As a wildlife photographer, Vincent wanted to share the beauty of Tibet's nature with the world. His Nikon Special Project drew him to some of the most remote and untouched areas of Tibet in the hope of photographing the snow leopard - a notoriously shy and reclusive animal.
Staring at a typical landscape of the Tibetan high plateau | Nikon D4 + AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR | f/9 | 1/2000s | ISO 400
Kunlun mountains 5,500m above sea level on the high plateau | Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR | f/14 | 1/200s | ISO 320
Bearded vulture. The diamond-shaped tail is typical of this species | Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR | f/5.6 | 1/2000s | ISO 220
Bearded vulture. An unmistakable bird and the only known animal whose diet is almost exclusively bones | Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR | f/5.6 | 1/6400s | ISO 640
Frozen Landscape -40°c - 5000m | Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR | f/9 | 1/200s | ISO 200
Red fox. Tracing new tracks in old snow | Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR | f/8 | 1/1000s | ISO 1250
Snow leopard almost flying above the rocks. This animal is so agile when moving on its territory | Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR | f/5.6 | 1/4000s | ISO 640
Patience and extreme concentration are key | Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR | f/4 | 1/400s | ISO 320
Snow leopard. I spent hours behind a rock in order to shoot this leopard, as another rock among the rocks | Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR | f/5.6 | 1/6400s | ISO 1000
Snow leopard. This individual detected me, nothing can avoid its sharp vision | Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR | f/5.6 | 1/1000s | ISO 3600
Snow leopards. I was extremely lucky to find this family: two youngs and their mother, who then vanished for the next two weeks. I only saw them once again and only for a few minutes, 5km away from this spot | Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR | f/7.1 | 1/800s | ISO 2500
Snow leopard. The fact that this feline is, as many others, mainly active at night is a major difficulty for photography. It actually spends about 15 hours sleeping every day | Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR | f/5.6 | 1/2000s | ISO 720
Little Owl. This species is quite common, thanks to high densities of micromammals and rare predators | Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR | f/7.1 | 1/250s | ISO 560
Upland buzzard. Raptors are pretty common in the area because prey is abundant | Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR | f/5.6 | 1/2000s | ISO 400
Q: Why did you choose Tibet for your Special Project?
Tibet is a home to the wildest of wildlife, but very few people call it their home. I’ve read many books about Tibet and its wildlife, especially those by American biologist George Schaller, who worked on the Tibetan plateau during the 1970s and ‘80s.
Despite Schaller's work, Tibet is relatively unknown, and that means its wildlife is largely undocumented. You find animals unique to the region, ones that don’t live anywhere else.
I especially wanted to capture shots of the endangered snow leopard and unfamiliar creatures like the Pallas’s cat.
Q: What were the major challenges of working in Tibet?
Tibet is an incredibly difficult place to access – both from a geopolitical perspective and in practical terms, because of its high altitude. If you’re thinking of embarking on a trip to somewhere like Tibet, make sure to work with researchers to help plan your route. It was impossible to find a reliable map in Tibet, so I had to use Google Earth to keep track of where I was and where I needed to go.
I also think it’s important to try and travel with someone. I once travelled with someone I met out there, who helped me in all sorts of ways - from accessing phone signal to setting up a base camp. I recently returned to Tibet with an assistant and another friend, and those extra pairs of eyes were invaluable when it came to finding the snow leopard, which is incredibly camouflaged and difficult to spot when you’re scanning the mountains.
Q: What did you learn from your visit to Tibet?
I learned a lot about myself. Man has a very strange relationship with nature – there’s a gulf between us. When I work on projects I like to go to the extreme, in an attempt to close this gap. It is not easy, and often I’m scared of the terrain, climate and even the animals. But it is important humans understand they are not the masters of the world.
I value being able to regularly go back to nature and live without my home comforts, experiencing the same conditions as these creatures. At the end of the day, we are all animals.
Q: What was the most memorable moment of the trip?
I had an incredibly close encounter with a beautiful snow leopard. I found a mother with her baby - and I stayed with them for two days, watching them from behind a rock. At first, she tried to hunt blue sheep, the snow leopard’s main prey. When she failed, she moved to a canyon, and I managed to follow her there.
I was about 100 meters from her, which was both incredible and terrifying. Then I noticed her detect my shadow. I instantly dropped to the ground, she came closer and closer, and I realised she could attack me at any minute. After a moment, I stood up to reveal to her that I was a human and not a wild yak or potential prey. She ran away, but looking at each other before she fled was an amazing moment. I have read a lot about snow leopards, but haven’t heard of anyone tell a story like this. They know everything about their mountains – most of the time they see you but you don’t see them. This time, we saw each other.
Q: What fascinates you about snow leopards?
I always love coming face to face with big predators like bears and wolves – there’s a thrill associated with seeing huge, beautiful animals in front of you. It becomes even more exciting when it’s a challenge.
I’d visited Tibet three times before I saw the snow leopard for the first time. I hope to see the Siberian tiger one day – with this job, you never know what you’ll face.
Q: What other animals do you hope to one day photograph?
I’m fascinated by the Pallas’s cat, which is a cross between a snow leopard and a wild cat, because it’s such an unknown creature. But there are a lot of unique animals in Tibet, like antelope, wild donkey and wild yak. There are only 15,000 wild yaks in Tibet – they’re an endangered species.
Q: How do you plan for projects like this?
It’s crucial to do your research before you embark on any trip of this nature. I read as many books as I can, but there hasn’t been much published about the area and its wildlife – while this is part of the appeal, it does mean there were some gaps in my knowledge I had to deal with. The Pallas’s cat in particular is a species the world knows very little about.
Q: What factors affect your choice of equipment?
It is a huge privilege to encounter a snow leopard, so you want to have the best camera and equipment with you. You need to optimise everything to ensure you never miss a moment, which is why I valued the quality and reliability of the Nikon D5 and D500.
You would think the weather would be a key consideration when you’re shooting at minus 35 degrees, but all the Nikon equipment I used worked perfectly in this climate. In Tibet, I knew I would always be on the move in challenging terrain, so it was important the camera models were small and lightweight.
Q: What advice do you have for photographers looking to capture elusive animals like the snow leopard?
The key is to respect animals and avoid disturbing them - for your sake as much as theirs’. They can be dangerous. Research your subject and learn about their habits and behaviours. I like to read as much as I can about the animals, and speak to other photographers and explorers and learn from their experiences.
When I’m on a shoot, I make sure I use natural lighting conditions to my advantage. I also recommend pushing yourself to take a diverse set of images. Don’t just rely on taking the same shot time after time.
Q: What does it mean to you to be able to be a Nikon European Ambassador and be able to work on a project such as this?
I am a loyal Nikon user, and have used Nikon equipment since I was 12 years old. I have a great connection with the brand and am proud to be a Nikon European Ambassador. As a photographer, it is rewarding and exciting to be given the opportunity and support to complete such an ambitious project as this.