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Le présent article n'est pas disponible en Français
November 2010

The award-winning German wildlife photographer Ingo Arndt creates compelling studies based around animal behaviour and has just completed a huge four-year project on 'Animal Masses'. Mark Alexander spoke to Ingo Arndt to find out what kit he uses to capture wildlife so vividly.

Ingo Arndt doesn't like doing things by half, and his latest project is no exception. The 42-year-old wildlife photographer recently completed a mammoth assignment that involved shooting 40 different animal species. The adventure started four years ago in the central highlands of Mexico, while on assignment with 12 million Monarch butterflies.

© Ingo Arndt

Ingo Arndt's backpack kitbag is dominated by his EF500mm f/4L IS USM super telephoto lens.

The awesome sight of millions of butterflies inspired the German to hatch an intriguing idea on a huge scale. "I was fascinated by them," he reveals. "I started thinking about what other animals come together in such big numbers, such as the wildebeest and the big bird colonies, and also why they are drawn together in such quantities. I quickly wrote down a list of animal species and devised a structure for the project. I showed the first pictures to GEO magazine and some book publishers. Soon I had a contract for a book, magazine articles and a calendar."

Who said size doesn't matter? Since completing the project, Ingo Arndt's collection of 'Animal Masses' photographs has been featured on TV and radio programmes and is currently travelling around Europe as a touring exhibition visiting museums of note and distinction. The extraordinary collection is the culmination of 18 years of shooting wildlife and producing stunning imagery for magazines such as GEO, National Geographic and BBC Wildlife.

Ingo Arndt's efforts have been recognised through awards collected both home and abroad; so far he has picked up five Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards for his pictures, plus a World Press Photo award in 2005. For Ingo, however, the real thrill is the adventure.

"I still feel the passion for adventure that I started out with," he admits, honestly. "It's a combination of that, being close to the animals, and finding out about their behaviour that I enjoy most. But it's not just about sitting around watching animals; a key part is thinking about that 'special shot' and working out how to get it - the technical side."

Lenses for wildlife

Ingo Arndt's first assignment for GEO magazine, one of his key clients, was shooting Chameleons in Madagascar. Since then he has travelled the world and spends on average six months of the year away from home. For his latest venture, he made over 40 trips; 17 of which were outside Europe. To get the most from his travels, Ingo Arndt uses a bag that includes zooms and the long prime telephoto lenses that have become an indispensable part of his set-up.

"I used my EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM a lot, especially when I could get close to the animals, and also for aerial photography," he says, discussing his 'Animal Masses' project. "I think I used it for 90% of the aerial shots. On the ground, my EF500mm f/4L IS USM is my standard lens."

As you would imagine, Ingo's kitbag is stuffed full of long, 'white' lenses that help him get up, close and personal with some of the world's most exotic and dangerous animals. Yet, among the generously proportioned focal lengths and robust tripod collars, there are also some wideangle lenses, such as an EF14mm f/2.8L II USM and an EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM zoom. "Most of the time I use a tripod, but with the 24-70mm I can use it hand held," he explains. "It is very good quality, so I can use it wide open. I mainly use it for landscapes but I'll also use it when I can get right up to the animals."

© Ingo Arndt

Lesser Flamingos (Phoenicopterus minor) feeding in the shallow waters of Lake Nakuru, Kenya. Shot on the EOS 5D, with the EF500mm f/4L IS USM lens fitted with an EF2x Extender, the exposure was 2sec at f/54, ISO 50.

Ingo Arndt explains that when it comes to shooting in the wild, the rules of engagement are simple; if it could kill you, stay well back. This survival technique not only keeps the award-winning photographer safe, it also has implications for his lens choice.

"I use the EF500mm f/4L IS USM lens for the bigger animals which you can't get close to, or for birds," he explains. "It's not as heavy as the 600mm; it's pretty fast and the autofocus is good. As a result, the image quality is excellent and I can use it with a teleconverter, mainly the EF1.4x Extender, and there is very little quality loss."

He admits the 500mm super telephoto lens needs support, either through a tripod or from a beanbag, but says the weight-to-image ratio is simply hard to beat. The issue of weight also played a part in his decision to change from the EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM lens to the f/4 version. Of the f/4 version of the lens Ingo explains: "I like it very much because it's very sharp You can use it with a teleconverter and the Image Stabilizer works well. You can also use it for action shots of flying birds, for instance. And because it's not so heavy, you can move quickly with it."

© Ingo Arndt

Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) in Alaska. Shot on the EOS-1D Mark IV, with the EF500mm f/4L IS USM lens, the exposure was 1/1000sec at f/4, ISO 1250.

Camera choice

Invariably, Ingo Arndt attaches his lenses to his beloved EOS-1Ds Mark III DSLR, which combines the desired image quality of a full-frame sensor with the robustness of a tank. Over the years, the intrepid photographer admits he's put the build quality of the camera to the test.

"It's very solid against water and dust," he says mischievously. "For example, while I was photographing the red crab migration on Christmas Island, for the 'Animal Masses' project, I ended up shooting on a beach, close to the water, for about 50 minutes. A lot of waves were coming in, but they were only small. Then, out of the blue, a huge wave crashed over me. Everything was soaked in water and I thought the camera was finished. But nothing happened. Not one drop of water got into the camera. It was amazing."

A magnesium alloy body with dust and moisture-resistant sealing protects the EOS-1Ds Mark III from harsh weather and the rigours of daily use. So, even a quick dip in the Pacific Ocean didn't knock this 'tank' of a camera out of its stride.

For speed, Ingo opts for the EOS-1D Mark IV, which can deliver up to 10fps and continuous bursts of up to 121 large JPEG images (28 RAW). "I use it mainly for action shots," he says. "For instance, I was up in Alaska shooting Grizzly bears catching salmon, which was perfect for it," reveals Ingo. "My current project is shooting Kingfishers in a forest in Germany, which is pretty dark. I can bring the ISO up to 800, or even 1600, on the EOS-1D Mark IV and the noise isn't bad at all."

© Ingo Arndt

Kingfisher in a German forest. Shot on the EOS-1D Mark IV, with the EF500mm f/4L IS USM lens, the exposure was 1/125sec at f/5.6, ISO 800.

When Ingo wants to get low down to shoot, he reaches for his EOS 5D Mark II. "I like this camera a lot because it's light and the image quality is very good," says the German. "When I have to get very close to the ground, I sometimes put it on the ground and use a special viewfinder. The body is smaller than the EOS-1Ds Mark III, which can make all the difference."

Clearly, Ingo Arndt's attention to detail gives his images a distinctive look that underpins his impressive body of work. Dynamic and poignant, his photos have an intimacy that only experienced wildlife photographers are able to capture. They give the viewer a unique insight into the subject's world and, perhaps more importantly, a glimpse of the behaviour that makes these animals so compelling.

"It's very important to know your camera equipment," advises Ingo sagely, "but it's also important to know the behaviour of the animals. You really have to know what you're shooting."


Ingo Arndt's equipment:

EOS-1Ds Mark III
EOS-1D Mark IV
EOS 5D Mark II

EF14mm f/2.8L II USM
EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM
EF50mm f/2.5 Macro
MP-E65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM
EF300mm f/4L IS USM
EF500mm f/4L IS USM
EF1.4x Extender

Canon remote controller
Circular polarising filters
Gitzo tripod with Linhof quick release
Really Right Stuff BH-55 ball head
Zarges boxes
Koenig & Lowepro photo backpacks
Swiss Army knife

Biographie: Ingo Arndt

Ingo Arndt

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1968 Ingo Arndt has worked as a professional wildlife photographer since 1992. One of the key areas of his work is recording unique forms of behaviour in the animal kingdom. As a result, he specialises in in-depth, long-term projects and has published 10 books. In the World Press Photo Awards 2004 he received a prize in the ‘Nature stories’ category and a year later he won the German Prize for Scientific Photography. In 2008 Ingo was awarded the Fritz Poelking Prize by the Society of German Wildlife Photographers (GDT).


Aerial view of Lesser Flamingos (Phoenicopterus minor) at Lake Nakuru, Kenya. Shot on the EOS-1Ds Mark III, with the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens, the exposure was 1/1000sec at f/4.5, ISO 200.