Being chosen as a finalist for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year is no small feat, especially if you are only 16 years old! South Africa’s Juan van den Heever shares his top photo tips and a few of the images he’s most proud of.

Self portrait-Wildlife Photographer of the year-Juan van den Heever

Teenager Juan van den Heever earned a finalist position in the 2015 Wildlife Photographer of the Year (category for 15–17 years), on show in Johannesburg until the end of July 2016. Pictures by Juan van den Heever

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, on show in Johannesburg until the end of July 2016, showcases some of the most captivating nature and wildlife photography from around the globe. The year’s exhibition also features, for the very first time, images from a father and son. South Africans Wim van den Heever and son Juan made history when they were both selected as finalists.

Sixteen-year-old Juan’s Facebook page makes it clear he is not just any up and coming nature photographer. One fan, Amanda Bryant Slingerland,‎ says: “I absolutely love the work you do.” Morkel Erasmus, a professional South African wildlife photographer and finalist in the black and white category, writes: “Juan is a young man who will still go far in this field.” Wild asked Juan to share his take on photography.

What’s your father’s role in your photography?

Well, my father is the person who started my love for photography. He taught me everything he knew, and I’m very thankful for that. Without him igniting my passion, I probably never would have started photography as my hobby.

Hyenas-Wildlife Photographer of the year-Juan van den Heever

Being on foot with a wild dog pack was something I’d always wanted to do. We managed to leopard-crawl closer with wide-angle lenses in hand. Being mere centimetres from wild dogs was an amazing experience, especially as they were totally oblivious to our presence. I got this shot when the two dogs looked in the same direction.

When did you realise that you have a talent for photography, and why wildlife and nature specifically?

I started taking photographs in 2008 on an outing to Marievale Bird Sanctuary. I remember my father sticking the camera in my hands and telling me to photograph anything (and everything) that looked interesting. My father started his career with wildlife photography, so I was immediately exposed to it. It escalated from there and I now rarely photograph anything other than nature and wildlife.

Your advice to aspiring young photographers?

Take your camera everywhere you go. You never know when you will be part of something interesting and/or unique.

Bee eaters-Wildlife Photographer of the year-Juan van den Heever

I saw these carmine bee-eaters fighting on the ground and knew they were going to shoot up. It was like a dog fight. I knew they would fly into the air at some stage, so I just kept my camera on them. (Good thing, as this is the picture that was selected as finalist in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.)

Your top five photo tips?

  • When photographing animals, get to their eye level. This increases the probability of a sharp subject and an out of focus background.
  • Use lines to lead the eyes of your viewer to a specific area in your image. This creates a visual journey. If done right, it will lend more importance to your subject.
  • Know your subject! Knowing the behaviour of the creature you are photographing will help you better anticipate what the animal will do next.
  • If possible, always set your camera to capture in RAW format. RAW files are unprocessed, straight from your camera’s sensor. They contain a lot more pixel information than JPEG format.
  • Slow shutter speed is a great way to convey movement in an image.
Leopard cub and dead elephant calf-Wildlife Photographer of the year-Juan van den Heever

We received word that an ill elephant calf had passed on during the night and that a young female leopard had arrived and started feeding on it. We sat as still as possible, knowing that the smallest noise could cause her to back away for good. She slowly crawled forward, cautiously touched the carcass and started to feed.

How do you see the youth’s role in conservation?

We are the next generation. We are the ones who will one day have to take care of our planet. The more young people we can make appreciate our natural world, the easier it will be to take care of it. I believe that photography will help convey the message that the Earth is worth saving.