Meet Stefan Zürrer
The Photographer who Almost Died in a Snowstorm in the Swiss Alps
Stefan Zürrer’s home is in the heart of Switzerland, in Schwyz. This idyllic town is surrounded by tall snow-capped mountains and lush, green valleys with grazing cows; just like you’d imagine a post card from Switzerland would look like. Nonetheless he manages to give his pictures a soul, which post cards lack, in his opinion. I met Stefan Zürrer in his hometown and got to know many interesting things about him during the interview. Let me tell you some of them.
Even though Stefan Zürrer lives in a very beautiful place, he’s drawn towards Iceland. If he could choose where to live, that’s where he’d go. He’s particularly interested in Iceland because of the quickly changing weather and lighting conditions and because there is almost no civilization.
As mentioned before, Stefan Zürrer wants his pictures to be more than just post card pictures. He’d describe his style as:
“Not glossy. Not like postcards, because postcard-photography doesn’t have a soul. I always say, that when you go to a place that you don’t know yet, you take postcard pictures. Once you’ve lived there longer and you know exactly how the weather situation is like, how the light is like, and you can go there and sleep outside with your sleeping-bag; that’s when you get really great pictures! Of course there are good post cards too. Deprecatingly said, on postcards there is always sunshine, they’re glossy and everybody is wearing neat clothes.”
Stefan Zürrer has been taking pictures since 5th grad with some interruptions. Funnily he started out his career with a job that’s got not much to do with photography. He first trained to be a confectioner. About ten years ago, while working as a confectioner, he did extra-occupational training at the cap photography school in Zürich to become a photographer. For a long time he did photography alongside with his other job. He’s happy that he managed to have a slow transition from his old job to photography. It enabled him to build up his customer base and finance his equipment.
For the last two years he’s been solely relaying on photography. He loves being outdoors and doing landscape and nature photography. Because he couldn’t solely live from landscape photography, he also does architecture. He describes the relation between these two fields like:
“They are closely related. The biggest difference is that architecture is manmade and landscape is made by nature.”
When you are outside doing landscape and nature photography you can’t influence the lighting conditions. Not like in a studio where you have all kinds of equipment to adjust everything the way you want it to be. While some people dislike the sometimes long waiting perioda until the lighting conditions are as you need them, Stefan Zürrer likes this a lot. Because then he gets to spend a lot of time in nature. He’s very patient and observant.
An almost deadly photography assignment in the Swiss Alps
Some time ago, Stefan had the assignment to take pictures of an SAC alpine hut in the Engadin. This trip into the mountains turned out to become his most memorable one. The last picture he took that day could have been the last he ever took if he hadn’t been rescued. Now it got a special place on his kitchen wall to remind him of the luck he had that day.
“On the way back [from the SAC alpine hut] I followed the footsteps of a big group of snow shoe hikers but I got lost. It started snowing and soon I was inside a big snowstorm and couldn’t see the tracks anymore. The Rega (Swiss air-rescue) had to search for me because there was no cell phone signal. I dug myself into the snow. […] They came looking for me with searchlights in the middle of the night with their helicopters. They landed in the snow and took me with them. I wasn’t harmed in any way. I was lucky! That’s the most special photo I ever took.”
His attitude towards Photoshop
To Stefan Photoshop is just a more modern way of editing pictures. Before photography was invented painters did the job of portraying the landscapes, people etc. They’d also only paint what they perceive as beautiful and leave some things out. And that’s just what Stefan does when he uses Photoshop.
This is probably something that every photographer knows very well: You are a stunning location and it looks beautiful when you look at it with your eyes. But when you see the picture later, it’s not an exact copy of how you perceived it at the location. Stefan uses Photoshop to edit pictures to “look the way like I’m carrying them in my heart”, as he puts it.
However he wouldn’t use it to alienate a picture completely like “putting palm trees into the Swiss Alps”. He sometimes erases something out of the picture completely though. That could for example be a transmission tower which is bothering him.
He uses a the Nikon 810. He also just ordered a small Hasselblad, just like one of the other photographers, Adrian Winteler.
His advice for somebody who wants to become a photographer
“Photography is a very multifaceted occupation. Somebody who shoots pictures of models for magazines is a totally different type of photographer than a guy who goes out into the nature with his sleeping bag for a couple of days to get a good shot. In this case you might not meet a single person for days and still be comfortable with it. There are also people who specialize in food and only take pictures of food. When you want to become a photographer you need to know what type of photography you want to specialize in. You just can’t cover everything, it’s impossible. I’m sure once you get into photography, you’ll find your own field but it might take a while and some experimenting with different styles and subjects.”
I asked him, what he’d do if he could be invisible with his camera. He’d take this as a chance to start doing wildlife photography. It would enable him to get so close to wild animals to use a wide-angled lens and not a telephoto lens as mostly used for wildlife photography. He’d love to be invisible so the animals won’t notice him at all.
In photography Stefan has found a passion and an occupation that makes him happy from the morning till the evening. He had to grow older than 50 to finally find what he loves to do and make it his job. His biggest dream is that it will go on businesswise like in the past two years and he can keep on making a living from photography.
Check out his work here.