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Axel Azni: ‘photographing nature is my way of reconnecting people to it’

Landscape photographer Axel Azni talks to us about his life-long passion for nature, his aims for raising awareness on environmental protection and how his photography career first began.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started in photography?

I’m Axel Azni and I’m 29 years old. I’m a French landscape photographer from Paris, actually based in Tenerife, Spain. I got my first camera in 2012 with which I started taking pictures of everything without any ambition, just for fun. I also photographed nature as well as the city, passing a little bit through portraits. I seriously started photography with the dream to be a full landscape photographer in 2015. That’s when I started to train myself through tutorials on YouTube, a field course with a professional photographer to learn how to master my camera and a lot of time spent alone in the field analysing my photographs to understand how I can make them better. I also learned a lot by comparing my photographs with those of the professionals I was following, to try to understand why theirs were better than mine.

I’ve been a professional landscape photographer for several years now—since 2018.

What led you to focus on nature photography in particular?

What led me to want to photograph nature is the fear of seeing it disappear one day if we continue to act as we do now. Photographing nature is my way of reconnecting people to it.

“Photographing nature is my way of reconnecting people to it.”

What message/feeling do you hope people get from viewing your photographs?

To raise awareness of environmental protection awareness (nature as well as animals). We are regularly shown photos of violent moments that take place around the world. This violence certainly allows us to question the spectacle of a certain reality of which we are not always aware, only by seeing violence on a daily basis we get used to it without realising it. And what shouldn’t be normal, becomes normal over time.

That’s why I want to challenge the audience in a different way. To offer an alternative to these violent images that surround us and to propose this time, the vision of a wild and magnificent world that coexists with us.

Getting used to the beauty of nature, showing what people don’t see, will only reinforce the awareness that we absolutely must preserve our environment. This is the message I wish to convey through my photographs.

You cover a wide range of terrain in your photography; from seascapes to mountains to forests. Which type of landscape do you like to photograph most?

It’s very complicated to give an order of preference because each of these categories is part of my story. When I was young, my parents used to send me on holiday to my maternal grandparents near Verdun in Lorraine (East of France) in a village surrounded by forests. I spent a lot of time in the woods observing animals and exploring.

With my paternal grandparents, I used to go on holiday every year to Brittany, mainly to Saint-Malo, where in February and March you could observe the highest tides in Europe, it was spectacular!

And finally, with my parents sometimes I had the chance to go on holiday in the Alps, in the summer, where we did a lot of hiking. That’s why I photograph the sea, the forest and the mountains with the same pleasure. These are my childhood memories that come out through my photos.

How do you choose locations for your landscape photography?

When it comes to organising a photo trip, I use Google Earth. Google Earth allows me to know roughly what kind of terrain I will be facing, what will be the possible difficulties, what are the interesting perspectives and therefore at what time of the day I am likely to have the best photographic conditions. I also use social networks a lot to see through the hashtags, photographs that people took when they were there and see if some pictures of the places attract my attention more than others.

All of this is generally used to prepare myself and follow itineraries, an exploration zone, but you never know what you’re going to come across once you’re there. What I love is that often you come with a preconceived idea of the photos you’re going to take and you end up taking photographs of landscapes and intimate landscapes that you never imagined and that you only discover once you’re there.

And of course, when I have the opportunity, I do some reconnaissance of the place to maximise my chances of getting the right picture.

You also photograph wildlife. What are the main challenges you encounter when trying to get the perfect shot?

Yes, it’s true that sometimes I take pictures of wildlife. I don’t even have the right equipment to do it, it’s really just for fun, without any pretension, but when an opportunity arises to immortalise an animal during my travels, I take it.

The biggest challenge for me generally when I’m going to take photographs is to find the right composition. Everything is taken into account to have a good photograph, but for my part, I spend a lot of time looking for the right composition before taking a picture.

Do you have any particular rituals when it comes to taking pictures?

I don’t know if you can call it a ritual, but when I go hiking, in order to photograph a specific place, I always try to arrive at least 30 to 45 minutes before the time I want to take the picture, to give me time to find the right composition.

Do you have a favourite time of day to go out and shoot?

I love to photograph at sunrise and sunset. Although, I probably have a slight preference for the morning, not just at sunrise, but also up to two hours after sunrise, because you are sure not to see anyone as opposed to the evening when people are more likely to be outside.

What photography equipment do you use?

Here’s a list of my equipment:

  • A Coman tripod—EMU TM287A Aluminum + C-1 Ball Head
  • A Nikon D7200 camera with AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR lens
  • A Nikon remote control for long exposures and bracketing
  • Lee filters: 1 polarizing filter and 1 ND 15-stops filter
  • And 2 Nikon batteries.
We’re delighted to hear that you use Affinity Photo for your retouching. How did you first discover the app and what impressed you about it?

I used Lightroom classic for a few years. The more I trained in photography the more I saw the importance of post-processing. Retouching can either improve a photograph or devalue it. So I wanted to have something other than Lightroom. That’s when I discovered Affinity Photo by doing some research online to find alternative software. I first tried it to see the interface and do some tests. I immediately loved this software. The potential it had, the freedom in retouching, the interface, the ease of use, it’s really the whole set of features that convinced me right away.

What are your typical post-production steps for retouching your photographs?

I use a lot of local retouching, especially through curves and levels and selective correction (for colour management). I like to use the technique of dodge and burn, and as I often take photographs in bracketing, I also use luminosity masks.

You’ve created several tutorial videos on how to enhance nature photos using Affinity. What inspired you to do this?

It’s the desire to help others. I know how complicated it is to find one’s own style and to know how to edit a photograph without going too far in retouching. I spent a lot of time finding my post-processing style which consists of enhancing a photograph while keeping the naturalness of the scene. Now that I have found it, I wish to share my knowledge with others to help them find theirs.

Do you have any favourite photographers who you admire?

Of course, there are many photographers that I admire and who inspire me every day with their photographs, but also with their philosophy. Here are a few names of photographers who inspire me and why:

  • Vincent Munier, a wildlife photographer who I admire for his photographic work and his passion for the wild. He is a great defender of nature and has an admiring vision of it. He goes alone in total immersion in nature to live unique moments that he puts before photography.
  • Landscape photographer, Thomas Heaton. I admire his creativity, his vision of photography and the story behind each photograph.
  • Landscape photographer, Nick Page. I love his photographic work and his post-processing.
  • Max Rive, a photographer who specialises in mountain photography. He really has a unique style, I love his photographs, for me his strength is the composition. He has really amazing compositions.
  • Seascape photographer, Rachael Talibart. Her creativity, her artistic vision and her compositions are magical! I love her photographs.
What achievement are you most proud of in your photography career and why?

What I am most proud of is that I made the decision to embark on this adventure and decided to contribute to environmental awareness, because it gives me a purpose in life that I didn’t really have before.

“What I am most proud of, is that I made the decision to embark on this adventure and decided to contribute to environmental awareness, because it gives me a purpose in life that I didn’t really have before.”

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

What I like most about my job is to have a privileged contact with nature. To be able to experience emotions, to have sensations that most people have lost because of a life that is too urban.

What are your ambitions for the future? How would you like your photography to progress?

I have so much on my mind! I am currently working on a project for a photo book that hopefully will be released in about four years. I want to travel around the world, to go to countries in the North where I haven’t had the chance to go yet. To be able to organise photo trips and workshops in the future. I would also like to be even more involved in the protection of the environment, to have proposals for photographic projects and others. I will also continue my photo tutorials with Affinity Photo and continue to improve my own style because in photography you never stop evolving.

You can see more of Axel’s work on his website, Instagram and Facebook, watch his Affinity Photo tutorials on YouTube and purchase prints of his work via his online store.