Over his career as a professional wildlife photographer, François-Xavier Bagnoud has ventured to places most of us could only dream of: from Patagonia to Somalia, home to the endangered Amur leopard, to India, where he found himself trailing tigers and maned wolves in Kashmir.
His wanderings, like many of the animals he has photographed, have given him insights into how and why such creatures interact in unexpected ways. For example, there’s an affectionate bond between wild cats and their human caretakers, seen in Bagnoud’s intimate photos of the leopard, Amur leopard, and giraffe. But, he tells us, like the giraffe, this kind of experience is both rare and hard to come by.
“The giraffe is very shy, and even if they go to sit at your feet, there’s no way you can touch them. But the tiger, even though it’s very dangerous, they have a natural warm affection for you. Even though the human behavior in these situations is very strange to us, it’s very natural for them,” he says.
Bagnoud started as a technical photographer but soon realized he was just as comfortable behind the lens capturing small movements as he was featuring big predators. “Sometimes I’m right in front of the camera taking the whole scene, other times I’m standing on the edge trying to capture the same image but also missing something. It’s the same thing with animals. In one shot I may be able to capture all the elements of movement and behavior with the giraffe, but in another, I missed a possibility because something wasn’t perfectly arranged.”
But, he adds, even the briefest opportunity to photograph a great animal will take its toll. “When we’re taking a picture, we put almost all our effort into it. If I show [the giraffe in the front or the back], it’s always the same thing: I take maybe a 1/50th of the effort in each one of them and, if they’re not absolutely perfect, the result is spectacular. But, it’s always harsh. On the other hand, this is what we love, these beautiful moments. It’s our love for the species that drives us to try to get those images.”
Faux Fawn | Utes, Ethiopia | June 2015
Click the slideshow below to see other images from the series.
• ‘It was like racing against death,’ photographer says of leopard trek
• Photographer’s photos show the diversity of Kenyan’s migration corridors
• Photographer traverses jungles of Zaire on a 747 jet for the Virgin Unite project