Top 10 Wild Places to Photograph

“I had never taken much notice of orangutans before, but when one took my hand and looked into my eyes, well that was it,” says National Geographic photographer Charlie Hamilton James. Here are his favourite places to shoot.

MANU NATIONAL PARK, PERU

It’s almost impossible to grasp the vastness of the Amazon, and it’s really only when you fly over it that you get any sense of scale. I have worked in many parts of the Amazon but there’s one place I always return to: Peru’s Manu National Park. Manu is officially the most biodiverse place on Earth and for an animal lover like me, few places can beat it. This image shows the Manu River winding past an oxbow lake called Cocha Salvador. I have spent over six months filming and photographing giant otters here, but when I took this image I got to see it from the air for the first time and it put its size into perspective for me. It takes nearly two hours to row from end to end, but it looks so small against the backdrop of the world’s largest rain forest.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLIE HAMILTON JAMES

VICTORIA FALLS, ZAMBIA

Victoria Falls is the greatest waterfall on Earth. It straddles the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe and from just about every angle it looks awesome. I spent several weeks working in Victoria Falls filming and photographing the wildlife and river system. Although I found the rainy season incredibly impressive, I found the dry season more photogenic. With less water spray I could see more of the vastness of the falls. It’s one of the reasons I like this image. With the water almost gone you can see the geology of the falls like the curtain has been swept back. It has an almost derelict feeling to it.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLIE HAMILTON JAMES

SHETLAND, UNITED KINGDOM

Shetland is a windswept, barren archipelago a hundred or so miles northeast of mainland Scotland’s northernmost tip. I fell in love with Shetland when I was 16. I had gone there to photograph otters and I’ve been visiting it regularly ever since. It’s very windy a lot of the time and if it’s not raining it’s usually cloudy. However, when the wind settles and the sun comes out, few places on Earth can beat it for beauty. I took this photograph of my friend Henry on just one of those days. Henry had offered to take me out on his boat around the back of the island of Vaila to do a spot of fishing. It was flat calm out at sea and that gave us the chance to go through this arch.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLIE HAMILTON JAMES

SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK, TANZANIA

The Serengeti is one of my favourite places on Earth. It is vast and empty and about as close as you can get to being unspoilt in the world these days. When I arrived there for the first time back in 2007 to film hyenas I instantly fell in love with it. I tend to go there between February and March when the great migration reaches the southern Serengeti and the wildebeest calve. This massive influx of animals brings in predators and scavengers and for a photographer, not much can match this spectacle. This shot was taken early one morning. We came across this lion in the mist just before sunrise and waited around with him and two female lions. I like the loneliness of the image. Loneliness kind of sums up the Serengeti. It’s empty and flat.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLIE HAMILTON JAMES

GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK, WYOMING

People often ask me where my favourite place in the world is and I always say Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. It is one of the most beautiful, powerful, and iconic landscapes on Earth. It is a photographer’s dream location—combining stunning landscapes with exciting animals like bears, wolves, and moose, while just a stone’s throw from Jackson Hole. Grand Teton is like the Serengeti but with good coffee and the Internet. Dawn is the best time to shoot the Tetons; as the sun rises it lights the top of the Grand Teton first then slowly spreads across the mountains, often a stunning pink against the blue sky. This image shows Mount Moran just after dawn in the still water of Oxbow Bend—a place I love perhaps more than any other.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLIE HAMILTON JAMES

BARBADOS

Whenever I go on holiday I take loads of kit. I can’t help it; I’m an obsessed photographer. A few years ago, I took a whole underwater kit to Barbados on holiday. We were only due to be there for 10 days, but then the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland erupted and grounded planes around the world, stranding us in Barbados. The result was a three-week holiday—so I got snapping. These turtles are visited daily by tourists who arrive in boats to see them. They are very tame as a result, and it gave me an opportunity to spend time taking pictures of them. I like the restful nature of this image. The relaxed turtle and the fish that accompany it make for a serene image.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLIE HAMILTON JAMES

LILLEHAMMER, NORWAY

Norway is a beautiful country. My first trip there was a crazy family holiday to Lillehammer. It was crazy as we, as parents, had to endure six kids under six all staying in a tiny log cabin in the middle of winter. At night, when the stir-crazy kids were in bed, I’d sneak out and photograph the snowy alpine forests in the moonlight. Light in winter in the north is pretty unbeatable. The short days and low sun can mean great light for shooting all day. I shot this image of a lone swan on a gloomy day in Oslo. I love the simplicity of it and the framing with the branches of the tree trickling down. It is a cold and lonely shot.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLIE HAMILTON JAMES

NAMIB-NAUKLUFT NATIONAL PARK, NAMIBIA

I was on assignment for National Geographic a few years ago in Namibia. I had always wanted to go there to see the incredible desert landscapes and when I finally got there I was not disappointed. My job was to spend a couple of weeks photographing vultures in the Namib desert. It was an incredible experience driving across the dunes and camping beneath them at night. I love the texture of dunes; they are smooth and silky from afar and have gentle curves and undulations. I like this image mainly for the light. The dune itself has lovely form and the evening light sets that off while balancing out the frame, splitting it into two halves.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLIE HAMILTON JAMES

MASAI MARA, KENYA

Growing up there were a lot of places I wanted to see as a wildlife photographer, but right at the top of that list was the Masai Mara in Kenya. July to September is the best time to visit. This is the time when the great migration reaches the northern Serengeti (the Masai Mara is part of the Serengeti ecosystem) and the wildebeest and zebras famously cross the Mara River, trying to avoid the snapping jaws of crocodiles. It is quite simply the most impressive wildlife spectacle there is. I took this image a few years ago along the edge of the river. I like it because of the subtle tones of greens and greys but also because it puts the wildebeest into context with the rains that loom in the clouds beyond.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLIE HAMILTON JAMES

BORNEO, INDONESIA

Borneo is one of those bucket list places that I always wanted to visit. Years ago, I was there to research a film and my job was to visit all the orangutan rehabilitation centres. I immediately fell in love. I had never taken much notice of orangutans before, but when one took my hand and looked into my eyes, well that was it. What struck me about Borneo, though, was the devastation we had wreaked on the place. The rainforest had been destroyed more than anywhere I’d ever seen. However, in the pockets that were left, I saw incredible wildlife. I took this image near Tanjung Putting, a research station made famous by orangutan researcher Biruté Galdikas.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLIE HAMILTON JAMES

 

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