Wildlife photography is among one of the most impactful genres in photography that can be used to advocate for important environmental and animal issues. Today, numerous animal photographers recognize and celebrate the significance of spreading awareness about endangered species and unprotected marine life. In this article, we will reveal the 15 most famous wildlife and animal photographers of our time, whose individual efforts have exposed the world’s most urgent wildlife crises and concerns. Keep reading to learn more about who these 15 wildlife photographers are!
Table of Contents
- 1 The Impact of Wildlife Photography
- 2 15 Pioneers of Wildlife Photography
- 2.1 Austin Stevens (1950 – Present)
- 2.2 Frans Lanting (1951 – Present)
- 2.3 Brian Skerry (1961 – Present)
- 2.4 Tim Laman (1961 – Present)
- 2.5 Joel Sartore (1962 – Present)
- 2.6 Cristina Mittermeier (1966 – Present)
- 2.7 Marsel van Oosten (1967 – Present)
- 2.8 Paul Nicklen (1968 – Present)
- 2.9 Ami Vitale (1971 – Present)
- 2.10 Laurent Ballesta (1974 – Present)
- 2.11 Suzi Eszterhas (1976 – Present)
- 2.12 Greg du Toit (1977 – Present)
- 2.13 Will Burrard-Lucas (1983 – Present)
- 2.14 Bence Máté (1985 – Present)
- 2.15 Rathika Ramasamy (Present)
- 3 Frequently Asked Questions
The Impact of Wildlife Photography
As of 2023, only 415,000 African elephants remain in the world, which is predicted to drop to 160,000 by 2025. It is also predicted that by 2050, approximately 16,000 out of the 31,000 polar bears will disappear in the world. Current statistics on coral reefs also reflect similar, if not more tragic dire needs, given that 75% of reefs are currently threatened with the main threats encompassing pollution, unsustainable fishing, and climate change. As such, artists are needed more than ever to generate awareness and impact on pending environmental concerns and wildlife photography is one such art form that does that.
Wildlife photography is a genre in photography that cannot only transcend the realm of documentary photography but can also be spotted in fine art as a valuable way to raise funds and advocate for important issues.
The function of wildlife photography is undoubtedly tied to the mission and intent of the photographer, however, the practice itself serves to highlight the enchanting beauty of the natural world. Why is this important? There are many reasons why nature and images of animals serve the planet. Many wildlife photographers have dedicated their lives and given up on lucrative careers to pursue wildlife photography. Such individuals share a common interest in documenting the behaviors and emotions of animals while skillfully capturing the moments of these creatures that may not last forever.
Photographs are growing increasingly vital to the spread of information and the recognition of issues that go unseen or clouded by the politics of the world. Many forget to acknowledge the earth, and its animals, as crucial assets to our survival and role in maintaining the balance of many precious ecosystems. Day by day, many climate issues continue to worsen but with the help of wildlife photography, there are always new organizations emerging to fund and contribute to special projects that drive effective solutions. So, how can wildlife photographers advocate for environmental and animal conservation?
Apart from the many interesting and striking visuals that one can produce in wildlife photography, the genre itself is aimed at advocating for animal conservation to provide voices for the voiceless.
By employing wildlife photography as an art practice, you can bring awareness to issues like habitat destruction, human pollution, the impact of overconsumption, endangered species, poaching, and the effects of climate change. Part of the appeal of wildlife photography when effecting a profound impact is the art of visual storytelling that holds the power to ignite in viewers a passion for acting on such dire matters.
Photographs thus offer a sense of urgency to “see” and “witness” animals that are vulnerable and preserve the planet. The lens of the camera becomes a tool for inspiration that does not just immortalize the animals that are “captured”, but also makes one question one’s relationship to the environment and how small actions in our everyday lives impact greater ecosystems. The relationship between fine art and wildlife photography marries the art of photography with the emotive impact of the subjects, animals.
As such, animal and wildlife photography certainly transcend the genre of documentary photography and highlights the role of the photographer in using technique methods to birth inspirational compositions.
15 Pioneers of Wildlife Photography
There are numerous wildlife photographers in the world, who each play a significant role in bringing to light the wonders of the animal kingdom. These 15 most famous wildlife photographers have exercised their patience, technical skill, expert eye, and decades’ worth of experience in fostering a global consciousness for animal conservation.
Below, you will find our selection of 15 famous animal photographers.
Austin Stevens (1950 – Present)
|Artist Name||Austin Stevens|
|Date of Birth||19 May 1950|
|Associated Movements, Themes, and Styles||Wildlife photography, nature photography, documentary photography, Snakemaster series, and deadly animals|
|Mediums||Photography and writing|
Renowned South African herpetologist and wildlife photographer Austin Stevens is among the most famous wildlife personalities. Stevens is best known for his television series Austin Stevens: Snakemaster, which aired on Animal Planet between 2004 and 2009 and showcased the photographer’s encounters with deadly and rare animals across the world. Stevens’ awe-inspiring works feature animals from Africa, Sri Lanka, and many more countries that require him to battle the landscape as he embarks on projects that test his physical capacity. Stevens remains a media donor to the global initiative called ARKive with a published book The Last Snake Man, which was released in 2007 in the United Kingdom.
Frans Lanting (1951 – Present)
|Artist Name||Frans Lanting|
|Date of Birth||13 July 1951|
|Associated Movements, Themes, and Styles||Wildlife photography, natural history, and documentary photography|
|Mediums||Photography, public speaking, and writing|
From all corners of the globe, Frans Lanting has been documenting the most endearing wildlife from regions across Africa and Antarctica for decades. His passion for nature is captured in his vast body of work that conveys a deep concern for the planet spanning over three decades. Lanting’s photos have been featured in many leading publications, including the New York Times, National Geographic, and the Economist.
Lanting’s photos have also been exhibited internationally at more than 100 solo shows in prominent galleries and museums such as the Netherlands Fotomuseum and Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. His work is characterized by the portrayal of wildlife in their natural environments that allow us to experience powerful emotions through stunning visual narratives. Among his most well-known photos was an image titled Dead Vlei, which was published in 2011 and depicted a Namibian salt pan with a vivid orange dune.
Brian Skerry (1961 – Present)
|Artist Name||Brian Skerry|
|Date of Birth||27 September 1961|
|Associated Movements, Themes, and Styles||Ocean environments, wildlife photography, nature, documentary photography, and marine life|
|Mediums||Photography and filmmaking|
The acclaimed wildlife photographer Brian Skerry is widely recognized for his intense dedication to capturing the wonders of the sea, having spent well over 10,000 hours underwater photographing the marine world. In 2017, Skerry was named the Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year and has had his work featured in National Geographic for more than two decades. The award-winning wildlife photographer’s photography works showcase his passion for conservation and the protection of endangered species. His efforts to protect marine life have also extended into his publications and lectures, which saw his participation on platforms such as the United Nations General Assembly.
Orca, a whale featured in the miniseries co-produced by Brian Skerry, Secrets of the Whales; Robert Pittman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Tim Laman (1961 – Present)
|Artist Name||Timothy G. Laman|
|Date of Birth||19 July 1961|
|Associated Movements, Themes, and Styles||Wildlife photography, Contemporary photography, nature, orangutans, and research expeditions|
|Mediums||Photography and filmmaking|
Talented wildlife photojournalist, field biologist, and filmmaker, Tim Laman is one of the world’s most famous wildlife photographers of our time, who captures the rare and untold stories that nature has to offer. Laman’s journey in wildlife photography spans all seven continents, which reveals the odds and ends of all corners of the globe, even the most remote regions. Laman’s documentation of species that are often understudied contributes to our understanding of nature’s most precious creatures and resulted in many informative and impactful nature documentaries and films, including America The Beautiful, which aired in 2022 on Disney+.
Laman’s career has also exposed him to extreme conditions, from coral reefs to the unforgiving waters of Antarctica, the famous wildlife photographer has seen it all. Additionally, Laman has also contributed to films for the BBC, Netflix, and National Geographic Channel, including 23 features in the well-known National Geographic magazine. Laman is also the co-founder of a special project called Birds-of-Paradise at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Joel Sartore (1962 – Present)
|Artist Name||Joel Sartore|
|Date of Birth||16 June 1962|
|Associated Movements, Themes, and Styles||Wildlife photography|
Joel Sartore is a renowned conservationist and wildlife photographer, who was awarded the 2018 National Geographic Explorer of the Year. Sartore regularly contributes to National Geographic Magazine and is best known for his sense of humor and “Midwestern work ethic”. Sartore’s interest in nature began in his childhood after learning about the last passenger pigeon from a Time-Life publication. Since then, his career in wildlife photography has placed him near various species, from lions and wolves to polar bears and gazelles.
Sartore is also a leading member of the 25-year-long Photo Ark project, which attempts to document over 12,000 species that live in zoos and sanctuaries across the world.
Cristina Mittermeier (1966 – Present)
|Artist Name||Cristina Mittermeier|
|Date of Birth||26 November 1966|
|Associated Movements, Themes, and Styles||Wildlife photography, Contemporary photography, marine biology, animal conservation, and conservation photography|
Cristina Mittermeier is a celebrated Mexican wildlife photographer, who is credited as being one of the pioneers of conservation photography. Mittermeier’s nickname is “Mitty and she is Recognized as not only one of the most influential wildlife photographers but also the founder of the International League of Conservation Photographers. Mitty’s photography exposes the underwater marine life, which extends into her mission to bring awareness to how humans are connected to the planet and how it is our duty to conserve and protect such species.
Mittermeier attended the ITESM University in Mexico as well as the Fine Art Photography program at Corcoran College for the Arts.
She is also the co-founder of SeaLegacy, which she established in 2014 as part of her mission to rewild marine life and enhance the biodiversity of the environment. Since then, her works have been widely published in many nature publications, including TIME, National Geographic, and The Men’s Journal. Mittermeier, along with her partner Paul Nicklen, continue to contribute toward National Geographic, as they both were named Adventurers of the Year in 2018.
Marsel van Oosten (1967 – Present)
|Artist Name||Marsel van Oosten|
|Date of Birth||13 July 1967|
|Associated Movements, Themes, and Styles||Wildlife photography, Contemporary photography, nature photography, and travel photography|
Marsel van Oosten is a renowned professional nature and wildlife photographer, who is instantly recognized for creating one of the most famous images of a Japanese macaque curiously playing with an iPhone. Van Oosten began his career in art direction and advertising, which won him significant recognition for his services across multiple agencies, including a TV commercial he produced for a Dutch nature conservation organization. It was after his trip to Tanzania that his drive for wildlife photography was sparked and was especially fueled by his encounters with animals from the Serengeti.
Five years later, his devotion to nature and wildlife photography culminated in a complete career change. Today, his images are celebrated for his approach to lighting, composition, and perspective, among many other admirable qualities in his photos that demonstrate his visual pride. Van Oosten is currently based in South Africa and collaborated often with videographer Daniella Sibbing, who works with Van Oosten to lead various specialized nature photography tours.
Paul Nicklen (1968 – Present)
|Artist Name||Paul Nicklen|
|Date of Birth||21 July 1968|
|Associated Movements, Themes, and Styles||Wildlife photography, nature|
|Mediums||Photography and filmmaking|
Renowned Canadian photographer Paul Nicklen is among the most famous wildlife and documentary photographers of the 21st century. Nicklen’s photographs have captured the unseen beauty of the natural world for more than 20 years through collaborations with BBC and National Geographic Magazine. Nicklen is also a marine biologist, filmmaker, and co-founder of the SeaLegacy non-profit organization.
Among his best images reveal the ecosystems and lives of animals who live in extreme conditions, including underwater species, which has led to many collaborations between the photographer and scientists and conservationists to protect wildlife and advocate for climate change. Nicklen also serves as an assignment photographer for Sony Artisan of Imagery and National Geographic magazine, which earned him many awards, including the World Press Photo for Photojournalism award and the Natural Resources Defense Council BioGems Visionary Award.
Ami Vitale (1971 – Present)
|Artist Name||Ami Vitale|
|Date of Birth||16 June 1971|
|Associated Movements, Themes, and Styles||Wildlife photography, Contemporary photography, panda photography, animal captivity, and documentary photography|
|Mediums||Photography, writing, public speaking, and filmmaking|
Ami Vitale is one of the most famous American wildlife photographers whose initial journey into wildlife photography started with her desire to simply meet new people. The power of photography and the camera has since transformed Vitale’s career and helped her spread awareness across countries about the animals that need more assistance and protection. Vitale is a public speaker, documentary filmmaker, and writer who has photographed wildlife and documented many tragic realities in more than 100 countries.
Vitale works for National Geographic and is also an ambassador for Nikon.
The award-winning photographer has also received global recognition as one of the most influential photographers of her generation and was named one of the most Badass Women in a series celebrating women who get things done by Instyle Magazine. Ami Vitale has also founded the non-profit organization called Vital Impacts, which leverages art and its power to drive an impact and influence the youth to consider avenues of activism through art.
Laurent Ballesta (1974 – Present)
|Artist Name||Laurent Ballesta|
|Date of Birth||15 May 1974|
|Associated Movements, Themes, and Styles||Wildlife photography, Contemporary photography, marine life, cold-water life, and underwater photography|
Laurent Ballesta is an accomplished wildlife and animal photographer who is also a widely published author of 13 books that showcase the beautiful underwater environments of the world. To date, Ballesta has also been recognized as the youngest photographer to win the Golden Diver title at the International Underwater Image Festival and the only wildlife photographer to achieve it three times.
His work has been published in many global and local French publications, including popular magazines such as Le Figaro Magazine, GQ, Corriere Magazine, Science, and many more. Ballesta is also the co-founder of L’Œil d’Andromède alongside Pierre Descamp, which led to the establishment of Andromeda Oceanologie in 2008. Ballesta also featured on the television show Ushuaia Nature and has remained an iconic environmental activist since the late ’90s.
Suzi Eszterhas (1976 – Present)
|Artist Name||Suzi Eszterhas|
|Date of Birth||7 June 1976|
|Associated Movements, Themes, and Styles||Wildlife photography, Contemporary photography, newborn animals, African Savanna, and the Alaskan wilderness|
Suzi Eszterhas is among the best wildlife photographers to know and is widely acknowledged for her skills in creating visual narratives that highlight the intimacy between newborn animals and their families in the wild. Eszterhas’ expert abilities lie in her knack for gaining the trust of her subjects, which results in images that are not only touching but rarely seen by most people.
Her most groundbreaking works include her series on the tiger cubs in India and cheetahs from the African savanna, among her many other endearing series.
Her work has long been featured in hundreds of magazines, including stories in National Geographic Kids and TIME magazine. In 2021, she was identified by the North American Nature Photography Association as the Outstanding Photographer of the Year and has since triumphed in many esteemed competitions. Apart from her contributions to wildlife photography, Eszterhas continues to advocate for conservationist issues in the animal kingdom and support organizations like the Sloth Conservation Foundation and the Cheetah Conservation Fund.
Greg du Toit (1977 – Present)
|Artist Name||Greg du Toit|
|Date of Birth||1977|
|Associated Movements, Themes, and Styles||Wildlife photography, African conservation photography, and Contemporary photography|
|Mediums||Photography and writing|
Greg du Toit is among the most renowned wildlife photographers who operate across Africa to photograph the raw beauty of the continent’s wildlife. Du Toit’s images are created free of camera traps or bait and immortalize many majestic creatures, such as the elephant and the rhino, in his striking limited edition fine art prints. Du Toit has also authored three books and uses his experience from residing in four different African countries to provide curated safari tours. As a celebrated conservation photographer, Du Toit’s sales contribute to various projects that help conserve the animals that he photographs.
Will Burrard-Lucas (1983 – Present)
|Artist Name||Will Burrard-Lucas|
|Date of Birth||2 September 1983|
|Associated Movements, Themes, and Styles||Wildlife photography, Contemporary photography, nature, camtraptions, BeetleCam, and close-up nature images|
Famous British wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas is among the most innovative nature photographers to date. Will Burrard-Lucas spends his time caught between projects in Africa and the United Kingdom, while drawing from his early childhood experiences in Tanzania to foster his role and career in bringing awareness to the importance of protecting wildlife. Through his many series of animal portraits shot by innovative camera manipulation techniques, Burrard-Lucas leverages his equipment to approach the animals as closely as possible.
To do this, he equips himself with a wide-angle lens and discerns the appropriate distance to shoot his images.
He also founded the remote-controlled BeetleCam device, which enables one to capture ground-level views of animals that are considered dangerous should a human get too close. Burrard-Lucas has also developed an array of camtraptions, which he describes as all the equipment he produced to enhance the field of camera trap photography and photograph animals that are nocturnal or shy. His footage has been used in many natural history television programs, with his most famous project recording the last few elephants in Africa with large tusks that touch the ground.
Bence Máté (1985 – Present)
|Artist Name||Bence Máté|
|Date of Birth||26 February 1985|
|Associated Movements, Themes, and Styles||Wildlife photography, one-way glass photography, and nature photography|
Bence Máté is an award-winning Hungarian wildlife photographer who is recognized as one of the most effective wildlife photographers in the history of the genre. Máté’s contributions include pioneering the one-way glass photography method in 2005, which shifted the practice of hide photography and has since been adopted by many photographers across the globe. Since then, Máté has traveled across South Africa, Costa Rica, Romania, and Hungary to capture the wildlife of various national parks while designing and experimenting with different hides. Máté’s equipment involves basic starter kits that earned him recognition by Panasonic since 2006. In 2014, he was also identified as one of the most famous and successful Hungarian personalities by Forbes magazine for their under-30 category.
Rathika Ramasamy (Present)
|Artist Name||Rathika Ramasamy|
|Date of Birth||Unavailable|
|Associated Movements, Themes, and Styles||Wildlife photography, Contemporary photography, and bird photography|
Rathika Ramasamy is a famous Indian wildlife photographer, who is also recognized as the first Indian woman to achieve global recognition in her field. Ramasamy is based in Chennai and previously worked as a software engineer for several years before switching to full-time freelancing. Since 2003, Ramasamy has traveled to different national parks across India and Africa to photograph birds in their natural spaces.
Between Kenya, India, and Tanzania, Ramasamy studies the behavior of birds while capturing their diverse environments. Her work was featured in the annual calendar for Jawaharlal Nehru University and has been pinpointed as one of the 20 best photographers of India in 2008. Additionally, Ramasamy also holds wildlife photography workshops while exhibiting her work internationally.
In an era where there are multiple calls to exercise humanity, one has to acknowledge the role and impact of these famous wildlife photographers in voicing some of the planet’s most urgent needs. Through striking visuals, the works of these famous animal photographers allow us to appreciate the intricate ecosystems of the seven continents and encourage us to protect them. In doing so, we can ensure that there is a future where the next generation can experience the beauty of the natural realm.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Wildlife Photography?
The photography genre known as wildlife photography refers to the practice of documenting animals in their natural environments. This practice involves the use of photographic techniques and equipment that enables photographers to photograph subjects that are often unseen and includes images of marine life, animals in remote areas, terrestrial predators, birds, and animals that exist outside of human domestication.
Who Are the Three Famous Wildlife Photographers of 2023?
Among the top three most famous wildlife photographers of 2023 include prominent animal photographers like Joel Sartore, Laurent Ballesta, and Carmel Bechler. Laurent Ballesta was recognized as the photographer of the year in 2023 for his photo of a tri-spine horseshoe crab titled The Golden Horseshoe.
Who Won the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award in 2023?
Israeli wildlife photographer Carmel Bechler won the 2023 Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award after submitting the photo titled Owls’ road house. Hof HaSharon, Israel. The image was recognized for its connotations to habitat destruction and animal adaptation as a result, since the photo captured a scene of barn owls occupying an abandoned building.
Jordan Anthony is a film photographer, curator, and arts writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. Anthony schooled in Durban and graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, with a Bachelor of Art in Fine Arts. During her studies, she explored additional electives in archaeology and psychology, while focusing on themes such as healing, identity, dreams, and intuitive creation in her Contemporary art practice. She has since worked and collaborated with various professionals in the local art industry, including the KZNSA Gallery in Durban (with Strauss & Co.), Turbine Art Fair (via overheard in the gallery), and the Wits Art Museum.
Anthony’s interests include subjects and themes related to philosophy, memory, and esotericism. Her personal photography archive traces her exploration of film through abstract manipulations of color, portraiture, candid photography, and urban landscapes. Her favorite art movements include Surrealism and Fluxus, as well as art produced by ancient civilizations. Anthony’s earliest encounters with art began in childhood with a book on Salvador Dalí and imagery from old recipe books, medical books, and religious literature. She also enjoys the allure of found objects, brown noise, and constellations.
Cite this Article
Jordan, Anthony, “Famous Wildlife Photographers – 15 Wildlife Wonders.” Art in Context. November 21, 2023. URL: https://artincontext.org/famous-wildlife-photographers/
Anthony, J. (2023, 21 November). Famous Wildlife Photographers – 15 Wildlife Wonders. Art in Context. https://artincontext.org/famous-wildlife-photographers/