Dozens of reef sharks hunt for prey in the depths of the South Pacific, and two pumas stand atop a Chilean cliff. To capture these shots and others, National Geographic photographers climbed high and dove deep this year—sometimes without protection. It’s tough to get a spontaneous shot of a shark feeding frenzy from within a cage.
Even after more than 100 years of photographing the natural world for National Geographic, our wildlife photographers are still capturing animals in ways they’ve never been seen before. Evgenia Arbugaeva spent time in Indonesia, capturing vivid photographs of the dark side of the butterfly trade, and Anand Verma ventured into an ancient Maya temple to photograph meat-eating bats.
Some of our best wildlife photos this year were of birds. To mark the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protected a huge swath of bird species from being killed, National Geographic declared 2018 the Year of the Bird and set out to tell stories about all things avian.
We focused on birds in peril, like the albatrosses of sub-Antarctic Marion Island, photographed bloody and half-alive by Thomas Peschak. Our photography also showed the birds that are flourishing against the odds, like the shearwaters and penguins sheltered on the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic, captured by Paul Nicklen.
Charlie Hamilton James photographed birds at their smartest, quirkiest, and most cunning, like a Mozart-loving European starling named Arnie. He also celebrated snagging the most difficult shot of his entire career: a funny American bird called a sage grouse, which he finally captured one freezing-cold dawn as a vast Wyoming valley turned golden. “It took five weeks, a lot of coffee, and a pile of gear,” Hamilton James says.