Artist Creates Stunning Animal Images Using Thousands of Nature Photos Combined Together

Photographic illustrator Josh Dykgraaf is completely reimagining wildlife photography by digitally combining animals and landscapes—fused together as one—to create something entirely unique.

Inspired by objects and scenery found in nature, as well as animal photography, his digital series “Terraform” invites viewers to contemplate some of the wondrous patterns in nature which, when combined, resonate with both contrast and harmony.

“I was surfing through some images I’d shot on a totally different project and had the observation that some rock formations in the Swiss Alps looked like the skin of an elephant,” Dykgraaf, of Melbourne, Australia, told My Modern Met of the project’s inception.

The image of the Alps, joined with the similarly colossal, majestic beast, became his first hybrid piece, titled “Ourea.”

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“Ourea” combines photos of the Alps to create a hybrid composite image of an African elephant. (Courtesy of Josh Dykgraaf)

Dykgraaf, who has been freelancing as an artist for almost a decade, didn’t stop there. Noticing how certain leaves resemble bird feathers and some flower petals, scales, he delved deeper into his exploration and expanded his project.

Each production is a labor of love. With a small lighting setup, he photographs leaf and flower collages from multiple angles before layering up to 3,000 images in Photoshop. The process of completing one picture takes anywhere from 30 to 60 hours.

“Technically, I work with the idea that ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,’” he shared in an interview with Design Boom.

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Magnolia flower petals are combined to resemble the scales of a pangolin. (Courtesy of Josh Dykgraaf)
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Hundreds of tiny leaves are combined to create two tawny frogmouth birds. (Courtesy of Josh Dykgraaf)
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Protea flower blossoms perfectly mimic the scales of a frilled lizard. (Courtesy of Josh Dykgraaf)

In one of his works, a coiled pangolin with its coarse, hardened scales—created entirely out of delicate magnolia petals—sets off a stunning contrast; in another, a pair of tawny frogmouth birds are comprised of countless tiny layered leaves in a clever composition; in yet another, a frilled lizard’s scales betray a striking resemblance with protea flower blossoms.

The pangolin, said Dykgaard, is “probably my favorite thing I’ve created recently.”

The magnolias, found blooming along a street near his home, had just the vibe and color palette in his conception. During the 2020 lockdown, he focused entirely on natural objects and materials that could be sourced close to home, assembling his creations in a makeshift kitchen studio that he set up.

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Eastern rosella is composed from different colored leaves. (Courtesy of Josh Dykgraaf)
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An echidna is created by using photos of gum tree shoots in Dykgaard’s “Bushfire” series. (Courtesy of Josh Dykgraaf)

Dykgaard’s true passion, he says, is creating art that causes an impact on people. “All the effort is worth it when I see someone double-take at my work,” he explains on his website. “The buzz I get from that moment can keep me going for days.”

Besides his website, Dykgaard showcases his work on Instagram.

Beyond the substantial achievement of the Terraform series, Dykgaard also uses his platform as a forum for the discussion surrounding threats to wildlife.

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This photo of a wombat, comprised of photos from the Grampians near Halls Gap, is another part of the artist’s “Bushfires” series. (Courtesy of Josh Dykgraaf)

“As the project has gone on, I’ve moved on to working on other issues that I care about,” he explained. “The devastation we experienced here in Australia with the bushfires last year killed some three billion animals and are projected to push koalas to extinction in the wild in the coming decades.”

The tragedy from the bushfires motivated Dykgaard to travel to the sites of the fires and create a series based on the raw materials he found there. More works derived from these sources are in the pipeline, he says.

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Beach photos are transformed by the artist into a mother giraffe and her calf. (Courtesy of Josh Dykgraaf)
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Yellowed leaves comprise this owl image. (Courtesy of Josh Dykgraaf)
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The scales of a fish are depicted using feathers, including some from a white peacock from the Yarra Valley Nocturnal Zoo. (Courtesy of Josh Dykgraaf)
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A laughing kookaburra is composed of countless leaves. (Courtesy of Josh Dykgraaf)
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Winter landscape photos are transformed into a stag shot taken in Scotland. (Courtesy of Josh Dykgraaf)

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Louise Bevan
Author: Louise Bevan

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