How Do You Get Close to a Panda? Surprise Answer: Panda Suits

After my National Geographic cover story appeared in August, many were fascinated by the scented panda suits! I talked with a number of media personnel, such as The Creators Project (part of Vice), NPR’s How To Do Everything podcast, Business Insider, and My Modern Met, about what it takes to get candid shots of these elusive animals.

As a photographer, I often try to look as little like a photographer as I can and this costume was definitely an extraordinary example. The disguise prevents pandas from getting accustomed to their human caregivers and allows me to get close to my subjects.    The suits are scented with panda urine and feces, which is not as gross as it sounds.  It smells like bamboo and something similar to wet puppies.  But I have to say, when you wake up every morning and put on an outfit somewhere between a mascot and a bank robber, you know you’re really living the story.

Pandas Gone Wild

I am excited to share our panda story, now on newsstands in the August issue of National Geographic Magazine. Tremendous gratitude to the incredible team in China working to protect these magical bears and to my colleagues at National Geographic for giving me the opportunity to share this incredible story.

This journey turned out to be one of the most unimaginable explorations I’ve ever had. It is not that anyone hasn’t seen a panda; we all have. But after going to China multiple times, getting to know the people, getting to understand the pandas and learning to really think like a panda, it kind of blew my mind.

In a region where bad environmental news is common, the giant panda might prove to be the exception and is a testament to the perseverance and efforts of Chinese scientists and conservationists. By breeding and releasing pandas, augmenting existing populations and protecting habitat, they may be on their way to successfully saving their most famous ambassador and in the process put the wild back into an icon. Pandas’ irresistible power make them important ambassadors for ALL endangered species.

The images and the behind-the-scenes story of my work documenting pandas over three years were also covered by UPROXX, Vice, Huffington Post, Mother Nature Network, Tech Insider, and Business Insider.

Better Photography: It’s NOT about the Image

Check out the latest Better Photography. “Photography is not about the camera. It’s not even about the beautiful images we create. It is about telling powerful stories. Photography is a tool for creating awareness and understanding across cultures, communities, and countries; a tool to make sense of our commonalities in the world we share. And I believe the way to find common ground is by seeing yourself in others. A lot of my work involves traveling to foreign countries and living in remote places. My job is to become invisible and get close to people and wildlife, so I can bring their stories to life. For me, the intimate moments always matter the most. It’s no different being in my home state of Montana, USA than it is being in a country five thousand miles away”. – See more at: http://betterphotography.in/perspectives/ami-vitale-not-about-the-image/44321/#sthash.rpWYrZ7X.dpuf

Rhinos in Amsterdam Airport

If you are passing through the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, check out my World Press Photo rhino  image on a billboard there. The image features the conservation work of Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and the Northern Rangelands Trust. Please follow their work on social media and consider a visit to Kenya to see them in action. Your support goes directly toward preserving wildlife and the communities protecting them.

Congratulations to: photo of the year winner Warren Richardson, Daniel Berehulak, Christian Bobst, Nancy Borowick, Mary F. Calvert, Mario Cruz, Abd Doumany, Sameer Al-Doumy, Anuar Patjane Floriuk, Corentin Fohlen, Kevin Frayer, David Guttenfelder, Niclas Hammarstrom, Paul Hansen, Chen Jie, Rohan Kelly, Bulent Kilic, John J. Kim, Matjaz Krivic, Tim Laman, Zhang Lei, Sara Naomi Lewkowicz, Jonas Lindkvist, Mauricio Lima, Sebastian Liste, Dario Mitidieri, Greg Nelson, Kazuma Obara, Adriane Ohanesian, Daniel Ochoa de Olza, Vladimir Pesnya, Sergey Ponomarev, Warren Richardson, Zohreh Saberi, Roberto Schmidt, Brent Stirton, Sergio Tapiro, Tara Todras-Whitehill, Christian Walgram, Magnus Wennman, Christian Ziegler, Francesco Zizola, and Matic Zorman.