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“I love having camera phones”

Steve Winter in Myanmar where he loved the Buddhist culture of the country
Capturing the snow leopard at Husing Valley was among the most challenging task Steve Winter had faced
Steve Winter in the field in Brazil. Photo credit: Steve Winter

“I love having camera phones”

Acclaimed National Geographic photographer Steve Winter isn’t afraid of the embracing camera phones and cute cat videos on the Internet

SINGAPORE — His works are synonymous with stunning photos of tigers, cougars and lions in the wild and he has captured some of the world’s most previously isolated countries, such as Cuba and Myanmar. But photographer Steve Winter’s prolific career might not have happened if he had not read National Geographic magazine as a child.

“I live in a heavily agricultural area in United States (Indiana) and part of the reason that I wanted to be a National Geographic photographer was to leave that area,” he explained. “I would look into the pages of National Geographic while I was growing up as I was interested in people and cultures and I wanted to travel. I wanted to see all these places that I saw in the pages of National Geographic.”

Well, the 59-year-old has definitely covered a significant part of the globe and has had an unusually big share of adventures — from getting stalked by jaguars in Brazil to waiting out in the cold to photograph snow leopards in Northern India (the very same snow leopards seen on the screen of Apple notebooks).

He is also taking part in the National Geographic Live In Singapore series next week. “I have a fascination with large carnivores and want to tell their stories, to show that big cats, like all animals, eat, play, mate, have kids,” he said, adding that he wants to find a way to get people to feel closer to these animals — even if it is through cute cat videos.

Q: What do you think of all the cat videos and photos flooding the Internet?

A: I’m super happy about people’s love for cats on the Internet. Cats are number one on the Internet. My goal is to get everybody to love big cats as much as they love the small cats. If we can get people to love big cats as much as they love the small cats, maybe we could then save them. So, I have talked to people who run websites for cats, to try to figure out how I might tap into the cat craze on the Web. In the end, they are all cats; domestic cats came from the African wild cat.

Q: You have also captured images of previously isolated countries like Myanmar and Cuba. Now that they have opened up, what would you recommend travellers to go see?

A: I would say to go see the people, because the people in these places to me are the most fascinating. In Myanmar, I was most interested in their fascinating Buddhist culture and the temples. Try to get out to the lesser-known areas because you can find the people there as fascinated with seeing us, in the same way we are fascinated with them. In Cuba, I love (the people and) the music. The people are so friendly. It’s so beautiful, with beaches and palm trees. It’s a perfect destination. The music is just a great mixture of African and Caribbean. It’s one of my favourite places on the planet.

Q: What is your advice on feeling at ease in another country?

A: I would say, smile. Learn basic words like “hello” and “thank you”. In many cultures, there is no such word as “thank you”, but if you learn some basic words, people will be (really) happy, as you took the time to learn a little bit about their language. I always find that it’s one of the easiest ways to get people to smile back, so smile and learn some (of the) language and you will become a better traveller.

Q: What are some tips to take better travel pictures?

A: One of the most important things is to take more photos. The more we shoot, the more mistakes we make and the better our photos can be. If you’re really interested in photography, you should look at art. Composition is the most important part of photography. Think about how our eye moves around the frame, and try to include a lot (of that) in a photo. You can be very simplistic with your composition but also get the eyes to move around the photograph; then you are going to interest a lot of people. The more we take, the better we will be. That’s why I love having camera phones because everybody is taking pictures now, and the more they learn to be more visually literate, the better a photographer they will be. They will also learn to appreciate really good photography. Look at art, paintings and the masters of photography, and you will become a better photographer!

Q: What would you say has been your toughest assignment?

A: They seem to get harder and harder as I go. You would have thought that snow leopards would be (the most) difficult, but now I’m shooting mountain lions and it’s taking longer. But I think physically — because of the climbing of mountains and braving of the cold — capturing snow leopards was my toughest assignment.

Q: How do you think travellers can take better care of our planet and help conserve the beauty, wildlife and indigenous cultures that we have?

A: Social media is a great way to get people involved in trying to save our planet. Recycle, save, use renewable energy … Every person can make a difference, and if we all work together, all those one people turn into billions of people. There’s a reason that people love nature, and love the silence of nature. We have to turn our appreciation into action. Serene Lim

National Geographic Live Presents: My Nine Lives with Steve Winter in on Aug 25 at The Esplanade. For tickets, log on to http://www.sistic.com.