Tanja Brandt is an animal enthusiast who reinvented herself after suffering a stroke. That gave her a chance to re-evaluate her life. Taking pictures of her pets and capturing their various moods during her convalescence helped her understand them better and gave her a new lease on life in her new role as a photographer
Tell us something about yourself?
I was a truck driver before I became a photographer. Trucking was hard work and perhaps the reason I suffered a stroke. I stopped working and concentrated on getting healthy. That's how this phase of my life began. I wanted to showcase the friendship between my dog and owls. You could say my interest is in nature, animals and taking pictures.
What got you interested in capturing animals on camera?
The fascination with the beauty and power of animals, and what you cannot see with your eyes, but through the lens. The most important thing is to touch people with your pictures, no matter in which way.
From where did you get the animals?
We can get owls only from breeders. Nothing else is allowed in Germany. I am also a licensed falconer, and that helped. I have three little owls (I donate the owlets to wilderness projects); a white faced owl; a long-eared owl; a great grey owl; an Ural owl; two snowy owls (I bought them because they could not stay in a park and they are old and I hope, they can live some good last years here); a Siberian eagle owl; a barn owl; a Harris hawk and two dogs - a Belgian Malinois female aged 11, and a male Ingo aged 7. We live together, learn together and we experience adventures together. We are family.
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Their relationship with each other...
They love each other. Most importantly, there's respect and trust between them. They cuddle and care for each other. The owls know that the safest place is with Ingo.
Why owls and dogs over other animals?
I love (nearly) all animals. But dogs are my favourites. I like their loyalty, wisdom, devotion and power. They would die for me and I would die for my dogs. Owls are completely different. They do what they want to do. People say owls are wise, but they are not (especially snowy owls). The contrast is so interesting. I would love to keep other animals: wolves, cheetahs and so on, but I don't have a big farm or a lot of money.
How do you get them to pose?
Ha ha ha! Owls do not pose. They do only what they want to do. But I can show them a place and tell them: Wow, that's the greatest place ever, it's wonderful...then I let them fly there and they think they have chosen the place on their own. I let them take charge and take pictures from a distance. And sometimes, I'm outside for hours and can't get even a single shot.
How do you keep them patient for that perfect shot? Have you trained them to be models for you?
You cannot plan anything in advance. They don't do what I want them to do. But they trust me. Ingo knows that when we are together nothing evil will happen. Training them to be models wouldn't work. Ingo loves being in pictures. He is so proud and whenever I take out the camera, he is in the picture. We go out for a walk, fly, have adventures and I take photos. Owls are lazy; they don't want to fly a lot. They like to relax, sit and watch the surroundings.
How do you select your locations, themes and compositions?
We walk, play and when we see something nice and interesting, we stop and stay there for a while. Sometimes, we rest and watch wild animals playing.
Some dos and don'ts when shooting with animals?
Silence and trust. I always talk to the animals calmly and quietly. They must always be sure that nothing bad will happen to them. Never. Patience is the most important. Impatience, pressure, loud noises don't work at all.