Born in Berlin in 1929, Robert Lebeck was conscripted in the Wehrmacht at the age of 15 and went to the eastern front where he was taken prisoner in 1945. After his return, Lebeck studied ethnology in Zurich and New York.
He is an autodidact photographer and as from 1952 he has worked as a photo reporter, first for various Heidelberg newspapers and later for magazines such as Revue, Kristall and Stern. From 1977 to 1978, he was the editor-in-chief of GEO Magazine. From 1979 on, he has been working for Stern.
He became famous for his 1960 photo-reportage Afrika im Jahre Null (Africa in Year Zero).