Wouldn’t it be great if you could influence the youth today to become more aware of the beauty and vulnerability of our environment, so they will become the caretakers of our climate in the future?
To get an answer to that question, I interviewed the 17 year old Swiss nature photographer Levi Fitze. At the NPOTY contest 2020 he was both runner up and highly commended in the category ‘Youth’. Levi Fitze finished school in 2020 and has taken up an apprenticeship in a photo studio. Meanwhile he tries to spend as much time as possible outdoors with his camera. Time to find out what drives this highly motivated and dedicated nature photographer, who doesn’t mind spending the cold nights outside in order to get the photo he wants.
Levi Fitze lives in Sankt-Gallen (CH), close to the Alpstein mountain range. From his early childhood on he is interested in birds. At the age of 10 birdwatching totally got its grip on him when he attended a presentation about birdwatching, followed by a birdwatching trip the next day.
During that weekend he realized that many people were interested in birds. And that there is much more to be seen if you look for it. Obviously the speaker/bird guide of that particular weekend has become a good friend of him since. He joined a group of young birdwatchers and started going out on excursions more often. He put so much effort and time in birdwatching that every now and then his parents had to remind him that school was also important.
At the age of twelve things changed for Levi Fitze as he got his first camera and began taking pictures of birds. This gradually turned him from twitcher into nature photographer and after two more years photography became his main interest.
Capercaillie, Levi Fitze
“My family spent a lot of time outdoors, hiking in the nearby mountains and giving me the chance to discover the wildlife in that area. I have always loved being outdoors and for me the mountains are the place to go. Every now and then I pay a visit to the lakes to look for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl. But the lakes in our country are situated mostly in protected areas, making it very difficult get close enough to the birds to photograph them. Therefore these trips are more focussed on birdwatching.
When I am in the mountains I will look for birds like Black Grouse, Rock Ptarmigan and Capercaillie. But I also like to observe the mammals such as the Alpine Ibex and the Chamois. The ibex sometimes let me come close, they seem more or less used to hikers. The Chamois are more difficult. They are more skittish due to the fact that they are still hunted.
Eurasian Lynx, Levi Fitze
Also the recent return of wolves and lynxes in the Swiss mountains makes the animals more alert. As in many other countries, the return of these apex predators is a controversial topic, where strong opinions and convictions make constructive discussions almost impossible. I hope we find a way to live together with these magnificent animals. And I must admit I feel very privileged to have seen and photographed both the wolf and the lynx in our mountains.”
“After I got my camera as a present for my 12th birthday, I started to photograph the birds during my birdwatching outings. In order to improve my photography skills I looked at renowned nature photographers and tried to get the same results. In the beginning I especially studied the work of the Finnish wildlife photographer Markus Varusvuo. His photographs stood out with the close up action shots and very strong portraits of birds.
Common Ravens, Levi Fitze
I still very much like the work of Markus but nowadays the work of the French nature photographer Vincent Munier is even more appealing to me. I think Vincent focusses more on the moments. Instead of having a bird completely fill the frame, Vincent shows the animal in its environment. Sometimes the animal takes up no more than 10% of the frame. In the work of Vincent the atmosphere is more important than the animal. This kind of nature photography shows very much the way I experience being outdoors and observing wildlife. More and more I also strive to take pictures that tell a story in their selfs, leaving me the opportunity to tell more about the making of.”
“Sometimes my excursions are planned for weeks in advance but most of my trips are spontaneous. I let the combination of time available, together with the weather forecast and recent animal sightings decide where I take my camera in the weekend.
Mouse, Levi Fitze
Even though I live near the Alpstein mountain area, it takes me quite some time to go into the mountains. I have to travel some distance first and then I have to hike for at least one or two hours to get up the mountain. So to make the trip worthwhile I like to stay overnight most of the time, spending the night in a hut or bivouac.
Sleeping in a hut means I have to cary less stuff with me, which makes the hiking part more easy and leaves me more room for my photo gear. But a hut is not always available so more often I sleep outside in a bivouac, which is in fact nothing more than a sleeping bag with an extra layer to protect me from rain and snow. This can be very cold so preparing for these circumstances is essential, otherwise it could get nasty. Besides simple things as warm and weatherproof clothing and taking the battery out of the camera in order to keep it warm, you have to be able to cook a warm meal out in the field. It is all a matter of learning, building up experience. After a few miserable meals I have got it now and things are starting to get better.“
Black Grouse courtship at sunrise, Levi Fitze
“I am still young and learning a lot about photography. But I am very passionate about it and I am working hard on creating my own style. I hope that as I progress, people will start to recognize the way I use the light and capture the atmosphere in my photos, giving them a harmonious appearance.”
Grey Heron, Levi Fitze
“Through photography I certainly want to show the beauty of nature. But there is more to it. I am tending towards conservation photography and I want to send out a message. Take for instance the Rock Ptarmigan. Their numbers are declining. Both climate change and an increase of outdoor activities like hiking and skiing put a lot of pressure on their natural habitats, making it difficult for these birds to reproduce.
But the difficulties these ptarmigans have to deal with, seem less severe compared to the huge problems in areas like the Amazone.The problems caused by large scale deforestation out there are very obvious and therefore get more attention of people. Compared to deforestation in the Amazone, the decline of the Rock Ptarmigan in ‘my area’ is a small scale problem. Therefore it is hard to get peoples attention for this issue. But even though small scale I think it is necessary to take measures to retain a healthy population of these beautiful birds. So I am taking pictures of these birds all through the year. By showing more of this bird I am hoping to inform the people about its beauty and its vulnerability, because in the end people only protect what they know and love.
Rock Ptarmigan, Levi Fitze
I think it is very important to create awareness among the youth, trying to involve them in initiatives to stop the decline of wildlife. And being a young photographer gives me an advantage in reaching them. When I was just a birder, most of my friends didn’t understand me. But now with photography I can show what natures looks like and tell them what is happening to it. I am happy to say that they begin to understand why I’m doing this and they start to appreciate and support me.”
“Participating in photography contests like Nature Photographer of the Year offers a perfect possibility to showcase your work. And it gives a good sense of what your level you is compared to other (young) photographers. It is also a nice chance to meet other photographers and build up friendships. I am still writing with fellow contenders whom I met at photography contests in earlier years. And of course attending contests offers a possibility to see the work of other photographers, but you don’t necessarily have to go to competitions to see their work.
Ibex in backlight, Levi Fitze
My first advice to young photographers who are willing to participate in contests is don’t be afraid! And try to take artistic pictures. Or, if you feel you have to, take really strong portraits. Another advice is to read the rules! I once participated in the Swiss WPOTY and one of my pictures was not cropped according to the rules. As a result all my pictures were thrown out.”
“Social media was very important to me in the beginning. Platforms such as FB and IG formed an enormous source of inspiration in the form of photos by other photographers. And if you share your own work there, you get lots of peer reviews from other photographers, which helps to improve your work.
But the downside is that it takes a lot of time if you want to keep up. In addition, at some point I felt that the number of likes affected the way I looked at my own work. I started to appreciate my own photo less if it didn’t get the expected number of likes. Lately I have reduced the amount of time I spend on Social Media platforms. Instead, I spend more time writing and publishing articles and blogs.”
Fox cub, Levi Fitze
“In Switzerland we were allowed to spent time outdoors during the lockdown period. In 2020 I was still attending school and due to Covid-19 measures I attended the lessons at home. Planning all my lessons in just a couple of days offered me the rest of the week more time to pick up my camera and go out. In 2021 I started an apprenticeship in a photo studio. For this I had to be on location so there was less time available for me to go out.“
At the end of the interview I asked Levi Fitze the question: “if you could ask another nature photographer one question, who would that be and which question would you ask?
Levi answered right away: “I would ask Vincent Munier if it is possible to join him on a trip of a month to Antarctica?”.
Facing the Alpstein mountain area , Levi Fitze