Oh, I see! moments
Travel Cultures Language

Travel Adventures with a Heartfelt Focus

by Meredith Mullins on May 29, 2017

A cheetah in Namibia, the result of Suzi Eszterhas wildlife photography and travel adventures. (Image © Suzi Eszterhas.)

The beauty of a cheetah in motion in Namibia
© Suzi Eszterhas

Wildlife Photography that Makes a Difference

Focus is a word that comes to mind when talking about Suzi Eszterhas. Not just because it’s a clever— albeit overused—pun that pops up in photography circles, but because Suzi was focused at an early age on what she wanted in life.

Not too many six-year-olds know what their future will hold. Suzi did. Travel adventures were her destiny. She knew she would be a wildlife photographer.

Suzi Eszterhas, a master of wildlife photography and travel adventures. (Image © Suzi Eszterhas.)

Suzi Eszterhas: Patience, Drive, and Passion
© Jak Wonderly

Obsession Can Be a Good Thing

Her family lived a suburban life in Northern California; and, she remembers, her parents weren’t that interested in nature, although they were devoted to rescue animals so the family had a menagerie of dogs and cats.

Since Suzi felt a magnetic and magical pull toward wildlife, she set out to find her own way.

Koala and baby, the result of Suzi Eszterhas wildlife photography and travel adventures. (Image © Suzi Eszterhas.)

Who doesn’t love koalas?
© Suzi Eszterhas

She plastered her bedroom walls with pictures of animals (Ranger Rick décor). She hunted nature documentaries on television. She studied the behavior of squirrels and deer in the open space of her backyard and spied on the skunks and raccoons outside at night.

She became a serious bird watcher at age 8, with field guides in hand. She took notes, drew pictures, and kept journals of bird behavior.

Red-legged honey creeper in Costa Rica, the result of Suzi Eszterhas wildlife photography and travel adventures. (Image © Suzi Eszterhas.)

An early love of birds turns exotic (Red-legged
honeycreeper in Costa Rica).
© Suzi Eszterhas

She started feeding the birds that came to her yard and collected books with different recipes for different species. She even convinced her mother to take her to local nature preserves to expand her natural world.

These early childhood obsessions taught her patience—waiting for animals to show special moments of their hidden lives. She also learned the importance of research to understand animal behavior.

Grizzly Bear in Katmai National Park in Alaska, a result of Suzi Eszterhas wildlife photography and travel adventures. (Image © Suzi Eszterhas.)

Suzi quickly expanded her boundaries beyond her own back yard (Katmai National Park in Alaska).
© Suzi Eszterhas

Photographing the Beauty of Animal Family Life

Over the years, Suzi stayed true to her destiny, fueled by an innate drive. She soon became a successful wildlife photographer, specializing in the family life of endangered species, particularly the compelling behavior of the young animals.

“What I live and breathe is wildlife and the experiences I have with these animals,” she says. It’s much more about the wildlife than about the photography. Baby animals have always spoken to me.”

Why is she so passionate about documenting animals’ family life?

“There’s a pattern of vulnerability and innocence in what I’m trying to capture—the beauty and rawness of that innocence and vulnerability. There’s no better way to capture that than between mothers and their young or sibling relationships. I was always moved by the younger animals.”

A Sumatran Orangutan baby, the result of Suzi Eszterhas wildlife photography and travel adventures. (Image © Suzi Eszterhas.)

Sumatran Orangutan: Innocence and Vulnerability
© Suzi Eszterhas

Africa . . . Here I Come

Suzi told her parents when she was a child that she wanted to live in a tent in Africa. They thought it was a passing phase. It was a phase, in truth—but a phase that lasted into her adult life.

The dream was realized when she lived in the Masai Mara in Kenya for three years photographing cheetah families, then moving on to lions, hyenas, jackals and bat-eared foxes.

Cheetah cubs in the Masai Mara, the result of Suzi Eszterhas wildlife photography and travel adventures. (Image © Suzi Eszterhas.)

Patience was key in this portrait of cheetah
cubs in the Masai Mara.
© Suzi Eszterhas

She set up camp, built relationships with the locals, respected the culture, learned the language, and created unique opportunities for her photography, such as working with the anti-poaching team and the park officials.

Travel adventures became a part of her regular routine—in exotic locations and often unforgiving environments around the world.

She has fought her way out of an attempted kidnapping and has been stung by jellyfish, stranded on a deserted island, nearly arrested for poaching, and hobbled by a run through the jungle chasing chimps (foot injury).

A Ugandan jungle provided surprises every day, including bee swarms and being greeted one morning by a tick in her nose.

She rose to these challenges and let her passion be her guide.

Ugandan chimpanzee, the result of Suzi Eszterhas wildlife photography and travel adventures. (Image © Suzi Eszterhas.)

The Ugandan chimps move quickly through the dense jungle.
© Suzi Eszterhas

A Modern-Day Explorer

“I think some of my trips where I rough it are really hard core, but then I read things about the early explorers and see how unbelievably harsh and unforgiving the environment can be,” Suzi says. “My life, my job, seems mundane, easy by comparison. I don’t even know what harsh is, what roughing it is.”

In comparison with the early explorers, what she says is true. But she perhaps underestimates her bravery, her drive, and her ability to adapt to foreign cultures and rugged lands. Her life is anything but mundane.

Adelie Penguin on Paulet Island, Antarctica, the result of Suzi Eszterhas wildlife photography and travel adventures. (Image © Suzi Eszterhas.)

Unforgiving environments around the world
(Paulet Island, Antarctica)
© Suzi Eszterhas

She often travels alone, but depends on local guides and researchers to help her learn about the animals and environment where she is photographing, as well as to spot the animals.

She is also experienced enough now to know that an investment of time is paramount, whether she’s in a remote forest, a tangled jungle, or a sweeping savanna.

A California harbor seal and pup, the result of Suzi Eszterhas wildlife photography and travel adventures. (Image © Suzi Eszterhas.)

A California harbor seal and pup
© Suzi Eszterhas

She knows that in-depth work yields the best results and makes her images unique in the competitive world. She often devotes her time to a single species, for example working three seasons photographing harbor seal pupping.

Or she invests the time needed to wait for the birth of the young, to watch the young animals grow up and learn the ways of the world, or just to gain the trust of the animals.

Lion cub meeting his father, the result of Suzi Eszterhas wildlife photography and travel adventures. (Image © Suzi Eszterhas.)

A seven-week wait for this image of a lion cub meeting his father for the first time.
© Suzi Eszterhas

“In most of my work, the animals know I’m there and have accepted my presence,” she says.

“I would never intentionally harass an animal. Ever. They are individual beings with feelings. I need to work with them in a manner that they no longer pay attention to me and they trust that I’m not going to hurt them. ”

Sometimes this takes a while to achieve. Her record is 17 days—the time it took her to acclimate a jackal family to her presence. She moved closer and closer to the den, all the while being sensitive to how the animals were responding. She took no photos until the 18th day.

She knows that, if the animals are stressed, they might move their babies, which could be dangerous to their health and safety.

Jackal pups in the Masai Mara, the result of Suzi Eszterhas wildlife photography and travel adventures. (Image © Suzi Eszterhas.)

Black-backed jackal pups in the Masai Mara
© Suzi Eszterhas

Oh, I See

For Suzi, the “Oh, I see” moments are born from the amazing behavior of the animals she is studying, particularly the powerful family interactions. She adds to those experiences her ability to capture the power and beauty of nature.

“Nature makes it easy to bring art into the photographs. Nature itself is painting with light and color and texture. It makes people feel something.”

A mountain gorilla in Rwanda, the result of Suzi Eszterhas wildlife photography and travel adventures. (Image © Suzi Eszterhas.)

A nature painting: Mountain gorilla in Rwanda
© Suzi Eszterhas

She supports several conservation groups by raising funds and awareness and offers free photography workshops for teen girls to encourage them to enter the male-dominated field of wildlife photography.

She has also created a nursery print series and books for children—Wildlife Rescue series, Moto and Me, and Baby Animals (coming this fall)—so that children (even babies and toddlers) will have access to these special moments.

California sea otter and newborn baby, the result of Suzi Eszterhas wildlife photography and travel adventures. (Image © Suzi Eszterhas.)

A California sea otter and her newborn
© Suzi Eszterhas

Her overarching mission is to bring these amazing animals into people’s homes so that future generations can be empowered and inspired by the beauty of the wild and the exhilaration of dramatic travel adventures. The imagery is a powerful tool. The ultimate goal is to bring awareness to the importance of protecting these rare treasures and their habitats for years to come.

With Suzi’s focus, drive, and passion, this mission (and the story of her destiny) continues to unfold. We are fortunate that the story has the promise of a good ending.

Follow Suzi Eszterhas’s work and workshop schedule on this site and Facebook page. You may also wish to follow the organizations she supports: the Cheetah Conservation Fund, Wildlife Conservation Network, Tiger Time, Sloth Conservaton Foundation, Orangutan Foundation International, and The Center for Animal Protection and Education. 

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.

 
Comments:

4 thoughts on “Travel Adventures with a Heartfelt Focus

  1. Hi John,
    Thank you for your comment. Often we see stunning images and know little about the photographer behind the lens. In this case, the photographer is as thoughtful and noble as the images. It was a pleasure to get to know Suzi, especially her integrity and concern for the planet.

    All best,

    Meredith

  2. A great interview. Suzi is, without doubt, my favourite wildlife photographer for all the reasons brought out in the interview.

    • Hi Lin,
      The images are, indeed, compelling, especially when we see the innocence that Suzi talks about.

      Suzi’s work is a tribute to patience … and commitment to a project. When you work days, months, or years to capture something really special, the results tell the story.

      Thanks for writing,

      Meredith

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