Ulla is a perfect example of following your heart, acting on your dreams, and being continuously curious.
These qualities she has carried with her since childhood have led to her dream job as a photojournalist for National Geographic and other major publications.
Her sense of adventure and ability to push herself to her limits is evident in the life she pursues: climbing some of the world’s most impressive peaks; standing on the edge of erupting volcanoes; travelling and documenting most intriguing cultural rituals and natural phenomena, all the while being aware of her own ecological footprint.
She speaks numerous languages skillfully and has been recognised as a leader in her field.
Now, as a mother, Ulla continues to be motivated to protect the Earth’s precious resources and teaches her son to leave a lasting impact too.
Ulla’s commitment to achieving her dreams and taking the action required to live a memorable life is inspiring and we admire her for it. It’s an honour to have connected with her.
Please tell us about yourself.
Since childhood, I dreamt of far-away adventures and made them happen by playing in the family garden, which turned into the Prairie with horses in summer, and glaciers with igloos in winter.
At six years old I wrote my first book (about a horse) and at eight I took my first photograph (of stones from a castle). As a daughter of two teachers, I learned to ask “why” at an early age and was encouraged to do my own research. When I turned 18, I managed to win the German National Science competition, Jugend forscht, a competition with over 8000 participants.
The prize money financed my first trip around the world and I reported regularly for a local magazine. This was when I decided I wanted this to be my job. I went on to study Geography in Germany and was rewarded with a sought-after scholarship of the DAAD. I picked the James Cook University in Australia and finished with a degree in Natural Resource Management and in Photojournalism.
Then, I started to explore the South Pacific by myself and by coincidence, met a team from National Geographic and was hired as an expedition cook.
The journey from cook to adventure photographer was long, but with a lot of hard work, stamina, stubbornness and childlike curiosity, I managed to break through several years later with a story about an unknown mummification ritual in Papua New Guinea.
When I am not travelling, I live with my husband Basti Hofmann, who is an Alpinist, filmmaker and producer south of Munich, near the Alps.
Can you tell us a little bit about your professional background?
I am a photojournalist and documentary filmmaker with a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resource Management. I work regularly for renowned magazines and broadcasters including National Geographic, GEO, BBC, Red Bull Media House and Stern View.
My photographs have been exhibited at Visa pour l’Image and my Multivisions Shows have engaged people around the world. I’ve published a coffee-table book about the Dolomite Mountains for National Geographic and a text book about realizing one’s dreams.
I’m an ambassador for Canon, Eizo and Manfrotto, F-Stop Global Icon, and an elected member for DGPh. My exploration efforts were rewarded when I was appointed as a Fellow for the famous Explorer’s Club in New York. I conduct workshops and photo expeditions worldwide, amongst others, for National Geographic and work as lecturer at universities in Switzerland and Germany.
What or who in your life influenced you to pursue this route?
When I was a teenager, I read my first National Geographic and I wanted to do the same: Tell meaningful stories with a research background to make people aware of the importance of conservation and nature.
Currently, what is the inspiration that keeps you motivated and passionate about your work?
My baby boy, Manuk, named after an active volcano. He just turned two and explores the world in a totally different way.
He follows me on my jobs, has travelled to 42 countries so far (mainly on land to leave as little ecological footprint as possible), and has seen two erupting volcanoes. Of course, he also takes pictures. But his way!
I want to leave him a world worth living and would like to use my photography to make people aware. And of course, I try to be a good example and live according to this.
Where is your favorite place you’ve traveled and why?
The place where I am currently is always the nicest. It is always very hard to leave one place and go to the next, because there is always so much more to explore. But then again, the new place is also so fascinating.
The world is full of wonders and they are waiting around every corner. It is in the eye of the beholder.
Tell us about the strangest experience you’ve had while traveling.
One really strange experience was when I was photographing in Paris.
I saw a mother with her child doing some window shopping. They went around from one window to the next, and in one window there was a display of a wolf.
There were several people standing around and listening to the mother explaining to her small boy, “look at this fox,” and nobody corrected her.
So for me, this was the moment I thought I really have to do something and broaden the knowledge of people about wildlife.
I think a lot of people are not really aware of nature out there and then of course they don't see the importance of protecting it.
Why do I feel that wildlife conservation is important?
It’s important to protect nature, and wildlife is such a big part of nature.
It’s all a big circle, and if you take one species out then the next one will suffer and so on.
Everything is connected: we are a part of nature and nature is part of us. So, by protecting wildlife, we protect our habitat and we protect our future and we protect our planet.
What is your favourite Wild in Africa bracelet?
Well, I am a volcano girl so I love all things lava. For example, the Indonesian lava bracelet is my all time favorite.
But to be honest, all the bracelets are really amazing because they do so much for wildlife.
So, I think you can’t go wrong with any of them and just try to find your own favorites!
What’s the story behind your favorite photograph?
I have two favorite photographs.
One shows me inside an active volcano. Seeing this photograph, which shows me at the site of the lava lake, always reminds me of this very, very special moment. To be one of the first to set foot on this part of the planet, and to contribute to advancing knowledge about volcanoes.
Another photo is of a child running or playing in front of a volcano in Papua New Guinea. And this to me shows this moment of complete happiness within the destruction of nature, and demonstrates how adaptable we are as human beings, and how much joy can be found in the moment.
These two photographs are not really related to wildlife, they are related to volcanoes, but volcanoes are my big passion because they know so much about the origin of Earth. This is how Earth was created.
What are your future plans and hopes for yourself?
At the moment, we are climbing the highest summits of each European country. I'm doing this with my husband, Basti, and our two-year-old son, Manuk.
That's the immediate future, but we're hoping to continue this year and hope we'll publish a book about it. Hopes for myself include hopes for Manuk.
My future hopes for the future generation is that they learn to respect nature and wildlife. It's a whole fragile ecosystem out there and life on the planet is given to us as a present.
Like a great gift was given to us to be alive, and we should respect nature and the biggest things around us, who gave us this life.
I would love to encourage the readers of this article with my motto, “don’t dream it, do it.” It basically means that life is too short to not live dreams. If your dream is strong enough, you will find the ways to do it.
So yes, my hope for Manuk is also that he will be able to live his dreams, and that's my hope for all of you.
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