The Story Behind the Picture: Naomi Stolow

We’re launching a new creative editorial. Have you ever wondered how a striking photograph came to be? We’re exploring this curiosity by interviewing the photographers behind these images. This month we introduce Naomi Stolow, a wildlife photographer, finalist and category winner for Outdoor Photographer of the Year 2015.

storybehindthephoto©naomistoloworiginalsubmissionImage © Naomi Stolow 2015


Thank you very much for talking to The Mango Lab. What initiated your interest in photography?
I’ve always been a big traveller. My motto is: Life isn’t complete without a boarding pass, and I think everyone should travel while they can, meeting people from different cultures and experiencing different climates. I’ve travelled in all of the continents bar the polar ones, and while away I always craved a way of showing friends and family at home what I’d experienced and photography seemed a good way to do this even though I wasn’t very good at it and pictures were a big disappointment.


Before photography, what were you doing?
I worked as a nursery teacher for 12 years and for the last 16 have been working online – ecommerce, web design, search engine optimisation.  I’ve just left all that for a better life.


You’re a finalist and category winner for Outdoor Photographer of the Year for your image of an elephant’s trunk. What inspired this shot?
I was camping out in a concession in the Kruger National Park and I’d just got back from a morning drive. I’d enjoyed the outdoor shower (watching wildlife at the same time!) and I was just sitting there enjoying the views and sounds of hippos splashing about in the water, and from nowhere came this mighty elephant. He walked right in front of me and stopped to nibble in the trees. I grabbed my camera and came back and sat there, watching him working his trunk in the foliage and managed to get this shot. The way he used his beautiful trunk so skillfully to take just what he needed from the foliage – the detail seemed so spectacular that I wanted to capture it.


How did it feel to win?
I didn’t believe it, and I still can’t believe it, as there were so many other incredible images also shortlisted.


What camera was it taken on?
My Canon 5dIII with a 300mm prime lens that I’d hired for the safari.


What was the process of entering the competition? Did you have a variety of shots to pick from?
I always invest in a long time editing my photos after any trip, or walk in the park even, so I have collections that I know I’m happy with. So it was just a question of choosing. I try to avoid any duplication and work hard on the captions. When I enter a photograph into a competition, however unlikely the outcome, I imagine seeing it in the press. So if I have the feeling that it’s not really good enough or that I wish I’d entered something else and just got lucky – then I won’t enter it.


Compared with the other shots that were shortlisted, what do you think makes this one stand out?
I think it’s a different way of looking at an elephant. There are zillions of elephant photos out there, but I wanted to show how great the small detail looked.


It’s such a simple shot but at the same time it’s abstract and outside the box. Do you think that’s one of the reasons it won wildlife insight?
Possibly – although I have no idea really.


What was intentional and what was accidental in this shot?
Everything was accidental. I was exploring the elephant so close to me I could have touched it – with a long lens. So it forced me to be creative and to seek out the composition.


When taking this wildlife photograph what different components were you considering?
Not a lot, just the normal – exposure, shutter speed and aperture. I’m not too fussed on the ISO.


Looking back at the image, what feelings does it evoke for you personally?
It makes me yearn to go back to the beauty of Africa and do more photography.


What are you hoping people will feel looking at the image?
I’d like people to think: I wish I’d been beside her when she took it and seen that too. I’d like people to care about our wildlife and treasure it.


How important was using Photoshop in editing this image, if at all?
When I first saw it looking on the laptop, it stood out and looked pretty perfect as it stood in the raw file. It didn’t even need cropping.


Could you have produced the same image 20 years ago?
No way. 20 years ago I would have taken the classic ‘elephant postcard’ shot and been happy.


How important is modern technology in helping capture these moments?
For sure modern technology has made capturing these moments easier, but at the same time also harder as it’s so easy – I think in the end, it’s just different tools we’ve got to work with.


Looking ahead is there somewhere or something you would love to photograph?
Yes, lots of things. I crave going to Zimbabwe to photograph impala in the Mana Pools where there is the most spectacular light and I’d love to photograph narwhals up in the Arctic.


What do think makes wildlife photography so different to other genres?
I have seriously beaten myself up many times for witnessing some great animal behavior and not got my settings right – either being unprepared or even something as simple as not having the camera in my hand. You also need a LOT of patience, luck and skill. With wildlife photography nothing can happen at all for days, or things can happen at lightning speed and you’ve got to be ready.


What does photography give you that nothing else does?
When I’m out photographing it’s all about what I’m seeing – nothing else in the world matters.


 To view more of Naomi’s stunning wildlife photographs visit:

Naomi will co-chair our June  Hotshots  | Personal Projects + Portfolio Jam Session.


Watch this space to see who we interview next month for the Story Behind the Picture










  1. Sally Landberger says:

    Lovely interview and great philosophy. It’s not just the detail in the trunk and foliage which make this such a great shot, but the curves in the surrounding plants that mirror the trunk so perfectly to make such a balanced image – so well observed!

  2. Emmanuel Rey says:

    Very nice piece. It is nice to recognize that an accident can have more esthetic value than a laid out plan. At the same time, there are so many things that are right in that shot that it could have been intentional. Indeed no need for photoshop. Also, while doing something and nothing else matters must be a fantastic feeling!

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