As far as veteran 'National Geographic' photographer Steve Winter sees it, a camera can be just as mighty as the sword. "When we take pictures, we're really building an emotional connection," he tells 'Mens Journal.' "That can help change the world."
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Over the span of his 30-plus years as a wildlife photographer, Winter has been doing just that, capturing unforgettable images of endangered animals as varied as the snow leopard, the rhino, and the grizzly bear – as well as the humans protecting them. Not surprisingly, Winter's work is often used by preservation and humanitarian groups, such as the Wildlife Conservation Society, USAID, Panthera, and even local municipalities to help persuade national governments to invest in the conservation of threatened wildlife. "By showing the reality – the rarely seen moments of real animal behavior alongside the industry of poaching – we can connect emotions to something that is abstract to most people," he says.
Winter's work in this regard has garnered him the highly coveted BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year and BBC Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year Awards (in 2008 and 2012, respectively). Wildlife preservation is also the subject of his new book, 'Tigers Forever: Saving the World's Most Endangered Big Cat,' which includes firsthand accounts of Winter's photography expeditions into hostile and forbidding terrain, written by his wife, journalist Sharon Guynup.
To help inspire the next generation of photographers, Winter is launching a three-day Wildlife Photo Master Class in January 2014, at the Banyan Tree Mayakoba, an eco-resort located inside a 590-acre wildlife sanctuary just outside Playa del Carmen in Mexico. There, he and fellow 'Nat Geo' photographers Tim Laman and Brian Skerry will offer hands-on guidance regarding how to capture nature photos worthy of a magazine. We caught up with Winter as he was putting the finishing touches on the itinerary, and he gave us a veritable one-on-one master class on the fine art and craft of nature photography.
Fiddle with ISO.
Back in the days of film photography, ISO referred to a film's sensitivity to light, and you were stuck in whatever ISO film you happened to have bought. With digital cameras, however, it's a synthetic effect, so adjusting ISO will alter the graininess and softness of the picture you're taking (referred to as "noise"). The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the sensor is to the light, which is good in dark places, but this can also result in unwanted noise. The lower the ISO, the less sensitive the sensor will be to light, which is better for bright places – but this will soften the edges of everything. "You should use ISO to tweak lighting: Raise it when it's dark, lower when it is light," Winter says. "A good languid morning shot, like this one in Bagan, Myanmar, worked because I constantly checked my light as we were gaining altitude in the balloon."
Credit: Steve Winter