When I began to write this article, I knew right away I would be stirring up some controversy. After all, photography is art, and art is subjective. Art is interpreted differently by every person on the planet, which means there is no right or wrong answer. Any list of the best nature photographers, the best landscape photographers, or the best wildlife photographers in the world is truly is a matter of opinion. I have been inspired by so many of the greats, and have been fortunate enough to meet and receive a few outdoor photography tips from some of them. I hope that one day down the road, my images such as "Rise and Shine" presented here can also be mentioned in the same company as these great artists.
Coming up with my top ten list of nature photographers wasn't easy. But after a considerable amount of time spent on this topic, and shuffling photographers in and out of the list, I finally arrived at this set. Here is my list of the best nature photographers of all time.
- John Shaw – My all-time favorite nature photographer. I’m not sure there is even a close second. I learned outdoor photography in the 1980s from John Shaw’s books and videos. His teaching techniques are second to none, and his photography is absolutely breathtaking. I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar of his many years ago in Seattle. I was so impressed with the incredible images he presented, his dedication and passion to his craft, his knowledge of photography, and willingness to teach nature photography to others. John photographs everything from small insects to exotic big-game wildlife, from grandiose landscapes to closeups of flowers, and excels at it all. I believe the best photographers in the world today are those that shot with slide film years ago. Back then, advanced knowledge of photography principles, equipment, and techniques were absolutely critical in order to get great images. That knowledge still makes a difference today despite the digital image we live in now, and it shows. Finally, John Shaw’s images are never over done in post-processing, which is sadly the case with so many nature photographers in this day and age.
- Galen Rowell – Photography is all about the light, and Galen Rowell was the master. Galen was first and foremost an outdoor adventurer, an avid mountain climber and traveler, who initially took up photography as a hobby to share his passion for the great outdoors. His images of remote areas of the world are legendary, not only because of the locations he travelled to, but because of way he captured light. Galen was on top of extreme mountain ranges during sunrise and sunset. He was on the side of mountain cliffs photographing his view of the world. He set the standard for photographing alpenglow, and for capturing dramatic landscape scenes that most people will never see. He became a staple in Outdoor Photographer magazine, and I always turned to his articles and photographs first when that magazine arrived at my door each month. He published 18 books and I am proud to say I own many of them. Sadly, Galen and his wife were killed in a plane crash in 2002 doing what they loved most, travelling and photographing the natural world. But Galen Rowell’s images will live on for eternity.
- Art Wolfe – Widely considered one of the best nature photographers in the world today. There’s no doubt Art would make everyone’s top ten list. His accomplishments as a nature photographer are extraordinary, and Art is probably the most diverse photographer in my top ten list. Not only is he a great landscape and wildlife photographer, but also loves to photograph native cultures, people, and abstracts. Art Wolfe graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Washington, and the artist in him shows up in the amazing images he takes. Art has published over sixty-five books and was host to the public television series Travels to the Edge, which was a documentary series that explored environmental themes with photography. Since Art lives in Seattle, I have had the pleasure of meeting him on several occasions at his local workshops, talks, and presentations. Art Wolfe is a true gentleman and one of the all-time great nature photographers, and a strong advocate for environmental protection and conservation.
- Tom Mangelsen - One of the most renowned and prolific nature photographers of our time. Tom Mangelsen has been photographing wildlife and landscapes for over five decades. His photography book titled Images of Nature published in 1989 is still the best photography book I have ever seen. It should be sitting on every coffee table in America. His work has been published in National Geographic, GEO, Le Figaro Magazine, BBC Wildlife, Life, Audubon, National Wildlife, Smithsonian, Natural History, Newsweek, Wildlife Art, American Photo, Nature’s Best Photography and many other publications. His wildlife photography is especially captivating.
- David Muench & Mark Muench – I have lumped David & Mark Muench together since they are father and son, and both are amazing outdoor photographers. David is a legend in the field and started photographing as a teenager in the 1950s. A staunch advocate of wilderness conservation, David has fought hard his entire life to protect our environment and believes sharing photography of our special places is a great way to promote this cause. David’s reputation as one of the all-time greats is cemented, and I own many of this photo books. Most of his classic images were taken in the western United States of California, Arizona, Wyoming, Washington, and Montana. Marc Muench is definitely a chip off the old block. An extraordinary photographer in his own right, Marc is one of the best of the current generation. Marc is widely sought out, not only for his technical and artistic excellence, but for unique perspective on photography. He is also known for his wildlife images, something that his father didn’t dabble in much. Marc Muench now runs photography workshops that are some of the best in the world, and usually the workshops are sold out over a year in advance.
- Brad Goldpaint – Simply the best astrophotographer in the United States today. Astrophotography has exploded in popularity over the past five years, primarily due to new technology in camera sensors that allow long exposures to be taken in the dark with little or no noise. I started to experiment in astrophotography a few years ago and have not looked back. Who did I learn from? Brad Goldpaint. Brad has mastered this form of photography and provides a unique perspective that I find unmatched by other photographers that shoot the night sky. Brad makes exquisite use of moonlight to capture breathtaking images of the terrain with the milky way as a backdrop, while most of his peers prefer a completely dark setting to extenuate the sky. This is what sets him apart. He received the overall winner of the 2018 astronomy photographer of the year from the Royal Museums of Greenwich England, which is an incredible honor. I have participated in two of Brad’s workshops and find him to be a great teacher in the field and the classroom, and I am also proud to call him a friend.
- John Gerlach & Barbara Eddy – I remember reading Closeup Photography in Nature by John & Barbara Gerlach shortly after I purchased my first DSLR camera and was blown away by the images in that book. Macro photography was brand new to me, and I couldn’t wait to learn more. In my opinion, this dynamic duo is the best at macro photography than anybody else around. I was so inspired by their book and other articles; I immediately bought some macro lenses, which I still use to this day. I attended one of their autumn workshops in Michigan several years ago. They were an absolute joy to be around, not only as photographers, but as people you just wanted to hang out with. Both are fantastic wildlife photographers as well, in addition to their macro work. They offer photography workshops all over the globe. John and Barbara divorced several years ago, and now have their own companies and workshops.
- Nick Page – Of all the younger and dare I say “new generation” of nature photographers, Nick Page is something special. The digital age has ushered in thousands upon thousands of new outdoor photographers, and technology both in the field and in post-processing software has made it relatively easy for anyone to create outstanding photographs. But the cream still rises to the top. Nick Page has such an incredible knack for capturing great compositions, texture, color, and light. He specializes in dark exposures. Some photographers just seem to have that extra something special, and that is the case with Nick. His use of light reminds me of Galen Rowell, which is high praise indeed. Just follow the link below and take a look. Nick Page also has a series of YouTube instructional videos as well, which are definitely worth your time.
- Sigma Sreedharan – There are two local photographers I want to acknowledge. The first is Sigma Sreedharan, who specializes in Seattle cityscapes. Sigma is widely considered the best photographer in Seattle, and her images of the Seattle skyline and local region are just spectacular. She always photographs at dusk or evening to capture the best light. Her photography extends well beyond the city limits though, and she is exceptionally good at astrophotography. All her images are visually stunning, and there was no way I could keep Sigma off this list.
- Erwin Buske – My favorite Pacific Northwest photographer. Erwin combs the forests and mountains in Washington state and always returns with amazing photos. His vision, passion, and dedication to outdoor photography is apparent in all his work. So many photographers today return from their journeys with average images, then saturate them up and photoshop them to death in hopes of creating something that will get the most “likes” on social media. Not Erwin. There is something about Erwin’s photos that are uniquely genuine, and you can just feel the scene unfold in front of you when looking at his images. Erwin is another photographer who strongly believes in conservation and wilderness protection. I guess most of us outdoor enthusiasts are.
So there you have it, my top ten list. All these artists share the same appreciation and passion for nature and wildlife, and have deep concern over our rapidly disappearing wilderness. I hope all the images from these great photographers make you think twice about the future our planet and might even inspire you to take action to preserve what is left. This was a difficult list to put together, and I had to exclude a few photographers that I think are sensational. The photographers below have their own special niche, and I want to acknowledge their amazing work as well.
- CJ Kyle – Hawaii volcanoes and surf photography
- Sean Parker - Astrophotography
- Johnny Johnson - Alaska landscapes & wildlife
- Christian Gregory - Philadelphia photography