For more than a century, wild animals and their natural habitat have been an item of fascination for countless photographers. In practice, wildlife photography is not for the faint of heart.
It comes with unique challenges and real and physical dangers, particularly demanding equipment. Still, there is a remarkable list of wildlife photographers who have persevered and thrived.
The Best Wildlife Photographers
Let’s look at the lives and works of some of the most famous wildlife photographers and their magnificent images.
1. Brian Skerry
Let’s start our roundup with a wildlife photographer who is more than deserving of the top spot. Brian Skerry has been drawn to the magic of underwater environments since an early age. He has been SCUBA diving since his teens, a passion and an important skill that served as a springboard for his pioneering marine wildlife photography.
Since 1998, Skerry has been a contributing photographer for National Geographic magazine, having produced over 30 stories, including 6 cover stories.
Most recently, he created and produced ‘Secrets of the Whales,’ a multi-platform project that included a cover story in National Geographic magazine, a book, and a 4-part documentary film series, streaming on Disney+. The series won the 2021 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary. Skerry is also actively involved in wildlife conservation efforts and is a founding member of the International League of Conservation Photographers.
2. Joel Sartore
With one of the most successful photography careers in the history of National Geographic magazine, Joel Sartore is internationally acclaimed as one of the best wildlife photographers.
Though much of his extensive portfolio is impressive, the National Geographic Photo Ark constitutes Joel Sartore’s magnum opus.
With support from the National Geographic Society, Joel travels the world in his quest to create a photo archive of global biodiversity that will feature portraits of more than 20,000 species of birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.
Once completed, the Photo Ark will serve as an important record of each animal’s existence and a powerful testament to the importance of protecting them. You can explore much of the Photo Ark’s existing progress in the latest edition of Sartore’s Photo Ark Wonders, published by National Geographic.
Longtime National Geographic Photographer and named Wildlife Photographer of the year by the BBC in 2005, Christian Ziegler has amassed an incredible portfolio. His prime focus lies on displaying the biodiversity and natural history of rainforests in Central and South America.
Christian works worldwide to raise awareness of endangered species and ecosystems, mainly in the tropics. Drawing from his experience as a trained tropical ecologist, Ziegler approaches his subject matter with great care and scientific understanding.
He uses photography to communicate and bring awareness to the fragile state of some of Earth’s most endangered yet crucial ecosystems. Frequently, Ziegler also makes use of other forms of expression towards the same end, for example, in his book Deceptive Beauties or in some of his latest cinematography.
4. Shannon Wild
A lifelong dedicated conservationist, Shannon Wild has worked as a wildlife photographer and cinematographer on every continent. Her stunning images of the natural world, which include emotional photos of cheetah and tiger cubs, have won Wild many awards.
Her travel and wildlife photography showcases radiant colors, evocative emotions, and excellent composition with regard to her animal subjects.
5. Amy Gulick
A founding fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers, Amy Gulick excels in her wildlife photography and her writing.
Her most recent book, The Salmon Way, beautifully showcases her capacity to blend award-winning photography with witty, engaging, and educational writing. In all her published media, she informs and teaches about environmental needs and the conservationist cause to a broad audience.
Frans Lanting has found the peak of his success as a National Geographic photographer, collaborating with the magazine on numerous occasions over the past thirty years.
Apart from Nat Geo, Lanting has also appeared in LIFE Magazine. In recent years, he has gone on to publish his photo books independently as well.
Lanting’s work likes to draw inspiration from genres of photography far beyond pure journalistic realism.
His vast exhibitions have found success in the fine art world, and Lanting is credited with introducing a new standard of aesthetics to the medium of nature and animal photography.
He also teaches photography workshops and has recently launched a new project called “Bay of Life” about the biodiversity of the Monterey Bay region.
The centerpiece of this project is a book and exhibition by the same name, Bay of Life: From Wind to Whales.
7. Paul Nicklen
Paul Nicklen went to a university in Canada to study as a marine biologist. It wouldn’t be long before his love for the Earth’s seas, and its creatures would lead him to document them in photos.
A BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Paul Nicklen is one of the most significant artists in recent years using photojournalism techniques to shine a light on ecological and environmental issues.
Through his non-profit, Nicklen actively engages in the preservation of ocean life. He also frequently collaborates with scientific experts in the field to promote environmentalist causes.
For a gripping introduction to Paul Nicklen’s work, take a look at his latest book, Bear: Spirit of the Wild.
8. Ami Vitale
Nikon Ambassador and National Geographic wildlife photographer, explorer, and filmmaker Ami Vitale has been creating unique stories that amplify the work of communities on the front lines of conservation. Her breakout photo book, Panda Love: The Secret Lives of Pandas, has made her a household name in wildlife photography, bringing her significant acclaim from critics.
Ami has been called one of the most influential photographers of her generation and is the 2022 Conservation International Innovators Fellow.
She has traveled to more than 100 countries, documenting the heartbreaking realities of war and witnessing the inspiring power of individuals making a difference. Her award-winning work illuminates the unsung heroes and communities working to protect wildlife and find harmony in our natural world.
Ami is also the founder and Executive Director of the women-led non-profit Vital Impacts, which supports humanitarian and conservation efforts around the world. Vital Impacts has created a global grant and mentoring program to foster and support the next generation of environmental storytellers.
A photojournalist specializing in conservation photography for decades, Neil Aldrige actively works with NGOs and fundraising organizations to promote protection for vulnerable species.
One of the most engaged wildlife photographers in the field, he has received countless distinctions from major publications and organizations. Neil has been taking photos throughout Sub-Saharan Africa for much of his career. He also frequently travels to other locations to promote specific causes.
An example is his recent photo book Fox: Neighbour, Villain, Icon, which explores the controversial issue of fox hunting in the UK. The book is about the difficult and strange relationship with foxes in the UK, and hunting is of course a significant part of that relationship, but some of the other images in the book are of urban foxes, for example, one of which featured in Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2015.
10. Melissa Groo
Melissa Groo is a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers, and she takes her work and its ethics very seriously.
She tirelessly works to educate others about the magic and the fragility of Earth’s various wildlife species. And throughout her career, she has taken many photos of endangered species to raise awareness from the public.
Her signature subjects are birds, in particular owls and shorebirds. Still, throughout her illustrious career, Groo has been taking pictures of a huge diversity of animal species from all corners of the globe.
11. Marina Cano
Marina Cano is a Spanish wildlife photographer known for her highly detailed, awe-inspiring animal portraits. Many of these were captured deep in the steppes and savannahs of central and eastern Africa.
Active as an artist and conservationist photographer since the 90s, Cano has been a finalist for the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the year and has been a finalist two times in the WPOTY. Her work has also appeared on the front cover of National Geographic multiple times.
In addition to her photographic work, Cano also organizes safaris and workshops for other aspiring top wildlife photographers.
Mexican-born Cristina Mittermeier has been fascinated by the underwater world since an early age. She has made her life’s mission that of ocean conservation and raising awareness of the plight of endangered species in our seas.
In collaboration with National Geographic Magazine, she has also released a photo book around the theme of terrestrial landscapes, titled Sublime Nature: Photographs That Awe and Inspire.
A trained marine biologist, Mittermeier distinguishes herself with her detailed scientific understanding of the living conditions of her subjects. Throughout her long career, she has combined photography with other media, such as writing, videography, and other forms of visual storytelling, to advance the cause of environmental conservation.
13. Suzi Eszterhas
Nominated Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2022, Suzi Eszterhas is widely acclaimed as one of the best wildlife photographers of her generation. She has worked in countless environments, from climbing the high peaks of India to showcasing the beauty of African wildlife in the savannah.
Beyond her work as a wildlife photojournalist for publications ranging from Nat Geo to BBC Wildlife, Eszterhas has also penned a series of non-fiction books, including children’s books, such as Baby Animals with Their Families. Like all her work, they help promote conservation efforts and educate on the needs and circumstances of different ecosystems.
14. Tim Laman
A longtime contributor to National Geographic and one of the most prolific wildlife photographers for over twenty years, Tim Laman has traveled every continent and shot some of the most stunning wildlife images of the century.
His favorite subjects include tropical animals, like great apes and birds of paradise. That’s no wonder, considering Lanan holds a Ph.D. in biology specializing in the rainforest ecosystem.
Like many of his contemporaries, he views his work as a wildlife photographer as parallel to his wider mission of protecting rare species and their natural habitats.
A longtime magazine photographer who has collaborated with National Geographic, Charlie Hamilton James specializes in rare and endangered wildlife, such as in his award-winning book Kingfisher: Tales From the Halcyon River. He also frequently explores the lifestyles and cultures of the native peoples of places like Rwanda, Brazil, and Kenya.
A dramatic use of lighting characterizes his wildlife photography, and he may employ expansive wide-angle scenes and detailed close-up portraits depending on the situation.
British-born wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas has spent the majority of his career – and indeed the majority of his life – in Southeast Africa, particularly in Tanzania, Kenya, and Zambia.
He has produced award-winning photographic portraits of individual endangered animals, like his stellar Land of Giants, a study on East Africa’s last surviving elephants.
In these countries, Burrard-Lucas developed an idiosyncratic working style. He uses wide-angle lenses to create intimate close-up shots, breaking the common approach of lying low in camouflage with a super-telephoto.
Among professional wildlife photographers, Burrard-Lucas is especially famous for his “CamTraptions”. These are small automated gadgets like drones and remote-control buggies that he ingeniously devised for himself to make approaching skittish and shy animals and taking pictures of them easier.
Today, he not only continues to make and tinker with these designs. He has even started selling them to other wildlife photographers from around the globe!
Marsel van Oosten hails from the Netherlands. He has received wide praise for his simplistic, minimalist showcases of nature at its most bare. Characterizing himself as both a nature and wildlife photographer, van Oosten frequently breaks established genre barriers in his quest to spread the cause of environmental conservation.
The pinnacle of this mission is arguably represented by his latest book, Mother: A Tribute to Mother Earth.
Van Oosten is the recipient of countless awards, from Wildlife Photographer of the Year to numerous first prizes in the Travel Photographer of the Year. He has also been actively involved in conservation efforts for most of his career.
With his partner Daniela Sibbing, he now runs Squiver, a network providing photo tours to wildlife photographers of all experience levels worldwide.
18. Tin Man Lee
Independent, award-winning wildlife photographer Tin Man Lee doesn’t just use his powerful images to move others to engage with conservationist causes. Through his many workshops, he actively teaches budding photographers how to become better at their own craft, too!
Lee’s work is characterized by a perfectionist technique that combines consistently tack-sharp, well-posed compositions with the unusually difficult, rare subject matter. He doesn’t shy away from photographing newborn animals or species known as particularly elusive and skittish among photographers.