National Geographic photographer Thomas Peschak on a mission to save the glaciers

December 21, 2021

Renowned National Geographic photographer, conservationist and Nikon ambassador Thomas Peschak has released a thought-provoking film and two key images showing the major manifestation of climate change on Swiss renowned glaciers.

Thomas Peschak has spent much of his award-winning career documenting both the beauty and fragility of the world’s oceans. His latest project, however, took him to 3,000 meters above sea level in the Swiss Alps. With his Nikon kit in hand, Thomas’s mission was to demonstrate the devastating speed at which the ice is melting and to encourage people to think deeper about the problem through the power of images.

In the past 100 years, glaciers have lost ice at an unprecedented rate, with glaciers in Switzerland losing a full two percent * of their volume in the last year alone. To demonstrate this, Thomas set out to recreate a picture taken in 1959 of two geologists surveying the Gorner Glacier. After searching the mountains for hours, using the dramatic ridges as a guide, he found the exact rock the picture was taken 61 years ago and was stunned by what he found. Less than half of the ice remained in the lower half of the glacier.

Thomas knew he had to take pictures that would capture people’s interests and hearts. “Although most people are aware of climate change, they have never seen it with their own eyes,” he notes. “It’s easy to make people fall in love with pictures of cute animals like lions and dolphins, but for glaciers you have to get a picture that is so compelling that it makes people worry – because glaciers are now too endangered. “

Image: Thomas Peschak

With this in mind, he set up his shot to mirror the original photo, but felt that the image alone would not be enough to tell the story he wanted. Thomas felt that the great effects of climate change on this landscape would be better illustrated if both the old image and the new scene were included in one image. With his Nikon Z 9 and a slow shutter speed, he “collaborated” with the wind, resulting in an image that almost looks like it’s moving, similar to the glacier itself.

The Z 9 turned out to be the perfect tool for this shot. Since he always shot with DSLRs, Thomas was nervous at first to switch to a mirrorless camera for this project. However, he now calls the camera a game changer. I describe it as “the best of a DSLR and the best of a mirrorless camera combined – this intuitive and rugged camera is perfect for my photography style. I’m going to switch to mirrorless … and I think it’ll change the way I take photographs forever. “

In addition to his “now and then” shot, Thomas also wanted to capture an image that inspires and excites people and that really cares about this glacier ecosystem. This ambition led him into the glacier itself, through one of its many magical caves, to showcase the physical beauty of the glacier. He searched and found a cave with a majestic opening with the incredible Matterhorn in the middle and knew that this was the perfect place.

Image: Thomas Peschak

Thomas waited with this picture (above) in a pitch-black cave at minus temperatures until after midnight in order to avoid the constant meltwater.

Thomas challenges himself to adhere to strict photojournalistic standards and restrictions. An image processing such as the digital combination of several recordings is therefore not possible. So here, inside the glacier, he was faced with a challenging situation. The balancing shooting in a pitch-black cave required an extremely large depth of field to reach the climber, but also to capture the moonlit Matterhorn in the background.

He also didn’t want to generate “star trails” with long exposure times or rely on post-production. By using an extremely high ISO for a camera of this megapixel number, Thomas deliberately pushed the boundaries of the Z 9 to capture that fleeting moment, resulting in a stunning keepsake as part of his larger portfolio on climate change. The picture had a lot of moving parts, but the results were worth it.

“People have no idea the size of this place,” says Thomas, who chose the climber in this picture to emphasize how small we are “compared to the sheer size and size of nature”. He found this ironic, because “together we made this gigantic glacier retreat and almost disappear”.

He continues; “I think this picture shows how beautiful, grand and iconic a glacier can be, and it will hopefully show people a glacier in a way they have never seen before.”

With the help of the impressive Z9 camera, five different lights, a fast shutter speed and a high ISO setting, Thomas captured this incredible shot. For this project he used the Nikon Z9 camera and Nikon Nikkor Z 14-24mm f / 2.8.

Thomas continues to strive for change and shows people with his pictures how vulnerable the environment is – from the deepest oceans to the highest mountain peaks. To support its work, Nikon released the short film today documenting Thomas’ project in the Swiss Alps. You can the “The glacier” Video here:

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