My Interview with Emma Hanisch

This past summer I was contacted by Emma Hanisch, Emma is working towards her master’s degree in Science Communication at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. She is writing her master’s thesis about how taking photos of wildlife can affect the way that people think about nature. After seeing some of my photos in the Nature’s Best Photography exhibits at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington DC, she decided to reach out. I was thrilled and honored to be involved with her project as it means so much to me to be able to share my experiences and thoughts about the wildlife I photograph. Here is her interview:

The Aperture Artist
Denise Ippolito
Professional Photographer and Artist
Brielle, New Jersey

I overheard snatches of quiet conversation and oohs and aahs as I padded through the photo gallery at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. I had come back to see the Windland Smith Rice winners again, the best of the best of nature photography. As I made my way towards the exit, one caught my eye. How could I have missed this stunning work of art on my first visit? Was this a painting? No, it had to be a photo; it was in a photo gallery after all. But what a photo! It was Denise Ippolito’s remarkable image of the feathers of a Galapagos frigate bird. I actually ended up missing my train because I was so engrossed. The next year, I was delighted to find another one of her photos – a rockhopper penguin – as the winner in the birds category.

Denise’s photography bridges the gap between documenting nature and creating art with it. I’ve been a fan of hers for years, so you can imagine my excitement when she agreed to chat with me. And then you can also imagine how upset I was when our Skype connection failed, with neither of us able to reschedule! But Denise was patient, kind, and understanding, and she agreed to communicate with me via email instead. The whole experience was a good reminder that while technology is useful, it’s also not entirely reliable. It’s worth remembering that sentiment in photography too; I once read somewhere that if your photos aren’t turning out how you want, just stop and enjoy the experience.

This seems to be a notion with which Denise is familiar. While her photography is incredible and earns her a living, the animals come first for her. She doesn’t think about the money while she’s out with her camera. And before she ever got interested in photography, she was an avid hiker and loved nature and animals. Not just wild animals either – she told me about how her mother tried to convince her to eat chicken as a child, and Denise absolutely refused. She still does too: “I have not eaten an animal in over 30 years.”

Her passion for animals is evident in her work; it’s crystal clear from her photos that she loves what she does. She makes a point of seeking out and photographing animals that she’s interested in, rather than what potential buyers might look for. Denise travels all over the world in search of animals that she likes, that “capture my heart,” as she puts it. She leads photography tours and teaches workshops, and has gotten to go to some pretty cool places, from the Falkland Islands to Japan to Greece, and many more. (And for those who may not be able to go on one of these trips or attend a workshop, she writes great photography advice books too).

One of the many benefits of traveling to all of these places is being able to learn about all the different environments and the animals that live in them. Denise does her research; it’s extremely important to understand the subjects before even entering their space. Knowing what sort of behavior to expect makes it possible to capture the intense and intimate moments that are one of her hallmarks as a photographer. But she also learns a huge amount from watching the animals interact with each other, things that you wouldn’t be able to pick up from reading. “I have seen some of the most heartbreaking, horrific deeds,” she says. “I have also witnessed great tenderness between a mother and her young. I’ve learned so much about our planet.”

All of this has made Denise much more conscious of how her behavior, and people’s behavior in general, affects the natural world. She has seen firsthand how delicate the balance of nature is. “Conservation has to be at the top of the [priority] list for any wildlife photographer,” she explains. “We need to stop poachers, we need strict laws in place to preserve our lands from over-development, and we need to stand up for animal rights, and to be accountable when we make purchases that influence the environment.” One area that has her particularly concerned is climate change, or global warming, and the number of people who refuse to take it seriously.

All in all, though, Denise is glad to be able to photograph at-risk species. Documenting animals in such a mesmerizing and attention-grabbing way, and then sharing those images, really can help! Or as Denise puts it, “If one of my images helps to shed light on some of the issues that face our natural world, and the creatures that rely on us to preserve it, then I feel as though I am succeeding.”

Quick Facts

Favorite places to take photos: Alaska, because it feels like the final frontier, but also anywhere where wildlife is in its natural setting – so not zoos or game farms.

Favorite photo subjects: Birds of all shapes and sizes, at least for now, but also: “I shoot what pleases me.”

What’s next for Denise: Photographing polar bears (before they disappear), traveling the world (and sharing those adventures on her blog), and writing more how-to books.

Denise’s Photography Tips
• Be passionate about your subjects – it really shows!
• Don’t worry too much about the money. The subject comes first.
• Know your subjects’ behavior patterns before entering their environment – If you know their behavior, you’ll be able to anticipate their actions and get better shots.

Image © 2014/Denise Ippolito Photography

Penguin Colony: This Image is a scene of the Ample Bay Colony in Salisbury Plain, South Georgia. What attracted my eye to this shot was the curved line at the top upper middle-right so I composed my image around that line. I included the Fur Seals at the bottom because they added to the sense of place.

Image © 2017/Denise Ippolito Photography

Snow Monkey: I finally had my chance to photograph the infamous Snow Monkeys in Japan in the snow. My group and I walked up a steep path for approximately 25 minutes with all of our gear, then approximately 60 steps upward till we reached the top! It was a beautiful journey through a snow-covered forest.

Image © 2017/Denise Ippolito Photography

Two snow monkeys in the water: This is a tender scene between a mother and child [snow monkey], the swirling water and snow made them look as if they were in their own little world.

Image © 2017/Denise Ippolito Photography

Snow Globe: During a snowy day in Bosque del Apache, I captured these Snow Geese after photographing for a straight twelve hours. The Blue-morph Snow Goose was serendipitous. This image won the “Winged Life” category for Big Picture Natural World Photography Competition 2017.

Image © 2017/Denise Ippolito Photography

Dalmatian Pelican: This Dalmatian Pelican captured at Lake Kerkini, Greece, is a special image for me as the stormy sky and ethereal foreground work together to create a mood.

Image © 2016/Denise Ippolito Photography

Rockhopper: This is a Northern Rockhopper penguin photographed on the Falkland Islands. Because it is rare to see this bird in the Falklands, I wanted to get a close look at the extremely long breeding plumes that separate Northern Rockhopper from its close cousin. In order to do so I needed to climb up a rock faced cliff that was covered with Orange Sea-Lichen. After several failed attempts, I was able to capture a head portrait of the penguin with a beautiful orange-lichen background. This image is the Birds Category Winner in the prestigious Nature’s Best 2016 Windland Smith Rice International Awards Competition.

Image © 2015/Denise Ippolito Photography

Frigate bird feathers: This is an image of a Frigate bird’s feathers just after a light rain. Captured in the Galapagos. This image is the Art in Nature Category Winner in the prestigious Nature’s Best 2015 Windland Smith Rice International Awards Competition.

Image © 2017/Denise Ippolito Photography

The Bow: These Red-crowned Cranes were photographed in Hokkaido, Japan, during a strong snow storm. I love the graceful beauty of these large birds as they bow and begin their mating dance.

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17 Responses

  1. An inspiring interview that demonstrates the significant and positive impact nature photographers have fostering understanding, appreciation, and preservation of the many diverse life forms with whom we share on our pale blue dot. A well deserved Congratulations Denise!

    Thank you Stephen, I appreciate it, she is a talented writer.

  2. Nancy Bell says:

    Your are an extraordinary artist and extraordinary person! You are so deserving of all of these awards. I am glad to have spent time with you in the field, and appreciate that you are so responsive to all who ask. Super-duper Congrats!

    Hi Nancy, we have clicked since our first outing together many years ago. You are a very talented photographer and I enjoy spending time with you. Thank you for your continued support of my work.

  3. Linda Seal says:

    What an impressive article. I really enjoyed the insights into your photography. The images are breathtaking, as always.

    Linda, I am so glad that we met this year at Bosque. I look forward to even more adventure like the Bear Boat! Thank you for your kind words.

  4. Jackie Ross says:

    It’s an honor to know you ! You are such a fantastic photographer! Merry Christmas to you and your family and a Wonderful Creative
    New Year!!

    Thank you so much Jackie, Happy Holidays to you and yours!!

  5. Peg Codey says:

    Congratulations Denise! And Happy Birthday!

    Thank you Peggy! much appreciated. I hope you make that lemon pie!

  6. Sharon Hallowell says:

    Congratulations! You deserve such recognition, as your love for this planet and the subjects you photograph, shows in every image you make.

    Awe… thank you Sharon, I appreciate your kind words.
    hugs, denise

  7. Sue Harvey Eberhart says:

    Congratulations, Denise. In my book, you are always a winner!

    Thank you so much Sue, I appreciate your continued support.

  8. Tony Botelho says:

    Great article, you are a true inspiration for me and so many people! I didn’t know it was your birthday but see that Peg wished you a happy one, so Happy Birthday! Thanks for all you do for your readers, and the planet.

    Thank you Tony, I appreciate it, that is all very kind of you to say.

  9. Wonderful article, Denise! Your photography is so deserving of all your awards and recognition!! As Tony said, you are an inspiration to so many people and to me! Thank you!!

    Thank you Marilyn, I truly appreciate your taking the time to comment.
    hugs, denise

  10. Muriel McClellan says:

    Congratulations on all of your awards, You have a rare and special talent… and so willing to share and inspire others. I feel so fortunate to have been able to take some of your workshops!

    Thank you so much Muriel, I appreciate your kind words.
    hugs, denise

  11. Angela says:

    Wonderful interview Denise. Emma Hanisch captured your talents and heartfelt feelings about the animals you photograph perfectly! You are truly an inspiration to so many people.

    Hi Angela, thank you so much!

  12. Sylvia says:

    Congratulations on your inspiring interview Denise! They say that “if you are good to animals, you are a genuinely good person” and that is so you. Happy belated birthday, hope it was a good one.

    Thank you so much Sylvia.
    hugs, denise

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