Nature has, does, and will always continue to lure artists of all kinds – from musicians to painters to photographers. Some of the best photographers in the world specialize in nature, wilderness, wildlife and landscape photography. Here is an account of few of the most influential nature photographers.
All art is but imitation of nature.
– Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Nature photography is one of the most diverse forms of photography, for no two days spent in the wilderness, among trees, grasses, animals and birds, can ever be the same. Photography is one of the ways in which man makes a humble attempt to capture the vast expanse of nature in a tangible form. The duty of any artist is to convey to people what remains hidden by the drum of daily life; beauty. However, when one is talking of nature photography as a form of art, it can be rightly said that this particular art is full of duty and responsibility as well. Nature photography is not simply “art for art’s sake”; it goes beyond that and becomes an instrument that can be used for conservation and to create awareness regarding environmental issues in people.
An article on nature photographers cannot be complete without mentioning such stalwarts of nature photography like Ansel Adams, William Henry Jackson, Eliot Porter, Philip Hyde and Carleton Watkins. Many of these photographers have been active on the nature photography front from the time when photography had only two colors, black and white. Their contribution to nature photography is beyond any amount of gratitude we can show. However, nature photographers today have taken some major efforts with respect to conservation as well. It is in this respect that their work surpasses that accomplished by photographers of yesteryears.
Famous Nature Photographers
Xi Zhinong – China
Avian and Endangered species photographer
“I will always work to invoke more public awareness of nature.”
From a very young age, Zhinong was interested in studying birds in their natural habitats. He started off as an ornithologist under the guidance of Professor Wang Zijiang, who taught at the Yunnan University. His first experience in natural history filming evoked a deep interest in photography in Zhinong. Now a well-known Chinese environmentalist, Xhinong studies the endangered species in China.
Achievements: Zhinong is winner of the Gerald Durrell Endangered Species award at Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.
Paul Nicklen – Canada
Polar species photographer
“I am slowly evolving from being a strict photojournalist to being a conservation photographer, as we are running out of time on most environmental issues.”
Having grown up in Inuit in Canadian Arctic, Nicklen closely identifies with the polar regions. A marine biologist from University of Victoria, Nicklen tries to make people realize the dangers of global warming through his photography. Nicklen currently works with National Geographic.
Achievements: Nicklen is a fellow of International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP). He has won the World Press Photo award five times, the Pictures of the Year award three times, and BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year a whopping ten times!
Yann Arthus-Bertrand – France
“… photography is a way to share what I have seen. It also allows me to live the kind of life I want to live. I became an animal photographer to stay in Africa and study the lions.”
Taking off with his wife Anne at the age of 30 to live in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya was probably one of the best decisions of Bertrand’s life. Bertrand’s most significant contribution to the field of photography, however, is ‘The Earth from Above’, a picture bank containing spectacular images of the Earth’s environment as seen from air. Translated into over 20 languages, the book has sold 3 million copies so far. Origins of Bertrand’s interest in Avian photography can be traced back to the time when he learned to fly a hot air balloon.
Achievements: Bertrand founded the world’s first aerial photograph agency, ‘Altitude’. He also started the GoodPlanet foundation in 2005, which aims to create an awareness about environmental protection among people.
David Doubilet – USA
“Our imagery is a window into nature for most of the world and compelling images can and have made a difference.”
Author of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Doubilet took his first baby steps towards underwater photography at the age of 12. One of Doubilet’s most ingenious contributions as a nature photographer is the invention of the split lens camera, a technique that has been especially exploited in underwater photography. Split lens camera makes for creative scuba diving images, usually depicting a part of the underwater world and the ‘above’ water shoreline, both in sharp focus. Doubilet’s constant struggle to redefine photographic boundaries each time he plunges underwater has enabled him to record the changing ecology of the aquatic world.
Achievements: Doubilet is a founding member of International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP). He is also ‘Photographer in Residence’ for National Geographic.
Chris Packham – UK
“At the end of the day I want to reflect nature’s simple beauty”
Chris bought his first camera and telephoto lens by selling off his punk rock guitar, around the 1980s. Always one to stress on the artistic side of photography, Packham’s wildlife pictures too are very creative and unique. Packham trained as a wildlife filmmaker under the able guidance of Stephen Bolwell. Packham has written and presented many TV series on wildlife photography. Packham always tries to put emotion and imagination to every shot he clicks.
Achievements: Packham is President of London Wildlife Trust. He is also Vice President of Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
Staffan Widstrand – Sweden
“With my work I hope to promote conservation, dignity and respect. Trying to convey my own feeling of awe over the wonders and the beauty of the natural world, and of the striking expressions of different cultures.”
MD of Wild Wonders of Europe, Widstrand has been dubbed as the ‘Steve Jobs of European Nature photography’. He is also a writer and Ex-Captain in the Royal Swedish Tank Corps, along with being a photographer. Widstrand has written over 10 books, three of which were chosen as Panda Book of the Year by World Wildlife Fund (WWF). An Arctic specialist, avid bird watcher and a language lover, Widstrand describes himself as “full-time curious”!
Achievements: Widstrand is one of the founding members of Swedish Ecotourism Association and also of International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP). He has won 11 awards at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.
Jack Dykinga – USA
“The creative juices flow when I’m out by myself. Traveling alone is an integral part of what I do.”
Most famous for his large format landscape art photography, Dykinga is one of the most famous landscape photographers. He is also one of the first four photographers to embark on ILCP’s Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition, or RAVE. Dykinga has written several books, some of which include The Sonoran Desert, Jack Dykinga’s Arizona, and Images: Jack Dykinga’s Grand Canyon.
Achievements: Dykinga was honored with the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in the year 1971. His photograph “Stone Canyon” has been selected by ILCP as one of the forty best Nature Photographs of all time.
Peter Essick – USA
“I try to combine tragedy and beauty into a single picture”
Going by his own quote, one can say that Essick has by and large accomplished his feat; for he has clicked many a picture that depict the deep impact of human behavior and development on nature. His sensitive pictures have helped throw light on many environmental issues. University of Missouri awarded Essick with a Master’s Degree in Photojournalism, which surely must have helped him carve out a niche in the world of photography.
Achievements: Represented by the Lumière gallery in Atlanta, Essick’s images were also used in the film, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. He was featured in Time Magazine’s Great Images of the 20th Century.
Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols – USA
“I use my visual voice and the global audience of National Geographic to bring attention to those without voice (animals and nature) with as much passion and clarity as possible.”
Also fondly called the Indiana Jones of Photography, Nick Nichols is best known for assisting conservationist, Mike Fay in photo-documenting Megatransect, Mike Fay’s 2000 mile pursuit that took him across the length and breadth of Africa. Apart from doing more than 25 stories for National Geographic, Nick Nichols featured in several magazines like Rolling Stone, Aperture, Life, etc.
Achievements: World Press Photo competition has seen Nick Nichols grab the first prize for his nature and environment stories, a whopping four times. Overseas Press Club of America honored him with a prize for responding “above and beyond the call of duty”.
Robert Glenn Ketchum – USA
Landscape and Nature photographer
“My photographs seek to define wild places so they can be more fully understood.”
The Audubon Magazine correctly named Ketchum as “one of the 100 people who shaped the environmental movement of the 20th century”. A sensitive photographer-cum-environmentalist, Ketchum was also listed as 100 most important people in photography by the magazine, American Photo. Ketchum befriended noted photographers like Eliot Porter and Edmund Teske at a very early stage in his photographic career. These friendships helped Ketchum realize his potential to make a difference in the world, using photography as a tool.
Achievements: Ketchum is a lifetime trustee of Alaska Conservation Foundation. He was given the Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography by the Sierra Club and was also given the Lifetime Achievement Award in Photography and Conservation by the Aperture Foundation.
Frans Lanting – Netherlands
“I see animals as ambassadors of ecosystems.”
Frans Lanting moved to the US after completing formal education in his country. His single aim in the US was to study environmental planning. What could be better praise for a nature photographer than to have a biologist such as Dr. George Schaller say that his photographs transform ordinary creatures into haunting new visions?
Achievements: His Royal Highness Prince Bernhard inducted Lanting as Knight in the Royal Order of the Golden Ark, Netherlands’ highest conservation honor. Along with being a fellow of International League of Conservation Photographers, Lanting is also on the national council of World Wildlife Fund.
Martin Hartley – UK
“A passport will get a person a few yards across a country border, a photographer’s camera can get you into places that even a passport wouldn’t. A camera carried with a clear sense of purpose is a very powerful tool; powerful images stay in people’s minds, forever.”
The man’s dedication and passion becomes evident with the above quote. Hartley is known for specializing in documentation of some of the most remote, inaccessible areas on Earth. He is one of the few photographers to have crossed the Arctic ocean on foot and with dogs. Hartley has completed over twenty Arctic and three Antarctica assignments in his photographic career.
Achievements: Hartley has won Travel Photographer of the Year award in the ‘Human Spirit’ and ‘Spirit of Adventure’ sections. For his work related to the Catlin Arctic survey, Time Magazine nominated Hartley as one of the Heroes of the Environment.
George Lepp – Canada
Outdoor and Nature photographer
“Whether or not you become a professional photographer, your love of outdoor and nature photography will always bring joy to your life along with a better understanding of the natural world and the challenges facing it.”
The most striking feature of Lepp’s nature photography is the starkly evident environmental responsibility that he bears and shares with the world. Through his compelling pictures and words, Lepp strives pictorially and lyrically to create awareness about environmental issues among people. He is one of North America’s most famous and noted nature photographers.
Achievements: Lepp has been awarded Photo Media’s Photography Person of the Year. He has also been awarded with the prestigious Progress Award, the highest honor given by the Photographic Society of America.
David Muench – USA
Landscape and Nature photographer
“When photographing, I tune in to the natural rhythms and pulse of the land . . . to communicate and champion the stark beauty that is nature”
With over forty landscape photography books to his credit, Muench has been active in the field of photography for half a century! Muench’s work was displayed alongside that of Jack Dykinga (mentioned earlier in this article) and Ansel Adams, an early nature photographer and one of its pioneers. With a glorious career longer than that of most photographers, Muench has made picturesque contributions to photography.
Achievements: Muench was commissioned by the National Park Service to click thirty-three photographic murals of the Lewis and Clark expedition. These murals clicked by Muench are on permanent display at the Jefferson Expansion Memorial under the Arch in St. Louis.
Nature photography is a powerful tool that can generate environmental awareness through graphic representation of the nature. A picture leaves a deeper impact on the human mind than words ever can or will. In this light, nature photography becomes a branch of photography that is of crucial importance to conservationists, biologists and naturalists. Nature photographers – knowingly or unknowingly – work hand-in-hand with all these people to make our planet a little greener, every time the shutter bugs!