Winter weather can prove challenging for even the most experienced photographers, but what about shooting in temperatures of minus 40 degrees Celsius and wind speeds of up to 120 km/h? These are the sort of weather conditions that Stefan Christmann, a nature photographer and filmmaker from Koblenz, Germany, withstood to capture his images of emperor penguins in Antarctica.
Christmann’s work there won him the 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year Portfolio Award. His winning photograph, “The Huddle,” shows more than 5,000 male emperor penguins huddled together as they seek shelter from icy winds and unforgiving temperatures while caring for their eggs. The photograph is part of a larger body of work that Christmann was able to build up of the emperor penguin colony in Atka Bay, Antarctica over the course of two years.
We had the opportunity to speak to him about what it was like to work in Antarctica, and get his view on the responsibility that nature and wildlife photographers have to document not just the beauty of nature, but also the threats it faces.
How did you get started as a nature photographer?
It started with a trip to Yellowstone National Park during a student exchange program. I was blown away by nature around me, which included geysers blowing off steam, bison walking through hot spring areas and coyotes searching for food in the great valleys.
All I had with me at the time was a digital compact camera with a very limited focal range and an even more limited personal photographic skill-set. As a result, the images I captured didn’t really do the scene in front of me justice.
Upon my return to Germany I borrowed my dad’s old fully manual Minolta SRT-303b SLR camera and three lenses; a 28mm, 50mm and 135mm lens. Nature seemed like a great place to experiment, so a friend and I would venture out into the forest whenever we could in order to play with long exposures, shallow depth of field, polarizing filters and so on.
The time I spent in nature really got me hooked on the complexity of ecosystems and the treasures hidden all around us. Over time, I learned to anticipate how a real life scene would look through the lens at different camera settings. Essentially, the camera evolved from being a tool for creating an image of nature into a tool for creating my own interpretation of nature.