It’s been a bad few months for small, photogenic sea creatures. In February, death by selfie claimed a La Plata dolphin, passed around an Argentinian beach until it was discarded like nothing more than a deflated volleyball; a week later, a beachcomber manhandled a blacktip shark to shore to snap a photo and once again prove the Law of Florida Man; that same day, reports surfaced of a Chinese peacock whose ticker gave out after visitors to its wildlife park snatched the bird up for an impromptu photoshoot. Let’s give the little defenseless creatures a rest, yeah?
But that does not mean we have to give up on all wild animal selfies. In fact, we can go after more dangerous photo game — the type of creature you couldn’t just hoist by the scruff of the neck, not without 5-inch claws performing exploratory surgery on your abdomen — it’s possible. It’s not easy, and not even suggested, not really, but if you must photograph an animal in close proximity why not make it an apex predator. Here’s a guide to snapping those hunters as safely as possible.
A great lion photo requires more than a selfie stick and the burning desire to be the Annie Leibovitz of your own personal Instagram universe. Award-winning lion photographer Nick Nichols uses tiny drones, the infrared spectrum, and telephoto lenses. As he tells National Geographic, he takes all of his photos from the protection of a car because lions are “dangerous predators.”. Perhaps you’re going the more traditional safari route and you happen upon a pride of lions. It’s exciting, but keep your wits about you and, just as importantly, your windows rolled up. A South African photo op went tragically wrong last June, when a lion fatally bit a young American woman through an open jeep window.
If you’re familiar with the image of hippopotamus as giant grass eater, you may be wondering why the semiaquatic mammal is on a list of dangerous animals. As it goes, there’s evidence that hippos eat meat, including the flesh of other hippos; scientists aren’t sure if the flesh-eating hippos are compensating for a lack of nutrients or they’ve been eating animal tissue all along and we’ve just noticed. Either way, to photograph the hippo, stay out of the water: The animals are notoriously defensive of their territories, though you can’t really blame a species that shares an ecosystem with Nile crocodiles. If you need to get a view from above, stick with boats. This footage, from January 2015 in Botswana, is a great advert for keeping your hands and feet inside the watercraft all times while in hippo country.
Here’s a lil motto for you would-be grizzly photogs: Speak loudly and carry a long lens. A surprised bear is an unhappy bear, which is why grizzly experts like The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Lana M. Ciarniello recommends traveling with a soup tin filled with rocks if you believe an ursine encounter might be in your future. A good rule-of-thumb is staying 100 yards away. The bears aren’t bloodthirsty, but why risk a mauling?
First off, if you’re going to photograph sharks, leave them in the water. Secondly, sharks aren’t monolithic but a diverse group of some 470 species, and you can safely photograph the vast majority. Only a comparative handful of species have been reported in shark attacks. That being said, there are some things you can do to minimize a shark’s curiosity in your presence — don’t flail or wear shiny, metallic jewelry. Also, if you’re considering a shark cage, know that they’re controversial among some conservationists who take the argument that introducing cages and chum into sharks’ ecosystems is detrimental. Rather, dive with a buddy and if you’re worried about encountering a larger shark, there’s chain mail for that.
If you believe Time, for every one shark bite there are 10 New Yorkers biting other people. (Though given about a hundred shark attacks reported in 2015, there are suspiciously few reports of 1,000 annual human-on-human bites in the Big Apple.) But the point remains that people are much more a danger to you than sharks, which brings us to: It was us all along — we’re the most dangerous critter!
To photograph a human, you’re not going to want to make any sudden moves. Friendly eye contact and warm smiles, on the other hand, go a long way. You don’t have to ask for permission on public streets and spaces in the United States — you can shoot it if you see it — but experts are split on if asking for permission is the way to go. For more tips, that “Humans of New York” guy talks about his approach for 15 minutes but somehow forgets to include techniques on how to not get bit by a roving pack of Goldman Sachs bankers: