In 1906 George Shiras III (1859–1942), a lawyer and amateur naturalist from Pittsburgh, published a series of remarkable night-time photographs in National Geographic, a small and struggling scientific journal not yet known for its photography. Taken with crude equipment, often using trip wires, the black-and-white photographs featured leaping whitetail deer, a beaver gnawing on a tree, and a snowy owl perched along the shore of a lake in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The pictures, stunning in detail and composition, celebrated American wildlife at a time when many species—especially birds--were in decline and going extinct because of habitat loss and unrestrained hunting. At the beginning of the 20th century, wildlife photography gave conservationists a powerful new tool to draw attention to the environmental destruction and to rally lawmakers to pass protections and create preserves.
When he became a congressman, Shiras joined forces with President Theodore Roosevelt, and cadre of scientists in Washington, D.C. who shaped the conservation movement during the Progressive Era. His legal and legislative efforts culminated with the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. His pioneering work in wildlife photography helped National Geographic become the premier magazine of its kind in the world.
Camera Hunter recounts Shiras’s life and craft as he traveled to wild country in North America, refined his trail camera techniques and advocated for game laws and protection of wildlife. This biography serves as an important record of Shiras’s accomplishments as a visual artist, wildlife conservationist, adventurer, and legislator.