Photograph by Trevor Frost
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
As a kid, I was fascinated by everything. Bugs, machines, planets, whatever! My work as a photographer and scientist has been more a pursuit of curiosity with the natural world than the result of any specific life plan. This is perhaps why my projects are so multidisciplinary. If you asked the young me this question, however, I'd probably have said something like crane operator or museum curator.
How did you get started in your field of work?
In college I internally debated a career in medicine or one as a scholar of Russian history. Prior to committing to one path or another, I responded to an online advertisement for a biology field job. Before I knew it, I had moved to Africa and was living out of a tent at altitude studying an animal I had no idea existed a few months earlier. Life can change directions very quickly sometimes!
What inspires you to dedicate your life to photography and conservation?
We're all affected by global issues, be they climate change, income inequality, or biodiversity loss. I try to find where my passions overlap with small components of these seemingly intractable subjects and invest my time, effort, and emotions toward them in whatever ways I can.
What's a normal day like for you?
No such thing as a normal day! I much prefer the rhythms of the field, like waking up early and dealing with all sorts of physical and logistical uncertainties associated with the day's photo or research objectives. Photo editing and statistical analyses are also rewarding, but I start to get wanderlust after a month or so of being cooped up indoors.
What's been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?
Expeditions are full of highs and lows. Highs include observing the birth of a gelada monkey in the wild, feeling the earth rumble as a 100-foot-tall wall of ice tumbles off the Greenland ice sheet, and making friends with inspiring people from around the world. When I'm in the field, there is always a general feeling of excitement and anticipation that is hard to match, even when things are going terribly wrong.
There are certainly downsides to remote fieldwork, however, like being caught in violent situations or becoming ill without much medical support. I lost 40 pounds of body weight after a particularly difficult series of illness in Ethiopia several years ago, have been plagued by flesh-eating fungi, and nearly been struck by lightning more times than I care to count.
What are your other passions?
Recently, I've become deeply committed to using drones for conservation and scientific research. These tools will revolutionize how we ask questions and acquire data in the coming years.
I also love making new friends around the world via the language of soccer. Playing it, talking about it, or watching it—it makes no difference. It's an incredible way to bridge apparent cultural divides in an instant.
In Their Words
I have been plagued by flesh-eating fungi and nearly been struck by lightning more times than I care to count.
More From Jeff Kerby
National Geographic grantee Jeffrey Kerby uses drones to map caribou habitat in west Greenland, tracking changes in plant cover and sea ice over time.