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Behind the Scenes

National Geographic photographer Joe Riis on capturing the image of a lifetime
By Joe Riis

Volume 13, Number 1 | Fall 2011

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Behind the ScenesThe challenges: "A lot of my work is with camera traps, where the animals come through and trip an infrared beam that's connected to the camera. I can get a picture with them coming out of the water with a bunch of animals in the background. It's easier when they're entering, because there's some kind of game trail that leads them to the river's edge. But predicting where they come out is really hard."

The value of perseverance: "I had four cameras on this one river bend where I figured out they'd be crossing, and I kept five cameras running on the other side of the bank. I was constantly tweaking the camera. I got a few pictures, but the camera wasn't low enough, or it was the wrong time of day, or the wrong movements of the animal. Luckily, the spring migration happens over two months."

The thrill of victory: "When I checked the camera and saw that picture, it was like a dream come true. That picture took me two months to get, but the whole project was worth that one frame. If I could do projects that were one to two years long, and I could get one picture like that from each project, I would be completely happy."

The reward: "That's when National Geographic magazine took me seriously. They saw that one picture—and that's how I got my first job for them as an assistant on a tiger story."

To learn more, visit joeriis.com.

 

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