While other eight year olds were riding bikes and swinging on monkey bars, Steve Winter dreamed of becoming a photographer for National Geographic. His love of photography has shaped his life ever since.
Given his first camera at age seven, Winter absorbed all the information he could about photography. He went on to graduate from the University of San Francisco and the Academy of Art with two degrees in photography.
“But I got my real education by being an assistant,” Winter says. “That’s where I really learned.”
Winter started as a cultural photojournalist for National Geographic.
“I didn’t take a picture of a wild animal until I was 34 years old,” Winter says.
He was assigned to travel to Costa Rica and photograph a group of scientists from Merck Pharmaceuticals as they researched new drugs in the rainforest. While in Costa Rica, he photographed sea turtles for the first time, an experience that he says changed his life.
“I had this whole moment of, ‘how do you photograph a turtle?’” Winter says. “And it was like, well, exactly the same way you photograph a person.” Chuckling, he adds, “luckily it was moving slowly.”
Winter grew passionate about photographing wild animals, particularly big cats. He began taking photos of jaguars, then moved on to snow
leopards, cougars and tigers.
Winter sets up camera traps — camera boxes that use infra-red light to detect motion — to take photos near trails or waterholes frequented by big cats.
“If there’s a tiger at a waterhole,” he says, “you can’t be there without dying.”
Of course, photographing animals in the wild isn’t risk-free.
While standing on top of his Jeep, positioning a camera trap 14 feet off the ground to capture a photo of a tiger scratching the trunk of the tree, Winter was charged by a rhino.
“She hit the Jeep,” says Winter. “Five times.”
Winter says he wants his photos to give people a reason to care about big cats and where they live.
The upcoming National Geographic Live presentation of On the Trail of Big Cats: Tigers, Cougars and Snow Leopards, features 18 years worth of Winter’s tales and stunning photos. The presentation takes place at Epcor Centre’s Jack Singer Concert Hall. Showtimes are Sunday, Oct. 26 at 2:00 p.m. and Monday, Oct. 27 at 7:00 p.m.