I was nervous to speak with Shannon. She is beautiful, accomplished and treks into remote places for weeks on end to capture extraordinary wildlife photography and film. She is respected for her craft and has worked insanely hard to get to where she is today.
But wow what a glorious hour I had talking with this wonderful human. Firstly, she has a calm, humble aura; you would never know she endures intense discomfort in the wild for her career, she is so feminine and understated.
I hope you love her story as much as I do.
How she became a wildlife photographer?
Australian born Shannon describes herself as conservative and not at all brave... her career choices imply a different story. She always had a passion for wildlife, watching endless wildlife documentaries, volunteering at animal shelters and looking after her pet reptiles. She loved exploring nature, and nothing freaked her out - those bugs, snakes and spiders were sources of deep fascination. As a creative person Shannon became a Graphic designer and only took up photography in her twenties as a way of uniting her passion for wildlife and creativity into a career.
I love her commitment; she is self-taught learning through watching skilled photographers and researching whatever she could get her hands on. She signed up for every type of photography to broaden her technical knowledge and learn how to manage diverse client expectations.
Her move to South Africa started, as with most great stories, with a romance. Filming Komodo dragons in Indonesia she met Russ and after a whirlwind love affair they were married and based on this continent.
She always had an affinity with Africa and, whilst the move was daunting, she didn’t question it too much. However, it tested her on every level. Sacrificing her financial stability and hard won professional reputation in Australia she had to start from scratch. To build up a portfolio and network she worked for free, did every project under the sun and was financially very uncertain. For many years of their early married life this talented, passionate couple, had no fixed address and bounced from one friend's sofa to the next. It was physically and emotionally exhausting and they often skipped meals to make ends meet.
I was curious to understand what inspired her to make these sacrifices.
Shannon takes photos to share her deep connection with nature. Her desire to inspire that passion in as many people as possible is inspiring. It also encourages her to celebrate the unsung heroes of the bush. She takes captivating photos of the dung beetle, chameleon and dwarf mongoose as well as the majestic cheetah, tiger and rhino.
I didn’t ask Shannon what her funniest moment doing her job had been… instead she organically shared a story that was both shocking, extraordinary and testament to her professional dedication.
She was filming a habituated Cheetah. It was pro-bono work while she tried to build her portfolio. Having spent her day’s food money to get to the film site she set to work. Her mistake was to turn her back on the Cheetah to plan for the next shot. The Cheetah’s instincts kicked in and it launched itself on Shannon. By sheer luck she was tucked down with her hair protecting her neck. None the less the Cheetah caused serious harm to the flesh and muscle on her arm although it’s jaw wasn’t strong enough to damage the bone. Rescued by those working with her she was whisked to the Doctor. She didn’t have the budget to get both pain killers and antibiotics and, being in agony, chose pain killers. This led to a major infection and being unable to work for a month until her arm’s swelling reduced. Even now she still doesn’t have full mobility.
I know it sounds crazy, but she did laugh at this story. Just prior we had both agreed that, just because the environment is wild it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a few accessories and feminine touches. The day the Cheetah attacked Shannon she had the most beautifully coloured nails. Many people, in the midst of this drama, couldn’t help but stop and comment on how stunning they were!
At this point I had to ask my favourite question, what advice would you give others wanting to take the brave leap and work for their passion?
Shannon has walked a very challenging path to do what she does, and her health has taken a toll from pushing herself.
However, she feels deep gratitude for where she is today. She encourages people to step into their passion. She emphasises the need for dedication and hard work. With photography she advises that people work for as many industries as possible to hone their technical knowledge and get familiar with the needs of a wide range of clients.
Networking is everything. People like Shannon will be compelled to help you, but they need to know you are serious and you understand the sacrifices and challenges the industry demands.
Shannon encourages you to research your subject vigorously. If you are keen to do wildlife film, she reminds you that it’s not just camera knowledge you need but a deep understanding of animal behaviour.
Shannon deeply inspired me and reminded me that to do what you love isn’t comfortable, it won’t be easy, and it will call you to dig very deep. However, it will offer you a life of extraordinary experiences and keep you open to life’s gifts and beauty.
Please follow Shannon and visit her website www.wildinafrica.store for handmade bracelets designed by her which support conservation projects she's worked with as a National Geographic filmmaker and photographer.