Photographers Capture the Magnificence of Big Animals

"Big animals stir up extraordinarily strong emotions."

swimming polar bears
"In Harmony with Giants," Hudson Bay, Nanavut, Canada.

Amos Nachoum

Gargantuan whales. Giant polar bears. Massive apes.

Photographers Marko Dimitrijevic and Amos Nachoum are fascinated by huge animals. They met on a trip in Tonga while searching for humpback whales and found that they both were passionate about big beasts.

In their new book, “BIG: A Photographic Album of the World's Largest Animals” from teNeues Publishers, they collected images from three decades of wildlife photography, explaining the story behind each shot.

In some, Nachoum conveyed the excitement of being underwater with polar bears. Reportedly, he says, only five people have dived with polar bears and captured the photos to prove it. He says he is the only still photographer to have done it.

Dimitrijevic chatted with Treehugger about why big animals are so captivating and the challenges of photographing such overpowering subjects.

tiger drinking
"Water is life," Bengal tiger, Pench, India.

Amos Nachoum

Treehugger: What is your fascination with big animals? Why do you find them more intriguing than others?

Marko Dimitrijevic: Although I love all wildlife, big animals stir up extraordinarily strong emotions in me. Most big animals are mammals, with so many behaviors and traits that strongly resonate with us humans. In the water, I love interacting not just with marine mammals but also with sharks, watching their amazing expressions.

What are some of the challenges of photographing such large subjects? Are there also advantages to focusing on big creatures?

The main challenge is that some of these large creatures can be dangerous when approached without proper precautions and planning. I always use local guides and experts and follow their recommendations rooted in their local knowledge and experience. The advantage of photographing big animals is that they are more visible than smaller animals. Although even large ones are very adept at camouflage. An adult tiger can hide in grass less than one foot tall!

bear in water
Grizzly bear, Ni’iinlii Njik, Yukon, Canada.

Marko Dimitrijevic

What were some of your favorite moments behind the camera?

Photographing rare animals like caracals is always very exciting. Also capturing a behavior, for example, a bear shaking its body of water droplets after coming out of a river. My favorite moments are watching an animal stare at me, that brief moment when our eyes meet is really special. Being in the water and having an interaction with a whale watching me is just magical. Similarly, on land, a deep look in the eyes of a lion or a tiger is also among my most unforgettable encounters.

How did you find each other and realize you both had a similar photographic interest?

We met in Tonga on a trip looking for humpback whales and realized we shared a passion for big animals. From there we quickly became good friends. As we traveled more together we discovered the joy of learning from each other. We similarly aim to excel in our image-making and in the conservation effort resulting from our adventures. 

humpback whale breaching
"Giant Jump," Humpback whale, Dominican Republic.

Marko Dimitrijevic

Some of the animals aren’t utterly huge, but you say they “feel big.” Can you give an example of an animal and that sensation?

It is something I have experienced a lot in the water. Maybe because there is not a vehicle or some protection in the water that you may have on land. Or maybe because we are so slow-moving in the water. But I often felt a shark smaller than me, say 5 feet, 125 pounds, feels very big in the water when there’s nothing but a camera between its head and my mask. I am in front of an animal that is faster and stronger even though it is not bigger than me it does feel very BIG.

Are there any animals you still hope to photograph?

I am interested in creating more rhino images as I fear we might not see these amazing animals much longer. Primates are also high on my list, I would like to observe chimpanzees and bonobos.

sperm whale and diver
"In the company of giants," Sperm whale, Dominica.

Amos Nachoum

What else do you like to capture with your lens?

I love to photograph forests and landscapes where animals are only a small part of the picture. Animals in those images are like punctuation marks rather than full sentences that they are in my wildlife images. I love the forest of British Columbia and the Yukon in Canada, especially when they are covered in snow.

And can you give a little background: where you’re from, how you became interested in photography, etc.?

I was born and raised in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. I became interested in photography as a teenager and would spend hours capturing images of the creatures inhabiting my backyard as well as the landscapes and people that surrounded me. I taught myself photography in the field. I traveled a lot for my photography and also pursued an entrepreneurial career. Over the years, I gravitated towards nature photography focusing my lens and my time on endangered wildlife, marine species, and ecosystems.