Veterinarian turned wildlife photographer brings awareness to endangered animals
Yaron Schmid showcases the personalities of animals, and National Geographic has taken notice.
Yaron Schmid has loved animals since childhood. Growing up in Jerusalem, he dreamed of becoming a wildlife veterinarian. He studied veterinary medicine at Hebrew University in Israel before moving to New York City where he mostly treats cats and dogs. An avid traveler and hiker, his latest hobby has recently turned into a second career: wildlife photography.
After a safari trip to Africa with his son four years ago, he bought his first “decent camera” and set about doing street photography in New York to learn how to use it. While he did take a photography course on DVD, he’s mostly self-taught.
“The more I fell in love with photography, I fell in love with Africa and tried to travel more to Africa,” Schmid told From the Grapevine.
"Near and Far" – elephants in the Serengeti, Tanzania. (Photo: Yaron Schmid)
Gradually, he started to get feedback on his photos from friends and others online, which encouraged him to become even more serious with his photography. A year ago, he made the commitment to become a wildlife photographer.
“Up until then, I was a veterinarian with wildlife photography as a hobby. I’m still a vet, but I’m trying to get more and more serious,” he said.
Schmid’s photos have been featured by National Geographic magazine and recognized in various contests, including the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. Another photograph has made it to the final round of the Outdoor Photographer of the Year competition. He set up a website and got more serious with his Facebook page, and has started taking people on private, customized safaris through Africa.
A grizzly bear chilling in Denali National Park, Alaska. (Photo: Yaron Schmid)
Schmid says that while any professional photographer has to know their subject, his experience as a veterinarian still gives him a bit of an advantage because he has a deeper understanding of animal interactions as well as clinical information about them.
“I think because I’m a veterinarian, I understand the animals more than the average person. I can anticipate their behavior. That’s how I get some of my shots; I know what to expect and when,” he told us.
"Bent." Schmid says in recent years the number of giraffes has decreased significantly. (Photo: Yaron Schmid)
But taking beautiful photographs of the animals he loves isn’t enough for Schmid. He wants to use his photography to bring awareness to animal conservation issues at home and abroad. His slogan is "Hand a picture, not a head." He’s partnered with several nonprofit organizations including Born Free USA, the Humane Society of New York and the PAMS Foundation, which raises money for a number of conservation projects in Tanzania. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of his prints goes to support these organizations.
“I’m trying not just to do the photography, but to try to give the photography a greater meaning by helping those organizations.”
While most people tend to know that elephants are facing extinction, there are a lot of other issues that people aren’t as aware of. Schmid noted that in recent years the number of giraffes has decreased significantly. And right along the New Jersey shore, the common fox is threatened because they have become habituated to getting food from humans. This can lead to starvation if the food source disappears for a few months, or they are hit by cars because they’re coming too close to roads and populated areas.
“Usually when there’s a conflict, animals are the ones that are suffering,” he said.
Schmid says the leopard is one of his favorite animals, but they’re very difficult to spot. He also fell in love with cheetahs after two separate incidents when a cheetah climbed on the car he was traveling in, once in Kenya and once in Tanzania. Schmid says it’s extremely rare for a cheetah to climb on a car, but in fact, some cheetahs will teach their cubs to do it because it offers a better vantage point.
“This was scary when it happened the first time with my son. He was crying a little bit. But the second time I knew the cheetah was harmless and I enjoyed the moment.” He learned from his drivers that cheetahs typically don’t hurt people. “With a leopard or a lion, it would be bad news but with the cheetah, they are usually harmless,” said Schmid.
Other incidents have been far more concerning. An elephant once charged the car, and another time while walking in the woods in New Jersey he realized he was following a bear that suddenly turned around and started chasing him.
Schmid’s safaris are perfect for people who are just getting into wildlife photography, but he also takes people who simply want to get a more customized experience. For the photographers, he offers tips about animal behavior and how to anticipate what might happen to get some of his unique shots. For non-photographers, he takes the pictures for his guests so that they can simply enjoy the moment.
Lions wrestling in Tanzania. (Photo: Yaron Schmid)
His trips are designed from the point of view of
conservation; not just looking at the animals, but the chance to experience
their natural behavior.
Schmid has photographed many of the world’s rarest animals, but he’s never gotten to photograph wild dogs – a species at the top of his “to photograph” list. His next trip to Africa will be at the end of January, and he's going to an area that offers a good chance to see them. Also on the list, photographing tigers in India and returning to Israel to snap pictures in his home country.
“Usually on a safari you go with a big group, you go to certain areas where all the tourists are and there are a lot of cars. I go to places that offer a more private experience.”
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Related Topics: Animals