Contributor Conversations: Wildlife photographer Matthew Gibson on trusting your animal instincts

Wales, Gwynedd, Snowdonia. View along countryside fields towards misty Snowdonia mountain range in distance.

Matthew Gibson didn’t start out in photography like most of his contemporaries. He didn’t play around with a camera when he was still a child nor go to school specifically to learn the artform.

Instead, he followed a completely different path in the corporate world for most of his life—until a serendipitous major back surgery some eight years ago made him realize what he really wanted.   

Beautiful close up portrait of Jaguar panthera onca in colorful

Photo by Matthew Gibson

Following his doctor’s suggestion to exercise after the procedure, he decided to go out for long walks, taking his camera with him. It was then that he discovered that his real passion was being behind the lens. After only three months of returning to his job, he decided to quit and pursue a career in nature and wildlife photography full-time.

We talked to the London-based photographer to find out his process of taking photos and asked for some advice on how to get started.

Study your subject

Stunning close up image of tiger relaxing on warm day

Photo by Matthew Gibson

Although Matt primarily takes photos of landscapes, he also captures a great deal of animals for his work. His introduction to wildlife photography began when he encountered a herd of 500 deer in the historic Richmond Park in London.

“They are used to having people around, so you can get very close,” he says, “Being very close to those magnificent animals is very addictive.”

Since then, Matt has photographed a variety of creatures that includes everything from horses to rhinos and even tigers. With such considerable experience in the field, he has developed his own method for getting the shots that he needs.

“I plan months in advance,” he says, “I study the animal I want to photograph—their behaviorial patterns, when they feed, what they feed on, likely habitats, etc. Then factor in the time of year, sun positions and height, weather forecasts, etc.”

Apart from figuring out how to track down different animals, Matt also evaluates how to capture the types of photos he wants: “I don’t want just to photograph the animal, I want to get them in their environment in good light, in a good composition, really show them at their best.”

Find the right location

Red deer stag illuminated by stunning sun beams through forest l

Photo by Matthew Gibson

Being a landscape photographer, setting up his camera in the right places is crucial for Matt. Browsing through his impressive portfolio, it’s easy to believe he’s been all over the world to photograph landscapes and animals. But in fact, most of his images were taken within the UK.

“I honestly believe that in the UK, we are blessed with an amazing range of landscapes and wildlife available to photograph,” he says, “Within a four-hour drive, I can be in the mountains, at the beach, in a forest, or on a moor; basically miles from anyone else and not see anyone for hours at a time.”

A few of the places Matt visits regularly include Snowdonia National Park, The Jurassic Coast, and The Lake District.

“I try to get to these locations at least a few times a year each,” he says. “No real adventures though, everything normally goes to plan reasonably well—other than the weather of course!”

Capture the moment

Beautiful image of red deer female does in Autumn Fall forest

Photo by Matthew Gibson

Before pressing the shutter, Matt likes to assess what’s in front of him to see what he would want to include in his frame.

“I approach all my shoots with the same method—that I am there to photograph the landscape. Even if I am there to shoot wildlife, I will still look for the landscape composition, light, direction, etc. and wait for the wildlife to hopefully fit into it.” he shares.

Despite the meticulous planning, however, he still embraces the uncertainties that come with nature photography.

“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't,” he admits. “but I am comfortable with my approach, and I feel it has a high enough hit rate to continue doing it.”

Through the years, he’s captured thousands of nature and wildlife photos for his stock photography. Most of them involve animals in the most serene environments. With patience and impeccable timing, he’s become a master at capturing natural light and enchanting the aura of any place that he visits.

Respect the wildlife

Mated pair of swans on misy foggy ASutumn Fall lake touching sce

Photo by Matthew Gibson

Looking at Matt’s work, it becomes apparent that photographing wild creatures in their most serene moments requires more than planning and luck—it takes instinct that can only be acquired through experience. And this very instinct stems from his pure love for the animals he encounters.

Matt believes that apart from learning the technical aspects of photography, budding photographers should also prioritize the animals’ place in the world.

“Be patient and study your subject,” he says, “but first and foremost, respect the wildlife and their right to live how they should.”