Wild and Exciting: Inside the Unconventional Lives of Wildlife Photographers

Dealing With Danger

Conditions out in the wild can be difficult, with some places lacking electricity and running water. Eszterhas spent three years living in a bush camp in Africa and calls the conditions “crazy.”

“There was no toilet, and for the first year and a half there was no electricity. I even drove around on my own,” Eszterhas says. “I did hire security since I was living as a woman alone. It took some guts to do and was an incredible experience.”

Eszterhas says that more than worrying about the animals out in the wild, it’s important to worry about the people. Wildlife photographers travel to many politically troubled areas where there is economic or cultural unrest. It’s important to be aware of these conditions and respectful to both the people and animals in the area. For these reasons, Maher works closely with local field staff and wildlife experts wherever she goes to respect the wildlife and cultures around her.

Still, these photographers have done a few things some people may consider crazy. Many people can’t imagine spending five months outside a jackal den, but Eszterhas has done it. Maher once worked with lion conservationists in a Uganda national park where she had only a spotlight to capture what the lions were doing during the night.

Joel Sartore has worked as a photographer with National Geographic for more than 20 years and has done some particularly interesting things to capture the right moment, including placing a remote trigger camera in a dead deer and throwing it to a pack of hungry wolves. He has also been in dangerous situations when trying to get photos, from close calls in aircraft to being stuck in a van in the high Arctic for more than half an hour as a polar bear tried to break inside.

“It’s not without risk, but you have to go out thinking you’ll be OK because you’ve done your homework,” Sartore says. “You have to minimize the danger. You can’t shoot pictures if you’re dead!”

Advice for Shooting Wildlife Photos

All different kinds of people are interested in wildlife and want to photograph it, whether as a hobby or career. Eszterhas leads wildlife photography tours, and many people who take part are doctors, lawyers and veterinarians who take photos as a hobby.

“They just love to do it and want to learn more, to have someone put them in the right place at the right time,” Eszterhas says.

For young people interested in pursuing this as a career, Eszterhas advises starting to shoot locally. Maher agrees that anyone interested in the field should shoot as often as possible.

“You have to practice, practice, practice. Whether it’s on your pet in your own backyard or at a zoo,” Maher says.

Sartore says being self-motivated is an important quality for all wildlife photographers to have. “Generally you won’t have a boss to tell you to get out of bed at 3:30 in the morning to get first light. You need to be nervous about getting great light, since it only happens twice a day,” Sartore says.

All three photographers agree patience is perhaps the biggest virtue needed in the field. While people might think Eszterhas must have been bored sitting outside a jackal den for five months, her patience resulted in a variety of interesting images.

“Every day is so different since wildlife is unpredictable,” Eszterhas says. “You can have a day where you don’t take a single photo and another where you shoot 3,000!”

Sartore says it's not enough to take the same types of shots that have been seen before. Aspiring photographers have to make their work stand out. To do this, he says, it’s important to shoot what’s going on around the animal and tell the whole story, even if that means including the bulldozer in the background that is completely altering the animals’ habitat.

“It’s important to realize your work can make the world a better place and effect positive change if you go about it in the right way,” Sartore says. “You need to tell the whole story and do it well. That’s when you’ll have a satisfying photo essay.”

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