Q+A repost: “Ask an Expert” With Steve Winter.
These questions where posed to Steve during an “Ask and Expert” Q+A session on the Australian National Geographic Channel Facebook page by followers of that page. We’ve reposted them here with permission.
Q.What’s been your scariest moment while on assignment?
A. I think it has to be when I was on an elephant with the anti poaching patrol in Kaziranga (National Park in) India–and a rhino attacked us. I almost flew off – that was the scariest moment so far!
My assistant who was also with me on that elephant was able to capture it on video. Check it out here!
Q.What drives you to do what you do? Have you always had a love for animals and photography or did it develop with your astonishing skills?
A. I began my career as a photojournalist and did not take a photo of an animal until I was 34 years old. Once I visited the rainforest for the first time and worked with passionate and dedicated scientists, I was hooked! I realized that if we save big cats and their homes we can save the forests in which they live–which provide about 50% of the oxygen we need to survive and about 75% of fresh water comes from forests also. So saving big cats is vital to our survival! If we save big cats we can help save ourselves!
Every day is a school day – so I learn on the job – and always try to compete against myself to make images that have not been seen before – to get the readers excited about the story I am working on.
We need to get the next generation to do a better job of protecting our planet than we have – so I am driven to start conversations about these big cats on the pages of National Geographic Magazine and on Nat Geo WILD!
Q.I’ve noticed in the majority of your photos the subjects (cats) tend to look in your direction. Do you feel a connection build? Or an understanding?
A. There is a connection. Cats are so curious, whether they are our house cats or big cats in the wild. There is no feeling like looking in the eyes of one of these magnificent creatures!
Q.What cat is your favorite to shoot and why?Do you have any pets yourself?
A. At work, I am a big cat guy. At home, I am a dog lover, although we do have one cat, Punk. I don’t have a favorite big cat species as every one unique. My favorite is the cat I am photographing at the present moment. But I must say because I’ve spent so much time photographing tigers I’ve grown incredibly fond them. That fondness led me to produce the book “Tigers Forever” with my wife, journalist Sharon Guynup who wrote the book – so it was a family affair!
Q.You must have seen some amazing things and some scary/not so amazing things in your life. What was the most amazing thing you have ever seen and what don’t you want to see again?
A. My amazement in many instances stems from being given the opportunity to take a photograph of an animal that I have been dreaming of, or an image I’ve been visualizing. I also have the opportunity to be out in some of the world’s last wild places, among amazing creatures. Those moments are magical and are truly a gift.
What don’t I want to see again or experience again? Working in Kaziranga National Park, we were repeatedly charged by rhinos—and that’s an experience I would choose to avoid. I have very lucky, scared but not physically attacked – ever! Knock on wood!
Q.I can imagine that throughout your travels you’ve experienced a lot of different and unique cultures. How have you found your reception has been with natives or locals? Have you ever had any hostilities? Is their a mutual respect?
A.I learned as a young man that we are all the same – we just come from different cultures. I have never experienced any hostility. Time with someone in their home or community always brings us closer together. But having the time to get to know someone is very important! Being able to live out my dream job gives me the opportunity to spend weeks or months with different cultures and make friends all over the world.
Q.How big is the team that travels with you “on assignment” ?
A.Well right now we are finishing the National Geographic Magazine Leopard story and working on a Nat Geo WILD leopard show, so I have 3 guys with me: 2 cameramen sound and assistant. I totally rely on local people and park staff to help me find the animals I am looking for, so working closely with local people is very important: I spend every day, 7 days a week with them. I am a guest in their country, their park and they are the experts that help us get the images and video we need to suceed.
Q.On average how many photos would you say you take before you capture the money shot?
A.That is a hard question – as sometimes on camera traps I have waited for 15 months, like with the picture I made of a cougar under the Hollywood sign, or 23 days sitting in an elephant for the photo that became the cover of my NG “Tigers Forever” book cover – so it all depends on the situation! But the answer is thousands and thousands of images, taken over many months or sometimes, years.
Q.How do you pick your next assignment?
A.Sometimes I find my next story while I am on assignment – or pursue something that’s always fascinated me. I research to find out whether it will be possible and then find the right people to work with and write a proposal to Nat Geo Magazine!
I propose the vast majority of the stories I work on. I work closely with my editor, who is like my guides throughout the story. My editor of many years is Kathy Moran, who has been an incredible inspiration to me. We work together as a team to bring about the best coverage possible and to always look for images that we have not seen before!