Tim Laman grew up in Japan, where he spent most of his time exploring the natural world. Biology was his first love, but he also used a camera to capture the creatures he was studying. Graduate work on the rainforest canopy in Borneo brought him to the attention of the National Geographic Society, and since then he has used photography to tell stories about Earth’s little-known and endangered species and places. From rainforests to coral reefs, Tim spends many months a year out in the wild documenting the biodiversity of Earth’s richest realms for National Geographic magazine and other top publications.
Q & A
You started as a rainforest biologist—how did that segue into a career as a photographer?
In Japan, where I grew up, there is a lot of nature close at hand. So I was able to spend my summers exploring the mountains and forests. That’s where I developed my interests in nature and the outdoors. I never thought about pursuing photography as career. I was interested in biology. But I took advantage of all the opportunities that field biology gave me to do research and take pictures.
My first connection with Nat Geo was through the grant program. I was doing graduate research on the rain forest canopy in Borneo, climbing trees to study strangler figs and associated wildlife. So I had a great opportunity to photograph wildlife from a unique perspective. When I got back I showed the editor my pictures. I didn’t get an assignment right away, but they liked my pictures enough to say, “If you’re going back to Borneo, we’ll give you free film and see if you can work on an article.” That became my first National Geographic story, published back in 1997.
What inspires you in your work, Tim?
Exploration. It goes back to when I was a kid and wanted to explore the forests in Japan. I’m still pretty much the same. I like going places where few people have been, documenting species that people don’t know that much about. That’s one reason I got so interested in birds of paradise. They are this famous group of birds that everybody’s heard of but that haven’t been well photographed.
One of my broader goals is to inspire people to care about wildlife and wild places, especially endangered species. I love exploring wild places and seeing rare species, but it wouldn’t be worth it if it were just for me. By partnering with Nat Geo, I can be the eyes for the world and tell these stories to a wider audience.