Observing the world through the lens of a camera is second nature to Ettienne van Rensburg.
He has established himself as an award-winning photographer and journalist in community media and is an esteemed sports photographer who also has an eye for the fun in sport.
Ettienne (39), alumnus of the Vaal Triangle Campus, is sports editor of the Vaalweekblad, a community newspaper in the Vaal Triangle.
He cut his teeth in newspaper journalism at Beeld and Sondag before settling at Vaalweekblad, where he has been honing his skills for the last couple of years. Here he is responsible for all sporting content in the Vaalweekblad's stable of publications. This entails action photography, layout, subediting and writing, and producing copy for the paper's webpage.
“I love sports, especially rugby. I have always wanted to sit next to the field and capture the action. It was divine intervention that pushed me on this path,” says Ettienne.
His initial plan was to study law on the Potchefstroom Campus of the NWU, but after his father suffered two heart attacks in short order, he decided to pursue his studies closer to home.
After completing his BA degree in 1998, he received his honours degree in sociology in 2001 at the Vaal Campus of the former PU for CHE.
Ettienne remembers his student years with a smile and jokes that he would probably have been elected honorary president of the beer guild "if there had been one". He was a Nyala daily and winks as he explains what a staunch supporter of student activities he used to be.
He inherited his love of photography from his father. “My dad was an enthusiastic photographer in his younger days.”
If Ettienne is not snapping sports photos, he photographs weddings – which means he always keeps his camera close.
One day he wants to master the intricacies of nature photography, but for now he is quite content perfecting his sports photography next to the rugby field.
Whether it be "bulletjie" rugby or the clash of the titans, Ettienne will be on site, lens pointed at the action.
“Rugby is probably most South African sports photographers' favourite sport to photograph. I love rugby and am attuned to it, and I think this helps me get good photos. One's passion shows through one's work,” he says.
One of the highpoints of Ettienne's career was photographing the All Blacks’ famous haka. He also covered the first T20 world cup tournament in South Africa as a sports journalist, and has been a photographer at various rugby tests between South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia.
He enjoys seeing future talent unfold before his lens when he covers Craven Week tournaments, as he was a keen rugby player himself before an injury took him off the field.
“I played rugby from a young age, but developed back problems. I had to hang up my boots early on in my club career.” He wanted to stay involved in the game and photography has helped him to do just that.
Over the past six years Ettienne has won various national prizes for sports journalism and photography:
Although Ettienne is grateful for the recognition of his peers, he feels that more can be done to place the spotlight on the hard work of the community media.
“Due to increased pressure on printed media and digital photography, as well as the emergence of social media and ’citizen journalists' (ordinary members of the public taking photos and writing news reports), there is a misconception that anyone can be a journalist.
“Although there are competitions for community media, like the Caxton, Legends and Sanlam (now FCJ) Awards, I think more can be done.”
Ettienne, his wife Magdel and their two daughters are quite happy in the Vaal Triangle.
He dreams of one day shooting American football and is unable to choose a favourite amongst the photos he has taken. “I think that I still have to take my favourite, most beautiful photo..."
The NWU & U
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Ettienne's advice to emerging photographers is practise, practise, practise.
“These days digital photography and the internet make it very easy for new photographers to learn quickly. My advice is to acquire suitable equipment you can afford and to start practising. If you can find yourself a mentor, it would boost your learning process significantly.
“The most important thing is knowledge of and an intuition for the game you are shooting. Study the work of other photographers, copy them, and start experimenting with different angles and shots. If you don't have a passion for photography, you won't make it.”
NWU & U