifties in Germany. Photos of flying birds, with such clarity and full of unbelievable detail had not been seen before. Even renown weeklies like the "Frankfurter Illustrierte" often published several pages of Wissenbachs reports and other work. While Herman Fischer lived as an "All-Round Photographer", Walter Wissenbach, 16 years younger, actually was a bird photographer. He won many prices with his pictures, from the Leica – Photo contest up to the Senckenberg – Medal.

During the last 15 years before his death, less and less was seen of his newer work, due to health reasons.

Whereas the doyen Hermann Fischer represented the generation of pioneers following the war, Walter Wissenbach depicted the lonely pinnacle of modern bird photography in Germany in the years 1950-1970. After 1960, an entire flock of disciples started to wander the paths created through Fischer and Wissenbach in Germany.

Walter Wissenbach: Great Spotted Woodpecker feeds a young bird
(approx. 1950, Agfa CT-18).

Herman Fischer: Osprey (approx. 1939/1940)


Eric Hosking: Barn Owl with prey (1936).

This fantastic picture was one of the first taken with a flash by Eric Hosking. He took these in Suffolk, one night in July of 1936. He had not seen, that the Barn Owl had caught a rat and was holding this in such a photogenic way, until later, as he was developing the glass plate. He considered this picture the luckiest shot he had ever taken. He waited until he heard the owl landing, through the noise of the talons, hitting the tree and then he opened the shutter and set off the flashbulb above the electrical contact. (Flashbulbs had just been on the market and were later (1950-1960) replaced by electronic flashes.

¼ plate Sanderson field camera, 8 ½ inch Dallmeyer Serrac lens, stopped down to f/11. Sashalite flashbulb.

Annotation: In Great Britain, Barn Owls sometimes breed very photogenic in trees, something they do not do in Germany. Here they breed in old buildings, like barns, farmhouses or churches.

J.A. Speed: Barn Swallow during flight. (1929).

For this shot, the author had constructed a special shutter with the shortest speed of 1/5000 sec. and that in 1929 already!!

* * * * * * *

A few interesting books about the early times of
wildlife photography.You can buy them through
second-hand stores or loan them from a library specialized in specific subjects.

Hermann Fischer
Hunting animals with a camera
Heering Publishing, 1953

Walter Wissenbach
About Wildlife Photography
Umschau Publishing, 1956

C.A.W. Guggisberg
Early Wildlife Photography
David & Charles, 1977

Eric Hosking
Bird Photography as a Hobby
Stanley Paul, 1961

Eric Hosking
An Eye for a Bird
Hutchinson, 1970

C.G. Schillings
With Flashbulb and Can
Voigtländer Publishing, 1910

Georg E.F. Schulz,
the famous 'Nature Study Schulz',
published a series of 8 brochures on
nature studies of flora and fauna
as early as 1908/1909.

Paul Parey Publishing 1908/1909

From the advertisement of 1908/1909 for the
8 brochures with documents of nature by Georg E.F. Schulz:

The "documents of nature" are meant for all who have a heart for nature and all her children, for the homeland and those pondering about all the great and small works of wonder in creation, who, with wide open eyes and hearts wander through Gods beautiful world and would like to take these ever so enjoyable impression home with them.

The documents of nature are to help those appreciate and understand that which they have seen in detail and beauty. This way the joy felt outdoors will be felt again at home, thus turning a fleeting glorious moment into a lasting possession.

The "documents of nature" are the first German works, that portrays representatives of the entire animal and plant realm, in never before published photographic documents, the result of unending work and effort. The text belonging to each issue is especially high in value and enables an understandable entrance to the purpose of creative nature and with this, a grasp of the entire portrait.

Especially pointed out, is the preface of the author in the first issue of the collection. It provides the best information on the entire undertaking. May this undertaking, born from the love of nature, enjoy the appreciation and active support of the German people; it has certainly earned both in high measure. (Paul Parey Verlag, Berlin 1908/1909).

* * * * * * *

From the preface of the first issue from the "documents of nature":

First of all, I would like to comment, that all pictures were produced without any retouching, in order to keep the original character of the document. Every picture was taken of the subject just the way I found it and nothing was added or taken away. Altogether every alteration was avoided in order to keep the absolute originality of nature. Only through this loyalty to the true nature do they have their great value for nature monument care in my opinion. At the same time I would like to ask all scientific and interested amateurs to support these endeavors in order to receive such documents of nature about subjects that are rare from all different regions.

It is the first German work of this kind, that portrays representatives of the entire animal and plant realm in never before published photographic documents.

So go on forth, my very own images of nature and bring her, all our mother, new friends, so that she will teach you and all your children to love, and certainly not least, to love and protect one another.

Friedenau-Berlin, Christmas Season 1907. Georg E.F. Schulz

* * * * *