The Patient Photography of Steve Winter

Photography by Steve Winter/National Geographic

National Geographic wildlife photographers have often recounted the painful waiting period that comes with getting the perfect shot. Countless hours are spent sitting within the stuffy confines of a blind or perched behind a crop of tall grasses, camera lens at the ready, waiting for the animal to stalk past.

Photographer Steve Winter has spent his career photographing big cats — everything from the elusive snow leopard to mountain lions in the Hollywood hills. Steve has done his fair share of waiting.

Think several hours is a long time to wait for a photo? Try 14 months. Steve’s latest project in Griffith Park rendered many stunning new images of unseen urban wildlife captured against the nighttime Los Angeles cityscape. The pièce de résistance came when Steve’s team photographed the holy grail of L.A. fauna, a mountain lion called P-22 prowling its midnight trail right next to the Hollywood sign.

Steve’s photos are evocative. For Angelenos especially, the sight of a cougar elicits a sense of local pride in a city generally thought to be picked clean of its native species. But what may be even more remarkable is the planning, preparation, and technology that went into bringing this photo to life. Camera traps were place in strategic areas within the park that had the best view of Downtown.

“The single hardest thing about working in this park is finding locations where you see urban wildlife and the city…You have to see that you’re in downtown L.A. You don’t want to think you’re in Downtown L.A., you want to know you’re in Downtown L.A.,” explains Steve.

With help from National Geographic’s Remote Imaging engineers, Steve has recently developed the next generation of highly specialized video camera systems currently in Griffith Park equipped with infrared detection and external lights.

Screen shot 2013-11-25 at 11.33.59 AM

Here’s how it works: A camera trap is placed on the trail (1). The external lights (2) are connected via wire to the camera trap. A beam-break sensor (infrared trip wire) (3), once tripped, will wirelessly send a signal to the camera trap to turn on. The camera trap then begins recording for a predetermined time.

“After fourteen months, everything came together- the lighting, the composition, and I got the image I dreamed of: P-22 with the Hollywood sign,” marvels Steve.

What’s more, Steve’s work has contributed to a growing body of knowledge on the health and population size of mountain lions in Southern California. Click here to interact with a map of greater Los Angeles that illustrates how cougar survival rates can be lower in an urban jungle than in areas where they’re hunted.

Full National Geographic Magazine Article: Ghost Cats

Tigers Forever Final (small)

Steve’s new book, Tigers Forever: Saving the World’s Most Endangered Big Cat, encapsulates the beauty and fragility of tigers in Sumatra and Myanmar. In its infancy, the book began as three unique stories born from Steve’s travels between several tiger hotspots in Southeast Asia- a journey that took place collectively over the course of 10 years.

With only 3,200 individuals remaining in the wild, Tigers Forever begs the question, do we care if tigers walk the Earth?  In this sense, Steve’s photography has become more than a portfolio of pretty pictures, but also a testament to what we still have the power to save.

Ten percent of profits earned from each book goes to on-the-ground field research supporting tiger conservation throughout Asia. Check out Tigers Forever here.

(Related: Steve Winter’s Journey to Tigers Forever)

Big Cat Week 

Big Cat Week is right around the corner. A week dedicated to nature’s fiercest felines, we’re celebrating these magnificent creatures by rounding up a team of big cat experts like Steve Winter for our next Google+ Hangout on Tuesday, December 3rd at 12:30 p.m. EST (5:30 p.m. UTC). And don’t forgot to tune into Nat Geo WILD for a week of non-stop big cat programming beginning November 29th.

How to Participate in the Hangout

You can be a part of the Cause an Uproar and our Google+ Hangout. Send in your questions for these National Geographic Explorers and they may be asked on air. Submit your questions by…

  • Uploading a video question to YouTube with hashtag #bigcats
  • Posting a question on Google+ or Twitter with hashtag #bigcats or
  • Commenting directly on this blog post

Follow National Geographic on Google+ or return to this blog post to watch the Google+ Hangout Tuesday, December 3rd at 12:30 p.m. EST (5:30 p.m. UTC).

Other Hangouts From National Geographic:

Hangout With Buzz Aldrin and Conrad Anker
Hangout With Explorers on All Seven Continents

  • Mirjana

    Absolutely beautiful!!!

  • Kym Bradshaw

    I am so very taken by the beauty and majesty of these stunning animals. Mr. Winter is truly a fine artist in every sense of the word. We are all so blessed to have such a talented individual that can bring to us these amazing images that we would not otherwise be able to enjoy!! Thank you!

  • Krysta

    These pictures are precious. I wish we could get all the Tigers home to their own countries to live in sanctuaries where no people can bother them.

  • Tony

    Mountain lions in Hollywood and cougars in Griffith? You re kidding! They must have been escaped from the zoos,

  • Isabelle Haynes

    Majestic ANIMALS

  • David Jones

    I would pay dearly for a copy of the original photo of P-22 in Griffith Park, printed Sat. Oct. 5, 2013 L.A. Times A 1.

  • Jen

    I think photography is a very important aspect of wildlife conservation. Not only is it useful in research and surveys, but also in bringing the natural beauty of these animals to life.
    However, and you may call me meticulous, but tigers are not the most endangered big cat. That title belongs to the Amur Leopard. A subspecies of leopard found in Eastern China and Russia. There are fewer than 60 in the wild today. Just thought I’d put that out there. These leopards don’t get much publicity and they need it very badly.

  • Darién Montes

    Ya tenemos un nuevo actor en Holiwood, bienvenido; Greee…

  • “R” Addison

    Is there a way to find purchasing a copy w copyright of large size, as this is quite an image i.e. that of the Holywood Sign (sic, industry of) and collared wild lion…weRked w tracking mtn lins in northern Sierras in 1970’s myself Ecology photography…plus, experience of seeing probably same mtn lion crossing intersate-80 high up donner pass (twice–two separate years)!

  • Devika Rani

    Steve, that photo was a wow. Now if there are only 3200 and you have to spend so much time waiting for the tiger to give you a picture, we would appreciate your patience. The only way I can do it is if you put your signature and time on the photo which will help the database on sighting too.



  • Linda Jane O’Brien

    I fully agree with Jen’s comments on the Amur Leopard, or the snow leopard, found also in Afghanistan, the most endangered big cat, even species, in the world. Thank you Mr. Winter for your amazing work, it’s reassuring to know we have people like you around to help us, who are not in a privileged position to see nature in all its’ splendor. Your work is most commendable, admirable and beneficial to opening our hearts with compassion towards all living creatures; we are not the only ones on this planet and need to understand tolerance and inclusion over greed and quick profit. Keep up this noble endeavor!

  • arun kottur

    thrilling experience


    Wow !!! Am sure spotting a mountain lion, in the close proximity to city must have given the chills and excitement with the team of photographer(s) … but, just wish how beautiful the world would be if such rarely seen wild animals co-existed with us always ….

    So very excited to have a snap-shot of images captured by our friends and made available with us for our viewing …

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