Professional Insights

Professional Insights

Sergey Gorshkov

Sergey Gorshkov

Nature/Wildlife (Russia)

In pursuit of a vanishing world

Sergey Gorshkov was born in Siberia in 1966, but his career in photography began only 12 years ago. A founding member of the Russian Union of Wildlife Photographers, his goal is to preserve the richness of nature through photography. Among his many awards, Gorshkov has twice been voted Russia's "Photographer of the year," and has won BBC's Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2007, 2009 and 2012.
He organizes personal exhibitions and seminars across Russia and Europe, and his works have been printed in magazines around the world. Gorshkov has authored 3 photo books: "Bear", "The Vanishing World of Kamchatka" and "Сat Walk." Now a resident in the National Geographic Russia magazine, he is presently working in the Russian Arctic and shooting a documentary about the work of a photographer. If Gorshkov isn't on an expedition, then he and his family can be found in Moscow.

My birth as a photographer

I was born in a remote Siberian village. It may sound strange today, but when I grew up, we didn't have a TV, and my only entertainment was time spent out in nature. So why did I start taking pictures? The simplest explanation, I think, is that photography became my opportunity to hear the roar of a leopard on the Okavango River, and the honking of geese flying over the Taymyr tundra. It is the reason I was able to experience the Arctic wind on Wrangell Island, and to feel the heat of red-hot lava spewing from the Kamchatka volcanoes. I take pictures because it allows me to communicate with wildlife. This is my passion, and I spend most of my time in pursuit of it. I try to live close to the animals and be present in their world so that I can share my impressions with the viewer.

People often ask me how I started taking pictures. It began on my first trip to Kamchatka. I was completely stunned by the richness of its nature and decided to buy a photo album of the landscapes as a memento. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a photo album like that on the day I was leaving, and for the first time I thought: "I'll come back and make my own photos." Then a trip to Africa changed the direction of my life. It is no secret that I enjoyed hunting. In fact, up to that point in my life, I had mostly seen wild animals through the crosshairs of a rifle's scope. But when I first saw a leopard, I was so fascinated by its beauty that I simply couldn't shoot it. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. I knew at that moment that I couldn't fire the gun, so I took up photography and began taking pictures instead. That way, I was able to enjoy nature while making beautiful images to remember my adventures. I never wanted to bear arms again.


Sometimes small things can influence the course of one's life. The day I saw leopards was mine. You could call this moment my birth as a photographer. I am not ashamed of my past, but I realized that wildlife photography satisfies my hunting instincts without having to take the life of an animal.

After a few years, I had some free time and returned to Kamchatka with my Nikon F5. At Kurile Lake I started shooting my first project about bears, and an animal that became my passion and my trademark. I have been making wildlife photos for many years, but I still can't call myself a professional — I still use the trial-and-error method, and I often make mistakes. But I've learned to analyze my mistakes so that I learn from them and continue to improve.


Reflecting the world I live in

Wildlife photography doesn't bring me material gain. In fact, I've never looked at it as a way to make money, but the opportunity to communicate with wild animals brings me wealth beyond measure. What I do is equal parts science, adventure and art, and I'm grateful that photography became my way of understanding nature and reflecting the world I live in. I don't want to change that and turn it into a job, because the feelings of joy and freedom would be lost. At first I made photos for myself. The more I did it, the better the results became, and then the more I wanted to show my work to people. I consider my lens to be a link between wildlife and the viewer, and I do my best to show the elusive beauty of nature — a beauty that is slowly disappearing. During my adventures, I have seen what happens when mankind tampers with nature, and what remains afterward. As years went by, I became more and more concerned. The world that I see is in grave danger, and in recent years, the situation has become dramatically worse. If we don't do something soon, everything that we see today will be just a memory.

New projects, new meaning

From the moment I first held a camera, my life took on new meaning. I've sold my business and gained the freedom of creativity: now it's just me, my camera and the creatures of the wilderness. I do what I love and shoot whatever I like. My personal project is capturing Russia's wildlife, and I'm endlessly grateful for Kamchatka and what it taught me about professionalism and nature.

The importance of multimedia

I often organize seminars, and it can be difficult to hold the attention of listeners by just telling stories and showing slides. That is why a few video clips from the field are always helpful. But video is not only for seminars, of course. There are many occasions when it can convey a place or a mood far better than an image can. One of those occasions was when Kamchatka's Tolbachik Volcano erupted in 2012. I took off to shoot for National Geographic Russia, and upon arrival, I knew immediately that video was needed to best convey what I was seeing. The more video the better. The fountains and rivers of lava had a dynamic power that needed to be seen in motion. In the past, I had to take an additional video camera on an expedition with me. Today the Nikon D4 allows me to create high-quality video files by simply pressing a button.

Reliability in every situation

Nature rarely makes the perfect moment easy for a photographer. In order to encounter a wild animal, I must often wait for hours in the rain, snow and ice. I never know when the shot will come, but when fate gives me a chance, I must be ready to act. That is why I must have a camera that can accomplish the assigned mission. What's even more important, I believe, is that my equipment must be able to withstand difficult situations and harsh weather. People often ask me if my Nikon gear has ever let me down in these conditions, and the truth is that I myself am more difficult on equipment than any weather or shooting scenario. On many occasions, I have dropped my Nikons, or accidentally submerged them in water. Bears and lions have cracked my cameras with their teeth, while others have been stolen in airports. Despite this, Nikon cameras have never let me down. Their reliability is priceless. The places where I shoot have no repair shops or stores, and the weather can be the most extreme imaginable. The equipment must pass the test in these environments, and Nikon passes with flying colors.

What's in my camera bag

The contents of my backpack took shape a long time ago. On wildlife shoots, I use two cameras with different lenses. Right now I take pictures with two Nikon D4 bodies and use the following lenses:
AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II
AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II
AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4G ED VR


With this set of lenses, I can cover any distance needed. My lens choice usually depends on the mission. For example, in Kamchatka you can do well with a mid-range zoom. In the open Arctic, on the other hand, the animals are easily frightened and you will need a large telescopic lens to keep your distance. For this, I am really looking forward to using the new AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR.


I love zooms, of course, when I want to cut away unnecessary details, or in the case of telephoto zoom lenses, I can also emphasize the main subject while softening the background. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that half of my wild animal images were made using the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II and another 30% were likely taken with the AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II. For the remainder, I used the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED.


What is my favorite fixed lens? I suppose that I could narrow them down to three:
AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED
AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G
AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II


I haven't used flashes for many years. I think that they are unacceptable when you make photos of wild animals. However, I have discovered that the photosensitive matrix of Nikon D4 allows me to fulfill my mission without additional light.

See more of Sergey Gorshkov's work on his website Open in new window. or facebook page. Open in new window.