Fashion Photographer Turns Focus to Nature

Photographer Drew Doggett left the world of fashion to create intimate portraits of people, animals, and places around the world.


Drew Doggett / "Exceptional Creatures"

Photographer Drew Doggett got his professional start in New York City. As an apprentice to star fashion photographers like Steven Klein and Annie Leibovitz, Doggett helped out on set with subjects like Madonna and President Obama.

But despite the excitement and glamour, he wanted to travel to remote locations, telling stories with his camera. With a trip to the Himalayas in 2009, he made a career shift. Photographing the Humla people of Nepal, Doggett began creating intimate portraits of people, animals, and places around the world.

Now, Doggett displays his work in collections globally, including the Smithsonian African Art Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Mariners’ Museum in Virginia. He has received more than 100 awards and honors for his distinctive black and white images.

His current photo series “Exceptional Creatures,” is a celebration, he says, of all that is wild and free in East Africa.

Doggett talked to Treehugger about his photography and shared images from that collection.


Drew Doggett / "Exceptional Creatures"

Treehugger: Your early career was in fashion photography. How does that background help you with your work now?

Drew Doggett: My time in fashion photography has had an immense impact on the way I view my work; it’s impossible for me to imagine my career today without it. Working under the auspices of such hugely talented photographers provided me with technical skills, but also an awareness of composition, tone, and so much more. In fashion photography, you’re always trying to highlight something or someone through idealized scenes relayed with a storytelling component; the subject is typically beauty, and whatever’s in the frame is the representation of beauty. 

In my work today, I am also celebrating beauty through a certain aspect of my subject, such as the incredible, elegant jewelry worn by the Rendille people in Northern Kenya or the pride, grace, and power in the pose of a lioness as she accounts for all her nearby cubs. So, it’s easy to see why the two go hand in hand for me. I consider my time in fashion an education that I would be lost without! 


Drew Doggett / "Exceptional Creatures"

What prompted you to move into photographing wildlife and other cultures? Was it a particular moment or did it happen gradually?

I always knew I would leave the fashion world, but the moment of reckoning for me came at a very precise time. It was high in the Himalayas, thousands of miles from anything familiar, that I knew I had found my calling. Between the arduous journey and the warmth of the people that welcomed me into their homes, I knew I wanted to spend my life telling the stories of cultures, people, places, and animals that highlight the world’s beauty. 

I had grown up with an innate curiosity about the world, but it wasn’t until this trip that I decided to commit to exploring this and making it my life’s work. The stories of the Humla people I met on this very first expedition were enriching on a nearly spiritual scale, especially in our increasingly homogenous world. I felt like others out there experienced the same sentiment and I wanted to share these stories with the world. 

two rhinos

Drew Doggett / "Exceptional Creatures"

What are some of your favorite experiences photographing in nature?

My favorite feeling is when you’re out there in the field, doing everything you possibly can to get the shot. It’s a flow state where I don’t notice if I’m cold or hungry or if I’m soaked to the bone, and instead am laser-focused on creating my work. When I’m out in the field, I’m totally absorbed in the energy and excitement of my surroundings. There’s such a thrill I get out of putting myself out there in places I’ve only dreamt of visiting, camera in hand, to create something iconic that will stand the test of time. 

My favorite experiences in nature are those that are awe-inspiring and humbling at the same time, especially those that cannot ever be repeated. These are the times when it feels like you’ve been graced with something magnificent and it feels as if mother nature thanks you for stopping to listen, watch, and engage. I specifically think of photographing Craig and Tim, the largest tusked elephants on Earth, together in perfect, harmonious stride. It was such an incredible moment that could never be repeated: shortly after my trip there, Tim died of natural causes. 

hippo in water

Drew Doggett / "Exceptional Creatures"

You’ve said you are a perfectionist. Why is that important for your work? How can it also be frustrating when you’re waiting on animals or Mother Nature to cooperate?

While yes, I am a perfectionist, when you are out there on an expedition you have no choice but to work with mother nature. Even when your patience is tested, it’s a great reminder that the incredible experiences that do occur should not be taken for granted. This also encourages a level of respect for our natural world. 

And, while I try to control everything I possibly can, at the end of the day, you can only rein in so much. That perfectionist part of me has to end there, because it is impossible to know, for example, what an elephant might do next ...What I’ve learned is that even when the shot in my mind’s eye isn’t coming to fruition, there’s always something amazing happening or about to happen and it’s important to embrace the spontaneity of spending time in the wild. Patience is key, and I could never be frustrated with mother nature for acting of her own will. That’s half the fun! 

two zebras

Drew Doggett / "Exceptional Creatures"

What do you hope people take away from your photographs?

I don’t ever want to try and dictate someone’s takeaway, but I do hope that people experience joy, a sense of escape into the extraordinary, or have the chance to momentarily revel in a location or subject that inspires. I want my images to connect us all or act as a window into a faraway world, as there’s so much beauty out there I look forward to sharing.