The furthest corners
A love of nature and of mountains led Werner van Steen to photography. The native Belgian travels the world taking pictures of its most remote corners. He uses ZEISS Otus lenses to achieve the highest possible imaging quality.
Even as a child Werner van Steen used to spend time in the dark room with his father, who was an enthusiastic hobby photographer. And as a teenager, Werner, who meanwhile had become a passionate mountain climber, always had a small camera with him to document his climbing adventures. In his mid-20s he said goodbye to extreme climbing and began to devote himself completely to photography. His most important insight during this phase of his life was that to take good pictures, you need time. “It’s simply not a good idea to visit 25 places in 3 weeks,” he says. “I noticed that very quickly and had to change my entire way of traveling.” Since then he has planned his excursions around his photography and tries to spend as much time as possible in each place he visits. For his photo series of the eagle hunters of western Mongolia, he and his girlfriend lived with local Mongolian families for two weeks.
Today, Werner, aged 49, focuses entirely on nature photography. His favorite motifs are wide and nearly unpopulated landscapes. “In my photographs I want to show that these kinds of places still exist on our planet,” he says. “Perhaps my yearning for great wide open spaces also has something to do with the fact that I live in heavily populated Belgium.”
In most cases, the pictures that mean the most to me are the ones that demanded the most from me.
Werner van Steen
For a good picture, a wonderful landscape is not the main factor; you also need to be there at the right moment. “A successful nature photographer needs the patience of a monk and persistence of a gold medal winner.” During presentations of his photographs, Werner is often asked if he has a favorite picture, but he doesn’t. “For me, the story behind the pictures is more important – the preparation, the time you invest, the frustrations. In most cases, the pictures that mean the most to me are the ones that demanded the most from me.”
Werner van Steen plans every detail of his photography journeys far in advance. He researches exactly what he wants to photograph, when it’s the best time to travel that destination and the equipment he has to take with him – after all, the places he goes to often have extreme weather conditions. His packing list is normally ready a month before he departs. And with so much attention to detail, the photo equipment has to be perfect. “Month-long travel plans, hours of walking around with a heavy backpack, days of waiting, often under challenging conditions – all that just to find out that the weather didn’t turn out as planned and you have to come back again,” says Werner in describing one possible scenario. “But when you then experience that long-anticipated moment and capture it with the camera, the disappointment is of course huge if the pictures are for technical reasons not what you imagined. In the past, I was often disappointed by the performance of my lenses.”
Four years ago, he switched completely to ZEISS lenses. Currently he prefers using the models from the Otus family. “The first results with the Otus 1.4/55 totally blew my mind,” he says. “Even with a wide-open aperture, the sharpness is incredible.”
With the three Otus focal lengths, Werner can cover the most important areas of his photography: he uses the Otus 1.4/28 as a classic landscape lens for wide-angle shots, and the Otus 1.4/55 to isolate more details and to put together shots to create panoramas. He often takes the Otus 1.4/85 with him into the mountains, where his goal is to highlight certain characteristic elements of that kind of mountainous nature.
Even when the daily low temperatures reached -35°C in the Mongolian winter the performance was excellent.
Werner van Steen
Besides the outstanding imaging performance of the Otus lenses, Werner also appreciates the excellent quality of workmanship and the lenses’ precision. “With the focus ring I can exactly determine the focal point and even when the daily low temperatures reached -35°C in the Mongolian winter the performance was excellent.”
In his Mongolia photo series, around 95% of the pictures were taken using the new Otus 1.4/28. “It’s sharp all the way to the corners and I can be sure my pictures can be printed on a large format for exhibitions or customers. ZEISS calls it the best wide-angle lens in the world, and I can only agree with them.”
About Werner van Steen
Werner van Steen, born 1966, works for a climbing equipment company and as a freelance nature photographer. After ending his career as an extreme climber, he devoted himself full-time to photography. He travels with his partner, Marion Demanet, to some the planet’s most remote corners and particularly likes visiting very cold regions. His pictures are regularly exhibited and have won various awards. Werner van Steen lives in Belgium.