My goal is to show and share the beauty of the natural world… when you love something, you want to protect it.
Quietly spoken and reclusive by nature, Vincent Munier is one of the world’s most admired wildlife photographers. He tells Keith Wilson about his passion for winter, Tibet and living alone with a wolf pack in the high Arctic…
rowing up in a mountainous region of France with a father who taught him a respect for nature from an early age, Vincent Munier’s subsequent life as one of the world’s leading nature photographers hardly seems surprising. “I nature was lucky reveals to its grow beauty up in in an whimsical area where seasons,” France is still he says. home Although to him, Vincent this part now of seeks out more distant horizons and extreme conditions to photograph the natural world… When you were growing up in France, which interest came first, nature or photography? I grew up in the Vosges, in the east of France near the border with Germany, where nature is still quite wild. So my love for nature definitely came first. What was the most important lesson you learnt from your father about the natural world? My father taught me to be respectful towards wild plants and animals, but also how to watch and identify them. Another important thing is to stay humble regarding the knowledge you have about wildlife: an authentic naturalist always remembers that he cannot possibly know everything and will always be surprised by the wild world – including the weather!
Which was your first camera? My first camera was a combination of a German-made Novoflex 400mm telephoto lens with an Olympus OM-2N. Soon afterwards I got a Nikon FE2 and then the F-801s, both of which I used with the Novoflex lens. My first Nikon lens was a 300mm f/4 telephoto. Did you have any photographic training or are you self-taught? I am totally self-taught. My only training consisted of learning how to hide and
‘disappear’ from the animals in the forest, under the trees or in a pond. It’s still the case today when I need to prepare a photographic trip to a new destination. I had to learn how to disguise myself on the ice, for example. How important to your career has been the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition? This competition helped me a lot on my way to becoming a professional nature photographer because it allowed me to show my pictures to a wider audience and pay for my first overseas travel to the island of Hokkaido, Japan. Making that journey it was a dream come true for the young photographer I was then. Your beautiful books have quickly become collectors’ items. How much importance do you place on the creation of a new book? Well, thank you! Books are indeed very important to me because they both leave a permanent trace and they allow you to create something beyond the photographs you take. Snowy, white locations feature prominently in your photography. Why do you think this is? I believe it is linked to my geographical origin. When I was a kid growing up in the Vosges, I was used to long winters, sometimes very cold and wet. I have always loved snow for its pureness and mystery,
and I still get very excited – just like a child – when I see it fall outside. You recently spent a month alone in the Arctic photographing and videoing white wolves. Did you at any time think you had taken too big a risk? Of course, this expedition was risky. All through the trip I experienced every feeling and emotion you can imagine: excitement, happiness, fear, melancholy. But these were the extremes I was looking for, so I was just so terribly conscious of living my own life. You’ve described this experience as the ‘greatest moment of my career’. Can you explain why?
The trip to the Arctic to see the white
wolves was, of course, my longest trip alone in such extreme conditions, and it was unquestionably the most difficult trip I’ve taken too. But meeting the white wolves up there was a big dream of mine. Their life is so harsh and challenging, you know. Getting in touch with them in the wild was just fabulous!
Meeting the white wolves up there was a big dream of mine. Their life is so harsh and challenging, you know
Vincent Munier Wildlifephotographer
With nine wolves running towards you in the middle of nowhere, and no one to turn to, weren’t you scared? No, even when the whole pack of wolves was around me, I never felt scared of them at all. Honestly, adrenaline and joy were the strongest things that I felt at that point. I felt more scared of the possibility of hungry polar bears approaching my tent at night, or of a terrible big wind tearing it from the ground.
What is your ‘desert island’ lens? If there were animals on the desert island, I would use the Nikkor 200-400mm f/4, but if all I could photograph were landscapes then the Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 would have to be my choice. What’s the most unusual thing in your camera bag?
Only my GPS! Can you list for me the Nikon cameras you have used and what was the best thing about each one? My first Nikon camera was an FE2: so strong and reliable, but noisy and heavy. I then got the F-801s, which I used a lot. It’s a wonderful camera, light and reliable.
The F5 followed and it too is an excellent camera. I used two of them because it was strong, fast and accurate.
Unfortunately, the F6 arrived two years too late. It’s an amazing camera, but I switched to digital when it was ready. The D70 was my first good digital camera, then came the D200, which to me was not so
I was lucky enough to work secretly with Nikon Japan on the D3s. It’s wonderful for shooting in low-light situations
Vincent Munier Wildlifephotographer
good. The D300 was the perfect DX camera and the D2x was also excellent. I worked a lot with that, and with the D3 too. Then came the D3s and I was lucky enough to work secretly with Nikon Japan on this camera. It’s wonderful for shooting in low-light situations. The D4 is an excellent camera and with full HD video. Now, the new D4s is even better for video, with 60 images per second in full HD, and especially in low light.
I mainly work with two D4 bodies, although soon I will switch to the D4s. This camera is very responsive and sensitive for photographing animals. For landscapes, I prefer to use a D800e because it provides greater image detail, which is good when you want to make a beautiful enlargement. Which cameras, lenses and other accessories make up your essential wildlife photography kit now? When I was alone in the high Arctic, without assistance, I used two professional Nikon D4 bodies, plus the following lenses: 24-120mm f/4, 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 and the 500mm f/4 – it’s light and efficient. But when working in Tibet, I preferred the 600mm f/4 or 800mm f/5.6, and also the 200-400mm f/4, especially to change the frame size, which is necessary for video. Of course, you shoot video as well. What is the best thing about video compared to stills? Video is the perfect medium when you want to share great moments on the
internet, and especially for enabling you to show the background to the making of the still pictures. Red-crowned cranes, white wolves, musk oxen… what is your favourite animal subject to photograph? I don’t really have a favourite subject, but it is true that the big mammals, and large predators in particular, have been a fascination of mine for a long time. I couldn’t tell you why, but this feeling has probably been inside every human being since time immemorial. There is a gentleness and grace about your images that owes much to the composition and timing of your exposures. Do you have some personal golden rules about your photography? My only golden rule is to have patience, tenacity and experience. I am not a technician of photography. Taking pictures is a reflex action for me, since I’ve been taking pictures since I was 12. It has become a natural thing. Where do you derive your photographic inspiration? Is it from the work of other
photographers, from other art forms, or from nature itself? Of course, I take my main inspiration from nature, but also from the late Japanese wildlife photographer Michio Hoshino. He was one of the first wildlife photographers to travel to extreme wild places, alone with his tent. He immersed himself totally into the wild in order to take photographs, and I admire his very personal approach to his work. The philosophy and art of Swiss painter and sculptor Robert Hainard deeply inspire me too. How does your photography make a difference to preserving the environment? What is your message? My goal is to show and share the beauty of the natural world today. The implicit idea is simple: when you love something, you want to protect it. I feel the same about nature and wildlife, so I hope my pictures can help people follow that same course of direction. What do you think you would you have been if you hadn’t become a photographer? I would have liked to become a nature illustrator… or maybe even a poet. But this will have to be in another life because I don’t have the necessary qualities and skills for those careers in this one! What is the best piece of advice you can give to someone wanting to become a nature photographer? I would just say: in order to photograph it, you need to spend as much time as possible with nature. Get to know better the many different environments and the different species living there.
A long climb Nikon D2x, Nikon 70-200mm 1/200 sec, ISO 400
Snowy owl (top)
Nikon D3s, Nikon 600mm, 1/250 sec, ISO 800
Owl adrift (Below)
Nikon D3s, Nikon 70-200mm, 1/250 sec
Nikon D800e, Nikon 500mm f/4, 1/250 sec, ISO 800
Nikon D800e, Nikon 500mm f/4, 1/250 sec, ISO 400
At play Nikon D4, Nikon 500mm, 1/500 sec, ISO 800