To be the best photographers possible, we need to understand photos. To achieve this, we need to study the work of the best photographers. By doing so, we can learn why certain compositions, emotions, stories, and scenes work.
Here are 15 famous wildlife photographers that will teach and inspire you.
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What Makes an Amazing Wildlife Photo?
Many amateur photographers get caught up in technical perfection. They forget that the most important part of an image is the story. At first glance, some photos by famous nature and wildlife photographers can seem a bit “off”.
The image may be blurry, oddly composed, or has less than ideal lighting. But in that image, there will be something profound. There will be a story or message, a rare species, or a unique moment. Look through any issue of National Geographic, and you’ll undoubtedly find several examples. Such images may not win much praise on social media, and yet they get published in the pages of Nat Geo.
As wild animal photographers, we can learn from, and apply those lessons to our own image-making.
So, let’s have a look at some of the best wildlife photographers in the world:
Franz Lanting is a giant among nature photographers. His vivid storytelling is definitely worth examining.
Lanting’s book “Jungles” lives in a prominent place on my bookshelf. To find inspiration, I often pull out this well-worn volume and flip through the pages.
Marina Cano is a Spanish wildlife photographer and Canon Ambassador. Her dreamy, artistic works include a mix of low-saturation color, and black and white.
Her work centres on African wildlife. Cano’s images have appeared on the cover of National Geographic on many occasions. I recommend examining her incredible black and white images of African Elephants.
Chinese wildlife photographer Zhinong Xi is not well-known among western photographers but should be. Xi is a dedicated conservationist and his images reflect that.
Suzi Eszterhas‘ images of baby animals have appeared on the cover of many magazines. Yet, her images extend well beyond “cute”.
Known for his beautiful wildlife films, Sandesh Kadur is worth noting here. He is a National Geographic fellow and maker of images and films. His stills and video are dramatic and moving tributes to the animals he photographs.
Melissa Groo is a many-time-winner of wildlife photography awards. Take a look through her website’s gallery and you can see why.
Anyone involved in wildlife photography has likely heard of Joel Sartore. He has been widely published in magazines like National Geographic.
Ami Vitale’s photography will bring you to tears. Her visual storytelling skills are unsurpassed and need no elaboration.
Her image showing the death of the last Northern White Rhinocerous appeared on the cover of the October 2019 National Geographic. The photo is heart-wrenching and beautiful. Vitale’s accolades include winning the acclaimed title of Magazine Photographer of the Year.
Paul Nicklen’s photos are so good that I hardly know where to begin. A marine biologist turned photographer, his passion for the sea is clear in his images. But Nicklen doesn’t limit himself to the ocean or underwater subjects.
Cristina Mittermeier‘s photographs include portraits, travel shots, and of course wildlife. She is a passionate conservationist, which shows in her photography and advocacy work.
I first learned of Amy Gulick while browsing the shelves of my local bookstore. Her book, “Salmon in the Trees”, about Alaska’s Tongass National Forest has since become one of my favourites.
A writer and photographer, Gulick is a master at combining the two art forms. Her book shows how salmon are intertwined in the Pacific Northwest ecosystem. Photographers looking to mix visual and text stories will find Gulick an inspiration.
Morgan Heim is a senior fellow at the International League of Conservation Photographers. She is a photographer with a unique vision. Many of her images are shot wide and show wild animals in their environment. Her camera-trap photos are surprising and even humorous. One photo, in particular, shows a mountain lion on what appears to be a neighbourhood sidewalk. Heim’s work shows how wildlife and humans can conflict or co-exist.
Tin Man Lee
Tin Man Lee is best known for his tight, intimate portraits of animals in the wild. The crisp, detailed eyes of his subjects stand out like floodlights. The eyes are windows to the soul, the saying goes, and Lee takes that statement to heart.
Jenny E. Ross
Jenny Ross’ work has drawn international acclaim, abundant publications, and awards. Through her images and writing, Ross is able to tell the stories of wildlife around the world. In my opinion, her profound images of arctic wildlife, show her nature photography skills are at their best.
I’ve never understood the competition between photographers. Often, it seems, we are trying to out-shoot one another. Instead, we should look to one another and to famous wildlife photographers for inspiration. Look at websites of these photographers, and then grab your camera and see what you can create.
There are SO many good wildlife photographers out there, not just these 15. There are a hundred others I could have included in this list. Who would you add?
Take a look at our Simply Stunning Landscapes course next!