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Frans Lanting’s LIFE: A Journey Through Time is a lyrical interpretation of life on Earth from its earliest beginnings to its present diversity. The LIFE Project aims to bridge the gap between nature and science, and is realized through the integration of photography with the performing arts and the world of life and earth sciences, in collaboration with partners and institutions around the world.

The LIFE Project includes a multimedia orchestral performance, a traveling exhibition, and a large-format photographic book. Public outreach includes an ongoing series of appearances by Frans Lanting at venues across the United States and Europe, including the TED Conference, Stanford University, the National Geographic Society, the Long Now Foundation, and many others.


Take an interactive journey through time.





Here more about LIFE

Hear the National Public Radio interview with Frans Lanting about the world premiere of LIFE Music: LIFE on NPR

Hear Frans Lanting and UCSC astrobiologist Dr. David Deamer on Michael Krasny’s “Forum” show on National Public Radio: LIFE on KQED


About the LIFE Book

Read about the LIFE Book


More about Frans Lanting and LIFE

Watch Frans Lanting present LIFE at the TEDxSMU Conference in Dallas, Texas.

Watch Frans Lanting present LIFE at the TED Conference in Monterey, California.

Read National Geographic’s biography of Frans.


Behind The Lens


The simple idea of looking for the past in the present grew into a challenging photographic undertaking that extended over several years. My mission to capture images of nature that could evoke time and origins required lots of research and planning. I wanted to apply both new scientific ideas to my subjects and new photographic techniques to my images. On location, that often meant exposing cameras to all kinds of extremes.

Stromatolites challenged me to visualize a world from three billion years ago, back before the sky was blue. I worked by twilight and moonlight, which required long exposures sometimes extended even more with specialized neutral density filters. To photograph an erupting volcano in Hawaii, I had to use a different kind of filter--for myself. I wore a respirator against the caustic fumes that corrode camera parts and lungs alike. Film can buckle in the heat near an eruption, and when it rains, water mixes with volcanic gases in the air and comes down as diluted battery acid. I tried to keep my gear covered, but in the end, when the lava flowed, I chose for photos rather than keeping cameras safe.

Fieldwork isn’t always a struggle. In the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef, I used a rig which on land was heavy and cumbersome: a digital Nikon camera in a Light and Motion housing with two strobes on articulated arms. Underwater it became a weightless window into a world of fluid motion, as I floated around coral reefs searching for early forms of marine life.

Aerial photography is a high-speed juggling act that involves coordinating photographic opportunities with the movements of a plane--and making decisions fast. Working from the cramped space of an open Supercub, I attached gyros to my cameras to stabilize them as the pilot flew low through the turbulent air of Alaska’s wilderness valleys. With diatoms, by contrast, I had all the time in the world. I photographed these minuscule organisms on specimen slides the size of a fingernail using a polarizing light microscope to which I attached a camera body. I experimented with different filters and settings to achieve an impressionistic rather than a scientific rendition. Some of my exposures were so long that I could break for lunch while the camera recorded an image.

All the images for this book were made with 35mm Nikon cameras. My camera bodies included a Nikon F6 for film capture, and a D2X, a D1, and a D100 for digital capture. I used Nikkor zoom lenses that gave me a continuous range of focal lengths, from a 12-24mm, to a 28-70 mm, a 70-200mm, and a 200-400mm, with 1.4x and 2x teleconverters. I employed Nikon Speedlight strobes to add light to situations that needed it.

My camera kit now includes an Apple MacBook Pro laptop with editing software and external hard drives for storing images I download in the field. Digital capture has altered the way I work on location, enabling me to work out solutions to technical problems on the spot. But while it was exciting to see the translation of ideas into images in real time, it was even more rewarding to experience for myself the living wonder of horseshoe crabs, stromatolites, giant tortoises, and others--the subjects who had lured me on my journey through time.


Photography Resources:


All images for The Life Project were made with 35mm Nikon cameras. Film originals were scanned on Tango drum scanners. Both film and digital images were processed on Apple Power Mac G5 computers using Adobe Photoshop to prime them for reproduction. Epson professional inkjet printers were used to generate master proofs. The links below offer more information about photographic resources and technical support.

Nikon USA:
Nikon Europe:

Professional Support:
Digital Products and Information:
Photographers and Images:

Chris Eckstrom observing early life in Yellowstone Scanning: Colorfolio
Printers: Epson
Memory Cards: Sandisk
Printing Services: Calypso
Camera Accessories: Really Right Stuff
Filters: Singh-Ray
Underwater Camera Housings: Light and Motion Industries
Underwater Photo Gear: Backscatter
Photo Packs: Think Tank,; Tamrac,



A more detailed list of photographic resources and equipment used by Frans Lanting is featured at Camera Gear.

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