Professional photographer Bogdan Boev recently finished a photo mission in the Rhodope Mountains rewilding area. As he says: “Powerful photography is a critical tool when it comes to rewilding communications.”
To keep our image libraries fresh and impactful, Rewilding Europe regularly commissions professional wildlife photographers to shoot images in our rewilding areas. Bogdan Boev was recently engaged to carry out his first photo mission for us in the Rhodope Mountains rewilding area, located in southeast Bulgaria. We caught up with the highly skilled Bulgarian to find out more about his work, passion for wild nature, and thoughts on rewilding.
How did you get into wildlife photography?
It all started around 15 years ago, while I was at the peak of my former career as a professional basketball player. Photography was my hobby at this stage, and I took a lot of pleasure showing friends the beauty of nature through my images. My hobby steadily developed into a profession, and once I quit basketball I began carrying out photo missions. I supplemented this by becoming a photography tour guide in Bulgaria and Poland about five years ago.
What do you need to be a successful wildlife photographer?
First and foremost, you need to understand your subject. Having an understanding of how an animal or bird behaves or will behave, and where it will be at a certain time, really improves your chances of photographing it in the best way. For most wildlife lovers I think this understanding develops naturally.
You also need appropriate tools – such as cameras, lenses and hides – and an understanding of how to use them. And then you need lots and lots of time and patience – wildlife is unpredictable, but when everything comes together, it can reward you in the most magical way!
Have you always had an interest in nature?
I have had a passion for nature from an early age. I grew up near a river in Bulgaria and my father was a big birdwatcher, fisherman and hiker, so I quickly became crazy about the wild and wildlife too. We had some great adventures together.
I feel blessed because both of my careers have involved doing something I love. Photo hides and shelters are my office these days, and I never grumble about going to work!
Can you tell us a little about your most recent photo mission to the Rhodope Mountains rewilding area?
This photo mission was my first and I really enjoyed it – overcoming the challenges and the satisfaction of accomplishing the task, as well as experiencing some amazing Bulgarian wild nature. I love visiting the Bulgarian Rhodopes – this mountain range is located close to my hometown and is such a beautiful part of the country. This latest mission started in October and was supposed to take eight days to complete. In the end, it stretched over four months, because I had to rely on others to gain access to restricted hunting areas. I was constantly coordinating with them and waiting for gaps in schedules.
For some of the animals, I also had to keep going back to capture the best moments in terms of light and animal behaviour and interaction. I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to shooting photos, so I will always push myself until I’m satisfied. Even then I frequently think I could do better!
And what exactly were you shooting?
In terms of subjects, I was shooting fallow deer, red deer, European bison, tarpan horses, as well as some vultures and eagles. Each of these requires a different approach.
With the bison, I had to be careful and keep my distance, and I was always accompanied by a local rewilding expert. The horses were far less skittish and let me get close enough to shoot with a wide-angle lens, but they were also very mobile – we constantly had to follow them as they roamed across the landscape.
The fallow deer I shot from behind purpose-built stone walls. I was there during their mating season, which only lasts for a limited number of days each year, so timing and access were critical. The birds of prey and passerines (perching birds) I shot from permanent hides, which have been developed over the years for this kind of photography, and from these I was lucky enough to shoot golden jackals too.
I also photographed the local anti-poison dog unit – Nikolai and his dog Bars make great subjects!
What was the biggest challenge on the mission?
You would think it would have been finding the animals, or the weather, but it was actually people. The main site where I was taking photos was a hunting reserve, so, on one hand, I needed to wait for gaps when there were no hunters around.
On the other hand, local rangers were quite busy and had to find time to accompany me, because this was a controlled area. On one occasion I had to wait four days on-site for an opportunity to shoot fallow deer for just a few hours.
What’s your favourite shot from the mission, and why?
I’m not sure I have a favourite shot, but I do have a favourite moment. I’d finally reached the fallow deer mating grounds and there was a beautiful sunset, so I positioned myself against the light, waiting for the deer to show up on the skyline. Right then a magnificent stag appeared and stood right where I wanted him to – it was fantastic.
What are your thoughts on rewilding?
If you’re somebody who loves nature, the news these days can be really depressing, filled with stories about the sixth mass extinction and human overpopulation and overconsumption. On the plus side, I think more and more people – especially the younger generation – are coming to understand that we need nature even more than nature needs us and that we can’t let challenges such as climate change and biodiversity decline continue unchecked.
I think the main reason that rewilding appeals to many people, including me, is that it is so positive and practical – it offers a way forward. As the work of Rewilding Europe and other rewilding initiatives shows, nature can and will recover if given the opportunity. Rewilding shows that it’s not too late to right the mistakes of the past.
I also love the fact that rewilding is so inclusive – it’s about reconnecting people with nature. One of my favourite quotes is by native American Dan George. He said: “If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them you will not know them and what you do not know, you will fear. What one fears, one destroys.”
By reconnecting with wild nature we can understand it better, and learn to be a part of it. Whether you’re a photographer or not, I would urge everyone to take some inspiration from rewilding, get out into nature and make their lives a little wilder. I guarantee you’ll feel better for it!
How important is photography in rewilding communications?
Powerful photography is a critical tool when it comes to rewilding communications. It’s a cliché, I know, but a picture is worth a thousand words. It has to be the right picture, of course!
Images of wildlife and wild nature can educate, captivate and, most importantly, inspire. I not only want my images to impress people, but to help to tell a story too.
Where are you going next?
At the moment I’m living in Edinburgh. In the spring I will return to Bulgaria to lead more photography tours focused on birds. I’d also like to explore Scotland more – the Cairngorms are a photographer’s dream!