“Wildlife photography has unprecedented power today. It’s no secret our planet is being lost to the greed of mankind”
Spending hours peering down a camera lens to capture nature’s secret moments may not be everyone’s cup of tea. For wildlife photographer Sam Kite, however, it’s heaven.
Born and bred in Yorkshire, Sam graduated in zoology at the University of Sheffield in 2017. When he wasn’t reading about wildlife in the library, he was observing it in the nearby peaks.
Photographic excursions – including Botswana, India and UK national parks – continue to complement his knowledge of wildlife behaviour and his documentation of it.
Like Sam, we’ve all been inspired in some way by wildlife photography. It not only brings the natural world closer to our eyes – it reminds us of the greater need to conserve it.
And for Sam, this is what makes those hours peering down a camera lens less of a hobby and more of a calling.
I (virtually) sat down with him to chat about his six-week assignment in Botswana and what attracted him to wildlife photography.
Let’s begin with how you fell in love with wildlife photography
I have always been fascinated by the natural world and the animals within it. One of my earliest memories is stalking an Alpine ibex with my dad while on holiday in France. The love of photography came later in life. I can remember picking up my dad’s Sony DSLR and falling in love. I am extremely lucky as it’s not often people can marry two of their biggest passions in life and chase a career with it!
What’s your most rewarding shoot to date?
I was lucky enough to be a camera assistant on a natural history shoot in Botswana in 2017. I learned so much about making a blue-chip documentary by spending ten hours in the bush looking for stories. From following multiple leopards through the bush to having wild dog pups run around the vehicle while the adults were away hunting, those were six weeks I will never forget.
That sounds incredible. Tell us more!
It was a trip of a lifetime and all began with a lucky strike. My mum’s dental hygienist has a best friend whose son owns a safari company in Botswana, and he took me on as a volunteer for three months. I was a camera assistant in the Okavango Delta for six weeks, spending each night exploring the bush looking for the most spectacular wildlife to film. We were so lucky to see hyenas fighting with wild dogs, lions chasing hippos, porcupines, servals. It was incredible.
Our nightly filming schedule meant we caught the golden hour each afternoon. One particular night we tracked three leopards until we found the tree where one was storing its kill. The driver and I returned at sunrise and, without another soul there, took it all in. You could feel the power of this beautiful animal.
It sounds like you got pretty close to these amazing animals. Do you have a favourite animal and scenery to shoot?
You don’t have to go to the other side of the world to capture amazing wildlife. A few years ago I photographed a red deer (Britain’s largest land mammal) standing over a sheer mountain drop in Scotland. It continues to be one of the most special wildlife encounters I’ve had. Lions are my favourite to photograph outside the UK. They are without doubt my favourite animal and the plains of Africa are a breathtaking place to photograph them. In terms of scenery, I love mountains – they’re powerful, majestic and have a sense of mystery.
Is there an animal you’d love to photograph but haven’t had the opportunity?
The orca, arguably the most supreme marine mammal, tops my list. It’s a dream of mine to photograph these magnificent creatures in British waters.
What equipment are you using at the moment and how do you choose gear for different shoots?
Currently I’m using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, a beautiful full-frame DSLR with a variety of lenses, a Sigma 150-500mm, a Canon 100mm Macro L and a Tamron 24-70mm. These cover all bases and allow me to take any style of shot I want.
My choice depends on the size and distance of my subject. Wild mammals almost always require a telephoto lens, whereas insects require macro.
Your shot of the anhinga, or snake bird, is stunning. Tell us more about how this happened and some of the challenges you faced
That shot was taken at Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur, India. I can’t remember taking this specific picture as I was suffering the aftermath of some dodgy food. I would snap a few shots here and there between waves of sickness.
It was not until I arrived back in the UK that I realised I had this shot. I’m prepared to hold my hands up and admit this has been edited a fair bit to get the jet-black background, but the bird’s colours haven’t been manipulated. I love this shot so much. It’s a simple, fine-art shot I will treasure forever.
On your Instagram feed you use wildlife photography and film-making for visual storytelling. What’s the wider role of wildlife photography and conservation?
I believe wildlife photography has unprecedented power. It’s no secret our planet is being destroyed and the habitats of so much wildlife is being lost to the greed of mankind. A single image can tell a thousand words and has the power to be emotive and deliver a message without anything else. People lead such busy lives they don’t have time to listen to someone or watch a video for ten minutes. The power of a photo is like nothing else.
You’re a big fan of black-and-white wildlife photography. Why are you drawn to these tones in particular?
I love black-and-white wildlife photography mainly because it allows you to step into the realm of fine-art photography. Black and white simplifies a shot and puts all the focus on the subject.
In Botswana, we were searching the bush for some photography opportunities when this huge elephant slowly walked over to us. This is possibly my favourite ever photo. To this day, I still can’t believe I took it.
What advice can you offer someone looking to get started in wildlife photography and film-making?
Try not to compare yourself with others. It’s something I’ve done a lot in the past and the only thing it does is detract from self-improvement.
Get a basic set-up – it doesn’t have to be expensive in the slightest – and get out there and learn what makes a good picture. You don’t have to be in front of megafauna to get some amazing pictures. Go to your local wildlife patch, an RSPB reserve or even your garden if you have one and learn about what lighting and compositions make for a good photo.
It’s a good idea to follow photographers on Instagram for extra inspiration. See how they create beautiful photos and try to use those techniques in your photography.
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