Courtesy Photo

For most photographers, there are few grails holier than National Geographic. The 12-decade-old magazine publishes some of the most consistently striking wildlife photography on the planet, and the chance to shoot for them is, to say it simply, a game changer in the photog world.

For Mike “Nick” Nichols, a longtime Nat Geo contributor and photo editor at large, the magazine has opened a world of opportunity. For one, Nichols has spent nearly 20 years observing, studying, and capturing African elephants for them. The fruits of his labors can currently be seen in Earth to Sky: Among Africa’s Elephants, A Species in Crisis, a new book that Nichols will bring to Santa Barbara this weekend as part of a talk titled Lions, Elephants & Giants: Trials, Tragedies, Triumphs.

Though he spent two decades in Central Africa, Nichols said the first 15 were mostly chase. “The first 15 years I was in Africa, I only saw elephants that were afraid of me because they were shot wherever I was working.” The book, he says, comes at a crucial time, as ivory poaching is threatening to kill off the last elephants sooner than we think. “It’s not one of these cry-wolf moments that you’ll find in conservation efforts where we say something is going to go extinct,” Nichols emphasized. “There’s so much money in China right now that every elephant in Africa has a bounty on its head.”

Along with the book, Sunday’s event will find Nichols discussing (and showing photos from) his two-year stint in the Serengeti with a family of lions and his recent project involving a giant California Sequoia. “We’re celebrating my career right now, so it’s kind of strange,” Nichols said. “I started off as a photojournalist not a wildlife photographer. I see what I’m doing as speaking for those who don’t have a voice.”

Mike “Nick” Nichols speaks at the Marjorie Luke Theatre on Sunday, October 27, at 7 p.m. Visit for tickets.


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