“You’re only as good as your last shot,” said famed wildlife photographer Paul Goldstein.
He has spent nearly 30 years perfecting his craft and knows what needs to line up to produce something truly original. He has photographed jaguars in the Pantanal, tigers in India, a nursing polar bear mother, myriad animals in Africa, and the Northern Lights dancing above 10,000-year-old stranded icebergs.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Once working for a Kenyan safari team that needed brochures and pictures, Goldstein took his camera – something he still loved (great gig!) – and found what he needed to capture that nanosecond moment he calls “originality”.
“Originality is absolutely what I’m looking for,” he told The Epoch Times. “I once took a photo of a leopard on an open branch in a storm with the last few minutes of sunshine painting it… it takes a whole lot of ducklings in a row for something like this to happen. As I pressed the shutter, I knew I would never see that photo again, because there’s too much to go right.
He articulated the basics of research and discovery, as he sees it – not exploding by filling megapixels, but living in the moment, doing it right. It’s time well spent arriving, pausing, and “checking in”—to mute the shutter, respect, and not intrude. It takes patience, courage, even pain.
“There’s nothing easy,” he said, referring to his still frozen toes after a visit to Nunavut in Canada’s Arctic. “It’s never, ever about accumulation. … I would rather have one polar bear on ice than fifty on land.
One afternoon, he recalls, they passed “50 or 70 yards” from a mother polar bear – relaxed, nursing, feeding her cubs. Light contrast was excellent, shooting not difficult with a tripod but “hugely rewarding”. That night, the Northern Lights put on a “huge light show”.
“It was just remarkable,” Goldstein recalled.
He spoke of capturing the rarest moment of a coalition of cheetahs all in the same “family tree” in Kenya’s Mara National Reserve: “It was four days with a family of cheetahs, and they all together for a nanosecond.”
He mentioned three flamingos flying in perfect formation, and what it took. “It was about a lot of rain, being up about eight times a night hoping it would clear up, then 1,600 meters of cold elevation going to work up to the nest,” he said. “And then bet the hyenas would come down to pick up a few about a mile away and put them all up in the air.”
Anyone can light up flamingos by charging or poking them. “No! It’s not interesting,” exclaimed Goldstein.
The self-taught photographer from London first learned from coffee table books. His particular ambition, his self-criticism and his vision of wildlife have shaped the quality of his work, which has earned him worldwide recognition. He then explained his purposes.
“If you take a photo of the same subject as me, and we both enlarge them to a 10×8, I just want someone to look at mine a little longer, that doesn’t even mean it’s is necessarily better,” he said. the newspaper. “It just stops the eye more. I’m after impact. Critically good photography should be 80% about field work, patience, sensitivity, lack of fear of failure, ambition and of course be there.”
He added, “I’ve always been very self-critical about just about everything, whether I’m lecturing, presenting, photographing, teaching, fundraising.” That ambition would take him far – literally – crossing the Khumbu Glacier in Nepal, watching whales in Alaska, watching penguins in the Weddell Sea in Antarctica and beyond.
This ambitious sometimes rubbed her students the wrong way on her tours – “the tough love approach,” he called it. “And it offends,” he added. “And the grown men cried. And some people, it’s too much for them. Well, I’m sorry, I’m not changing.
Goldstein’s passion extends to wildlife conservation. He has lifted half a million running marathons for Bengal tigers – which are threatened with extinction due to poaching – and was keen to share with us what it was like to photograph one of the last remaining black rhinos – whose numbers have declined by 96% due to illegal hunting for their horns.
Photographers who encounter wildlife take on a responsibility that goes beyond furnishing their Instagram.
“It’s just a photograph,” Goldstein said. “A photograph at any cost is, especially with wildlife… is ethically questionable, morally bankrupt. That’s why when I see a photo of a snarling tiger or leopard in the barrel, it only tells me one thing: that the photographer is misbehaving or is too close.
More photographs by Paul Goldstein:
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