We all want to take the perfect shot. That’s what makes us stand out from the rest of the crowd. Whether it’s a stunning sunset shot or a photograph of a landscape, photos help preserve moments in time that we can look back at with appreciation and admiration. But have you ever risked your life for that perfect shot? Let’s hope not because it’s never worth it. These wildlife photographers think otherwise. They put themselves in vulnerable positions just to capture a snapshot of an animal. While seemingly ridiculous, these photographs are quite beautiful, though the story behind them is nail-biting and gut-wrenching. Most of these stories make us appreciate our boring, nine-to-five jobs where we don’t have to risk our lives with aggressive, unpredictable wildlife. Though having a survival story to tell our friends would be pretty cool.
Coming Head to Head With a Silverback Gorilla
Trai Anfield, a former BBC natural history presenter, now runs ethical photography safaris in Africa. During a trek in Rwanda, she had a heart-pumping experience with an enormous silverback gorilla named Akarevuro. Although the group was not allowed to approach the gorillas or go within 7m of them, Akarevuro approached them and came head to head with Anfield. She knelt down to make herself small and unthreatening and did not hold eye contact. She was able to capture the encounter on a GoPro strapped to her wrist. Although she felt a primal respect and reverence, she did not feel threatened or fearful. The encounter was followed by an hour spent with Akarevuro’s family, making for the best experience Anfield had with gorillas. She notes that it is humbling that humans are allowed to join the gorillas, given their history of hunting, poaching, and slaughtering them.
There’s a lot of safety that needs to come with wildlife photography. If you ever get too close to an animal or provoke it, the encounter could be fatal. Italian photographer Fernando Mocclola was trampled by an elephant while in Tsavo National Park in Kenya. When animals feel under threat, they don’t wait to attack. That’s how they ensure their survival. If you’re looking into becoming a wildlife photographer, always make sure you use extra precautions. And even though the photographers below had used precautions, their encounters were almost fatal. Kerri Martin, another wildlife photographer, also provides great tips in the art of photography, including, “losing your mind, in my opinion, is the biggest obstacle to safely photographing animals. We can logically know what we should and shouldn’t do, but in the moment, overwhelming excitement merges with a desire to get a great photo – the perfect recipe for losing your mind. Or, to put it another way, losing the ability to think clearly.” It’s always important to stay on top of your safety while in the wild.
Surviving Freezing Temperatures
Photographers put themselves in the direst situations just to get the perfect shot. Terje Kolaas is one of those people. As a bird photographer from Norway, he finds rugged conditions the norm. Nothing can stop him, not even a blizzard. He captured this photo, titled “Winter Migration,” and risked his life a multitude of times just to get the perfect picture. In an interview, he said, “during the strange and rare events of blizzards and heavy snowfalls in late April 2020, I realized that the photos\w of my dreams were within reach – photographing the geese from the air against a pure and clean snowy landscape.” He had to deal with messy backgrounds and fragmented landscapes, though the freezing temperatures posed more of a risk. He said, “I positioned myself close to a field, where I knew that the geese would feed regularly, and waited for them there. As soon as I heard incoming geese, I took off with the drone and waited for them in the air.” The drone floated, waiting patiently, until he captured this shot (Vice).
Has a gorilla ever punched you in the gut? While most of us would say no, photographer Christophe Courteau could say almost. As he was in Rwanda photographing Volcanoes National Park, Akarevuro, a 250-kilogram (550 lb) gorilla, charged him. He came without warning, and as the beast came closer to him, he continued to take photos, unbothered. When a large creature that weighs over 500 pounds is charging you, wouldn’t you run? That wildlife photograph isn’t worth risking your life. But Akarevuro wasn’t after the photographer, he was after another male gorilla who was directly behind Courteau. The gorilla pushed Cortaeu to the side and went after the other male, who was presumably stalking Akarevuro’s troop on a mission for a female. The photographer only had a small scar on his head and didn’t suffer any major injuries, though he did say he felt like he was hit by a train (Listverse).
During a recent shoot in Antarctica, photographer Chris and his wife Jess Bray found themselves in a dire situation with a baby seal. Even though it doesn’t sound terrifying, we must remember that baby seals don’t understand their strength. Chris Bray said, “it was while we were ashore in South Georgia on this huge gravel beach filled with King Penguins and elephant seals that Jess laid down on the ground to get some cool low-angle shots of some passing King Penguinsâ¦Suddenly one of these huge baby elephant seals flopped over to investigate Jess, and was soon joined by another.” Instead of simply investigating, they squished Jess with their 220+ pound (100kg) bodies. They weren’t the least bit aggressive and were burping, sniffing, and snuffling her, though what they didn’t realize was that they were crushing her. She managed to escape suffering any serious damage. And luckily it wasn’t an adult seal, which can weigh up to 4,000kg (Lightstalking).
Atif Saeed is a photographer who risked his life to capture this stunning photograph of a lion. As he was snapping wildlife photographs in Lahore, Pakistan, the lion felt annoyed at his presence. Saeed was driving around the park when he saw the lion. He drove towards it and started taking photographs, just before the lion decided he wasn’t his friend. Saeed snapped this photo moments before jumping into his Jeep. He’d strategically left the door open while taking photographs, presumably because he assumed the lion was going to charge at him. Instead of feeling afraid, Saeed laughed the situation off and found it hilarious. Most of us would give up our photography careers after this sort of situation (Listverse).
Even though humans don’t have to fear wolves, if you get in the middle of an angry pack, you need to be careful. Photographer Aare Udras knew these risks as he photographed in the Estonian forest. He said, “in my surroundings, the wolf is the most intelligent animal, with extremely well-developed senses. They also learned to read and understand human activities. All that makes photographing them a great challenge.” He set out at night, which runs its own risks with other wildlife that may lurk in the area. He discovered a small ditch in a beaver dam. But it didn’t happen overnight. “In about 6-7 months, I got lucky. This young wolf photographed herself, letting me have a recording. This photo shows well how relaxed the wolf is, even while jogging on the beaver’s dam in absolute darkness.” He captured this photo we see here, titled “Young Wolf.” She’s looking directly at the photographer, allowing him to snap her photo (Vice).
Willis Chung was at the mercy of a charging animal while shooting wildlife photography. It wasn’t a lion or gorilla that was after him, though, it was a one-ton bison that could crush him in a mere matter of seconds. He was at Yellowstone National Park where the bison roam freely when suddenly, it charged at him. He continued capturing the scene until deciding the animal was way too close for comfort, where he then left his tripod-mounted camera and fled the scene. The bison felt curious about the camera and circled it as if it was a predator, too. While the bison was practically taking selfies with the camera, Chung was in the distance taking photos of the whole scene. There’s a reason they say never mess with wildlife (Listverse).
Living in the wild means survival of the fittest. You have to fight to the death, otherwise, you might not survive. Humans at large never witness these fights because we’re not living in the wild. It’s different for photographers. Panos Laskarakis was in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, photographing hunting in the wild. He said, “it started with dozens of powerful lions attacking buffaloes in the middle of the day. At this point, the scene was already a little difficult to capture as the attack was very intense and the fight between the lions and the buffaloes was dramatic, with a lot of blood and blood-curdling screams just before the kill! But this is normal, so this isn’t the reason I say it was the toughest.” But it didn’t end there. He said, “in the middle of the next night, the lions came under attack from almost 30 hyenas that were trying to steal the kill from them! The ferocity, the sounds of terror coming from everywhere, and the intense darkness made the shots very tough to get.” Luckily, the hyenas did not make their way to their camp and attack them (Vice).
While David Duchemin was photographing wildlife, a mother bears and her two cubs came right up to him. He mentioned that photography is also an act of courage, so it’s essential to be wary of what you photograph. Fear blocks creativity. He went on to say, “I had one experience where a mother with two cubs came right up to the boat from which I was photographing. Close enough to make me nervous, but with such gentle curiosity. She looked at me, sniffed me out, then turned around, lay down on the grass, and went to sleep, as if to tell me the cubs were in my care and she was taking a little “mom time.” Grizzly bears are some of the most dangerous animals in the world, and this experience could have gone one of two ways (Shutterstock).
Photographers often have to isolate themselves to capture the perfect shot. If they don’t the animals may suspect human presence and will not present themselves in the most natural way possible. Miquel Angel ArtuÌs Illana is a Spanish photographer who took himself to remote isolation to capture a group of Magellanic penguins at sunrise. They had to wait on a small hill for the penguins to appear in groups. Illana said, “since the best light was at sunrise, I stood on a small hill at five in the morning and waited for the penguins to appear in groups as they usually do. The light and the surroundings did the rest.” Being in remote locations poses a risk within itself. If something happened to the photographer, like if they hurt themselves by twisting an ankle or falling, no one would know for a long time. It’s always smarter to travel in pairs, though it might not set you up for the best shot (Vice).
A Remote Controlled Car Couldn’t Fully Protect This Photographer
Graeme Purdy is a successful wildlife photographer who’s safely photographs the wild. For the most part. He hooks up his camera to a remote-controlled car and follows dangerous wildlife around. Most of the time, they don’t care about his car, but sometimes, they’ll try and attack. When he was photographing a buffalo stampede, not only did the buffalo trample his remote-controlled car, but they also charged at his regular car. They’re the most dangerous animals in the savannah, and most people know one person who a buffalo killed. He said, “the buffalo is grumpy,” Purdy said. “They’ll attack lions. They’ll attack cheetahs, and they’ll attack leopards. These are grass-eating animals. They’re not going to eat them. They’re just really grumpy.” They also “charged my camera regularly. You couldn’t get too close with the vehicle because they charge vehicles from time to time” (Insider).
Elephants Have Super Hearing And Will Charge Anything
People know elephants for their gracefulness and beauty. But what most of us don’t know is that there’s another, darker side to them, and that involves aggression. They’ll charge anything, even humans, without warning. Graeme Purdy went on to say, “elephants are different because it depends on what kind of life they had with humans. Some of them have been in permanent conflict with humans. In some parts of Africa, they are very aggressive and if they see [someone] then they’ll literally charge.” He has to be careful around these giant beasts, not only because they’ll charge, but because they have supersonic hearing. He said, “I noticed recently even on silent shutter we can’t hear it, (it’s actually a digital read-out of the sensor so nothing actually moves in the camera) but the elephants can hear it. So I need to wait until I get them right where I want them because as soon as they hear the camera, they get a little bit suspicious.” Luckily, he shoots elephants that were in a peaceful area so did not encounter many of the aggressive ones people usually run into (Insider).
Stay Away From The Young Lioness And Her Elephant Prey
At first glance, this might seem like a young lioness hugging an elephant. But if you look closer, you’ll notice the elephant is at a strange angle and is on its side. That’s because the elephant is dead and the lion killed it. It was taken by Roie Galitz, who titled it “Last Embrace” She said, “One of the things I like about the image, besides the composition and lighting, is the viewer’s experience with the image, which is a bipolar one. I like to watch people’s reactions to this, when they first respond with “awww, they are hugging” and after a few seconds they realize that something else is going on.” To capture the shot, Galitz had to position herself near a hungry lion which poses danger. Luckily, the lion chose the elephant as its prey instead of her (Vice).
When we think of wildlife, we think of animals being aggressive. Not humans. But when a lone tiger entered a village, it was a different story. Because they’re so harmful to people, the locals want to prevent anything from happening. The way to do this was to fight back. Senthil Kumaran said, “the first time I saw a tiger was on a black and white TV at the age of ten. The BBC was telecasting a documentary on tigers that deeply impressed me. I was so fascinated that I couldn’t even describe its majesty in words.” When he heard a tiger enter a village in India, he thought it was his chance. But he was let down. He said, “the place was heavily crowded with nearly 50 forest workers and more than 500 civilians, armed with poles and weapons to kill the tigerâ¦ It was those scenes that made me realize the dark side of the tiger and its contemporary ecology.” While we might think it’s brutal to kill a tiger like this, the villagers who had to live with the tiger and its harsh attacks would think otherwise (Vice).
American crocodiles are some of the most dangerous animals in the world. They’re unpredictable and aggressive, and you never know if they’re going to attack. Fabrice Guerin captured this hostile animal underwater during an expedition in Mexico. He said, “it’s a cold-blooded animal, and it prefers the sunlight. It’s necessary to attract it by making noise on the water’s surface, as if prey fell into the water. After a lot of patience and perseverance, the crocodile decided to approach. Shy then curious, it came very close, almost to make contact with my camera lens. The thrill of shooting! But you have to be very careful because if you’re careless, the encounter can be fatal.” It’s better to know exactly how you’re going to approach an animal before doing so. That’s part of the skill of being a photographer (Shutterstock).
Jonathan Pledger had no idea he was in danger while taking pictures in Kruger National Park. He was simply minding his own business and taking pictures of nearby wildlife when suddenly, he heard rustling in the bushes. He knew it wasn’t a friend playing a prank on him, and when he turned around, he noticed a rhino jumping out of the bush and heading straight toward him. Instead of running, which is what any of us would have done, he stood there and continued capturing the angry rhino via photograph. As the rhino approached Pledger, he slowed down until suddenly, he stopped running. He turned left and ran straight back into the bushes, either afraid of Pledger or simply changing his mind (Listverse).
Wildlife photographer Marsel Van Oosten had a scary moment when he attempted to photograph a sedated tiger up close. He set up a remote-controlled camera with a wide-angle lens but realized he had placed it wrong after the vet gave the antidote. As he walked towards the tiger to move the camera, it woke up, growled, and chased after him. Luckily, the tiger was still groggy and only managed to take a few steps. The goal is always to prevent any situation where the animal feels threatened, but sometimes, despite precautions, accidents happen. [The Phoboglapher]
Purdy was also photographing lions when they sniffed him out. Suddenly, he had to make a quick decision and flee the scene. He initially took the doors off of his vehicle to get the makeshift bomb disposal robot out of the car, but a lioness smelled him. They surrounded his car like sharks. He said, “it was the only time ever I said to the driver, ‘Look we need to go. We need to back up here. We need to give the cats a little bit of space because they’re not happy.” He found beauty in their aggression and admitted that “prides can be quite spread out over large areas, but they always seemed to be together and really photogenic.” But Purdy was able to get closer to wildlife than many of us could ever dream of experiencing (Insider).
The black mamba is not a snake you want to mess with. It’s one of the world’s deadliest snakes. When a black mamba bites you, there is a one-hundred percent chance of dying. There are not many things in life that give you a one-hundred percent chance of death. Somehow, Mark Laita managed to surpass that percentage, since most people will die within a few hours. The moment the snake bit him, Laita snapped a photo. While in Central America, Laita was taking photographs of snakes for a book he was working on. Even though the collector had removed the venom from most of the snakes, he hadn’t removed it from the black mamba. While snapping the photos, the mamba moved closer to Laita and bit him when scared. He bled profusely, and Laita assumes the snake did not release any venom, or the venom left his body when he bled profusely. Either way, he lived to tell the tale and has proof of it (Listverse).
When wildlife photographers become too desperate to get the perfect shot, they may end up putting themselves and the animals in danger. Instead of keeping a safe distance and respecting the animal’s boundaries, some photographers may push their luck by getting too close or taking unnecessary risks. This can lead to a stressful and potentially harmful situation for both the photographer and the animal. It’s important for photographers to prioritize safety and ethical practices in their pursuit of capturing stunning wildlife photographs.