An artist’s perspective on New Zealand’s unique natural beauty

An interview with Stephan Romer

Among the ever-evolving tapestry that is New Zealand’s natural landscapes, Stephan has mastered the art of storytelling through the lens. Every work of Stephan’s is a glimpse into New Zealand’s diverse terrain, from snowy mountain passes to remote Fiordland wilderness or wild and rocky coastlines. In this Q&A with Stephan we delve into his perspective on the unique splendour of New Zealand’s landscapes and what inspires him to photograph it.

What first drew you to making New Zealand the subject of your landscape photography?

interestingly, it was my commercial work that initially led me to New Zealand. In 2004, I was commissioned by Porsche and the German advertising agency KEKO to shoot the new 911 campaign. It ended up being a six-week road trip, which led me to fall in love (on a professional level—of course!) with the country. Two years later, I returned for a follow-up campaign with the 911 Targa, and I met my future wife Nadine, who was producing the shoot. This is when I fell in love with more than the scenery. The rest, as they say, is history.

Porsche 911 on the Macraes Flat Road in 2004.

For someone who hasn’t experienced it, how would you describe the unique beauty of New Zealand’s natural landscapes?

I think what makes New Zealand so alluring is the incredible diversity that exists within such a small geographical area. I can drive through snow on a high mountain pass and, within an hour, be on a beautiful beach. I live in Queenstown, which is an alpine and lake setting, but not far away in Mackenzie Country or the Maniototo, it looks more like a high plain desert. It is very invigorating to live amongst such variation and contrast.

Queenstown shot from a helicopter behind the Remarkables.

You’ve photographed regions across both the North and South Islands. Do you have a favourite area or landscape in New Zealand to photograph? What draws you back there?

I get this question quite a lot, especially when talking to people in the gallery. The answer is not that simple. There are a few areas I return to often. High on the list is the West Coast of the South Island, especially during the shoulder season when there is hardly another person around. It offers beautiful beaches set against the backdrop of glaciers and the Southern Alps – it is hard to beat.

No question, Fiordland is very special too. I love to get out on a boat and get away from well-known tourist spots. The Maniototo and Dansey’s Pass also hold a special place in my heart.

Lake Matheson on the Westcoast looking towards Mt Tasman and Aoraki/Mt Cook to the right.

How do New Zealand’s changing seasons impact your photography? Do you have a favourite season to capture landscapes?

Spring and autumn are my favourite seasons. You get a bit of snow on top of the mountains, fog in the valleys and morning frost. These elements add to the story, and that is good. Also, the sun is lower compared to summer and the days are shorter, which helps with shooting in the first-light or end-of-day.

The Chinese Settlement in Arrowtown last autumn.

What kind of planning and preparation goes into your photography trips when searching for the perfect shot?

I do a lot of research. This typically starts with location research using Google Earth, but it can also involve talking to local guides or simply travelling to the location and discovering. And then, of course, there is always the weather. New Zealand’s weather can be notoriously difficult to predict, so I usually check three or four different forecast pages before making my decision. Sometimes I also have to check tide times for coastal shoots. If possible, I allow at least one or two days as a backup in case I’m not able to get it the first day.

Maybe the sun popped out too late this time…

What has been your most challenging, but also most rewarding photography experience while working in New Zealand?

It has to be Milford Sound. For years, I had tried to get a great shot of Piopiotahi/Milford Sound. It was early spring, and I saw there was a decent storm forecast for Milford Sound. I booked to stay at Milford Sound Lodge, and before I left Queenstown, they called to say there was a big storm on the way and that I should either come a day earlier or “you won’t be coming at all.” I decided to go and the moment I got to Piopiotahi, I saw there was something very special brewing.

The avalanche danger was very high, so not long after I arrived, the Milford Sound road was closed. This gave me a rare opportunity to explore the area without cars or tourists. An empty car park at Milford Sound is unheard of! I ended up getting stuck at Milford Sound Lodge for 36 hours as the storm rolled through. The building was shaking and there was no view—but not before I captured my shot. It was quite an adventure but absolutely worth it as I now have the Piopiotahi piece I always wanted.

Piopiotahi before the storm.

Take your own journey through Stephan’s favourite New Zealand locations by visiting the Romer Gallery in Queenstown or browsing the full collection online.

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