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Blog Home Business The Story Behind the Photo with Wildlife Photographer Jane Rix
The Story Behind the Photo with Wildlife Photographer Jane Rix

The Story Behind the Photo with Wildlife Photographer Jane Rix

Safari photography is a speciality of Shutterstock contributor Jane Rix. Learn the stories of the adventures behind her various wildlife photos in our library.

According to estimates, there are only 25 “super tuskers” remaining on the planet. With tusks that reach the ground and weigh in at upwards of 100 pounds each, these massive bull elephants are threatened by poaching and other human activities.

Tim, one of these extraordinary animals, was known throughout Kenya and the world for his gentle demeanor and peaceful presence in Amboseli National Park.

Front view of a giant tusked elephant walking through a field
Gear: Canon 1DX Mark II, EF200-400. Settings: 1/1250 sec; F16; ISO 1600. License this photo via Jane Rix.

Tim was also known for his mischievous nature. On more than a few occasions, he attempted to walk onto farmlands to find crops. Throughout his lifetime, Tim was speared three times by humans. But he survived, and with the monitoring of animal protection groups, he lived for 50 years. In 2020, he died of natural causes. The world mourned his loss. 

Photographer Jane Rix was one of the lucky few to see Tim in person during his life. In 2019, she traveled to Amboseli National Park after learning she had cancer. She is healthy now, but the diagnosis motivated her to hit the road and visit the places she’d always dreamed of seeing.

Encountering Tim was certainly not guaranteed, but she took her chances. Knowing that the elephants would move to and from their resting grounds in the early morning and evening, she waited until he appeared. There, among the acacia trees, they stood: Two survivors, illuminated by the magical light of late afternoon.

The safari photos Rix captured all tell stories about their animal subjects, living in the moments when each photo was taken. Her pictures of Tim capture his survivor’s wisdom, something that connected both photographer and subject.

Rix embarked on her first safari back in 2016 when she traveled to Kruger National Park in South Africa. Since then, she’s walked through the humid, ancient forests of Uganda in search of gorillas.

She’s been so close to walruses in Svalbard, Norway, that she could smell them. She’s also learned that birds often poop just before they take flight, helping her to time the perfect photo. 

These days, Rix takes two to three trips annually, choosing safaris with knowledgeable local guides and a focus on conservation—all tailored specifically to photographers, so they can capture the very best photos. Rix does exactly that.

We interviewed her about her travels, her tips for emerging wildlife photographers, and the moments she’ll never forget. 

Cheetahs: Gear: Canon 5D Mark IV, EF200-400. Settings: 1/320 sec; F16; ISO 400. Bull elephant: Gear: Canon 1DX Mark II, EF200-400. Settings:1/2500 sec; F8; ISO 1000. Herd of elephants: Gear: Canon 1DX Mark II, EF200-400. Settings: 1/1250; F8; ISO 640. License these photos via Jane Rix x2 x3.

The Rumbling of Hooves in the Masai Mara

“I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Masai Mara in Kenya several times, but the time I like best is early summer, at the beginning of the annual migration, when the grass is still long and lush. 

“Around one and a half million wildebeest and zebra start migrating from the Serengeti, usually in July. They follow the rain in search of food. Within a few weeks, all of that lovely long grass will be grazed or trampled down to the roots. 

“Nothing prepares you for seeing this river crossing for the first time. The adrenaline rush as the action suddenly ramps up makes it hard to hold a camera steady. The dust, the rumble of hooves, water splashing, the powerful leaps, thousands upon thousands of animals running the gauntlet of the crocodile-infested river.”

When she first saw the river crossing, she thought the wildebeest crossed the river only once and out of necessity. On the contrary, they regularly risk their lives crossing back and forth in a dramatic game of follow-the-leader. If one goes, instinct kicks in, and they all go.

The biggest crossing she has seen involved around 17,000 to 18,000 animals. Rix captured the following photos while observing these river crossings. 

Wildebeest image 1: Gear: Canon 5D Mark IV, EF200-400. Settings: 1/2000 sec; F13; ISO 1600. Wildebeest image 2: Gear: Canon 5D Mark IV, EF200-400. Settings: 1/1000 sec; F5.5; ISO 400. License these photos via Jane Rix x2.

Eye-to-Eye with a Gorilla in Uganda

Chimp and gorilla trekking in Uganda is very controlled. Only small groups of people are taken by rangers out into the rainforest, where the terrain is tough to hike. Exploring the undergrowth leads to very hot and humid conditions for several hours, but the photography payoff is incredible. 

“Quite rightly, time is limited to one hour with the chimps, to keep human contact and interference to a minimum,” says Rix. “Permits are required in advance, and the cost goes back into the conservation of the area. This leaves 90% of the forest and its inhabitants untouched.”

Many moments from her time in Uganda will live with Rix forever, she says. This image of a silverback mountain gorilla is one of her top animal encounters. She says it happened by pure chance. 

Silverback mountain gorilla in leaves: Gear: Canon 5D Mark IV, EF70-200. Settings:1/500 sec; F2.8; ISO 3200. Silverback mountain gorilla closeup: Gear: Canon 5D Mark IV, EF70-200. Settings: 1/200 sec; F5; ISO 3200. Baby gorilla: Gear: Canon R5, RF70-200. Settings: 1/250 sec; F3.2; ISO 500. License these photos via Jane Rix x2 x3.

“This was the last day of my Ugandan trip and the final hour with one of the gorilla troupes. Halfway through, I had my camera fog up so badly from the humidity that it started throwing out error messages and wouldn’t work at all.” 

Luckily, Rix was able to get the issue resolved as the rest of her hiking group moved on. 

“We were down a bank that we needed to climb to catch up, but then a huge silverback male decided to take a rest right in our path,” Rix says, describing the intimate moment with this gorilla. “We had to remain separated from the others, who were already further up the hill and a safe distance on the other side of him.”

“I was only about six feet away. And, I was in the right place at the right time, as the gorilla turned his head and looked me in the eyes. I was able to get this low-level shot but also had time to just enjoy this sense of direct connection.”

A young and inexperienced polar bear tries to take on a young beluga whale at the edge of the fast ice

License this photo via Jane Rix.

A Leap of Faith in Svalbard, Norway

Svalbard, Norway is a fairly untouched, pristine wilderness. Rix says it’s the kind of place that makes you feel very small in the world. Her cold weather photography trips can be hard work, as bulky clothes make camera operations difficult. Still, she has captured spectacular moments in the frigid wilderness.

“A few years back, I was on deck watching a young polar bear walking along the edge of the ice. His attention was caught by movement in the water, and there was a pod of beluga whales periodically diving and emerging close to him. He was clearly fascinated, and he watched them for some time, pacing back and forth on the ice. 

“He was a young adult bear. Maybe this was his first encounter with belugas, but everything in the way he moved said that, at some point, he was going to dive in with them! I didn’t dare bring the camera down from my eye. If this were to happen, it would be a split-second opportunity that wouldn’t be repeated.”

Thankfully, Rix’s dedication to her craft paid off. She captured one perfect shot of the polar bear taking his leap of faith.

“My arms were burning by the time he did finally jump, about thirty minutes later.

“On another visit, we were watching a large male polar bear from a boat. Obviously, there are rules about keeping a safe distance, so we went as close as we could reasonably go, cut the engines, and waited. The bear was very curious about us and kept coming close to check us out.   

Polar bear relaxing: Gear: Canon 1DX Mark II, EF100-400mm +1.4 extender. Settings: 1/1250 sec; F9; ISO 250. Polar bear near water: Gear: Canon 1DX Mark II, EF100-400mm +1.4 extender. Settings:1/1600 sec; F7.1; ISO 200. Polar bear walking the ice: Gear: Canon 1DX Mark II, EF100-400mm +1.4 extender. Settings:1/800 sec; F8; ISO 400. Polar bear image 4: Gear: Canon 1DX Mark II, EF100-400mm +1.4 extender. Settings: 1/1250 sec; F8; ISO 160. License these photos via Jane Rix x2 x3 x4.

“We had nearly two hours of just observing and shooting until he eventually got bored of us and settled to sleep. It was a rare privilege to be so close for so long.

“I’m going back to Svalbard next year, and I’m hoping for some similar encounters, but if it doesn’t happen, at least I got that opportunity once in my lifetime.”

Wildlife Photography Ethics 

“It’s always important to be mindful of the environment around you and to treat it with the greatest of respect. I’ve seen plenty of examples of vehicles crowding around frightened animals, people littering from the windows of safari vehicles, and children being allowed to thrash their way through ancient rainforests with sticks, whilst damaging every plant in their path. 

“As with many things, education is the key, and good tour companies will do whatever is in their power to protect the animals and their environment, whilst educating guests on the best way to do no damage.

Chimpanzee howling: Gear: Canon R5, RF70-200. Settings: 1/400 sec; F4; ISO 2500. Walruses relaxing: Gear: Canon 1DX Mark III, EF100-400mm +1.4 extender. Settings 1/500 sec; F11; ISO 640. Herd of hippopotamus sleeping: Gear: Canon 1DX Mark II, EF200-400 Settings: 1/640 sec; F8; ISO 3200. License these photos via Jane Rix x2 x3.

“I often travel with the same tour company, as I know that their travel philosophy aligns with mine. They employ local community members wherever possible, so the drivers and guides I work with know and love the location. They give me a real insight into local life, rather than a manufactured ‘tourist’ experience.”

Rix’s commitment to traveling with ethical tourism companies shines through in her photos. You can see that their animals and landscapes are clean and uninterrupted by her own presence. Therefore, the natural world looks back at the viewer through her lens.

A panorama with herds of elephants and zebra during the annual Great Migration with stormy skies in the background

Gear: Canon 5D Mark III, EF24-70. Settings: 1/640 sec; F11; ISO 160. License this photo via Jane Rix.

Why This Wildlife Photographer’s Work Stands Out

Wildlife photography is a game of taking hundreds of shots, in the hopes of capturing just a few perfect photos. Rix’s dedication to this craft is apparent in her beautiful photos of animals. 

“It took me a long time to get my head around the notion that, with wildlife, I would only keep a few images and discard hundreds,” says Rix. “On my first safari with other photographers, I was quite disheartened, as I was assuming that I was the only one with lots of near misses and that everyone else was nailing every shot. I was wrong.”

Every safari photo within her collection has a backstory, and the personal connection she has with animals shines through her work.

Some photos are captured in an instant, like her wildebeest river crossing photos. Meanwhile, she has to spend a lot of time capturing others.

The beauty behind her collections, as with many Shutterstock photo collections, come from a balance of techniques, perspective, and persistence. 

Find Unique Wildlife Photos and More

There is so much natural beauty to take in, and Shutterstock’s photos, videos, and audio clips highlight it all. 

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For more from Jane Rix, be sure to visit her Shutterstock portfolio. Browse her website here, and follow along on Instagram at @jane_rix.

License this cover image via Jane Rix.

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