I am a big fan of our Denver Museum of Science, and I always love catching the new IMAX films playing there. Recently I was able to see Volcanoes 3D: Fires of Creation, which will be there until August 21, 2019. The film was just gorgeous. Go see it. Volcanoes from all over the world on a 50-foot screen is pretty spectacular.
But even more exciting for me, I was able to sit down and talk to the host of the film, revered nature photographer Carsten Peter to get his take on the film and hear how he got into photography in the first place. Carsten is German, and I am German-American, so we had a lovely time reminiscing about German things, but it’s obvious Carsten is genuinely a man of the world now.
Carsten Peter Interview
How did you get into photography?
Yeah, it was always something that fascinated me. I mean, at the very beginning, the first images were macro photos and I discovered all these macros worlds and insects. At that time it was quite unusual and very difficult to achieve.
When was that?
Well, the first camera I got was when I was 15, and from then on, I was immediately obsessed with it. I discovered I could show people other things they have never seen before. I discovered my own areas and then expanded. As soon as I was independent, so I could do more travel and then it turned into expeditions. I studied biology during this time. I was always very interested in animals and ecology. Then I began to travel during the free time from studies – I was always in Africa with a motorcycle, crossing the Sahara several times.
How did you start working with National Geographic?
Oh, that’s a long story (laughs).
Well, I don’t have much time with you, so make it quick.
(Laughs) Yeah, because it’s really not easy to slip into that, especially as a foreigner. I sent them some images from inside of glaciers, and they liked them, but kind of returned them… and I thought, “OK, that’s it.” But one year later, they still remembered these images and called me back to work on a story, and I got to do some remarkable work with that. I sent it in and immediately they printed it as a cover story. So that was the entry. But I think it’s really a combination of luck and having something that is unique and never been seen. That was my key.
Given the environments you work in, it seems like you need to balance the tech and the art of photography. How do you do that?
I like the challenge. I want to figure out things that are not so easy. You say, “how should I do this?” and I try to find solutions. Often there are so many obstacles, weather-wise, lighting, with volcanoes – eruption wise, like the control of the access, countries may be in crisis … but I like that. I want to find solutions.
Tell me about your work on the Volcanos 3D movie.
My role for this project was mainly to be on camera and be a guide for the story. They wanted to cover me, how I cover volcanoes. I really enjoyed being at all those volcano sites.
So, you weren’t behind the camera at all for this project?
Just a little bit. I contributed some footage, but it was primarily following me and shows how we tackle getting down to the volcanoes to photograph them.
Favorite places on earth that you have photographed?
I get this question so often, and I almost don’t know the answer because I fall in love with every place I visit and want to come again and again. I think for me, it’s more important to kind of keep diving deeper into the subjects and have more opportunities. Of course, there are some more interesting countries and less interesting countries, but usually, if you pay attention, you always find something interesting. I love to discover, so if you’re going through the world with open eyes, there are so many things to see. Like last year in Hawaii, that was exceptional. And I loved that volcano in Antarctica, which seems like a contradiction that there would be a lava lake there.
How big is the team that you usually work with?
It is always different. Because sometimes you may need a huge expedition, and you need all the technical tools, camera equipment, food, water, tents and outdoors equipment – you have to bring it all in with you. The smallest can be alone or with a friend. It often has to be spontaneous because of the weather, and it can be difficult to find people who are prepared and can go just like that.
Going back to the Volcanoes movie, what is special about this film?
To me, I like very much that it is so realistic. Even if you have seen a volcano in nature, still the film shows you things you haven’t noticed. Because there is slow motion. There is the movement of certain lava particles or volcanic bombs, how they twist in the air, how they fall. Things where you don’t have enough time in person to observe it this closely. And if you are there, you must be careful, maybe step away – but with the movie, you can see the detail of everything so well on the big screen.
And the movie was filmed in many countries, right?
Yes, it’s many countries. A sometimes, with it being in 3D, you see the volcanic bombs, and they go over you and impact almost out into the auditorium!