Interview – Kiara Vestigium

This interview is a little different, instead of sending all the questions in one, I was able to interview Kiara live so I could shape my questions to her answers. I hope you like it.

Kiara is an amazing, dedicated person who captures beautiful photos of the world, especially the big cats at  the Sanctuary for Predators and Exotic Animals  where she works. The animals here have been taken from awful backgrounds, whether kept as an illegal pest in appalling conditions or after working their life in a circus when they become to old they are going to be killed, they all find a wonderful home here. Please check out the link  it’s such a great place helping these magnificent creatures. Her work really captures the majesty of the animals and their individual characters and souls. She is also a really great friend who I am so happy to have met.


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Hey Bianca, thank you for doing this interview. First of all tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hey Chloe! Thanks for having me here today.
Oh my, always those questions when you ask yourself: “Where to start?!” So I guess I’ll start with my name: I’m Kiara Vestigium which is my pen name I adopted back in 2008 because I wanted to publish my poems online. However it grew so much on me that I also use it for my photography and for my short stories. I live in a small town in Germany with three lovely cats who I miss terribly when I’m away for university.


You’re welcome, I’m glad you could make it. Haha yeah sorry about that, those questions and ‘what’s your favorite film’ are hard 🙂 Aw that sounds really nice, what are your cats called? I hear you work with some bigger cats as well.

Sammy (16), Kiki (6) and Garfield (4) – yes Garfield is a ginger cat 😀
I do! I’m volunteering at the Sanctuary for Predators and Exotic Animals. They have tigers, a cougar, a lynx and a caracal. They are a little bigger than my cats at home and I’m afraid not as cuddly either. The Sanctuary takes in big cats and other animals in need and gives them a new home where they can live their life in peace. We do however have an open house day since we totally rely on donations. Oh and of course the best thing after a long working day (= cleaning, cleaning, cleaning and feeding) the best thing is to get out your camera and take some photos.



Wow that sounds like an amazing life for you, surrounded by all those lovely animals. It’s awful some of their stories but so happy they are all with you now. Before we get onto the photography can you tell us one of their stories, the most inspiring one you can think of (like how they had a bad life but now are happy) 

Well I’m not actually “surrounded” by them since I only go there in my free time which is usually only once or twice a month but those are my happiest days. Like a mini-vacation!
Sure. Everyone of them has a sad or shocking story but I think the worst is the one of Pünktchen and Anton the cougar siblings. They were discovered at a criminal’s house during a search for something completely else. They had a little stall with only 8m^2 and were standing deep in their own feces, their water bowl was overgrown with algae. Poor things really. The police brought them to us where they’ve lived for 14 years. Anton unfortunately died last winter because he suffered from arthritis and diabetes which occurred probably not only due to his age but also due to his first two years where he was kept in the small stall at the criminal’s place. Pünktchen is well despite her age and still has some temper. She never really trusted humans – understandable after what she’s been through.


Oh that’s such an awful story, how horrible for them. It’s great that the sanctuary exists so you can help them like you do. I love the photos you take of them, how did you first get into photography?

Thank you!
My grandfather used to have a Polaroid and take photo of us when we were kids. I was pretty fascinated by the black pictures which magically transformed into photos of me and my family. With six years I got an Olympus for my birthday (yes, you still had to put a film into it and I had to learn that there are only 24 pictures I could take before the film ran out 😉. in 2010 I got my Canon DSLR for Christmas and I’m really glad it’s digital, though I also learned here: The more pictures you take the more you’ll have to work through.


Oh wow I also wanted a Polaroid, they really are like magic. My camera only took that many photos too so I was blown away when I could suddenly take 1,000 with my next camera. Love that quote, it’s very true. So which Canon camera do you have now? And which lenses?

They are really expensive though these days :/
I have a simple Canon EOS 1000D and “only” two lenses: 18-55mm and 55-250mm from Canon. Professionals might have lots more lenses but I found that I actually get along with these two pretty well. Especially since I need to be flexible – that’s why they are both zooms – to photograph animals.
Oh and I own a retro-converter to shoot some macros.

Yeah and the ink costs are insane. 
Sometimes simple is better, if you have more lenses you might miss moments when you’re changing them. Call me thick but what’s a retro converter? 

It’s a kind of adapter with which you can attach your lenses the other way round = reversed. So the light comes through the lenses the other way. This way the subjects are magnified a lot more. You also lose all your automatic functions in the retro-mode but since your macro subjects usually don’t run away that’s all right. And your focal point shifts so you have to get really close to your subject (like a few millimeter to a centimeter apart) for it to become sharp.
The retro-converter is a neat and cheap alternative to macro lenses – at least that’s my point of view. 😉


Hey that sounds really good. So you have three lenses in a way. Where did you learn your craft, was it instinctive, progressive or did you take a photography course?

Four actually since I can use the retro-converter for both lenses.
Up to the point where I got my DSLR I only took intuitive photos – much like people take photos with their mobile cameras these days. I tried that method with my DSLR in the beginning but soon found it very unsatisfying and started to read the manual as well as online tutorials. I’ve been to a photo workshop once but I have to say I didn’t learn that much there. I also learn a lot by asking other photographers e.g. on DA how they achieved this or that look in a photograph.

That’s really good. What camera accessories do you use, filters, tripod etc? And how do you carry everything around? 

I would love to have a polarizing filter, however the only “filter” I have is a UV filter. I have 2 tripots: One gorillapod (which I hardly ever use) and a “normal” one. I also have an external shutter release which I use for star photography or macro shots since the camera needs to be extra steady.
I fulfilled a dream of mine and bought a DA camera Probag last year when they were selling them cheaper. It’s really great since all my equipment fits in there and I can even fit my wallet and a small bottle of water in there, too.


That bag sounds brilliant. Do you have a dream piece of camera equipment. And speaking of dreams what would your dream shoot be (money and place no object.)

I would love to get a 100-400mm lens with IS and USM – but it’s just way too expensive. A fisheye would be cool, too – though I doubt I would use it often.
I never really thought about that one. But I bet it would involve tame big cats or big cat cubs 😀 But one thing I would really love to photograph is the aurora. It’s such a fascinating, beautiful phenomenon.

Big cat cubs *love* Oh I’d love to photograph the aurora too one day. 😀
Do you have a favourite subject to shoot such as landscape, macro eg?

Animals – obviously 😀 They don’t complain and you still have the difficulty to try to portrait their character in a picture. I also like macro but haven’t done any macro shots for a long while.


So what settings do you use? I love wide apertures. Do you shoot on auto, manual, programme, av, tv etc? 

Me, too! I usually shoot in Av set it to the widest aperture possible and shoot. Sometimes I switch to Tv if I need a high shutter speed rather than low aperture. I try to avoid automatic. It’s good but … you know I don’t have a DSLR to shoot in automatic.
I use manual for my macro shots.


That’s great. How do you go about shooting? Talk me through composition, lighting set up etc (if appropriate.)

Let’s say it’s a rather sunny day at the Sanctuary (here comes the boring scenario):
I take my camera, switch it on and wait. Cats sleep up to 20h a day so I have to wait till the tiger or lynx or whatever cat I want to photograph is active. When they do play in the water, with a ball or just lie in the sun dozing I try to get as close with me lens as possible. Usually being around 200-250mm. I try to apply the rule of thirds whenever possible.
Most important: I try to capture the animals’ character in the photo. This is not easy but gets easier the better you know the animal.
Less boring scenario (involves less waiting) with house cats:
I search for a nice spot where I have a green background some distant away (this gives a nice bokeh) and either photograph them “in their natural habitat” or I take some goodies or a ball with me and try to animate them this way. And after that it’s basically the same as with the big cats: rule of thirds, low aperture, checking the quality of the photos in between, adjusting settings if necessary. And most of all: Moving around. I try to change my position as often as possible to get photos from many different angles.
So as you see, I have to rely a lot on chance especially the lighting is mostly natural and thus I can’t change anything there. 


Thank you, that’s really helpful. How do you think photography affects us? Do you feel it can change or help our world?

I think that art in general effects a lot of people. Just look at all the advertisement – it’s all art! Photography in itself can also make a great difference: Especially journalistic photography. It raises awareness in the newspapers, on the internet, in your evening news. Ass soon as a photograph evokes emotion in the viewer it influences his opinion and if the emotions are strong enough it can also evoke action. And this is what can change the world.


That’s really powerful. What are your worst photography disasters? Have you ever had any funny moments shooting?

I’ll skip this question if that’s all right with you Chloe since I haven’t had any real disaster yet – luckily. Nor any real funny moment that would be worth telling.
All right I remembered a “disaster” moment: I was supposed to take photos of the school classes for a school magazine and it was really cold outside. after two photos my camera refused to work. Try explaining to a bunch of people who are freezing that your camera isn’t working anymore and you have to cancel the shoot. What’s more I started to panic because I thought the camera was broken. Luckily it wasn’t. It just didn’t like the cold. Taught me a lesson: never shoot when it’s below the temperature you feel comfortable outside and always have a spare battery with you if you should need to shoot at hell-freezing temperatures.

Do you use Photoshop, or any other editing software, extensively?

No. I Do use Photoshop – mainly camera RAW – but only for this like lighting adjustments, contrast and saturation and sharpness. The basics. I don’t even edit branches or leaves out of the picture. I’m a purist on this one. 


Have you or would you make photography your career?

I doubt it. I mean, I would love to, but I guess photography will stay a hobby for me. There are so many people out there my age who are lots better than me and my heart beats for too many things that I don’t have enough time to get to a point with my photography skills which are good enough to pursue a career as a photographer.

Do you have any personal tricks or tips you’d be willing to share about photography?

When you are working with animals: have patience and don’t over-do it. Take lots of break and bring lots of treats. Food is the best argument no matter what animal you are working with 
Be comfortable with your camera. There are digital cameras out there that can produce results which look as good as DSLR photographs. If you have a (D)SLR: lenses are everything. Not meaning you need lots of them but good ones. Secret tip: Ask your local photography store if they lend lenses. This way you can a) try them out before you might buy them and b) can borrow lenses you only need for special occasions like e.g. a trip the zoo, a wedding, …


Thanks. Which photographers have inspired you and who do you admire?

I admire Ben Heine for his creativeness however I don’t like the methods he uses to edit his photos. For me they are no photos anymore, they are half photomanipulations.
I also admire hoschie for his great cat photographs and work at the cat shelter.
I get inspiration from lots of people on DA. And there are too many to list here 

Do you have a favourite photography quote?

If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it. – Sean O’Connenl in “The secret Life of Walter Mitty”

Aw that’s so nice. Where do you see yourself in ten years time? 

Probably at university doing my PhD craving for more free time. ^^ It’s really hard really seeing myself in 10 years. So much could happen.


Where do you see photography in ten years?

Seeing how fast it evolved during the last 5 years: Who knows? I doubt it’ll be back to the roots, though. We will laugh at 10 mega pixels, though, as well as 8GB SD cards.
Mobile cameras will be able to shoot even better photos and who knows maybe somebody will invent a device with which you can take photos through you eyes without having to carry your camera everywhere you go (I doubt this will happen in the next ten years, but it would be seriously cool!)

What does photography mean to you?

It means free time and time outside for me! 😀

Has photography taught you anything? (I added this one if that’s all right)

Yes: It taught me that it is important to document the moment. To collect the memory but when it is documented on your film or your SD card you have to get back to the moment and enjoy it in real time. It’s no use missing it because you’ve tried to hard to take the best photo of it. Sometimes putting you camera back into your bag is the best thing you can do.

Thanks a lot Chloe for having me here. It was a pleasure and I really loved answering all those questions!


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