What are your goals if you have a passion for wildlife photography, witness the effects of climate change and are blessed with a strong entrepreneurial spirit?
To get an answer to that question, I interviewed Israeli nature photographer, Greenpeace ambassador and environmental diplomat Roie Galitz. In the 2021 NPOTY contest, he was winner in the Black and White category.
As a nature photographer, Roie travels to the most extreme habitats in the world, photographing animals as they have never been seen before. But this also makes him more aware of the distress of nature due to man’s influence. His passion for animals and nature motivates him to raise environmental awareness, using his images to tell stories about endangered animals and fragile environments. He sits on the board of the Israeli Nature and Heritage Foundation in America and on the advisory board for other NGOs.
Wanting to pass on his impressive knowledge of photography, Roie Galitz founded his own school of photography in Israel in 2007. The Galitz School of Photography has more than 30,000 graduates to date. As a speaker, Roie has lectured in 3 TEDx events, at the United Nations headquarters and at several climate conferences, among others. Furthermore, he is the founder of Phototeva, a photography expedition company with many exciting destinations and photographers.
Brown Bear hunting Salmon in Kamchatka ©Roie Galitz
Roie Galitz always looked at the world with his own, different view. As if he looked at the world in a photographer’s way, even before he held a camera. Not surprisingly, when his first paycheck rolled in, he bought his first camera in 2002. From that moment on, he was impressed with the results and immediately saw the possibilities that photography offered to share his vision of the world with the public. When he started to take his camera to photograph nature in Africa in 2006, it was simply love of nature that inspired him. But in 2014, during an expedition to Svalbard, he saw the effects of global climate change compared to his previous expedition there in 2012. This made a huge impression and influenced the way he started using nature photography to tell his story.
“We as photographers are storytellers. We offer people the opportunity to see things they would never see on their own. A photo is a presentation of your view of the world, people go there through your photo. So with each photo you tell your story and the more interesting the story, the more people are involved. That’s also why I try to make the animals look like people, give them a character, show not only the differences but also the similarities, which makes it easier for people to connect with them. And when you see people’s eyes light up, then you know they are connected.
Mother polar bear breastfeeding her twins © Roie Galitz
For me, the rarer the subject and the more difficult the conditions, the more it attracts me to go there with my camera. At home in Israel, it’s hot, so when I go on an expedition, I deliberately look for something different. That’s one of the reasons I’m very attracted to cold and remote areas like the arctic and Antarctica. It is also one of the places where the impact of global warming is very evident. I’ve photographed polar bears starving because they can no longer hunt as the ice melts too quickly. And when you see that with your own eyes, you can’t ignore it anymore and you have to do something about it. Doing nothing about it can only be considered negligence.
But it is not only climate change that threatens wildlife in these areas. For example, around a thousand polar bears are killed by trophy hunters every year. People don’t know about it, we have to point it out to them if we want to change it.”
Last embrace - Lioness cub and dead elephant © Roie Galitz
“Photography has been on the rise for the last few decades and the world is full of photographers today. Also the level has risen a lot in the last twenty years. I have seen it happen, because I also judge competitions, the bar is set at a very high level. Among all those photographers, there are at least thirty to forty photographers who I find very good and inspiring. I like it when I see photographers looking for ways to push their boundaries, especially, but, only if it is done in a good way with respect for nature and the environment. I am convinced that, like everyone else, I still have a long way to go. You are never at the top, because there is no top.
It is important that you constantly try to learn, try to improve yourself. The more you get out there, the more you try, the more you don’t like your photos, the better you will become! Always be artistically frustrated, accept that the more photos you take, the less happy you will be with the results you are more likely to get better results as long as you keep pushing yourself. Keep reminding yourself that there will be favorite photos, but there is no best. The moment you are convinced that you have taken your best picture, you can stop taking pictures, because from then on it can only go downhill.”
Male polar bear trying wildlife photography © Roie Galitz
“When I travel, I start by creating a shot list, a list that has the ideas worked out of the photos I want to take during my trip. Working with such a shot list makes it essential to prepare. I need to have everything under control. For example, I always charter my private boats so that I can be where I need to be with that boat to get the shots I have in mind. If I were an opportunistic photographer, just going out and seeing what happens, what crosses my path, I would definitely not succeed.
But even if you have a list and go well prepared, don’t expect to tick all the boxes on your shot list during your trip. Always keep in mind that although you can travel with your list, nature will not read your script.
With my travel company, we organize about seventy trips a year. And we tell our clients to prepare their shot list as well. And in doing so, it doesn’t matter if they use professional photographic equipment or just their cell phone. For them, too, the journey begins at home.”
Elephant male in Musth © Roie Galitz
“When I think of what my signature could be, two things come to mind, technique and aesthetics.
I value technique, so photos, for me, have to be of high quality.
And as I said before I try to humanize the animals in my photos, so that people can connect with them, fall in love with them. That’s also why I almost always use photos that are aesthetically pleasing, that show the beauty of nature and wildlife. And once the connection is made, I try to bring people to an understanding, to make them aware of pressing environmental issues. It’s been my experience that people don’t get a connection if you show them the horrific consequences of human impact on nature over the years. And if there is no connection, your message is lost and it becomes a lost battle.”
Brown Bear in Kamchatka © Roie Galitz
“My ambition is to help protect the world’s fragile species and habitats. And although I love photography, I consider it a tool. For me, it’s a starting point, not the end result. I think raising awareness of pressing environmental issues is best done with inspiring lectures. As photographers, we cannot be naive; we are activists. We have to tell what is happening and also tell where and what solutions can be found. Therefore, for me, photos are a means to tell the stories that need to be told.
Since I have spoken at the United Nations, at Greenpeace meetings, etc., I notice that people are getting more involved. But it’s going too slow, we don’t have time, we have to speed it up.
With our photography expeditions, we are targeting three groups of people. First, we need to get politicians on board, because politicians are key figures for implementing more sustainability in global policy. The second group is the people with money. Money is the cause, but also the solution. I took CEOs of very large companies on a trip to Svalbard. When they saw with their own eyes the effects of climate change, they immediately decided to use reusable plastics in their companies from then on instead of single-use plastics. The third group are the influencers, for example people like Greta Thunberg and Leonardo di Caprio. We help them build their story and provide them with visuals.
Polar Bears male and female during courtship © Roie Galitz
I also try to transform (trophy) hunters into photographers. Hunters and photographers have a lot in common. I am happy that I have succeeded so far in converting a number of hunters, who are now regulars on my expeditions as excellent photographers.
Furthermore I am trying to set up my own NGO and raise a lot of money, with the aim of buying hunting permits and then destroying them. It may sound strange, but it is necessary in this way. By buying these hunting permits, we are supporting the local people who depend on this money for their livelihood. And then destroying these hunting permits will help to end the needless shooting of animals.
I am very optimistic and based on my background I know we will survive. But we have to realize that the sooner we start, the less impact it will have on us as individuals. Yes, it will affect all of us, but if we do it now, it will be much cheaper than if we start in 10 years. It is like cancer and we need to treat when it is just discovered, not wait until it is in its final stages.”
Spirit Bear in British Columbia © Roie Galitz
“Participating in photography contests like Nature Photographer of the Year was for me in the beginning mainly to establish my brand. Later it was more about meeting and getting to know other photographers, building a network.
If you look at photography competitions today, you see that the bar is getting higher and higher, so you have to push yourself. The competition pushes you beyond your limits. But don’t forget that being among the winners of a contest is also a matter of luck, and remember that the judges are important.”
Polar Bears hunting a Seal in Svalbard © Roie Galitz
“For me being active on FB and IG is a necessary part in creating business, getting exposure and influencing people. I need sponsors for my activities and to get sponsors it is necessary to reach a wide audience.”
“First of all, I think Covid-19 taught us a very important lesson about humility, reminding us that we are not above nature but part of it. Having said that, I must also admit that the last two years have been very tough. Owning a travel company during a pandemic means business is bad. It kept me indoors and provided a lot of time to play dad, which of course was a pleasant downside. But I am grateful that we have put this period behind us and that things are getting back to normal.”
At the end of the interview I asked Roie the question: “if you could ask another nature photographer one question, who would that be and which question would you ask?
Roie answered right away: “I talk to many photographers regularly and always ask any questions I have. I think as photographers we are part of a small community, we need each other and we can achieve more if we work together. So my motto is; if you have a question for a person, just go to that person and ask that question!”
Arctic Fox yawning © Roie Galitz