Ingo Arndt is a professional photographer and wildlife specialist.
Ingo Arndt, 42, a wildlife specialist and contributing photographer to the German edition of Geo magazine, spends more than half the year on the road, photographing animals everywhere from Alaska to Antarctica and beyond. He took a few hours recently to share insights with Senior Editor Peter Kolonia.
How did you start out?
My father was a bird watcher, and when I was a boy we often would go out on weekends. At first, I just wanted something to remember the birds by. Gradually, though, I wanted pictures that were as beautiful as the birds themselves: sharp, with good color, eye contact, and poses or body language that looked right. Especially for the birds that fascinated me.
The first were kingfishers that lived in the forests near my home in Frankfurt. They had more colorful plumage than most birds I had encountered, and it was fun to watch them dive from a height, plunge a meter into the water, and come up with small fish.
Now, almost 30 years later, I still photograph them every chance I get. Back then, though, when I told my parents I wanted to make my living photographing such animals, they laughed. There were maybe five professional wildlife photographers in all of Germany.
How do you make a living?
I diversify. I shoot landscapes for calendars and posters. Income from my wildlife is divided between stock photography and editorial work assigned by magazines like Geo. I also create exhibition projects like the “Animal Masses” show that’s traveling around Europe now. It has over 40 large-scale prints of massive groups of animals, from which I sell prints, posters, calendars, and cards. Several of the pictures you’re publishing here [like the penguins, opposite] were taken for “Animal Masses.” It was a very expensive undertaking, and before I started, I visited publishers, printers, magazine editors, museums, and galleries with sample images to see if there was interest. There was, and it’s been a success.
How did you get the idea?
It all started when I was assigned to photograph the lifecycle of monarch butterflies. I traveled across the U.S. photographing them on the East Coast during the summer, and then following them to Mexico in the winter. There I saw unbelievable numbers of monarchs—almost 400 million wintering in one location. It got me thinking about other animals that migrate or mate by the thousands.
What are your favorite animals to work with?
Mountain gorillas. They’re so human-like that you can watch them for hours. From their expressions and body language, you can sense what they’re thinking and feeling—much more so than other animals. It’s fascinating how close they are to us. They’re big and strong, but gentle, too. I’ve photographed them maybe 25 times over the years, at distances of usually about 20 feet, and I've never felt threatened.
People often ask me what the most dangerous animal is. They’re surprised when I tell them it’s not lions, tigers, bears, or gorillas. For me, it’s the mosquito. I can’t afford a case of malaria. And also people, especially in big cities.
What's the most difficult animal to photograph?
Monkeys. They never really look in your direction, they don’t want to make eye contact, they’re often shy, and most of them live deep in the rain forest, where it’s usually hot, with high humidity and lots of insects. It can be hard to find them, and the light in the rain forest is usually dim. If the sun is shining, the lighting can be very contrasty. The best conditions are under a light cloud cover that diffuses the sunlight but doesn’t weaken it much. This can be hard to find. Many monkeys and the mountain gorillas, too, are black. It’s hard to get light in their eyes. Also, if you want texture in the black fur, you have to add so much exposure that the the backgrounds often get blown out.