The Kristian World: A Stunning Mix of Wildlife and Fashion Photography

David Jenison spotlights international photographer Kristian Schmidt whose striking images juxtapose wildlife with high fashion in their natural habitats.

Kristian Schmidt with whalesharks“I was diving with whale sharks in Mexico,” recalls photographer Kristian Schmidt, “and I thought, ‘I have to figure out a way to shoot the whale sharks with fashion.’”

Sharks and modeling have always gone together in a figurative sense, but this NYC-born, Paris-raised Swede wanted a literal underwater photo shoot. He already had international acclaim for his wildlife-fashion photographs, but this idea would become his most famous.

“The whale sharks in Mexico were moving too fast to put someone in front of them, but our dive master, Shawn Heinrichs, knew a place in the Philippines where the fishermen throw food into the water to keep the whale sharks away from the other fish,” continues Kristian. “The whale sharks are kind of stagnant waiting under the boats for food, which made it the perfect spot to shoot.”

Kristian Schmidt fashion photo with whaleshark

Heinrichs, who is a noted underwater photographer himself, spent the next four months working with Kristian to organize the shoot, and Kristian gives him credit as the reason everything ran so smoothly. The process of finding the right model, however, went much less smoothly. Victoria’s Secret models were among the many women who auditioned, but Angels are meant to fly, not swim. “The models were in the pool, dresses wrapped around their faces nearly drowning — it was a disaster,” moans Kristian, who probably imagined them saying, “‘Underwater model?’ I thought you said ‘underwear.’”

Kristian Schmidt fashion photo with whaleshark

Kristian started to think the shoot would never happen, but then he recalled meeting Hannah Fraser at a party in Miami. The Australian beauty is a professional mermaid impersonator who does spectacular underwater shoots. “Hannah could hold her breath underwater for more than five minutes, and she’s been doing this mermaid stuff for a long time, so she can position herself exactly where the light is,” he continues.

Kristian Schmidt's photo of Hannah Fraser with Manta RayThe images of Fraser and the whale sharks were a global hit, and the duo teamed up again earlier this year to take pictures with giant manta rays in Hawaii. If you thought the shark shoot sounded sketchy…“We took her 40 feet underwater and tied her foot to a rock in the middle of the night, and we would bring her oxygen every few minutes,” Kristian says in a surprisingly nonchalant tone.

“We had a big surfboard with light coming down and two lights on each side, and we had these massive manta rays going around her. I am wearing full scuba gear freezing my ass off, and she is naked, so it was incredible what she was doing. She would be under for an hour, and we’d go to the surface to warm her up and then start again. We did that all night.”

In addition to becoming photo art, the images were used in a conservation campaign that helped motivate CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) to put manta rays on a protected list. “It made us feel really good about what we are doing,” adds Kristian, who has also shot a famous campaign with NBA star Yao Ming to call attention to elephant ivory poaching in Africa.

Kristian, the son of famed European stage producer Lars Schmidt, started his professional career 15 years ago directing television shows and music videos. It was while directing a shoe commercial in South Africa that he started taking wildlife pictures.

Kristian Schmidt wildlife photo

“The pictures were quite good, so I did a gallery exhibit in New York, and they sold out,” he recalls. “I kept doing this, and then about five years ago, I began mixing it with fashion. I started by shooting these elephants in South Africa, and the models wore these Japanese headpieces with real human hair pulled back into lion and elephant shapes. The photos mostly appeared in galleries, but then I started doing fashion editorials.” Zink Magazine published his latest editorial in its summer issue, and it pairs 2011 Miss USA winner Alyssa Campanella and a giant tiger in the Nevada desert.

Kristian Schmidt fashion photo

Kristian’s photos seem so fantastical that many people wrongly assume they are Photoshop creations, but the public will soon have the chance to see these shoots in action. All of them were filmed for the forthcoming TV series The Kristian World.

Kristian Schmidt photography Kristian Schmidt photography
“Each episode is one photo shoot, and when you work with animals, it is always so chaotic,” says Kristian. “I shot with massive eagles, cheetahs, lions…we had two baby bears climbing around this bar in the West Village. It also shows the nonsense and craziness that happens behind the scenes, like the staff is drunk and the lion is attacking the model. We already shot two seasons worth of material.”

Kristian Schmidt photography

Specific Media, which recently purchased MySpace with Justin Timberlake, bought the internet rights to the series for the new MySpace TV channel, though the show is also expected to air on cable TV outlets. Kristian concludes, “Every single shoot is in the show. It’s all there. And there is a number at the end of each show where viewers can book the same trip. If someone sees the show and wants to dive with whale sharks in the Philippines, we can organize it for them.” Swimming with the mermaid, however, naturally costs extra.

“Kristian’s World” Presentation Trailer from kristian Schmidt on Vimeo.

©2013 Photos courtesy of Kristian Schmidt and Shawn Heinrichs


  1. Alex on August 11, 2013 at 6:29 am

    Great article.

  2. Erha Silooy on November 16, 2014 at 1:26 am

    Amazing photos….

Leave a Comment


Enter your email address to subscribe to our newsletter and get the best travel advice straight to your inbox!

Join 8 other subscribers



The ultimate traveling companion, is an informative, entertaining and unbiased resource that combines the latest travel news, inspired articles and visual content all in one easy-to-navigate online destination. Sourcing what you need to know before you go, wandermelon gives avid travelers like you savvy shortcuts to the world’s best experiences and destinations.


wandermelonSunday, August 6th, 2017 at 10:23pm

Hamburg is totally happening! Check out some of Michael Webb's architectural favorites up on the melon this week as he explores HafenCity. #Hamburg #Germany #HafenCity


wandermelon added 4 new photos.Monday, July 10th, 2017 at 7:28pm

Wondering what's big in Japan for kids? Check out Kristina Foster's latest story on the melon: #japan #tokyoforkids #tokyo


wandermelon shared Art Of Extraordinary Travel's video.Friday, July 7th, 2017 at 8:52pm

Definitely putting this on my bucket list! 👍


Art Of Extraordinary Travel

This restaurant has one of the best views in the world.

wandermelonSunday, June 25th, 2017 at 3:03pm

Sadly there is a dark side to travel and in Bali the cruel dog meat trade is alive and well, PLEASE SIGN & SHARE and do what you can to end this hideous practice. Knowledge is power and tourism dollars matter a great deal to many of the countries that engage in animal cruelty so don't be fooled by many of the zoos and temples that use animals to lure you in and as a result suffer miserable lives... or worst, as below. Thank you! :(


wandermelonMonday, June 12th, 2017 at 12:22pm

Mexico City is as modern and cool as it gets with great food to boot. Check out Michael Webb's latest story on the melon: #MexicoCity #modernarchitecture


wandermelonSaturday, June 10th, 2017 at 12:30pm

Street art in George Town, the capital of the #Malaysian island of #Penang. Photo by Eugene Choy / Revelation Productions. Read more here



Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest