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This winter Steve Winter will be leading two 3-day workshops out of the Fairmont Mayakoba. Each weekend workshop is limited to 10 – 12 people, so each student is guaranteed personalized instruction during the daily field excursions into Mayakoba’s pristine waterways and trails. Steve will work with each student and their existing equipment to maximize their potential. Although students will focus on Mayakoba’s lush ecosystem and wildlife, the photo lessons taught will be applicable to sorts of subject matter.

Dates:

  • October Friday 23- Monday 26
  • December Friday 11-Monday 14

Sample Itinerary:

Friday evening: Introduction dinner with Steve Winter and workshop attendees.

Saturday

  • morning: Early morning boat excursion into Mayakoba’s waterways guided by Steve.
  • midday: Review of morning shots + lessons followed by a brief lunch break.
  • Late afternoon: 2nd boat excursion
  • Evening: TBD – Possible dinner with Steve and presentation or individual portfolio reviews.

Sunday

  • morning: Early morning boat excursion into Mayakoba’s waterways guided by Steve.
  • midday: Review of morning shots + lessons followed by a brief lunch break.
  • Late afternoon: 2nd boat Excursion
  • Evening: Wrap-up dinner followed by group show.

Monday: Guests departure

Cost:

Workshop attendees will be lodged at the Fairmont Mayakoba resort with a special workshop rate starting at US$432 per room, per night (based on double occupancy, plus 19% tax and US$20 per adult per night resort fee).

Reservations must be made directly through the Fairmont Mayakoba resort here, using Promo code PNGE. 

More info can be found at www.wildlifephotomasterclass.com

This interview was originally featured on Singapore Airlines’ SilverKris Magazine here,  ahead of my National Geographic Live! lecture in Singapore back in August 2015.

 

1. Simplify your gear

I think gear is overrated. My favourite camera is a Canon for the simple reason that I’ve been using one for 30 years and I’m very used to it. I look at a camera as a tool to get the job done and whatever brand you pick is somewhat immaterial. In fact, one of the best things that people can actually bring is a simple point-and-shoot camera. Take in the wildlife in front of you and forget messing with changing lenses or camera settings. You can end up getting pictures that you’d be amazed that you’re actually getting. Even more simply, you can use your iPhone or smartphone and even get a telephoto lens for it.

2. Play on manualSteve Winter / Tigers

If you insist on a DSLR, it’s good to learn manual settings so you understand what the light is doing. There are only about six or seven kinds of light – in bright sunlight, I use ISO 400 at 1/500th of a second with f13 or f16 aperture. As the shadows come over or clouds pass by, you change your settings to compensate for that. It’s one or two stops difference, so you can shoot at 1/500th or 1/250th of a second in f8.

3. Don’t rushMirchani Tigress cubs playing at a waterhole in Bandhavgarh National Park.

The time of day to catch the animals at their best is obviously when they’re moving, when they’re active. That primarily happens at dawn and dusk, which also happens to be during the best light of the day. But animals will do exactly what they want to do, so spending the most time you can out in the wild while you’re on safari is your best option for catching things that you have never seen before. You’re gonna be told, “Oh we’ll go out for a couple of hours and then come back and have breakfast.” You want the whole experience of the safari? You go out in the morning, stay out all day, bring your food with you and just experience what it’s like in that landscape for the sunlight hours. Then you’ll surely have the experience that you will never ever forget.

4. Be discreet

To me, the number one thing to avoid doing is to put yourself in a situation where you’re stopping, blocking, baiting or moving an animal. You’re there to observe only and not ever get in their way. You should be just an observer. Sit back, watch what the animal is doing, take a photo if you must and just enjoy the situation of being out in nature.

5. Catch the glow

Mirchani Tigress cubs playing at Damnar.

Three tiger cubs photographed during the golden hour.

I think one of the best tips is to shoot early in the day because the sun is at a great angle and you have beautiful shadows. Early morning is wonderful; the sun’s not real high so you actually get the eyes of the animal filled in with the sunlight, which is vitally important. Cloudy days are also a really great time to shoot, because you don’t have shadows during the less ideal times of the day.

6. Compose your pictureSafariSSN2012-11-2312-25-46 (1)

Don’t dwell on rules too much. I think rules in photography are made to be broken. The most important thing is composition. Learn how to compose a beautiful photograph and not just take a snap. You know, the more we use our smartphones, the more visually educated we become. So look at the masters of painting and photography and figure out where they put their subject in the frame. It’ll help to emulate what you see.

7. Be ethical

To avoid any type of animal exploitation, go to where animals are wild. There are probably one per cent or less of “animal rehab facilities” that actually rehabilitate any animal. They will tell you that they do but most – like the big predators that I work with – are impossible to rehabilitate. Unless it’s in a very specific way: like if an animal was injured, you would anaesthetise it in the field, fix up its wounds and let it go; you would never bring it close to human contact in a caged facility. So just go somewhere where animals are wild – you can enjoy the experience of being out in nature, listen to the silence or the symphony of birds. It’s wonderful.

To join my brothers in photography and life, Brian Skerry and John Stanmeyer — here is my take on the new NG Partners. My father and I were as different politically as two people can be. We rarely saw eye to eye. But my father gave me my first camera and pushed me out into the field as I embarked on my work as a young photographer, he is the reason I am a photographer today.

I bring this up because many people have reached out to me with a flurry of phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages concerned about the new partnership between National Geographic and 21st Century Fox. This will be called National Geographic Partners with a SHARED governance structure AND EQUAL representation on the board of directors. National Geographic made the deal with James Murdoch, who heads 21st Century Fox. Read the Guardian article about Mr. Murdoch and NG Partners deal http://www.theguardian.com/…/james-murdoch-fox-national-geo… His wife, Kathryn Hufschmid Murdoch, has served as an advisory board member at the Clinton Climate Initiative, and on the board of the Environmental Defense Fund. And although I do not know Mr. Murdoch personally, I do know, trust, admire and respect the people at Nat Geo that formed this partnership—and I have ultimate faith that they did it in the best interest in the future and with the Society’s venerable 127 year history in mind.

There has been a flood of media and social media about the Nat Geo-21st Century Fox partnership, and much of it has been reactionary, met with shock, dismay, and doom and gloom. 21st Century Fox is a partner with National Geographic in NG Partners, they did not buy NG. I am so happy that so many people around the world care so deeply about National Geographic—but let’s all please learn more before passing judgment, and the fact is, that we will have to wait and see.

We live in an apocalyptic age for print publications—with so many laying off legions or closing down. Thankfully, National Geographic has managed to stay afloat. For the last 20 years, with the magazine’s support, I’ve been able capture never-before-seen images that have informed our readers about endangered species—and in a few cases, spark positive change: helping to establish the world’s largest tiger reserve, fund jaguar projects, a bear project in Kamchatka and getting a GPS/SAT collar for P-22 and other cougars who are living around LA and the Hollywood sign, then with the photos sparking action to save cougars and other wildlife near Los Angeles with construction of a wildlife corridor over the 101 Freeway. This was only accomplished with funding from NGM and extra funding from the NG Expedition Council grants.

Many of our writers and photographers do the impossible, but some of these stories were becoming hard to do without additional grant funding which has been slowing down. With rising costs, something needed to happen. The additional funding provided by this new partnership (the endowment is almost doubled) will allow ideas to flourish; will provide more funds for explorers and scientists who are among the best in the world; and will create a geographic educational center and a center for photography. I am optimistic that it will allow us to produce longer, more in-depth stories in the magazine, and expand them with multimedia, television or into theater-released films.

The editorial and photographic teams at The Geographic remains the same. Let me reiterate: I trust the men and women who run the magazine more than anyone I know. Their integrity and commitment to exposing the truth, educating readers and saving the planet are matched only by their will. Today I go to work for the same team of amazing humans who hold the same control over editorial content that did before the new partnership was formed. I support the “yellow border” with tremendous pride, and ask that readers of the magazine wait to see what we are able to do with this new partnership before passing judgment. We appreciate your passion and support for the magazine, but based on conversations I have been privy to early in this process, there is no reason for concern—and many reasons to be excited.

If you have been inspired by and respect the integrity of our work at National Geographic Magazine, then please trust the leaders of the Society who have created this opportunity. We are committed to pursuing the most important stories of our time, told with deep fact-checking and ultimate journalistic integrity and autonomy. I am optimistic that this merger means that we have been given an opportunity to bring readers more of what they look for in the pages of National Geographic Magazine.

This is the story of one of my most successful images – two images, actually.The one seen below, and that of the same cat with Los Angeles in the background, seen midway through this post.

A remote camera captures a radio collared cougar in Griffith Park.

The photo of cougar P-22 I photographed in Griffith Park.

After these images were published, they sparked a movement that continues to grow—and could help save cougars and other Southern California wildlife.

[Learn more about the #SaveLACougars Campaign here]

While I was planning shoots for my cougar story with my editor (the great Kathy Moran, Senior Editor of Natural History at National Geographic Magazine), we spoke of the need to document an “urban cat.” It was important to illustrate the fact that as our cities expand and we look for homes outside of the city, we move into the homes of animals and predators. Then we live beside them – if they decide to stay and the landscape is not totally changed and the prey removed.

So I’d heard about a cougar project in Los Angeles in the largest urban park in the US, the Santa Monica National Recreation Area. It’s run by National Park Service scientist Seth Riley and biologist Jeff Sikich. I contacted them and explained what I would like to do with the story and learned that I’d be seeing Jeff in person at an upcoming mountain lion workshop in Bozeman, Montana.

Jeff gave a presentation there, and afterwards we went to bar at the Holiday Inn where we were staying to talk about his project—and the cats. I asked Jeff if he had a cat that walked any of the trails that overlooked LA. I had heard that he had captured and put a satellite-tracking collar on a cat that walked through Cher’s backyard – and I was excited! He said that no, there weren’t any cats on those trails: The cats were more intelligent, more secretive, wary. And if young cats ventured out of the protected area at night to try to find their own territory in a new location, they soon found there was no prey for them to eat – just people and houses and for the most part, they headed back home by morning.

Just before I parted ways with him that night, I asked, “Wouldn’t it be great to get a picture of a cougar with the Hollywood sign?” He gave me an odd look. “Sure it would, but there are no cougars in Griffith Park where the Hollywood sign is.” I told him to keep me in mind in case something changed.

A bobcat comes across a camera trap I placed on a  trail in Griffith Park used by P-22. P-22 eventually came down this trail once during the time my camera trap was set up.

A bobcat comes across a camera trap I placed on a trail in Griffith Park used by P-22. P-22 eventually came down this trail once during the time my camera trap was set up.

Eight months later as I sat in my dentist chair my phone vibrated with a text. It was from Jeff. It said “Call me now!” which I did as soon as I stepped out of the dentists’ office. He told me that his ongoing bobcat study, which used small “trail cams” to document their presence in the park, had gotten a photo of a cougar across from the Hollywood Sign – in Griffith Park. He then proceeded to tell me that he thought I was crazy when I asked him about getting a photo of a cougar with the sign, but as he is a polite Midwesterner, he hadn’t said so.

Then my job began. I had to learn where this cat, named “P-22”, walked so I could set up cameras to get the two images I wanted. Cats tend to walk along some of the same trails within their established territory.Biologist Jeff Sikich fitting a sedated cougar with a collar in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

So first off, Jeff wanted to capture and place a tracking collar on the cat, but the only one he had was old and was not functioning properly. So I wrote a grant proposal to the National Geographic Expedition Council for funds to purchase equipment for the project, including a collar—so that everyone involved from National Park Service, and the City of LA to the Griffith Park authorities would know where P-22 was roaming. And I got the grant!

But some big questions remained, and high on that list was security. How do you place remote cameras in Griffith Park without them being stolen?

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow.

A photo posted by Steve Winter (@stevewinterphoto) on