Christine Sonvilla and Marc Graf

A brown bear in a forest setting, taken by Canon Ambassador Marc Graf.

Marc and Christine spent almost seven years working with brown bears in Central Europe. They stalked the animals, waited for them in hides and set up remote-controlled cameras. Here, a young brown bear triggered one of their DSLR camera traps in perfect morning light. It became one of their signature images. Taken on a Canon EOS 7D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS R7) with a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens at 14mm, 1/25 sec, f/10 and ISO 250. © Marc Graf

Coexistence is a recurring theme in Christine Sonvilla and Marc Graf's photography. The Canon Ambassadors met at university and have since been combining their efforts to raise awareness of humans and animals evolving together.

"It's not nature versus humans," says Christine. "We must find a way to get along with each other economically and from a conservation point of view. We need to find practical ways to save the natural world while being able to live off it at the same time."

Christine and Marc have similar backgrounds. Marc holds a master's degree in conservation biology and wildlife ecology from the University of Vienna and the University of Melbourne in Australia, while Christine graduated from the University of Vienna with a master's degree in marine biology and nature conservation. Christine also studied in Australia, at Macquarie University in Sydney, as well as at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.

Their passion for photography is rooted in their love of animals and nature. Marc first picked up a camera when he was 16. His first DSLR was a Canon EOS 300D, but he soon upgraded to the EOS 1D. Christine had set out to be a scientist, but it was Marc who inspired her to become a photographer by showing her that images can sometimes be more powerful than words.

A headshot of Canon Ambassadors Christine Sonvilla and Marc Graf.
Location: Styria, Austria

Specialist areas: Wildlife, nature, conservation

Favourite kit: Canon EOS R5
Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM
A Eurasian lynx photographed at night by Canon Ambassador Christine Sonvilla.

A Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) photographed with a camera trap set up in Kalkalpen National Park in Austria. Lynxes are rare in the Alps and struggle to survive due to genetic impoverishment and poaching. Christine and Marc have been photographing lynxes for many years, aiming to highlight the plight of these elusive cats. Taken on a Canon EOS 70D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 90D) with a Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens at 20mm, 1/100 sec, f/9 and ISO 1600. © Christine Sonvilla

"When we met towards the end of our studies, we realised we had a lot in common and there were projects we were both interested in," says Christine. "I realised I wouldn't be happy just as a scientist." Christine decided she wanted to work out in the field, gathering expertise from scientists and sharing that with the public through photography, and that's what they have both gone on to do.

Christine and Marc's photos have featured on the cover of National Geographic, BBC Wildlife, GEO and more, and they have published two illustrated books and worked on TV productions. However, story development takes time: "I spend hours researching and coming up with new ideas," says Marc. "The first phase is finding the subject, and the second phase is checking if it has already been done. After that, we'll be preparing the gear, talking to scientists and experts and gathering vital information – it can be several months before the project starts."

An alligator sheltering from the sun in a gator hole underneath ferns and fallen trees, taken by Canon Ambassador Marc Graf.

During the peak of the dry season, American alligators hide out in so-called gator holes. These last remaining sources of fresh water are dug by the reptiles to provide shelter from the sun. Marc knew about a major gator hole deep in the Everglades, USA and waded through the mud to find this almost prehistoric scene of an alligator surrounded by ferns and tropical trees. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lens at 24mm, 1/200 sec, f/4 and ISO 800. © Marc Graf

Photographing brown bears has been one of the proudest moments in Christine and Marc's careers, not only because one of Marc's resulting images was highly commended in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards, but also because it solidified the pair's faith in how animals and humans can coexist.

"We photographed the European brown bear next to a barn in Slovenia, with our camera trapping system," says Christine. "We photographed this apex predator with her cub, and I think it's one of the most emotionally powerful images we've captured as it shows the closeness between us and the animal kingdom."

For Marc, the most special images capture animals and humans in the same frame. "I like to capture the aspect of coexistence in one image," he says. "Whether it is the crowned eagle nesting in downtown Durban with human settlements in the background [pictured below], or the brown bears that show up in people's gardens or near their barns – those are the moments that stay with you."

Does your scientific background impact the way you approach animals?

"The credibility makes it easier to connect with scientists who offer their stories to us as there's a basis of trust because we understand how much effort and patience goes into getting a project off the ground," says Christine. "We do not go for an image just because we want to; we want to ensure it adheres with scientific knowledge and with the animals themselves. It's about respecting the expertise and the environment."

Which animal has been the most challenging to photograph or film?

"Wolves," says Christine. "We wanted to expand our big predators project, around the time when wolves were starting to return to Austria. We contacted the Austrian military because the first wolf pack had made its home on a training ground." Marc continues: "It took over a year to get permission to set up our cameras and camera traps, and all of a sudden, they decided against it. We would have been the first to photograph these wolves, but it wasn't meant to be."

What do you think are the biggest challenges in wildlife photography today?

"To keep people inspired and to let them know that they can make a difference," says Christine. "There's so much negativity in the news, so much doom and gloom. You end up asking, 'What's the point?' or 'Is there anything I can even do?'. Every contribution makes a difference, and there are so many sources of inspiration out there. You just need to block out the noise and do your own thing."

Is there any animal you really want to photograph?

"We have a long list!" says Marc. "We're going to try again with the European wildcats. Also leopards in Arabia and the Caucasus."

Does your kit choice impact your work in the field?

"We've missed out on some photo opportunities in the past when we were shooting on DSLR," says Christine. "Wildlife can be unpredictable. Once, I was standing in the way of a group of muskox but I had to stop photographing because the shutter noise would have scared them off. The silent shutter in EOS R System cameras means we don't have to worry about that. We can also be certain that the cameras and lenses will capture all the detail, whether we're shooting against the sun or in the shade."

One thing I know

Christine Sonvilla

"You have to have a vision," says Christine. "You often hear people say, 'That's not possible' when they're talking about publishing in a nature magazine, for example. But you can't stop. Follow your heart, follow your vision. The crucial thing is to develop a strong idea, follow it through, and don't let yourself be put off by people telling you that something is not possible."

Facebook: @Sonvilla Photo-Film-Writing / @Graf Marc Photography & Film

Instagram: @christinesonvilla / @grafmarcphotography

Website: sonvilla-graf.com

Christine Sonvilla & Marc Graf's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Christine Sonvilla & Marc Graf's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS R5

Capture sensational 45MP photos at up to 20fps, or flick a switch for cinematic 12-bit 8K RAW video using the entire width of the camera's sensor. "We greatly appreciate the fantastic dynamic range of this camera, the large resolution and the advances in the autofocus it offers. For wildlife, the silent shutter-release is perfect."

Canon EOS R6 Mark II

Capture fleeting moments at up to 40fps with sensational image quality, even in near darkness. AI-based, deep-learning AF locks on to fast-moving subjects wherever they are in the frame. "The autofocus on this camera is great. The speed and the continuous shooting is ideal for wildlife photography."

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

The EOS 5D Mark IV features advanced focusing and metering which captures moments and tracks them the instant they happen, even in difficult lighting conditions. "We still love this camera a lot, especially when out and about since its housing is robust and indestructible. It also has the ideal resolution for our needs as we use it for photojournalistic assignments and landscape shoots."


Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM

With a 100-500mm focal length range, plus 5-stop Image Stabilizer and L-series build quality, this lens offers performance and image quality like no other. "This, to us, is simply the perfect telephoto lens, ideal for all our wildlife adventures."

Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM

A high-magnification, super-telephoto lens featuring integrated Image Stabilizer technology. The perfect solution for wildlife, nature and sports photographers working in the field. "The f/4 aperture allows for photography even in low-light conditions, which is important as some species are active only around twilight."

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

Part of Canon's prestigious L-series, featuring an Image Stabilizer with angle and shift detection that is highly effective at close focusing distances. "You always need to carry at least one macro lens in your kit and this one is our choice!"

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM

A standard zoom lens that goes just that little bit further, whether you're shooting photography or video. This lens is ideal for when you need to capture exceptional image quality, while travelling light. "Even though an oldie, it's still part of our lens selection because it's a great lens, especially for photojournalism."

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM

A fast, ultra-wide-angle zoom offering excellent optical performance throughout its range. A constant f/2.8 maximum aperture makes this an ideal lens for low-light photography. "This is our preferred choice for landscape photography. It's great for photographing the northern lights thanks to its wide aperture."


Canon Extender EF 1.4x III

A professional grade extender that increases focal length of L-series lenses by 1.4x. "We use both extenders with the 500mm lens to get even closer to wildlife and not lose too much light, compared with other lenses. Getting closer is always a crucial thing in wildlife photography. You can't be close enough."

Canon Extender EF 2x III

Ideal for press, sports and nature photography, the extender increases the focal length of Canon L-series telephoto or telephoto zoom lenses by 2x, with higher AF accuracy and improved communication between camera and lens.

Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R

This adapter allows EF and EF-S lenses to be used with EOS R System cameras with RF lens mounts. "Without this, we couldn't use any of our EF lenses with our EOS R System cameras, so it is simply a must-have."

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