Photographing elephants on jeep safari in Kaziranga

The World’s Best Places for Wildlife Photography

Photographing elephants on jeep safari in Kaziranga

As a professional photographer for nearly 20 years now, I’ve explored everything from fashion and retail photography to shooting sporting events and live concerts. In my eyes, none of them offers the thrills of wildlife photography. Animals are uncontrollable and unpredictable, and the ecosystems they inhabit often present unique challenges to lighting, angles, etc. Still, there are some destinations where the animals are so plentiful, you can’t help but get great shots. Here are a few of our favorites among the world’s best places for wildlife photography…

Black bear near Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge

Alaska

One of the first wildlife-centered destinations I ever visited, Alaska’s rugged wilderness can be overwhelming at first. The sheer expanse of it – the snow-capped mountains, winding glacial rivers, the magical dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis – is simply jaw-dropping. Alaska’s landscapes are incredibly diverse, but wildlife is a relative constant. Whether it’s the unique grizzly bear subspecies that inhabits Kodiak Island; whales, otters and other marine life in Kenai Fjords National Park; or the incredible array of megafauna found in Denali National Park  (including caribou, dall sheep, moose and two kinds of bears), photographers in Alaska will find plenty of animals to snap shots of in the land that inspired The Call of the Wild.

Marmoset

Amazon

For my money, there’s nothing quite like waking up on a boat making its way down the mighty Amazon River. The river’s drainage basin covers 2,900,000 sq mi –  around 40% of South America – stretching all the way from Peru and Ecuador to Brazil’s eastern coast. The world’s largest rainforest is home to a remarkably diverse array of flora and fauna. Portions of the Brazilian Amazon have fallen victim to logging and development, but Peru and Ecuador offer impressively pristine places to practice your wildlife photography skills. And with more than 1400 mammal species (including capybara, jaguar, ocelot and tapir), 1500 bird species, 1000 amphibian species and an endless array of insects, you’ll never run out of compelling subjects.

Penguins in Antarctica

Antarctica

As professional travelers, “What’s your favorite place you’ve visited?” is probably the most frequent question we’re asked. It’s impossible to answer, but Antarctica is always near the top of our list. The dynamic landscapes and towering icebergs are obviously a key attraction. But the wildlife photography opportunities you’ll find there are unlike any other destination we’ve traveled to. Penguin colonies are a frequent sighting, and who doesn’t love a good Penguin close-up? But the rocky shores are also home to six species of Seals and nesting birds such as Albatrosses, Petrels, Gulls and Terns. Some of our most impressive wildlife photos came while out on the water: Antarctica is home to 10 cetacean species, with Humpback Whales and Orcas a fairly common sighting.

Jaguar

Brazil's Pantanal

The Amazon may be more widely known, but the Pantanal remains Brazil’s most pristine ecotourism gem. Encompassing an area estimated at 54,000 to 75,000 square miles and sprawling into Bolivia and Paraguay, this is the world’s largest tropical wetland. As such, around 80% of it completely submerged during the rainy season. But the water helps to sustain an incredible animal population that includes around 1000 bird species, 480 reptile species, 400 fish species and 300 species of mammals. It’s the planet’s best place for wildlife photography if you’re looking for jaguars. But you can also find rare and endangered species such as the bush dog, crowned solitary eagle, giant anteater, hyacinth macaw, maned wolf and South American tapir.

Scarlet Macaw

Costa RIca

Costa Rica was one of the first countries in the world to focus on the economic benefits of ecotourism and conservation. And though many other countries have since followed suit, it remains one of the planet’s finest playgrounds for adventurous wildlife photography buffs. At 19,653 sq miles, the Central American country is smaller than West Virginia. Yet it boasts 27 national parks, 58 wildlife refuges, 32 protected zones, 15 wetland areas, 11 forest reserves and 8 biological reserves. The biodiversity you’ll find on a Costa Rica tour is simply astounding, including four types of Monkeys, two kinds of Sloths, White-Nosed Coatis, Baird’s Tapir, Caiman, Crodociles, Jaguars, and too many species of birds, frogs and butterflies to count.

Photographing Galapagos sea lion

Galapagos Islands

Named the first-ever UNESCO Site in 1978, this archipelago of volcanic islands off Ecuador’s coast is arguably the world’s finest destination for wildlife photography. Its diverse landscapes range from the lush green flora of the Santa Cruz highlands (where the Galapagos tortoise roams wild) to the harsh, alien lava fields on Bartolomé. It’s also home to fascinating endemic species, including ocean-feeding marine iguanas, freaky flightless cormorants and diminutive Galapagos penguins. This is the only place in the world where wildlife has virtually no fear of humans: Curious Galapagos sea lions swim right up to you, and birds such as the magnificent frigate mate and nest right beside marked hiking trails. In short, a Galapagos Vacation is undeniably one of the world’s best places for wildlife photography.

Photographer in Africa

Kenya & Tanzania

An East African safari would rank near the top of any nature-lover’s must-see list just for the annual Great Migration, which finds millions of blue wildebeests, buffalos, gazelles and zebras making their way across the Serengeti from Tanzania to Kenya and back again. But the region boasts enough amazing natural attractions to keep avid wildlife photography buffs busy for months. In Tanzania, there are up-close encounters with elephants in Tarangire National Park, hippos galore at Lake Manyara, the famous flamingos of Lake Natron and lions hunting in Ngorongoro Crater. In Kenya, you’ll find the Big 5 mammals and over 400 species of birds at Amboseli National Park, while Maasai Mara is part of the 12,000 square mile Serengeti ecosystem.

Guanacos in Patagonia

Patagonia

When people think of Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park is often the first thing that comes to mind. And with good reason: In addition to the iconic Paine Massif, the park is home to animals ranging from guanacos (a.k.a. Patagonian llamas) and pumas to Andean condors and caracaras. But Torres del Paine is hardly the region’s only haven for wildlife. Located at the southernmost tip of South America, the Tierra del Fuego archipelago is home to birds (condors, penguins, firecrown hummingbirds), cetaceans (numerous whale species and endemic dolphins) and mammals (foxes, guanacos, seals). Argentina’s Peninsula Valdés is arguably the best place to spot southern right whales, and guanacos, rheas (an ostrich-like bird) and Dwarf armadillos are commonly seen.



Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and American Airlines to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. Along with his wife, photographer/videographer Mary Gabbett, he is the co-founder of ecotourism/conservation website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.