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GET TO KNOW: 5 questions with photographer Ronan Donovan

Posted On Feb 18, 2019, 15:03 PM by Courtney Mattern

Ronan Donovan snaps a selfie while on the job.

Biologist turned photographer Ronan Donovan kicks off our 2018/2019 National Geographic Live series. Tomorrow night he’ll talk about his work in documenting animals and what we – as fellow social mammals – can learn from chimps, wolves and more.

Our National Geographic Live series is part adventure, part education. You get to hear amazing stories directly from the scientists, explorers and photographers who capture them for National Geographic. We caught up with Ronan before he flew into Omaha to ask him our 5 questions, so you can get to know him better before he speaks at the Holland Center.

  1. What was your first big break in photography?
    My first big break in photography was after spending a year studying wild chimpanzees in Uganda. I was connected to National Geographic Photographer Tim Laman. Tim passed along the email contact of the senior natural history editor at National Geographic Magazine, Kathy Moran. I sent Kathy a small selection, 30, of my best chimpanzee images and off I went!

  2. When did you know that this was the career you wanted?
    I knew I wanted to make a career out of photography and storytelling in 2012 when I invested in a telephoto lens and began to pursue unique images with every moment I had. Before that I was a field biologist for eight years, and I felt I wanted to do more to communicate science and conservation to a wider audience. It took me two years before photography became a full-time income course, that was 2014.

  3. Who or what inspires you?
    Nick Nichols was an inspiration from a young age. I grew up looking at his National Geographic magazine wildlife cover images and the stories within. His coverage and time in the field was unparalleled. His images were a mix of art meets wildlife behavior. Stunning moments in the lives of illusive animals. I was particularly drawn to his camera trap work as well. The mastery that he developed, with film mind you, is unparalleled. Other people who inspired me were Florian Schulz, Art Wolfe, Marsel van Oosten and Floris van Buren.

  4. What media (music, podcasts, movies, books) are you into right now?
    I only read nonfiction. I'm reading a book called “American Wolf.” I recently re-read “Arctic Dreams” and “Of Wolves and Men.”
    A really great new podcast series is called Threshold – two seasons, one about bison in North America and the second about the Arctic. Really well done and packed full of digestible science and stories.
    Movies: “Free Solo,” “Three Identical Strangers” and “Generation Wealth.”


  5. What’s something about your job National Geographic Live audiences may be surprised to learn?
    The type of work that I do can be incredibly physical. In fact, I have to get double knee surgery in a month from injuries during my last assignment. I have a limited timeframe to do this type of work and physical fitness is paramount in that timeframe. It's not all “living the dream” as most people often assume.

To learn more about Ronan Donovan and his upcoming event, Social by Nature, visit