The Beginnings of Wildlife Imagery in National Geographic

Photograph by/George Shiras III and Image Source/Wikimedia Commons

Photograph/George Shiras III and Image Source/Wikimedia Commons

This story was originally published in June 2016.

Over a century ago, when George Shiras III began using the flashlight-trapping technique to photograph animals, it was new and unheard of. His images had an eerie sort of glow to them, thanks to the explosion of magnesium powder triggered by his camera traps. The tough part, however, was holding the attention of the beast, which he solved by adopting the jacklighting hunting technique, used by the Ojibwa tribe in North America. Since he used a canoe to travel around the forested areas, he would set the kerosene lamp at the front of the vessel. The light emitted would attract and sort of freeze the animal’s attention for a brief moment. Right around this time, Shiras would set his camera traps into motion, and in this way, he was able to photograph a vast variety of wildlife, especially in the area surrounding Lake Superior.

Eventually, he was invited by Gil Grosvenor, the then Director and Editor of the National Geographic Society and its magazine, who wanted to have a look at his work. Shiras was thrilled when Grosvenor expressed his interest in publishing 74 of his photographs. And so, the July 1906 issue of the magazine carried its first ever wildlife images, and paved the way for the publication’s longstanding association with the genre.

Ironically, Shiras’ interest in wildlife photography was born out of his passion for hunting. But as he continued to photograph animals, he realised the importance of conservation and eventually became one of its biggest proponents. He also took advantage of his position in the US Congress and introduced several legislations benefitting the environment.

Tags: 1906, Animals, flashlight trapping, jaclighting hunting, Nat geo, Ojibwa tribe, Shiras