Penguins, Photography and Life in Antarctica with Stefan Christmann

Stefan Christmann
©Lindsay McCrae

In November 2020, multi-award-winning photographer Stefan Christmann took over our Facebook and Instagram channels for a week.

He gave us a sneak peek into his book Penguin: A Story of Survival, sharing some of his favourite images from the book and the message of each chapter.

He also wrote about images by other photographers and how they inspire him, whether in their photography, their story-telling or their passions.

In his Q&A videos, Stefan answered your questions about photography, life in Antarctica (where he spent a total of 26 months, including 2 winters), and of course, about his beloved penguins.

 

If you missed all of that, then fear not – all of Stefan’s posts and videos from that week are here for you to enjoy.

 

Q&A: Photography and Penguins

 

 

 

The Book: Penguin: A Story of Survival

 

'A Flowing World' - By definition Antarctica is the biggest desert on the planet, even though it is a place almost completely made of ice (and hence water). Only in very few areas does the rocky bottom stick out of the massive glacial ice sheets of this Terra Incognita. And since ice is only another state of aggregation of water, the Antarctic ice is constantly flowing and changing. The first chapter ‘A Flowing World’ is mostly an educational chapter and will teach the audience about the many forms of ice that exist in Antarctica, as well as how they form and behave through the seasons. It will also connect the life-cycle of the emperor penguins to this dynamic landscape and set the stage for the main characters of the book. Alongside the definitions and explanations, the readers will get to see many beautiful images of Antarctic landscapes and icebergs, of sea-ice formation and of the magical light that exists only at the end of the world. Once you are drawn into this alien world, it will be hard to put the book down again.

A Flowing World

By definition, Antarctica is the biggest desert on the planet, even though it is a place almost completely made of ice (and hence water). Only in very few areas does the rocky bottom stick out of the massive glacial ice sheets of this terra incognita. As ice is only another state of water aggregation, the Antarctic ice is constantly flowing and changing.

The first chapter, ‘A Flowing World’, is mostly an educational chapter about the many forms of ice that exist in Antarctica: how they form and behave through the seasons. It will also connect the life-cycle of the emperor penguins to this dynamic landscape, setting the stage for the main characters of the book.

Alongside the definitions and explanations are many beautiful images of Antarctic landscapes, icebergs, sea-ice formation and of the magical light that exists only at the end of the world. Once you are drawn into this alien world, it will be hard to put the book down again.

 

'The Creation of the Bond' - The creation of a very strong and deep bond between two mates will lay the foundation for their successful breeding cycle. Consequently, emperor penguins will carefully choose their partners and take a lot of time and care to synchronize with them. After all, one day they will have to find them amongst many thousands of other penguins. Imagine how you would find your wife/husband in a football stadium, if you did not exactly know where they were. The second chapter, ‘The Creation of the Bond’, will show and explain the beauty of this synchronizing ritual. The images are tender and intimate, revealing the elegance and aesthetics of these marvellous birds, but also some rather unexpected and never before documented behaviour. Once you have read the stories from this chapter and looked at the images, you will understand that the story of emperor penguins is truly a story of love. Penguin Love to be precise.

 

The Creation of the Bond

The creation of a very strong and deep bond between two mates will lay the foundation for their successful breeding cycle. Consequently, emperor penguins choose their partners carefully, taking a lot of time and care to synchronize with them. After all, one day, they will have to find them amongst many thousands of other penguins. Imagine trying to find your wife or husband in a packed football stadium.

The second chapter, ‘The Creation of the Bond’, shows and explains the beauty of this synchronizing ritual. The images are tender and intimate, revealing the elegance and aesthetics of these marvellous birds, but also some rather unexpected and never-before documented behaviour.

Once you have read the stories from this chapter and looked at the images, you will understand that the story of emperor penguins is truly a story of love. Penguin Love to be precise.

 

 

'Testing the Bond' - There comes a time when the female penguin lays her single egg for the season and passes it over to the male. That in itself is a very emotional part of the penguin life-cycle. However, after the two mates have parted ways for most of the nearing winter, another equally touching and gripping story unfolds. The third chapter ‘Testing the Bond’ will tell a story of waiting and suffering where the main characters are the male emperor penguins. With a fragile egg on their feet, they are helpless against the merciless bad weather that is about to sweep over the Antarctic shorelines. In an almost magical act of teamwork and camaraderie, the males will work together with their peers and make the impossible possible. As a giant incubator, they will jointly brood their eggs until many tiny and helpless chicks hatch. Unfortunately, not all of them will be successful. It is probably the most emotional and touching part of the story after which it becomes absolutely obvious, why the life-cycle of the emperor penguins is a captivating story that needs to be told. Verbally and visually!

Testing the Bond

Soon after the female penguin lays her single egg for the season, she has to pass it over to the male. That in itself is a very emotional part of the penguin life-cycle. However, after the two mates have parted ways for most of the approaching winter, another equally touching and gripping story unfolds.

The third chapter, ‘Testing the Bond’, tells a story of waiting and suffering of the male emperor penguins. With a fragile egg on their feet, they are helpless against the merciless bad weather that is about to sweep over the Antarctic shorelines. In an almost magical act of teamwork and camaraderie, the males work together with their peers,  making the seemingly-impossible possible. Like a giant incubator, they jointly brood their eggs until their tiny, helpless chicks hatch. Sadly, not all of them survive.

This is probably the most emotional and touching part of the story, and the reason why the emperor penguins’ story needs to be told, verbally and visually!

 

 

The Huddle

The Huddle is the emperor penguins’ secret weapon against the cold. Together with hundreds or even thousands of other birds, individuals will stand close to each other and stick their heads in any gap in front of them. Their constantly dissipating body heat will then warm the other birds around them, becoming a very energy efficient way to stay warm even on the coldest and windiest of days.

This video shows the emperor penguins in such an energy conservation mode. There are almost no calls or sounds, which truly demonstrates that the birds are trying to minimize energy expenditure as effectively as possible. If you watch very closely, you will also see that at some point, the entire group will make a tiny step to the left side which propagates like a wave through the entire huddle. The current theory is that the birds do this in order to rotate the egg on their feet just a tiny bit – that way, they can ensure that it is evenly warmed on all sides.

 

 

'The Unravelling of the Bond' - After the chick has hatched and develops an insatiable appetite, it will force the penguin parents to take turns bringing back fish from the open ocean. As a result, the former lovers will only meet at the change of shifts, and will only spend fleeting moments together. Slowly but steadily their deep and strong bond starts to weaken. The fourth chapter ‘The Unravelling of the Bond’ tells the story of the growing chicks and how they impact the lives of their parents. At the same time, it will also explain what the chicks need to learn and understand about Penguin Love in order to successfully follow in the footsteps of their parents. Learning is never easy, but at least with emperor penguins it is a lot of fun, which is why there will be many uplifting and happy moments shared in this particular chapter. With the end of the Antarctic winter and the beginning of the summer, the increasing temperatures will not only bring back life and activity to the colony but at the same time melt your heart with cute penguin chicks and their little adventures.

The Unravelling of the Bond

After the chick hatches and develops an insatiable appetite, its penguins parents are forced to take turns bringing back fish from the open ocean. As a result, the former lovers will only meet at the changing of shifts, spending only fleeting moments together. Slowly but steadily, their once-deep, strong bond begins to unravel.

The fourth chapter, ‘The Unravelling of the Bond’, tells the story of the growing chicks and how they impact the lives of their parents. At the same time, it will also explain what the chicks need to learn and understand about Penguin Love in order to successfully follow in their parents’ footsteps. Learning is never easy, but at least with emperor penguins, it is a lot of fun, which is why there are many uplifting and happy moments shared in this particular chapter. With the end of the Antarctic winter and the beginning of summer, the increasing temperatures bring back life and activity to the colony, during which the cute penguin chicks and their little adventures will melt your heart.

 

 

Chick

One of the most intimate and beautiful scenes which can be witnessed in the colony is when an emperor penguin chick is being fed by its parent. This is especially true right after the young ones have hatched from their egg. During their first minutes of life, they must be fed immediately, even if their mothers have not returned to the colony yet. For that purpose, the fathers, who themselves have not eaten in almost 5 months, regurgitate a small meal from a special reservoir inside their oesophagus, to keep the youngster alive. This, however, will only be enough for a few hours.

Later in their lives, when the chicks have grown considerably and have stepped off their parents’ feet, they get fed with a pre-digested meal, mainly consisting of krill, squid and other sea food.

Take a look at the chick’s contented face after the feed. How would you feel about such a fishy lunch?

 

 

'A Thawing World' - As we already established in the first chapter ‘A Flowing World’, that Antarctica is made of ice, it becomes immediately clear that it will be directly impacted by global warming and climate change. For the emperor penguins who are incredibly dependent on their icy habitat, this will have a massive influence on their breeding cycle. The last chapter of the book ‘A Thawing World’ depicts the developments of recent years in Antarctica and how they are affecting the lives of emperor penguins in particular. Behavioural adaptations can help them to cope with some aspects of their ever-changing environment, but will inevitably cause new challenges and problems for them at the same time. In 2017, when I wintered for the second time, I was able to witness and document these challenges alongside some extraordinary changes in penguin behaviour. After having explained the meaning of Penguin Love and the delicate intricacies of the penguin life cycle to the audience, the last paragraphs of the book aim to create an awareness of how we are at risk of losing one of the greatest natural wonders of all times, if we do not change our way of living. The chapter will speak to the hearts of the audience - one last time.

A Thawing World

As established in ‘A Flowing World’, Antarctica is made of ice; it becomes immediately clear that it will be directly impacted by global warming and climate change. For the emperor penguins who are incredibly dependent on their icy habitat, this will have a massive influence on their breeding cycle.

The last chapter of the book, ‘A Thawing World’, depicts the developments in recent years in Antarctica and how they are affecting the lives of emperor penguins in particular. Behavioural adaptations can help them cope with some aspects of their ever-changing environment, but the more recent changes will inevitably create both new challenges and problems for them.

In 2017, when I wintered for the second time, I witnessed and documented these challenges alongside some extraordinary changes in penguin behaviour. After having explained Penguin Love and the delicate intricacies of the penguin life cycle to the reader, the last paragraphs of the book aim to create an awareness of how we are at risk of losing one of the greatest natural wonders if we do not change our way of life.

 

 

Penguin: A Story of Survival is available to order.

For a SIGNED copy, visit Stefan’s shop.

Alternatively, visit teNeues Media and Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

Q&A: Life in Antarctica

 

 

 

 

Inspiration from other Photographers

 

When Bruno D’Amicis initially told me that he was traveling to Cuba in order to photograph snails, I was somewhat amused. It just seemed like a very long and strenuous trip in order to photograph an animal that small. Little did I know (although, knowing Bruno, I suspected it) that the images and stories he came back with, would be so captivating. Bruno has the unique gift to be able to tell a complete story - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Not only did he show the beauty of the Cuban tree snails with their colourful and artistic shells, but also that illegal wildlife trade does not only relate to elephant tusks and rhino horns - it even affects animals as small as a seemingly insignificant snail. Aside from his incredible photography and storytelling skills, Bruno is one of the nicest guys I know. He has helped me tremendously with advances in my own photography and is always open to share his experience and knowledge with others. Thanks so much Bruno, for your inspiring work and your great personality. I owe you!

Bruno D’Amicis

When Bruno D’Amicis initially told me that he was travelling to Cuba to photograph snails, I was somewhat amused; it seemed like a very long and strenuous trip in order to photograph an animal that small. Little did I know (although, knowing Bruno, I had my suspicions) how captivating the images and stories he came back with would be.

Bruno has the unique gift of being able to tell a complete story: the good, the bad and the ugly. Not only did he show the beauty of the Cuban tree snails with their colourful and artistic shells, but also that illegal wildlife trade does not only relate to elephant tusks and rhino horns – it even affects animals as small as a seemingly insignificant snail.

Aside from his incredible photography and storytelling skills, Bruno is one of the nicest guys I know. He has helped me tremendously with advances in my own photography, always open to sharing his experience and knowledge with others. Thanks so much, Bruno, for your inspiring work and your great personality. I owe you!

I’ve always found Ingo Arndt’s work extremely fascinating, but his recent work on honeybees really resonates with me. After all it also shows an animal that is strongly dependent on community and teamwork. And with this, they can achieve amazing things. Just like ‘my emperor penguins’, honeybees live in large colonies and will form ‘huddles’ during winter time in order to stay warm and survive the cold. They will gather around their queen and hence give her special protection. It's clear that one single animal itself would not survive, but as a super-organism they can endure even very harsh conditions. Ingo has made many more incredible observations of unique bee behaviour that will show you how clever these animals really are, what fascinating survival strategies they have and how important they ultimately are even for us humans and the world that we live in. I really hope that his book will soon also be published in English, so that his amazing images and amazing stories are accessible to an even larger audience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingo Arndt

I’ve always found Ingo Arndt’s work extremely fascinating, but his recent work on honeybees really resonates with me. After all, it also shows an animal that is strongly dependent on community and teamwork. And with this, they can achieve amazing things.

Just like ‘my’ emperor penguins, honeybees live in large colonies and will form ‘huddles’ during winter time in order to stay warm and survive the cold. They will gather around their queen, giving her special protection. It’s clear that a single animal on its own would not survive, but as a super-organism, they can endure even the harshest conditions.

Ingo has made many more incredible observations of unique bee behaviour that will show you how clever these animals really are, what fascinating survival strategies they have and how important they ultimately are even for us humans and the world that we live in.

I really hope that his book will soon also be published in English, so that his amazing images and equally amazing stories are accessible to an even larger audience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although they are mostly utterly disturbing, many of Jo-Anne McArthur's photographs of the past years have moved me deeply. Her reports from meat markets in Asia (and the global meat industry in general) depict an aspect of humanity, that I wish did not exist. Her image of a mother kangaroo with her joey standing in the middle of a burnt forest was THE iconic photograph, telling the story of the horrible bush fires in Australia at the beginning of 2020 - in a single image. Explaining the depth of her work in just a few sentences on social media does not do it justice at all, but her images and stories show us what the consequences are, if we take this planet for granted. I would never be able to document many of these horrific and cruel stories happening every minute on this globe, but I am glad that she has the guts to do so, and open our eyes to how we need to get better. It's non-negotiable.

Jo-Anne McArthur

Although they are mostly utterly disturbing, many of Jo-Anne McArthur’s photographs of the past years have moved me deeply. Her reports from meat markets in Asia (and the global meat industry in general) depict an aspect of humanity that I wish did not exist.

Her image of a mother kangaroo with her joey standing in the middle of a burnt forest was THE iconic photograph, telling the story of the horrible bush fires in Australia at the beginning of 2020 – in a single image.

Explaining the depth of her work in just a few sentences on social media does not do it justice at all, but her images and stories show us what the consequences are if we take this planet for granted.

I would never be able to document many of these horrific and cruel stories which happen every minute on this globe, but I am glad that she has the guts to do so. In doing that, she makes us open our eyes to how we need to be better. It’s non-negotiable.

 

 

Ole Jorgen Liodden's images from Antarctica were amongst the first photographs, that really got me interested in the polar regions. They are technically perfect, very artistic and always spark my imagination and creativity. At the same time, Ole is one of the most complete polar photographers I know. When it comes to photographing in icy environments, there is so much more needed than just an artistic eye. Not only do you have to be willing to endure extremely adverse weather conditions most of the time, but you also need to be an expert in ice safety and logistics. He combines all of these aspects brilliantly - not only on the ice, but even below the surface, in the ice-cold water. Ole has been leading many photographic tours over the years and gathered an incredible portfolio of images, that he actively uses for conservation purposes. To me, he has become one of the most important ambassadors for polar bears and I really hope that one day I will finally be able to join him on a photo trip. I bet I could learn a ton!

 

 

 

 

 

Ole Jorgen Liodden

Ole Jorgen Liodden’s images from Antarctica were amongst the first photographs, that really got me interested in the polar regions. They are technically perfect, very artistic and always spark my imagination and creativity.

At the same time, Ole is one of the most complete polar photographers I know. When it comes to photographing in icy environments, there is so much more needed than just an artistic eye. Not only do you have to be willing to endure extremely adverse weather conditions most of the time, but you also need to be an expert in ice safety and logistics. He combines all of these aspects brilliantly – not only on the ice, but even below the surface, in the ice-cold water.

Ole has been leading many photographic tours over the years and gathered an incredible portfolio of images, that he actively uses for conservation purposes. To me, he has become one of the most important ambassadors for polar bears. I really hope that one day, I will finally be able to join him on a photo trip. I bet I could learn a ton!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of you might know that the roots of my photography lie in Yellowstone National Park, more precisely the Montanan part of it. As far as I can remember, it was the first place I picked up my camera and was actually concerned about finding a decent composition; the beginning of a wonderful journey. During these early years I was especially intrigued by the wild landscapes of the American West - the Rocky Mountains and the deserts around Arizona, Utah and Nevada. One name that I constantly came across in the magazines I read and below the images I adored was Jack Dykinga. His landscapes were truly stunning. Nowadays, I have travelled to a few places in the US myself and have also taken my fair share of landscape photos, but the works of Jack still remain a benchmark for me. His clear compositions and mastery of light, shapes and colours are absolutely timeless. Whenever I look at his images I want to go back to the US and try again :-)

 

 

 

Jack Dykinga

Some of you might know that the roots of my photography lie in Yellowstone National Park, more precisely the Montanan part of it. As far as I can remember, it was the first place I picked up my camera and was actually concerned about finding a decent composition; the beginning of a wonderful journey.

During these early years, I was especially intrigued by the wild landscapes of the American West – the Rocky Mountains and the deserts around Arizona, Utah and Nevada. One name that I constantly came across in the magazines I read and below the images I adored was Jack Dykinga. His landscapes were truly stunning.

Nowadays, I have travelled to a few places in the US myself and have also taken my fair share of landscape photos, but the works of Jack still remain a benchmark for me. His clear compositions and mastery of light, shapes and colours are absolutely timeless. Whenever I look at his images, I want to go back to the US and try again 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theo Bosboom is one of the most brilliant photographers I know. There is a unique quality and wit to his images, that immediately tell me they are his. Put the most complex scene in front of Theo and he will create a stunningly simple, yet artistic and captivating composition. His recent work on the Atlantic coast of Europe clearly shows that you can visit just a few select areas and still come back with an incredible variety of images. However, you have to be willing to go the extra mile, put in the time and expose yourself to the elements. Theo is not afraid of getting rain, wind or sand in his face - instead his seemingly infinite creativity thrives under such conditions. His book ‘Shaped by the Sea’ is a celebration of seascapes, of water and rock, of colours and structures. It shows a habitat that is so much more than just sandy beaches and it will reveal many aspects of our European shores, that you have never seen before.

 

 

Theo Bosboom

Theo Bosboom is one of the most brilliant photographers I know. There is a unique quality and wit to his images, that immediately tell me they are his. Put the most complex scene in front of Theo and he will create a stunningly simple, yet artistic and captivating composition.

His recent work on the Atlantic coast of Europe clearly shows that you can visit just a few select areas and still come back with an incredible variety of images. However, you have to be willing to go the extra mile, put in the time and expose yourself to the elements. Theo is not afraid of getting rain, wind or sand in his face – instead his seemingly infinite creativity thrives under such conditions.

His book ‘Shaped by the Sea’ is a celebration of seascapes: water and rock, colours and structures. It shows a habitat that is so much more than just sandy beaches, revealing many aspects of our European shores that you have never seen before.

 

 

Crowned Wildlife Photographer of the Year just a few weeks ago, Sergey’s Gorshkov’s work has finally received the acknowledgement that is has deserved for a long time. His iconic shot of a Siberian tiger marking its territory on a forest tree is not only a great standalone image, but also shows that great images don’t just happen. Instead, such images are hard work and involve a lot of planning, anticipation and knowledge of the subject. In this case, Sergey installed a camera trap in the forest in front of this tree where he had seen marks from previous tiger activity. Months later, upon checking the trap, he had finally captured this brilliant scene. Imagine the joy and the pride a photographer experiences when a plan like this one works out: I bet it was equally exhilarating as winning the overall WPOTY competition! Congratulations to Sergey for this remarkable success. Поздравляю!

Sergey Gorshkov

Crowned Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020, Sergey Gorshkov’s work has finally received the acknowledgement that it has deserved for a long time. His iconic shot of a Siberian tiger marking its territory on a forest tree is not only a great standalone image, but also shows that great images don’t just happen.

Instead, such images are hard work and involve a lot of planning, anticipation and knowledge of the subject. In this case, Sergey installed a camera trap in the forest in front of this tree where he had seen marks from previous tiger activity.

Months later, upon checking the trap, he had finally captured this brilliant scene. Imagine the joy and the pride a photographer experiences when a plan like this one works out: I bet it was equally exhilarating as winning the overall WPOTY competition!

Congratulations to Sergey for this remarkable success. Поздравляю!

 

 

Thank you, Stefan Christmann, for your week-long social media takeover!

We’ve enjoyed sharing your pictures, videos and stories!