As far back as I can remember, I’ve always had a deep passion for nature and wildlife.
I was lucky to have parents who took me with them to some of Southern Africa's greatest wildlife reserves, where I developed a love for animals that spanned my entire life.
Memories of our safaris have accompanied me through all my wanders across the world. My dad, in particular, was a keen amateur wildlife photographer. His passion for photography undoubtedly ignited mine and led me, from a very young age, to master a skill that serves me to this day: that of sitting extremely still in a car when an animal is in sight.
Over the years, that same interest in capturing wildlife has become central to my life and career. My curiosity towards it grew so strongly over time that by 2001, I had managed to save up and buy myself a Canon camera with a 70mm to 200mm lens that I carried with me everywhere I went.
Indeed, it was with that same camera that I started capturing sharks around Seal Island, in South Africa. Never did I expect to be so lucky to discover what soon became a world-famous phenomenon – the jumping, great white!
But on top of seeing them in person, I was also able to photograph them. And in 2001, the image of the white shark you see below went viral. The world was fascinated by it and it set me on my way to establishing myself as a professional photographer, travelling and seeing wildlife globally.
I remember the day incredibly well. It was shot on film and I took the roll to the lab hoping that I had captured something special. Nowadays, that’s different – you can look at the back of the camera right away, so you already know the kind of picture it turned out to be. But back then, I spent an agonising weekend hoping and praying it was sharp.
When I walked into the laboratory the following Monday, everybody was clapping and I knew I’d gotten something good. This behaviour – when the shark jumps – happens in less than a second. That was an incredible milestone for me, both in terms of my career, but also when thinking just how powerful it was to have this huge shark jumping towards me like that.
I'm amazingly grateful that I was able to experience this moment.
I love all forms of nature, but I'm particularly drawn to predators and iconic animals. My feeling is that if we can't look after these, what chance do the smaller ones have?”
It's a natural addiction and is incredibly rewarding. I've spent a huge amount of time getting to know my subjects. You learn to read their body language and get comfortable in close proximity to them. They start tolerating you in their space, which is very rewarding, especially when you capture an image that does them justice.
I never lose sight of the fact that many of these animals are dangerous and I have a healthy respect for them. But I don't fear them. I have learned over many years that they aren't out to kill me – they just want to do what they naturally do. So as long as I'm respectful, I can often get pretty close to them and be part of their world.
A lifetime spent near these and many more animals has profoundly impacted my view of the world, my career and the legacy it needs to leave.
So, together with my wife, we’re working to make sure that we give back to the earth more than we have taken from it. We use the sales of our fine artworks to buy large tracts of land in Southern Africa for rehabilitation and rewilding – and then turn them into conservation areas for these animals.
My latest collection aims to raise awareness on the urgency of this topic. It’s called 'The 11th Hour' and it features twelve of my most well-known works over the last 30 years. Each of the works represent the hours of a clock. Eleven are black and white and the final image is in colour, representing hope. The final hour left to save what remains.
Discover more about Chris’ photography in our Canon ambassador profile. Follow his trips and stories photographing wildlife around the world on Instagram.
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