As one year comes to an end and another begins, it’s that time of year again when we feature one photographer whose work has stood out in the previous year. This is no simple task as the number of amazing photographers seems, well, endless.
I find so much joy and inspiration in browsing through people’s online galleries on a regular basis. This year there’s one photographer that I’ve kept coming back to more than once. His work from the polar regions is simply mindblowing, and the way he connects the landscapes and its wildlife draws me into the photo in a way only a few can.
So, without further ado, I’m excited to announce 2023’s Photographer of the Year: Virgil Reglioni.
In this photographer interview, you’ll learn more about polar photographer Virgil Reglioni. We look into his photographic journey, inspirations, thought processes, and much, much more…
Tell us a little about yourself and your photographic journey.
I am Virgil Reglioni, 35y.o, born and raised in France, close to Lyon. In June 2011, I left my hometown with a backpack on my back and embarked on a journey that took me to over 65 countries and all continents in the span of 12 years. I always had a camera with me and used it as a hobby. During this time, I built a strong global network of connections and became a full-time outdoor guide in 2016. This is the year I discovered my first Northern lights and -42 degrees Celcius; This is the year I discovered the addiction to polar creativity.
After many years in polar regions, I have now acquired a wide range of skills and experience. I serve as an expedition leader on small polar expedition vessels, a photography leader, a naturalist guide, a lecturer, a sea kayaking guide, a zodiac driver, and a polar bear monitor. My extensive knowledge of the polar world allows me to guide in cold and expansive areas such as Greenland, Northern Canada, Svalbard, Alaska, South Georgia, and Antarctica.
What is it about polar regions you find so fascinating to both explore and photograph?
Polar regions are so wild and hard to access. It brings big challenges in terms of photography, and this pushes me to take photographs we don’t commonly see. When I work in these areas, I love sharing my knowledge and guiding because it feeds my photography.
I follow the evolution of light, ice, and wildlife, and it brings me incredible photography opportunities. To me, an image without snow or ice seems like it does not fit my style anymore. It has become my strength over the years of shooting.
Your Antarctica gallery is one of the most amazing collections of images I’ve seen. Can you talk us through some of the experiences, highlights, and challenges in creating this incredible portfolio?
Antarctica is remote and wild, and many times, the conditions do not line up with what we expect. Working as an expedition guide in such an environment teaches me a lot about myself.
Every single trip I do on the Antarctica peninsula is an unknown adventure. I never know what shot I will bring home. By cumulating many voyages in Antarctica, I managed to gather an incredible collection of unbelievable moments spent with wildlife, unique light conditions, and pitched silence in the icy paradise.
I have to say that I also had some tricky moments with violent catabolic winds hammering down, massive swells, and crashing waves on zodiacs, making me think that my whole camera equipment was destroyed; in vain, it always survived with good protective gears.
Spending this incredible time with wildlife is not an easy thing because finding the animals is a task in itself. After working many years in icy landscapes, your eye adapts, and your knowledge helps you to read the landscape, target the right locations, and find suitable spots for eventual sighting.
It makes the difference.
What equipment, photographic and non-photographic, is essential in order to create your images?
Regarding the equipment I use, it is quite simple. I am not a materialistic person, and I use only what I need. I possess one wide angle lens for my night and aurora photography mostly (Laowa 15mm f/2), and a 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 for any other images. By doing so, I allow myself to travel light.
When guiding in polar regions, I always use a belt dry bag hooked on my side, so I have the opportunity to bring my camera with me at all times, which is compact mirrorless (Sony A7RIII).
In terms of developing images, I use Lightroom and Photoshop to work on my images. During winter, I, of course, use a tripod for stability and all necessary equipment and clothing to keep warm.
Merino wool is the queen!
How important is having “the right” camera gear for your work?
Every single image I gather in my Antarctica gallery is captured during guiding trips. Having the right camera gear is so important for my work because, most of the time, I need to be fast, reactive, and always aware of my surroundings, especially in Antarctica or South Georgia, where it can quickly become overwhelming related to environmental conditions and wildlife.
I need lightweight and ergonomic camera gear, which Sony fully complies with.
I know the extensive amount of planning that goes into planning and leading photography and/or expedition tours. But how much planning goes into the images themselves? Are they carefully planned for, or do you “react” to the scenery in front of you?
Not all images are captured the same way. I would happily say that every single image involving wildlife are moments captured without a plan. Nature gives you its best when you respect her. Knowing locations are great help to anticipate images. As an example, I could name a few places on the Antarctic Peninsula where, often, we encounter leopard seals, and I know what the backdrop looks like in this area so I can eventually build up a pre-image in my head; but most of the time, reality will not fit with the expectations.
I react to what I see in front of me by knowing my own style. Few years back I would shoot a thousand images of icebergs within 2 hours, but by practicing, knowing you style, your taste, the way you edit, you become selective and that helps you to plan an image and look for the special capture and its particular features.
Regarding Northern light photography, this is another level. To me, Fine Art Aurora Photography is one of the most complex styles of landscape and night photography because it brings together a vast amount of knowledge about the aurora, the weather, the locations, and, of course, technical photography. It requires plenty of patience, creativity, frustration, and perseverance.
This said, some of my images are still a result of an unexpected green appearance in the sky and great composition found on the spot on arrival without a plan before hand.
However, the experience of analyzing, organizing, and planning a whole project around one image drives me so passionate. With my project, The Unique Aurora Shot of the Year, first launched in 2021, I plan an aurora image with the aim of capturing them in a completely unrepeatable way, even for me. To do so, I analyze the orientation of my backdrop, the Aurora forecast, and I anticipate my camera settings and image composition beforehand. Many of these parameters will result in technical low-light photography, which is my favourite.
One thing that sets your wildlife photos apart from many other photographers is that you choose to include the animals in the landscape as opposed to focusing on the close-ups. Can you tell us a little about your thought process behind this?
Antarctica pushes your creativity to new heights and has taught me how to adapt my polar landscape photography style to using wildlife as a sense of detail and scale.
As you know by now, I am based on polar landscape and northern lights, but when visiting South Georgia and Antarctica, it is sometimes challenging not to include wildlife in an image because the density of animals is simply overwhelming, so I have adapted my composition strategies.
I will focus more on the bigger picture. I want to give the viewer a context, a situation, so he understands what is happening and where it is taking place. By thoroughly placing my small subjects on particular points in the frame, the eye is traveling, the image comes alive, and the scale makes more sense. Also, I adore placing my subject this way because the viewer will first look at the whole scenery, then his eye stop onto the subject, and finally, he will link both together. More time is spent on the image, and more depth is created.
Moreover, it also explains why I shoot with the R series from Sony, giving me high resolution and details on the images I need for my small subjects.
How important is post-processing in your work, and what are some of your most used techniques?
In my work, post-processing is important. The creation of the image, the good eye for photography, the framing, and the composition are basic components that I could never remove from my creativity. Even with the strongest skills of editing images, it cannot replace the original raw image, which is captured on the terrain. I develop my images in a way that reflects reality but also in a way that I want my viewers to see. By placing smart zones into lights and others into shadow, the eye travels through the frame and is taken where I want it to be.
You will also notice that none of my images is a standard size. I crop my images around my compositions, adjusting breathing spaces and other features because, in my opinion, the shape of the final image will frame my idea behind the photo I want to show. Many photographers might tell you this is not the scholarly way of doing it, and that’s fine by me; this is my way.
The most important is that I am happy, satisfied, and excited about my final result because, at the end of the day, I shoot for myself and my love for photography in polar regions.
You’ve mentioned that you spend five months of the year guiding polar expeditions. How do you fill the remaining months? Are you still out there with your camera, or can you be found relaxing at a tropical beach soaking up Vitamin D?
Indeed, I do spend about 4 or 5 months working as an expedition leader, photographer, or guide on expedition vessels in polar regions. The remaining months are filled with different projects. Usually, in February and March, I spend time at my base in Tromsø, where I focus on my Aurora photography portfolio and I host my own private photography tours. They are day and night photo tours to discover fjords around Tromsø and the northern lights, of course.
During the other months, I try to reach the warmest sun I find, with coconut trees and white sandy beach, to soak up the Vitamin D, and enjoy the travels. In these warm conditions, I don’t even take my camera out; instead, I take the moment in and absorb the world’s beauty. I have to say that many times, I end up taking Nikki, my girlfriend, with me, and going to another polar area where I work on a new portfolio of images like I did this year with the Canada gallery.
What are your top 3 advice to someone who’s just getting started with landscape photography?
If I had to give three advice for someone who starts with landscape photography, I would start with:
- Do not buy ten thousand dollars of camera equipment, thinking this will make you good. It is by trying and practicing that I slowly realized: “Right, now it is time to invest in new gear because I am limited with what I want to create when I use this camera.’’
- Know your camera gear, understand every single mode of shooting, the settings, and not only how to use them but especially when to use them. It is a little bit like knowing how to make knots. It is great to know a lot of knots, but if we don’t know when to use them and in what situation, they become useless.
- Finally, go out and keep shooting until you discover what you really like (long exposures, low light, night shooting, polar regions, wildlife shooting…etc) Once you find your ideas in place, it is so much easier to find the passion, which results in practicing so much more.
What can we expect from you in the coming years?
I am always full of ideas and projects, and this keeps me very awake at night; the whole year, every year.
I will be starting this year by hosting The ‘’2024 Polar Impact’’ Photography Exhibition in Tromsø from February 10th, an event which will be open during one whole month.
Both of us, Florian Ledoux and I, will be hosting the Opening event in Tromsø on February 17th, 2024, in Kulturhuset Tromsø city center, from 17.00. Guests will have the opportunity to meet us, artists, and listen to the story behind our images. We will be exhibiting 12 photographs linked to fragile polar regions, its wildlife, and the northern lights, including The Unique Aurora Shot of the Year project.
On this note, I am working in tight collaboration with a great team of film maker and other photographer to plan my ‘’2024 Unique Aurora Shot’’. It should be held in Iceland this next year, related to some past images that I have taken and got awarded for in 2021, but I cannot tell too much about it as it is in preparation right now.
Finally, I will be spending my summer months around Svalbard, leading polar expeditions and also hosting my own photography workshops in September based on polar landscapes and the northern lights in East Greenland. I am very much looking forward to this one, hoping for some more giant icebergs, moon rises, and aurora illuminating the sky.
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