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A wildlife photographer from Hawaii with a penchant for Africa and the great apes of the world, Leighton Lum’s work reveals his adventurous spirit and his dedication to capturing the shot.

Whether he’s submerged in crocodile infested waters, navigating the jungle homes of mountain gorillas or staring down the lens at a komodo dragon (photographer after our own heart!), Leighton is constantly hunting down the angle or the perspective he envisions in his mind.

Most importantly, he works with conservation in mind and teaches an awareness of critical environmental issues in his photography workshops.

Using his ability to travel across the world, he captures and exposes the natural beauty of landscapes and the creatures that inhabit them.

From Africa to the Arctic, there’s magic in his photos. 

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Leighton Lum and I am a professional wildlife photographer from Hawaii.

Can you tell us a little bit about your professional background?

My passion for wildlife has brought me to every corner of the globe in hopes to raise awareness to critical environmental issues that impacts wildlife.

I have been shooting professionally for 8 years now and run a variety of photography workshops in many different countries. 

What or who in your life influenced you to pursue this route?

I have always loved animals and the great outdoors my entire life!

Growing up near the ocean I was fascinated with the life in the ocean. I slowly transitioned into others animals, particularly ones that are not often photographed or perceived as dangerous.

Watching other photographers like Paul Nicklen and Art Wolfe helped inspire me to get out and really see the World.

Currently, what is the inspiration that keeps you motivated and passionate about your work?

I think what keeps me going is my love for travel. I also love meeting new people and learning about new cultures. 

What is the most impactful aspect of your work?

I think the most impactful aspect of my work is conservation and awareness.

I think being able to bring interest to wildlife and climate is important to help influence younger generations to care about these big issues.

Where is your favorite place you’ve traveled and why?

I think my favorite place to travel to is Africa because it’s so different from where I grew up.

The culture is amazing and seeing huge wild populations of animals is incredible.

The whole African Safari experience is what really sticks with me, the bucket showers, sleeping in a tent, driving off road is all stuff i really miss when I head back home after a great Safari. It’s hard to find places where you can hear the animals just outside your tent, no fences, it’s just wild.   

Tell us about your strangest experience while traveling?

I think the strangest animal encounter I ever had was in Borneo with an orangutan.

I was walking down the path one day and we saw an orangutan just hanging out on the boardwalk. I slowly crawled up to him and started to shoot.

Amazingly he would pose and roll over just like a young person would do. He played with the front of my lens and smiled.

It was incredible sharing this moment with this animals who was so much like myself.

After 5 minutes of posing, he heard more people coming so he got up, picked me up by the hand and proceeded to walk me back down the boardwalk!

It was like he was leading me back to my group! We parted ways and he went back up into the forest. Just amazing, not your typical wildlife encounter. 

Why do you feel that wildlife conservation is important?

I believe wildlife conservation is very important. We need to preserves these animals for future generations to educate and inspire.

The fight is never ending but if we give up now than all will be lost.

People need to understand that humans are not the only species on the planet and that we should sacrifice to help other species survive, especially ones that we have negatively impacted. 

Are there any animals you feel especially passionate about?

I love the great apes. Orangutans are my favorite, just being around them and watching them they behave very much like people. Fighting the same fight as people do.

They are not so different from humans, they really do have a personality of their own and are a real joy to photograph. They just have genuine expressions and I love that about them. 

Could you share the story behind your favourite photograph and/or video you've created?

I recently went to Tanzania in Feb of 2020 and I had a shot that I particularly wanted to get. I’ve seen many silhouette shots of animals and I’ve always wanted to try.

I really wanted to get a giraffe because they are easily recognizable. I tried for 14 days around sunset to try and get the shot. And usually I either couldn’t find the giraffes or the giraffes were in the forested area or in the wrong direction from the sunset.

Anyway on my last sunset drive in Africa we got a call that some giraffes were near our camp heading into a field. We quickly rushed over there just in time to catch a small group of them crossing the field!

The sun was setting and the clouds were about the light. I only expected to try and get 1 or 2 silhouetted but to my surprise I got 5! 3 adults 2 babies walking towards our vehicle, all nicely lined up! It was incredible!

A shot that I had envisioned actually came true and it’s one of my favorites shots and I will never forget how much work went into making that shot possible! 

Do you have a favorite place or subject to photograph or video?

I would have to say any big animal, I love photographing animals that are potentially dangerous.

I really get to study and learn the body languages of these animals and with some patience we can have great interactions that others would find impossible.

Diving American crocodiles was one of those animals that was so fascinating to photograph. Just observing how they react to people in the water and how their mind processes information is incredible.

What I thought would be a terrifying experience was actually a calm and relaxing experience.

Once we understood how the animal was going to behave I felt quite at home sharing the water with these living dinosaurs. 

Can you share your future plans and hopes for yourself?

As for future plans, I think expanding my photography and getting to new places and pushing the boundaries of what can be done.

I have been fascinated with the technology of photography, whether its using drones or camera traps to get new and creative perspectives, its amazing how far the technology has come!

I think expanding my photography workshops and being able to teach people about photography is important to my future success.

My biggest joy is bringing people out to these amazing places and showing them first hand how great these animals are! Just seeing their expressions when they see their first humpback whale or their first elephant in the wild is an amazing feeling.

I hope these experiences inspire them to strive for more and use their photography as a tool to inspire others just as it has done for me.