Zdeněk Vošický: From Amateur to Professional

Interview with nature photographer Zdenek Vosicky

In our interview series “From Amateur to Professional”, we will be asking established nature photographers to share their photos and see how their practices have developed, changed, and improved over time. You’ll get to see the progression of their images, learn how they got started, and find out how they transitioned from amateur to professional.

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Zdeněk Vošický was born in the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands and has spent most of his life in the city of Světlá nad Sázavou. This city holds a special place in Zdeněk’s heart, as the people there provided him with great support at the beginning of his career.

Zdeněk specialises in landscape and topographical photography, and has published five award-winning books. He is a master of many genres, and has also achieved worldwide success in sport, architecture, and fine art photography.

When and why did you first catch the nature photography bug?

As a little boy I spent a lot of time in a small, remote country cottage, which had neither running water nor electricity. However, it sat amidst beautiful natural surroundings. It was at this cottage that I first laid my hands on a camera, given to me by my father. And as they say, the rest is history! 

However, my journey through life was not this simple. As both my parents were pilots of sport aeroplanes, I also began to fly once I was old enough. I was not fully satisfied spending my time at the airfield, but was instead drawn to nature, and so I started to fly a hang glider.

Hiking and flying in the mountains inspired me to capture all the beautiful scenes that I witnessed, so that I could share them with others.

To start with, I became involved with making documentary films, and after a period of time I achieved my first success. Two films I worked on about flying in the mountains even made it to the prestigious International Mountain Film Festival, where I had the opportunity to meet Kurt Diemberger, the legendary mountain climber.

His fascinating lecture and slideshow of images inspired me so much that I returned to photography. Thanks to the close relationship I have with flying, I started capturing aerial photographs. In those days, before the arrival of drones, this was a completely different type of adventure.

I would sit in the open doorway of the plane, so I experienced many dramatic conditions over almost twenty years, as well as so much beauty and adventure. An emergency landing, with my colleague Radek Klimeš as pilot, only ended well thanks to a significant amount of luck.

However, this did not deter me from flying, and I continued to develop my aerial photography skills. This finally resulted in the publication of my photography books.

However, the arrival of drones meant that this genre ceased to excite me. Using a drone to take photographs can offer fantastic opportunities, but without having my eye on the viewfinder and enjoying the many accompanying adventures in the air, it simply didn’t feel right for me.

So, I started hiking more and more frequently, and looked for new angles of view. I gradually redeveloped my passion for photography, and slowly gained recognition in various genres.

Photographer Zdenek Vosicky
Here I am with Radek after a dramatic emergency landing. We used to fly an ultralight plane for photography, although Radek works as a professional pilot serving in the air fire brigade.

Show us one of the first images you ever took. What did you think of it at the time compared to now?

This is one of my favourite early snaps. Although I had been involved in aerial photography for a little while, it took some time until I captured a photo that I genuinely liked. Back then, it was more complex to take photographs from an aeroplane; photographic technology did not allow for a lot of the things we can do today.

Zdenek Vosicky photograph aerial.

I dedicated my time to geographic photography. My attention would be drawn to something below as we were cruising over in the plane. I wouldn’t find out until I was back home whether the photographs I’d taken from above were any good. You cannot prepare an exact composition on a plane, and by the time you fly over again, everything below has changed.

Due to the advanced technology today, aerial photography is much more simple. You can simply position a drone in a certain location and wait for a suitable moment to take a photograph. The photograph above was also published in my first photography book.

Show us 2 of your favourite photos – one from your early/amateur days, and one from your professional career. Why do you like them, what made you so proud of them, and how do you feel about the older image now?

I spent a while thinking about this question, and deciding which photos I should choose. I then remembered my first couple of attempts at movement photography. 

This first photograph of mallards in flight over the Sázava River took many attempts, and is totally free of any post-production processing. This was how we did it back then, with no Photoshop or other software available. Anything you didn’t sort out in the original shot would not be in the final product.

Mallards in flight photograph with motion blur.

I am still proud of this image to this day because of the limited editing opportunities, and thus the great patience it took me to wait until I captured the photo I had imagined in my head. 

The second picture (below) again captures mallards in flight. Taking such a photo is certainly much easier today, even though you still need a lot of patience and training. It is important to remember that you will not be successful at the first click!

Mallards in flight photograph with motion blur.

Nowadays you can take literally thousands of snaps using high speed serial shooting mode, and then play with the photos in editing software to shape them more closely to your original vision. 

When did you decide you wanted to become a professional photographer? How did you transition into this and how long did it take?

I didn’t actually make the decision to turn professional – it just happened. I had started to want to compile my own book of aerial photographs, so I began the work necessary to make it happen.  

I plucked up the courage to visit the Town Hall in Světlá nad Sázavou to show the councillors my photographs and introduce them to my plan. Luckily they liked my plan and gave it their support. I think that, at the time, none of us realised how much this decision would impact my life; I will always be grateful for their support. 

The Church of Saint John of Nepomuk atop the Green Mountain near the city of Žďár nad Sázavou, towering from a sea of fog. The monument is enlisted in the UNESCO World Heritage.

All of a sudden, with the publication of this book, I realised that I was a professional photographer.

Being a professional, by the way, does not mean being a master photographer. A professional photographer is a person who strives to make enough to live on from their photography. This is not always an easy task. 

The skillset and sense of passion for photography does not divide professional photographers from amateurs; both groups possess these attributes. 

Looking at some photographic competitions, they are often divided into these two categories. But would you be able to recognise the difference between an amateur photograph and one taken by a professional?

Was there a major turning point in your photography career – a eureka moment of sorts?

There have been many turning points in my life, some of the earlier ones I have mentioned above. However, the most impactful ones are those that have happened since I started to pursue photography at a professional level.

The first major turning point was my encounter with an amazing human, the writer František Uher.

He strongly encouraged me to organise my first exhibition and persuaded me to enter photos into my first photography competitions. Although it may seem absurd, I am not naturally competitive and I ignore Instagram almost completely (which is rare these days, I know).

I allowed myself to be convinced to compete in these competitions, and something very exciting happened: I received my first photography award, and an award for my photographic book Vysočina shůry (Highlands from Above).

However, I then encountered a challenging period. Firstly I suffered from a serious illness, which was then followed by the Covid pandemic. This period hurt me professionally, but also freed up some time for my personal work, and allowed me to be more active on the international scene.

Then, I enjoyed some new and entirely unexpected successes.

Lone tree landscape 'Solitary' by Zdenek Vosicky

My work was greatly improved by my success in the Sony World Photography Awards, in which I acquired my first mirrorless camera and Sony’s support of my work. After that, I was successful in the CEWE Awards and, thanks to this, I was able to complete and upgrade my photography kit.

I started to think differently and take photographs of the world from a new angle. I also started experimenting with using longer lenses. 

I shot for the prestigious 2017 Nikon calendar, which helped raise CZK 210,000 for the Archa Chantal Endowment Fund, whose philosophy is the humanisation of children’s medical facilities.

I started to receive new and interesting commissions. I worked on an order for a unique and spectacular book for the 200th anniversary of Gregor Johann Mendel, the father of modern genetics, to be printed on handmade paper.

It was a very varied body of work, involving photographing both subjects and nature, and lasted for almost two years. I owe this to one fateful encounter with Ms. Veronika Slámová!

More recently, I have just been putting the final touches to my sixth book, entitled Jižní Morava – krásná, neznámá (South Moravia – Beautiful and Unknown).
In simple words, never give up.

Last but not least, I have to mention those that are most important to me: my beloved family, my partner, and my little daughter, who all helped me to overcome any troubles and difficulties.

Are there any species, places, or subjects that you have re-visited over time? Could you compare images from your first and last shoot of this? Explain what’s changed in your approach and technique.

As landscape and nature are my most popular genres of photography, I often return to the same locations many times. I love my country so I travel around it a lot and, believe it or not, I still have much to photograph.

Some may find this boring, but I can promise you that it is not. On the contrary, this is the best way to learn how to make the most of each particular location.

landscape aerial photograph by Zdenek Vosicky
The little Chapel of Saint Barbara photographed with a tip of forest in my first attempts.

In my opinion, a good photograph can be taken almost anywhere. You just have to keep your eyes open, be prepared to lay down on the ground or climb trees, view things through your camera viewfinder, and patiently wait for the perfect place and time.

landscape aerial photograph by Zdenek Vosicky

The image above was taken in the same place a few years later, a bit further to the right, with a bit of forest missing. In this season the field in the foreground was tidy, and there was a slight mist.

I like both photographs but, as I tend to favour a minimalist approach, I prefer the second one.

Has anything changed in regards to how you process and edit your images?

Yes! As it has been so long since I began photographing, I started out making virtually no adjustments to my images. I am a very open-minded photographer, and I don’t view any photographic process as superior to another. 

I dislike controversies and disagreements amongst photographers about this. I appreciate any good piece of work, ranging from completely natural, realistic shots to those that are completely staged, and from assembled or stacked photographs, to those with strong adjustments and modifications.

'Red Planet' by photographer Zdenek Vosicky
As an example, here is one of my popular fine art photographs of nature, entitled ‘Red Planet’. This photograph draws attention to global warming.

However, landscape photography is a bit of a sensitive topic in this area, and each person must experiment and find out what works best for them. The photographic concept and the photographer’s intention are also important to consider. After all, photography falls under the umbrella of fine art.

The photographer’s work is either popular or not, that is all. Everybody has the right to freedom of expression, and this should always be respected – we have learnt a lot about this in the history of art. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced starting out, and what’s your biggest challenge now?

At the very beginning, everything was a challenge to me, as is always the way when exploring a new interest, and discovering the ideas and subjects that interest you. Many photographers even change genre after shooting the same kinds of photographs for many years.

Heron taking off from nest photograph by Zdenek Vosicky
A heron taking off from the nest around the Lednice lake area.

I enjoy the genres of landscape and nature photography the most. Bird photography is my challenge at the moment! Even though I have no desire to become specialised in bird photography, and I might not capture the most unique or splendid images, I still enjoy the process and I will be able to capture a few good images while I’m at it!  

In my new book, Inter Alia, I will introduce readers to the feathered inhabitants of our country.

What’s the one piece of advice that you would give yourself if you could go back in time?

Do not try to take photographs for competitions; take them for yourself. Get inspired by the work of others, but do not copy everything. Try to bring something new and personal into photos.

Award winning photographer Zdenek Vosicky landscape photography
This image, which was awarded several times, was taken almost right behind my house.

As aforementioned in an interview with Will Burrard-Lucas here on Nature TTL, select a location near your home and practise there. Experiment with various light conditions, compositions, and approaches. You will be surprised how much you will be able to learn from just one location over time, and how much you will improve your skills.

In earlier days, I was always on the hunt for an ideal location, only to realise over time that the ideal location can be found almost anywhere.

Feature images with thanks to Petr Krčma. Translations with thanks to Jiří Růžička.

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