On the Edge
images.” Peter challenges himself to find new interpretations of the locations he
shoots. “It’s rare to be in an untouched world nowadays, but maybe you can do
something different, or completely new.” He typically varies his lighting technique
and gear to whatever the shoot requires—and keeps it to a minimum, given that
most of his assignments require long, often arduous treks with camping and climbing gear. A late convert to digital, he typically uses Nikon cameras, including the D4
and D8, and finds that advances in low-ISO performance in the latest DSLRs have
been a boon to his work.
When Peter proposed to magazine editors that he could use his climbing experience to get images from inside an active volcano, they were skeptical. But he has now
photographed the roiling lava lakes deep inside the volcano on the island of Abrym in
the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu and the Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic
Republic of Congo for National Geographic as well as other volcanic sites.
On Abrym, Peter and his fellow climbers had to descend a roughly 1,500-foot vertical drop from the rim of the crater to reach the lava lake below. “It was kind of dicey because of the rock fall,” says Peter, explaining that due to the constant seismic
Below: Peter landed his first National Geographic cover with his images made in the
interior of glaciers such as this one in Greenland.
activity, pieces of rock were falling around them and there were few stable points to
set an anchor line. “You almost can’t communicate down there because it’s so loud;
the ground underneath you is shaking,” Peter says.
On these shoots, Peter usually dons a gas mask and thermal suit. “You have toxic,
acidic gases that attack the glass of the lenses. One of my lenses was completely eaten
up, and of course all the electrical contacts suffer there.” On one climb into a volcano,
the camera he had mounted to his helmet was eaten away by corrosive gasses.
Though Peter has been described as a “daredevil” photographer, he is keenly attuned to the risks both to himself and to his traveling companions. “I try to minimize
the dangers as much as possible,” he says. “If you are there with a team, you can’t
risk that someone could be hurt.” Research and testing is essential, he says, as is
good management of his team.
Peter’s passion for sharing his wonder at the world’s most remote places carries
a risk. “On the one hand you make the public aware if its beauty,” he says. On the
other hand, he notes, a place like Hang Son Doong could be exploited for tourism.
“I hope this isn’t the consequence of showing it to people.” He adds, “I understand
if people want to go there, but it should be in a protected way, where you leave
behind nothing but footprints.” He hopes the area will be designated a UNESCO
World Heritage Site.