Jim Brandenburg

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Jim Brandenburg (born November 23, 1945) is an environmentalist and nature photographer and filmmaker based near Ely, Minnesota. His career includes over 10 years as a newspaper photojournalist, over 30 years as a contract photographer for the National Geographic Society, and commissions from such groups as the United States Postal Service, NHK and the BBC.

Jim Brandenburg is a Fellow[1] of the International League of Conservation Photographers[2]

Early life and career[edit]

Jim Brandenburg was born and raised in Luverne, Minnesota in the farms and prairies of Southwestern Minnesota, USA. After studying at Worthington Community College, he went on to attend the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he majored in art history and worked for the local public television station. Upon graduating, he returned to Worthington, Minnesota and began working as a photojournalist for the Worthington Daily Globe. Within months, he began submitting work to the National Geographic Society as a freelance photographer, and in 1978 he became a contract photographer for National Geographic Magazine. Additionally, his photography has been published in a number of National Geographic Society books including "Journey Into China", "Heart of a Nation" and "Discovering Britain and Ireland", in which his photos of the Highlands in Scotland were featured.

His work has been included in many other magazines, such as Life, Newsweek, The Smithsonian, and GEO and has been featured on all the major television and radio networks including ABC's Prime Time Live and CBS News Sunday Morning and Dateline NBC as well as National Public Radio's All Things Considered.

Brandenburg was commissioned by the United States Postal Service to create a set of wildlife stamps. They were released on May 14, 1981.

In 1980, Brandenburg learned of a population of wolves on Ellesmere Island who had not yet had the fear of man instilled into them. Brandenburg therefore traveled to Ellesmere and worked to create his bestselling book, “White Wolf”. He later went on to co-produce and direct a documentary of the same name and subject matter, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was produced by National Geographic Society and the BBC. It has since aired in over 120 countries across the globe.

Style and influences[edit]

Jim Brandenburg has established a certain style among nature photographers, notably in technique. In his over 25-year tenure with National Geographic, he traveled the world taking pictures for the magazine. On the projects, he found himself taking up to 300 rolls of film only to have a few dozen selected for the published articles. In 1994, feeling "increasingly dissatisfied" with his art, he undertook a personal project wherein he limited himself to take only one photograph per day between the autumnal equinox and winter solstice. The resulting shots made up his book Chased by the Light, NorthWord Press 1998.

Listed among his influences are environmentalists such as Aldo Leopold and Sigurd F. Olson. Some personal influences include Jim Vance - publisher of the Worthington Daily Globe, Glenn Maxham - a photojournalist at the public television station where Brandenburg worked in college, and Art Aufderheide, who introduced him to the Inuit people of the Northwest Territories, Canada.


Over his career, Jim Brandenburg has been honored by numerous organizations for his works. In 1981 and 1983 he was named the Magazine Photographer of the Year by the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and National Press Photographers Association, Pictures of the Year awards for his work in National Geographic. He was named Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 1988 at the annual competition owned by BBC Wildlife and the Natural History Museum, then sponsored by Kodak.

In 1991, for his work with the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, his creation of the Concerts for the Environment non-profit organization, his work with the Nature Conservancy, and other numerous achievements, Jim Brandenburg was awarded the Global 500 Environmental World Achievement Award.[3] This United Nations sponsored recognition was presented to him by the King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf.

The documentary Chased by the Light: A Photographic Journey with Jim Brandenburg was nominated for an Emmy in the 2002-2003 awards.

In 2006, Jim Brandenburg was awarded with an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, by the University of Minnesota.[4]

Jim Brandenburg was a Hasselblad Master in 2002, a Nikon Legend Behind the Lens in 2001 and a Canon Explorer of Light photographer 2005 - 2008.

Jim Brandenburg's images were chosen for inclusion in a collection that represents the 40 most important nature photographs of all time. The Top Forty nominations include the work of 25 photographers including Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Eliot Porter. Four of Brandenburg¹s images were included in the final selection, more than any other photographer. The four Brandenburg images selected were: Oryx on Namib Desert, Namibia, southwest Africa; Gray Wolf near BWCAW, Ely, Minnesota; Leaping Arctic wolf, Ellesmere Island, Canada; and Bison on Frozen Landscape, Blue Mounds State Park, Luverne, Minnesota. They were chosen by members of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) a fellowship of the world's top professional conservation photographers.

Outdoor Photography Magazine included Brandenburg in "40 Most Influential Nature Photographers."[5]

Jim Brandenburg's well-known image of the leaping Arctic wolf was named one of 100 most important photos in Canadian history and was included in the book "100 Photos that Changed Canada".[6]


Jim and Judy Brandenburg, with the help of dedicated supporters in Luverne, Minnesota, established the Brandenburg Prairie Foundation in 1999.[7] Its mission is to promote, preserve and expand the native prairie in southwest Minnesota. Through numerous projects, the Brandenburg Prairie Foundation heightens awareness of the prairie's irreplaceable beauty and significance. Brandenburg's spirit resides in the prairie - it is his childhood home and is where his career began to bloom. By establishing the Foundation, he has turned his passion for the prairie into a lifetime commitment.

The Brandenburg Prairie Foundation, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,[8] has purchased over 808 acres (3.27 km2) of untilled prairie land in Rock County, Minnesota creating the “Touch the Sky Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge.” Together, they have developed a 15-year management plan for its restoration. With time and continued effort, hundreds of native species will return – the tall grasses, the songbirds, flora and native wildlife. Their dream is to see the bison roaming “Touch the Sky Prairie” again.

Photographic Books[edit]

Title ISBN Date Published
White Wolf -- Living With an Arctic Legend ISBN 0-942802-95-0 1988
Minnesota - Images of Home ISBN 1990
Brother Wolf - A Forgotten Promise” ISBN 1993
To the Top of the World - Adventures with Arctic Wolves ISBN 0-8027-8219-1 1993
Sand and Fog - Adventures in Southern Africa ISBN 0-8027-7476-8 1994
American Safari - Adventures on the North American Prairie ISBN 0-8027-8319-8 1995
Scruffy- A Wolf Finds His Place in the Pack ISBN 0-8027-8445-3 1996
Chased By The Light - A 90-Day Journey ISBN 1-55971-671-1 1998
Looking for the Summer ISBN 1-55971-838-2 2003
Face to Face with Wolves ISBN 1-4263-0242-8 2008

Brandenburg's National Geographic work[edit]

Title Date Published
The Tallgrass Prairie: Can it be Saved? January 1980
Heart of the Canadian Rockies June 1980
Bamboo the Giant Grass October 1980
South Dakota Badlands April 1981
The Natural World of Aldo Leopold November 1981
Namibia, Nearly a Nation? June 1982
They’re Killing off the Rhinos March 1984
American Waterfowl: Trouble and Triumph November 1984
Viking Trail East March 1985
In Bounty's Wake: Finding the Wreck of H.M.S. Pandora October 1985
North to the Pole September 1986
Red Deer October 1986
The Captivating Kiwi Fruit May 1987
At Home with the Arctic Wolf May 1987
Life in the High Arctic – Ellesmere Island June 1988
The Land They Knew: An American Portfolio October 1991
The American Prairie – Roots of the Sky October 1993
North Woods Journal November 1997
Boundary Waters June 2003
Collector's Edition Series, Best of Wildlife 2002
Collector's Edition Series, Best of America 2002
Collector's Edition Series, Best 100 Images 2002
Special Edition Series, Guide to Digital Photography 2006
93 Days of Spring April 2016

External links[edit]