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Into the wild: The photographer who captures the most remote parts of NZ

Eglinton Valley in Fiordland. Photo/Stephan Romer

Photographer Stephan Romer takes flight out of Queenstown.

It takes more than blue sky to get Stephan Romer out of bed in the morning. The Queenstown-based photographer doesn’t do pretty, a word that’s far too flimsy to describe the vastness of his panoramic landscapes – images he describes as “unseen perspectives”, shot from the air in some of the most remote parts of New Zealand.

“In pictures, I like the drama,” says Romer, who partners with veteran helicopter pilot Alfie Speight to press “closer to the mountains, deeper into the valleys”, although the German-born father of two admits he’s not a very relaxed passenger. “You always have to watch the weather; it’s so unpredictable. But that’s what creates the beauty.”

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Romer owns three art galleries where he shows his work: one in Queenstown, one recently opened in Auckland, and one in his hometown Düsseldorf (romer-gallery.com).

Originally trained as an industrial designer, he built his reputation in Europe as a specialist in commercial car photography, with a client list that’s included Porsche, Aston Martin and Mercedes Benz. It was on assignment for Porsche in 2002 that Romer fell in love with New Zealand, during a five-week shoot in the South Island. And he was working on another Porsche campaign in Spain when he fell in love with his Kiwi wife, Nadine. 

Photographer Stephan Romer flies into wilderness areas by helicopter to shoot epic panoramas. Photo/Supplied

For the past 12 years, the couple have lived in Queenstown (where he drives not a Porsche but a Mini). There, Romer’s landscape photography has become his passion project, with the large-scale, ultra-high definition images attracting an international clientele, from wealthy buyers in the US to an Arab sheik. His favourite haunts are true wilderness areas such as Mt Aspiring National Park, which has limited access. He recalls a particularly memorable moment on a flight in mid-winter when Speight came in to land on a glacier at sunset. “It was ice-cold, at 3000m, but so beautiful with a really warm, golden glow.”

Romer has spent a lot of time in the European Alps and they’re beautiful too, he says, but crowded. “In the Dolomites, there’s a traffic jam of people. Here, you can pack some lunch and go flying for a couple of hours and not see anyone at all.”

This article was first published in the October 2018 issue of North & South.