The world is full of emerging artists, and today we want to shine a spotlight on somebody we recently found. Paul Kober (instagram) is a 60-year-old wildlife photographer from Holland, MI, USA, with a knack for anima photography. He’s also a musician, and he combined his two passions to create some very unique photos right in his backyard. I asked him for a closer look at his images and how he makes them.
Where do the instruments come from?
I’m a musical instrument repair technician. Over the years, I have collected instruments that are beyond repair, and I repurpose them by displaying them as decorations in the backyard. Musician friends and orchestra directors have gifted instruments for the display. I have also purchased some from antique stores, eBay, and craigslist.
Do you have specific animals in mind, or “whatever comes around”?
Here in Michigan, there are ducks, black squirrels, deer, and turkeys aside from the birds.
Initially, I shot whatever landed on the instruments – the goal being just a shot pleasing to the eye. I quickly refined my method and now always have a specific image in mind. First, I position the instrument with a nice background. I ‘train’ the animal, using food to go to that instrument. (I use over a dozen different types of food throughout the seasons/year.) Finally, depending on the exact image I want, I strategically place food so that the animal goes to a certain spot – the mouthpiece, the neck, the valves, etc.
What is the camera setup?
I am currently using the Canon R6 with the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM 1.4X lens. I use the Canon 600EX II-RT flash with the Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite transmitter in conjunction with the Westcott Rapid Box and Westcott 7′ Umbrella (White Diffusion).
I have the flash way feathered – to add just a touch of light to help bring out the texture and color of the feathers. I do not use flash for the other animals. It doesn’t make the fur look good.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I have been a musician (jazz saxophonist) my entire life. I also love animals and nature. I moved to Michigan to be surrounded by woods instead of houses. It felt natural to me to combine these three elements when doing photography. For inspiration, I’m always looking at other photographers’ images. I consider Scott Kelby, Rick Sammon, Moose Peterson, Glyn Dewis, Karen Hutton, Dave Black, and Kaylee Greer as my unofficial mentors!
I primarily view myself as a portrait photographer – with the added challenge of having unsuspecting subject matter! This requires a lot of patience. It takes time to initially train the animal to become used to the specific instrument. I also have to be sure they’re comfortable at the spot they’ll be photographed in.
I set up my gear outside and sit very still, hoping the animal decides to show up and goes to the correct spot. I shoot a lot before getting the image. It took me 90+ hours sitting outside in the winter to get the shot of the deer at the tympani. Getting the black squirrel to be the right distance from the microphone proved very challenging – he always wanted to have his mouth on it! Likewise, the gray squirrel ‘playing’ the bugle was very time-consuming. He had to be the right distance from the mouthpiece, and the flag needed to be blowing just enough!