In a grassy clearing on the outskirts of Vienna, Austria, a place that tends to be known more for music and art more than nature, Dutch wildlife photographer Dick van Duijn found a natural world in miniature that often goes unnoticed right near our feet.
Laying among the blades of spring-green grass with camera in hand, van Duijn had gone to this area especially to photograph the ground squirrels. The squirrels, though busy with their animal-world lives, nonetheless found time for curiosity about the wildflowers growing among the grass.
One squirrel, wanting to get up close to the flower, walked up to a yellow flower and smelled it.
And the series of photos that van Duijn made of that moment went viral. For van Duijn, it certainly counted as one of the most memorable moments of a career often spent photographing the small and not-so-small wonders of nature.
“I think it was a very unique and beautiful moment. People recognize the humanity in it,” he said of the viral photographs.
For van Duijn, his journey into photography was almost accidental. For many years, he actually ran a fish shop with his parents. He had wanted to pick up a new hobby and so invested in a DSLR, and this led to his new career, he said.
He has certainly come a long way since the days when he was just trying out different hobbies. Besides the viral squirrel photos, Van Duijn’s work has been featured in several prominent media outlets, including CNN, NBC, and FOX News.
From his Instagram, it is easy to see why his work has gained prominence. We, as viewers, can stare straight into the eyes of many creatures, from the majestic tigers, lions, and cheetahs to the tiny squirrels and birds. Many of his photographs capture the dynamic and allow us to feel the motion of the nonhuman world.
Many of us get excited if we are able to take a grainy picture of an animal from far away on our smartphones before it nervously skitters away from us, but van Duijn’s work clearly shows that he knows the intricacies of using the camera to take our views up close to these animals without scaring them away.
“Some of the photographs are taken from inside a hide,” he recalled. “The animals can’t see you and you don’t disturb them.”
As for the famous ground squirrels, perhaps due to the urban or semi-urban environment they dwell in, van Duijn asserts that the squirrels are not actually afraid of humans.
“When you lay in the grass and wait for them to come out of their holes, they come really close,” he said.
Professional photography, especially wildlife photography, is not something one can simply pursue “on the fly”. And photography, as with all art, is not a field where one can expect the best results to come quickly. Van Duijn’s working process has certainly taught him patience.
“Sometimes it takes days or weeks before you capture that perfect moment,” he reflected.
But all that time spent in the field has certainly been worthwhile beyond the pride from the personal recognition van Duijn has gotten for his work.
“When you are walking in nature with your camera gear, you never know what you can expect. It’s never boring,” he reflected, of his love for the field of wildlife photography. “I’m a real animal lover and to capture them in their natural environment is what [I] love to do most.”
If you would like to check out more of his work, follow him on Instagram @dickvanduijn.