• Steve Winter

About STEVE WINTER, NATGEO PHOTOGRAPHER AND BIG CAT SPECIALIST

About STEVE WINTER, NATGEO PHOTOGRAPHER AND BIG CAT SPECIALIST

Wildlife photographer and big cat specialist Steve Winter has been a photographer for National Geographic for over two decades, and has been named BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year and BBC Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year. Growing up in rural Indiana, he was given his first camera by his father on his seventh birthday, and in 1991 he realized his ambition of becoming a photojournalist for National Geographic. 

He has slept in a tent for six months in -40˚C temperatures while tracking snow leopards and visited remote villages where residents have never seen a camera before. He now gives lectures across the world on wildlife photography and conservation, and has appeared on CBS Nightly News, BBC, CNN and other media outlets. His photography book, Tigers Forever: Saving the World’s Most Endangered Cat, was published in 2013. Steve has also filmed numerous shows for NatGeo and NatGeo Wild, including Mission Critical – Saving the Leopard and an upcoming Mission Critical film on Jaguars, premiering in December 2017.

Steve Winter

Steve is incredibly committed to big cats and wildlife conservation in general, and feels that he has a great responsibility to get people excited about both the natural world and its fascinating people and cultures.

Steve Winter led his first trip with NWS, a jaguar photography safari in Brazil, in August 2018. Based in the vast Pantanal wetlands, Steve provided hands-on guidance to our guests and delivered some fascinating lectures on his previous work. "Inside the Hidden World of Jaguars", a story which appears in the December 2017 edition of National Geographic, features photos shot by Steve on location in Brazil, at the locations visited on this safari.

2019 saw Steve take the helm of one of our Svalbard Polar Bear Explorer departures and he will return to the Arctic in May 2022. Big cats are also back on the menu in 2021 and 2022. With trips to Kenya's famous Masai Mara, home to abundant lion, leopard, and cheetah populations; India in search of the Bengal tiger, which shares its territory with leopards, sloth bears, and jackals; and to Brazil's Pantanal wetlands, in search of the elusive jaguar. You can find more information on these exciting trips below. 

10 Quick Questions with Steve Winter

Which is your favourite big cat?

I always try to not have favorites as they are all unique and live in such varied beautiful landscapes. I Love them all.

Do you have a favourite destination or habitat for photographing big cats?

After spending so much time trying to find some of the most elusive cats, I do admit that photographing in Africa with lions, leopards and cheetahs is high on my list! Though you can see tigers in India easily and on our last jaguar trip we saw 10 individual jaguars in one day! Quality time viewing and photographing the cats is very important.

What has been your best big cat encounter?

I needed to get a mom and cub tiger image for the last NGM story. The anti-poaching patrol found a female with a den so I flew back over to India. Every morning at 5:45 am I would join the anti-poaching patrol but most days all I would see is the mother relaxing in the gorgeous, fern-filled narrow gorge with a stream running through it. One day turned into one week, two then three weeks with only an occasional view and quick photos of the cubs as they warily ventured out of the den. I must have read 15 books on my kindle during those mornings. On the 24th day around 7:30 am I looked up and saw the top of a cub's ear, it was nursing!! The cub started to move towards mom’s head – I grabbed the 600mm which was on the tripod tied to the seat – the cub came up even with mom’s face I took seven images – the cub saw us and retreated – I asked my friend if the cub had come up – he said yes – I pulled the card from the camera. I waited two and a half hours till we returned to camp. I downloaded the card and found the one perfect frame and I cried like a baby. It ran a double page in the story and is the cover of our Nat Geo “Tigers Forever” Book.

Tell us about a big cat image you took that you feel has had an impact?

I love images that make a difference – like the Hollywood Cougar where the image sparked a movement to build a wildlife overpass over the 101 Freeway just north of LA – so animals can migrate without crossing 12 lanes of speeding vehicles.

How did you start out photographing big cats?

On my first wildlife story for NGM on the Resplendent Quetzal – I would walk back to the one-room shack in which I was staying on top of a mountain in a cloud forest in Guatemala.  Many times walking at dusk through the forest the hair on the back of my neck would stand up and I would get goosebumps I felt like something was following me. A week or so later I was lying in my bunk bed at night reading a book like I do every night when suddenly I hear the stairs creaking – then the floorboards creaking – then scratching under the door then loud sniffing – all the hair on my whole body stood up! I grabbed my walkie-talkie to call the naturalist who was staying on the family farm at the base of the mountain – in Spanish I told him what had happened – he responded – “no problem Steve, it’s just a black panther!”. After I finished and returned home – I found out NGM had never produced a story on jaguars – so I proposed it and that began my work with big cats!

What are your main tips for photographing big cats?

You need a very good local guide who knows the area and the cats that frequent there.

Be patient! If you find a good location with a cat and there is not any action instead of leaving ask your guide for their advice; many images I have gotten were because we stayed and stuck it out and great things happen. Focus on the eyes as they bring you into the world of cats. Shoot wide, medium and tight – so many want a tight shot – but we want to know where they live and to see the environment.

Do you have any go-to kit when specifically photographing big cats?

You need a wide to medium zoom – a medium zoom and a long zoom – and I bring a small light cube, strobe for dusk or night shots.

When photographing a big cat, is there a detail, action, or element you like to focus on the most?

Focus is so important – and with a cat it is to focus on the eye. The composition is vital! Be prepared for action!!

What is the most eye-opening big cat project you've been on?

I am more influenced by projects that cover the whole. Animals, people and ecosystems. As they are all inextricably linked. What African Parks is doing with parks that have suffered from major poaching – is nothing short of miraculous! Go to https://www.africanparks.org/ to learn more.

Is there anywhere in the world that you like to capture big cats on camera where you haven't before?

The lions of Gir India are the next on my list.

I have Amur tigers and leopards on my list for years – when I was scheduled to do this a large part of the population succumbed to canine distemper – so I had to cancel – hopefully someday. That said, I will never be done with the cats of Africa, tigers and of course jaguars.

Jaguar, Steve Winter

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