PROFILE

Christian Ziegler

A great fruit-eating bat grabs a fig from a tree in its mouth.

A great fruit-eating bat (Artibeus lituratus) takes off with a large fig in its mouth in this image by Canon Ambassador and tropical ecology photographer Christian Ziegler. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM) at 16mm, 1/200 sec, f/18 and ISO100. © Christian Ziegler

After shifting his focus from ecology to photography, Canon Ambassador Christian Ziegler has become a celebrated photojournalist specialising in natural history and science-related topics.

A tropical ecologist turned nature photojournalist, Christian Ziegler has combined his two passions of photography and science to create an internationally-reaching reputation for producing engaging images rich in informed narrative, to highlight species and ecosystems under threat. "Most of the species that I photograph are endangered," says the German photographer. "We are at a tipping point in human history where we are over-stretching our natural environment and driving our fellow species to extinction. I hope my photography can make more people aware of this."
Conservation is the ultimate motivation for all of Christian's work, and it was this that prompted his dramatic career change. "I wanted to communicate science and conservation issues to a broader audience. I felt that as a biologist I was not doing that, and that I could play an important role as a translator, explaining conservation issues and natural history stories. Stories are what people learn from; I see what I do as visual storytelling and so the context is very important," he says. "I aim to present every bit about the life of the animal, so that people understand it personally and care for it, and maybe want to preserve it.

Christian has extensively photographed life in rainforests across four continents. He works with several NGOs, is a founding fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers, as well as a National Geographic Explorer. He has collaborated on projects with the National Geographic Society in Panama, Peru and Bhutan, is a regular contributor to National Geographic magazine and has held well-received exhibitions all over the world. He produced the imagery for A Magic Web, an award-winning coffee table book on tropical ecology, and created Deceptive Beauties, a book on wild orchids and their pollinators. His book Jungle Spirits, which was written by his wife Dr Daisy Dent, was published in 2017 by teNeues Media.
Canon Ambassador Christian Ziegler crouches behind a camera on a wooden platform.
Location: Panama and Germany

Specialist areas: Nature, wildlife and conservation

Favourite kit: 

Canon EOS R5
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM
Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM
Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM
A group of ants works together to drag a much-larger grasshopper from a pitcher plant.

A group of specialised ants dragging a grasshopper from a pitcher plant. These ants are immune to the digestive fluids of this particular type of flora. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens at 1/125 sec, f/18 and ISO400. © Christian Ziegler

A Pallas's long-tongued bat stands out against a black background while drinking nectar from a liana plant.

A Pallas's long-tongued bat drinks nectar from a liana plant. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens at 1/200 sec, f/20 and ISO4000. © Christian Ziegler

Christian has worked as an Associate for Communication with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) since 2001 in Panama, and in 2020 he joined the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour as an outreach photographer. "Every tropical forest is different, with distinct communities of plants and animals. To tell a good story I need to understand the ecosystem. Having a background in biology is very useful; it informs me while shooting a story and gives my images more depth. I research around the subject and read a lot, so that I know the focal species, its behaviour and habitat, and how it interacts with other species.

"I tend to think about an assignment for months before I actually get into the field. I try to plan out an original point of view and create a wish list of images that will tell the story. My goal is to generate something new and to capture people's imagination, because the readers are often saturated with pictures. Nature is fascinating – I want to captivate people with the beauty of tropical forests and bring them to understand that these ecosystems are truly endangered."
A range of colourful, native North Queensland fruits are pictured from above against a black background.

This striking image shows a selection of the fruits eaten by the cassowary bird in the forests of North Queensland, Australia. More than 70 of the region's native tree species, including the blue quandong seen here, depend solely on this animal for seed dispersal. Taken on Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera with Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM) at 55mm, 1/40 sec, f/16 and ISO320. © Christian Ziegler

During his career, which spans several decades, Christian has won multiple awards, including World Press Photo awards four years running (2013-16), two category awards in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year, and the Grand Prize of the National Wildlife Foundation's annual photo contest.
Are there certain elements you like to incorporate into your images?

"I usually photograph a small subject with several flashes, taken with a macro lens or a wide-angle lens, and I like my image to tell the whole story. For example: an orchid in a stunning setting with a visiting pollinator, illustrating the complex interactions that underpin its lifecycle."


Typically, what should a nature photographer know before photographing an animal?

"Knowledge is crucial for success. Seek to answer questions like 'When and where does it forage, for how long and what does it eat?' 'Does it return to a certain place to sleep?' 'Is the animal habituated to humans or very shy?' and 'Do I need to build a hide?'"


What is the light like in tropical forests?

"It is often surprisingly dark in the rainforest understory and rain is always an issue, especially with the flashes. I use three Canon Speedlites , with a bouncer attachment, that I use off the camera in manual mode. This allows me to be very precise and adjust the angle and strength of each flash."


What's the most important lesson a nature photographer must learn to succeed in this genre?

"Persistence. To capture a good image of wildlife in its natural habitat you have to keep trying… sometimes for weeks and even months!"


Where's a good place to start with nature photography?

"Try to see the detail and beauty in nature. Almost anything can be interesting: a decaying leaf, flower bud or ant. Your subject doesn't have to be a polar bear or a lion. There are many diverse elements to our natural world, so try to highlight something unusual, and show people the beauty in something they would never expect to see beauty in."

One thing I know

Christian Ziegler

"First, the humid climate of tropical forests is not friendly towards camera equipment; I have lost many lenses to rain and fungus. Second, the very biology of tropical forests conspires against photographers; the dense vegetation reduces the sunlight, and due to the high species diversity most animals are rare and cautious. These factors combine to make tropical forests subtle places, where animals are hidden from the visitor, and only with time do you detect some sign of them. Tropical forests taught me a very important lesson: be patient – only with much time and effort will you be successful."

Instagram:@christianziegler
Website: www.christianziegler.photography

Christian Ziegler's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

El equipo de Christian Ziegler, con cámaras, objetivos y accesorios de Canon.

Cameras

Canon EOS R5

The uncompromising performance of the EOS R5 will revolutionise your photography and filmmaking. "I really like the EOS R5," says Christian. "I was very impressed with the quality and size of the files – they're huge!"

Lenses

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

The successor to the lens Christian favours, the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM is a premium quality ultra-wide angle zoom lens, with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture, for the highest image quality possible even in low light conditions.

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM

High-performance L-series super-telephoto lens, with 4 stop Image Stabilizer. Christian says: "I often use this lens with a 1.4x extender and that means I can react to a bird or mammal that suddenly appears; these encounters are so fleeting."

Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM

Capture more, even in low light, with this fast f/2.8 L-series RF-series ultra-wide angle 15-35mm zoom with 5-stops of image stabilisation – ideal for when innovative angles can make all the difference.

Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM

Bring distant scenes closer and give your subject a front row seat thanks to brilliant 100-500mm pulling power and outstanding versatility from a zoom that delivers detail, clarity and an exceptional telephoto performance. "Super sharp and light," says Christian.

Accessories

Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT

Take a new approach to lighting with a Speedlite flash that's powerful, versatile and portable. "It's surprisingly dark in the rainforest understory. I often use three to five of these to illuminate the subject and some of the background," says Christian.

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