The Outstanding Photographer of the Year Award goes to an individual who has demonstrated unquestioned skill and excellence as a nature photographer through his or her past work and who has produced extraordinary recent work of significance to the industry. That would be a pretty good description of the career of Florian Schulz, the 2019 Outstanding Photographer of the Year.
Schulz is a photographer, filmmaker, speaker and teacher, specializing in wildlife and conservation photojournalism. He is a Senior Founding Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers and serves on the iLCS board. He’s been published in publications like National Geographic magazine and is an in-demand speaker.
Florian may be best known among nature photographers for his work in advocating for wildlife corridors, forming the Freedom to Roam project, and his recent work documenting the wonders of the Arctic and the threats this delicate region faces. We were fortunate to get a few minutes of this busy man’s time to answer a few questions.
NANPA Blog: When you started in nature photography, were you deeply influenced by the work of someone—photographer, scientist, naturalist, writer, etc.?
Schulz: When I started to take my first nature images I “stole” an old manual Practica Camera from my dad. Lizards were some of the first animals I photographed. My dream was to photograph the wildlife and wilderness of North America. So, I became a high school exchange student at the age of 16. At that time, I studied every National Geographic magazine and was also inspired by the photography of Art Wolfe and Jim Brandenburg.
NANPA Blog: I’m fascinated by the Freedom to Roam Project. Many nature photographers concentrate on preserving wildlife and/or habitat from human encroachment. You go beyond that to saving the corridors that connect patches of remaining habitat. How did that idea come to you? What sparked the idea of “National Corridors.”
Schulz: In Germany, where I come from, we have lost most of the large megafauna, like wolves and bears. When I got serious about my wildlife photography in North America, I stayed out in the field for months. It was through conversations with biologists, like Dr. Lance Craighead, who had studied Grizzly bears all his life, that I understood that, even in North America, wildlife was in trouble. The key to the survival of the wildlife I loved so much was interconnected habitat and wildlife corridors. This is when I became serious about my “Freedom to Roam” project, promoting the wildlife corridor idea.
NANPA Blog: Where do you see the impact of this project? Are there more corridors being created? Is there appreciably more public awareness?
Schulz: The beauty of the wildlife corridor movement is that it is a huge collaborative effort, through organizations like Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, which works to create an interconnected system of wild lands and waters stretching from Yellowstone to Yukon, or the Wildlands Network, which aims to inspire “networks of people protecting networks of connected wildlands,” especially in six “wildways,” wildlife corridors between existing protected lands. We are also seeing more and more wildlife-crossing structures being incorporated into highway and infrastructure projects.
NANPA Blog: What is the biggest change you’ve seen in nature photography during your career? Has it been positive or negative?
Schulz: Of course, cameras and equipment are always getting better, producing ever more stunning images. At the same time, there are very few magazines or book publishers that have enough of a budget to do in-depth work, at a time where it could be even more important. That is a sad development.
At the same time, many people go into the photography tour business, somewhat “industrializing” some very intimate locations and wildlife that then gets photographed “to death”. A lot of the overuse of scenic locations and wildlife areas is created by social media and everyone’s need to get that shot. It takes some of the magic out of nature photography that drew me in as teenager.
NANPA Blog: Looking ahead at the future, what is the biggest challenge you are facing as a nature and conservation photographer and what is your biggest opportunity?
Schulz: It is a complete race against time. We are seeing an ever-larger wave of extinctions. Getting funding for conservation photography is always the hard part, so the opportunity of the future is possibly just getting the work out to a broad audience through the many digital channels we have at our fingertips.
NANPA Blog: Can you make one prediction about what’s ahead for nature photography/nature photographers over the next five years?
Schulz: Photography and film will merge more and more.
NANPA Blog: You are now deeply involved in the challenges facing the Arctic. What do you hope to accomplish, through your photography, to make a difference there?
Schulz: For the last few years, I have worked tirelessly on the story around the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a place that is very dear to me. It is a symbol for wilderness in America. President Trump recently opened up the Refuge for Oil development. Drilling and exploitation has not happened yet and I hope to continue to make the American public aware of what is at stake. That is the reason why I have worked on a large film project, next to my still photography.
At the beginning of the project I had no idea what I would discover in the Arctic Refuge. By today, I can say it is one of the most precious, wild places left on the entire continent. I am looking forward to sharing some of my experiences from years of working there during my talk and the Nature Photography Summit.
The impact in conservation and preservation that he’s had and will continue to have make Florian Schulz a deserving choice for this award. He truly is an outstanding photographer whose passion for his work inspires and educates.
You can learn more about Florian Schulz, his photography, filmmaking and all his projects at his website, www.florianschulz.org.