The renowned wildlife photographer has completed an ambitious project documenting Tibet’s most endangered wildlife.
Nikon European Ambassador, Vincent Munier, is a renowned wildlife photographer and animal enthusiast, who dedicates his life to travelling the globe and photographing nature’s most untouched wildlife.
After documenting everything from the white wolves of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago to polar bears in Norway, Nikon challenged Vincent to push himself further than ever before and realise his dream photography project.
In his mind, there was only one project to pursue. He would travel to Tibet and battle high altitudes, freezing temperatures and rough terrains to document the notoriously shy and reclusive snow leopard – an endangered animal at risk of becoming extinct in the wake of climate change.
While there, he’d also attempt to photograph a variety of animals, including the wild yak, Tibetan gazelle and antelope, the Tibetan sand fox and the Pallas’s cat, to raise awareness of Tibet’s wildlife and bridge the ‘gap’ he believes to exist between man and nature.
Overcoming challenges in unfamiliar territory
Before embarking on his trip, Vincent spent many months planning every step of his journey. His fascination with Tibet stemmed from the books he read of explorers of the Tibetan plateau and the wildlife they encountered.
Tibet, as a location, is difficult place to access, and it posed many challenges, both from a geopolitical perspective and in terms of practicality, because of its high altitude. “If you are planning a trip to a location such as this, it’s important to work with researchers to help plan your route. I ended up travelling with someone I met out there. They helped me in all sorts of ways, from accessing phone signal to setting up a base camp. There is only so much research you can do, so having someone with me who really knew the area was very important.”
In search of the elusive snow leopard, Vincent had to travel through rough terrain and to extreme heights, reaching altitudes up to 5,000 metres. “These are not easy conditions to work in, but that is why I love them. I do not feel satisfied unless I feel challenged. I am driven by curiosity and a thirst for adventure, so the conditions in Tibet were perfect for me.”
“With a team of just myself and my Tibetan guide, we could only carry a limited amount of kit. When working in such harsh conditions, you want to make sure you have the best camera and lenses with you. You can’t afford to miss a moment. For this trip, my kitbag consisted of the D500, D5, AF-S NIKKOR 800mm F/5.6E FL ED VR and AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm F/4G ED VR.”
With kit in hand and his guide to help him navigate, Vincent began his search for the Tibetan snow leopard.
“Snow leopards have adapted to their environment perfectly and are incredibly camouflaged, so locating them is extremely difficult. I was very lucky that I had my guide with me, who acted as a second pair of eyes.
After searching for days, I had an unbelievable encounter with a snow leopard. I came across a mother with her baby, hunting for their prey. I watched them from behind a rock for days, being careful to disguise myself and not to disrupt them. In search of more food, the pair moved to a canyon, and I subsequently followed them.”
“I was about 100 meters from the mother, which was both an incredible and terrifying moment. Then I noticed her detect my shadow. I instantly dropped to the ground, she came closer and closer, and I realised she could attack me at any minute. After a moment, I stood up to reveal to her that I was a human and not a wild yak or potential prey. She ran away but looking at each other before she fled was an amazing moment. I have read a lot about snow leopards, but haven’t heard of anyone tell a story like this. Most of the time they see you but you don’t see them. This time, we saw each other. I was so glad to have my camera with me to document this experience. It is a moment I will never forget.”
Bridging the gap between man and nature
“Often man’s relationship with nature can be volatile, because we do not have a deep understanding of each other. Nikon gave me the opportunity to travel and showcase some of the world’s most beautiful creatures. I hope to educate people with my images and encourage them to love and respect the wild, I feel I have an obligation to do so.”
However, while Vincent loves sharing his images of the fascinating and undocumented species he photographs, such as the Pallas’s cat and wild yak, he also describes his work as “deeply personal. The work I do means so much to me. I find it grounding, it brings me back to earth and lets me experience the world as the animals do. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to work on a project like this with Nikon. I have a great connection with the brand and am proud to continue my work as a Nikon European Ambassador.
Going forward, I’m looking to continue photographing rare wild animals. In particular, I’ve ambitions to encounter and photograph the Siberian tiger.
My best advice for wildlife photographers is to respect your subjects. Do your research, understand them, speak to others and learn about their habits and behaviours. With this level of respect, and the right equipment, you too will get the images you need.”
To find out more about Vincent’s Special Project and his role as a Nikon Ambassador, please visit our website.
The Nikon European Ambassador Program
The Nikon European Ambassador Program consists of talented and influential visual artists, who use the industry’s latest technologies and an awareness of social trends to represent the current age.