The saying ‘as free as a bird’ is spoken by many yet truly understood by few, except perhaps for the likes of award-winning Israeli wildlife photographer Ofer Levy. The recent winner of the prestigious ANZANG Nature Photography award in Australia and New Zealand, Levy has spent his entire career photographing our avian fellows for some of the world’s leading nature magazines. Levy’s photographs, which have been praised by the BBC, Australian Geographic and many others, are impressive not only for their artistic caliber, but for their ability to eternalize the riveting lives of some of the world’s rarest and most beautiful birds.
A childhood passion turned profession
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Levy’s love story with birds began as a child in Haifa, Israel, where he grew up across from a vast field of chrysanthemums. According to Levy, “It was in this field, where I saw lots of turtles, hedgehogs, birds and other animals roaming around, that my passion for the natural world developed.” By the time he was a teenager, Levy went out and bought a film camera and a lens and began to photograph every bird in sight. Lucky for Levy, nearly 500 million birds make their way through Israel and the Levant twice a year during the fall and spring migratory seasons, when the birds of Europe embark on their very own summer vacation in Africa.
“The diversity and richness of bird species in Israel, especially during the fall and spring migration periods, is definitely one of the things that inspired me to photograph birds,” Levy tells NoCamels. “However, my continuous meetings with the unique and beautiful birds near my childhood home is also what inspired me to focus on birds. I really felt that I had a whole safari of animals right outside of my house and wanted to document them.”
The other aspect that drove Levy to photograph birds was what he calls, “the tremendous difficulty” inherent in the art. “The challenge is what makes photographing birds so special because a bird is here one minute and gone the next, so the ability to preserve a fleeting moment with a bird is really magical, being able to capture their behavior and their aesthetic qualities.”
Levy’s gift lies in confronting a challenge
Levy’s craving for a challenge is what ultimately influenced his decision to leave Israel and make his home elsewhere – in Australia – where the diversity, richness and beauty of the wildlife and avian populations is beyond comparison. It is there, photographing some of the rarest and most stunning birds in the world, that Levy was able to make a name for himself as a wildlife photographer, winning four Australian titles in wildlife photography, this being his third win of the title ‘ANZANG Nature Wildlife Photographer of the year.’
Internationally, Levy was a finalist for the ‘BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ in 2010, and in 2012, he was awarded the honor of having one of his photographs printed in the anniversary edition of the publication, his photograph selected as the best from a historical collection. Currently, Levy has an ongoing exhibition showing at the Australian Museum in Sydney and he is the moderator for the world’s largest site for bird photography.
According to Levy, gaining attention as a wildlife photographer is not as difficult as it may seem: “Today, it’s not so hard to get exposure, usually I just submit to publications and they tend to like my work. I tend to get a lot of offers for calendars, advertisements and newspapers.” Besides being published for their beauty by publications like the BBC and Australian Geographic, his photographs are also used to raise awareness by the Israeli Environmental Protection Agency, among others.
Levy has already made his a household name in the world of bird photography, but that doesn’t mean he’s lost his sense of adventure: “I photograph because I don’t have a choice. It is something that I am so passionate about that it’s almost like a drug. I spend a lot of time and effort to get just the right picture and I couldn’t be happier about it. It fulfills my craving for a challenge.”
All Photos: Ofer Levy