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Christian Ziegler

The one piece of advice I once got and that I found most useful is to think in stories, not in images.

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Featured Photographer

Christian Ziegler


Christian Ziegler, a native of Germany , is a photojournalist specializing in natural history and science related topics. A tropical ecologist by training, he has been working extensively in tropical rainforests around the world.

Christian is the associate for communication with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama where the main focus of his work has been for the last 10 years. He sees himself as a translator, sharing the extraordinary beauty and scientific fascination of tropical ecosystems with the general public and thereby raising awareness for their conservation.

Christianís work is frequently contracted and published internationally in leading magazines such as National Geographic, GEO, Smithsonian, BBC Wildlife, and others. Next to his editorial work, Christian has been working in educational projects with museums and with environmental groups such as the Conservation International and WWF.

His work has been awarded several international prizes, including several category winners in BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year and European Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Single exhibitions of Christianís work include a travel exhibition produced by the Smithsonian Travel Exhibition Centre and an exhibit produced by GEO magazine. Christian is a founding fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers ( www.ilcp.com).

Website: www.naturphoto.de/


Why nature photography?
My background is tropical ecology, and during my time at university I was lucky enough to see tropical habitats in Asia, Africa, and Central America. That was truly fantastic, I knew that I had found the aspect of nature that I was really interested in, and that I wanted to explore and learn about. At the same time, it was the same frustration everywhere: to get to these awesome forests, I travelled endlessly through wasted landscapes. By the time I ended grad school, I really wanted to help tell people about these ecosystems, their inhabitants and threats, and share with non-biologists the fascinating facts that tropical ecologists found out and only published in specialized journals. I wanted to become a translator.

What's best about it?
I love what I get to see and whom I get to meet. It is a fantastic privilege to see some of the most beautiful places of the planet, being able to take the time to find amazing animals and getting to see many parts of the world. I also enjoy that I can learn a lot. As a biologist by training, I really appreciate that I have met many great biologists in the field and learned from them during my assignments. I always loved the learning new facts aspect of biology and can now do that for 6 months or a year at a time. I dive deeply into one topic, meet many of the scientists and see their study systems and before it gets boring, I move on to the next story.

What's worst about it?
All the travel can be hard on your relationships. You are gone all the time for weeks or months at the time and it is hard to keep up with your friends and family, sometimes even with your partner. A lot of the travel is not quite glorious as well. To get to all these beautiful places, one often has to travel through not so nice areas, strange hotels in weird little towns, being stuck at airports in the middle of nowhere.

Favourite species and places in Europe?
I have worked very little in Europe, since I am more of a tropical guy. I do like the southern parts of Europe, around the Mediterranean, not just for the temperatures, but also for the species that I find more interesting. I have a soft spot for the little things that move the world, and they are more interesting south of the Alps.

What's in the bag?
I am a short lens type of guy, close up and wide is what I like most, and that is what the bag looks like. Probably less then 1% of my images are shot with anything longer then 300 mm. I also like to bring and use a lot of light; my bag always contains a bunch of strobes.

Your specialities / skills?
I like to think of myself as an ecosystem generalist, being able to capture the ecological essence of a place in a somewhat true manner. My background in biology helps me focus on species that play significant roles and are typical. One thing I like a lot are camera traps and I try to use them as much as I can. They can offer rather unique looks at many animals, and show them as they behave without human presence. I have spent a fair amount of time working with the technicians of National Geographic Magazine to develop and improve the digital camera trap system that the photographers of the society use. It is a great tool, and it makes me happy to see it used in so many places now.

What will you do in your next life?
Maybe a cook? I love cooking (and eating.), and do so as much as I can. Might be as a balance to too many meals eaten on the road, I sometimes think.

3 tips for beginners
The one piece of advice I once got and that I found most useful is to think in stories, not in images. I feel like that is crucially important, especially when working editorially


My mission is to educate, and to translate. We are the eyes of the world, as a famous colleague has said, and this is very true. As photographers, we have a responsibility to show what is real and important, and to keep our eyes open to what matters. There are always a lot of significant stories out there, and it is our job to see them for everyone else and share them in a way that is understandable for everyone.

The time we live in is interesting, and scary at the same time. There are a lot of challenges that we will have to face the next couple of decades. I see it as my job to contribute to peoples understanding of the natural world, to help everyone see the significance of a healthy environment, and a diverse planet.

I am very excited for my assignments, one of which will send to the emergence of millions of Mayflies in Hungary, the other one to Greece to chase reptiles, while keeping an eye on the whole ecosystem. Movement, and mass movement, of animals is something that has captured my imagination for a long time. Why do creatures move, and how is it all coordinated? How can millions of Mayflies hatch on the same day, and what is the purpose of it? I love stories that have an evolutionary component and I am looking forward to showing the strength of evolution as a force to shape behaviour by photographing the Mayfly spectacle.

Best Picture

Best Picture

What's cool about it?
What I like about it is that it is a visualization of a behaviour that we have not seen before. Photography for me is about showing something new, something new altogether, or a new perspective on something that we thought to know. It also is special to me, because it shows an animal that I know very well, and that I love for how cool its feeding strategy is.

Could it be better?
Absolutely! I initially hoped to get one of the bats just a few minutes earlier, and to be able to pull in a little more blue hour light into the sky above the horizon. Unfortunately, they always only showed up once it was really dark.. that is how sometimes (or rather mostly) a frame has to be adapted from the photographer's fantasy to the reality of nature.

Behind the Scene
This image actually turned out to be easier than I expected. The bats showed up every night and I had a 40-minute window to work. Obviously I was at the bats mercy in terms of the flight path and focus, but after 6 nights I had the frame that I wanted. A little additional challenge was posed by the waves of boats passing by the bay - the Panama Canal is just a kilometre away.

Date: June 2006
Location: Lake Gatun, Central Panama
Gear: Canon 5D, 16-35 mm, 2 strobes on stroboscope, construction lights on boats to illuminate the forest background.

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