"You can never underestimate the power of Mother Nature," says Peter Lik, who has seen it in action in the course of his work. Calling him a landscape photographer would be too tame a term for the adventurous, passionate Australian who regularly confronts the elements, often putting himself in harm's way to capture nature's beauty in his breathtaking images. He has defied storms, lava flows and extreme temperatures to get award-winning shots that have sold for up to $1 million, and he shows how he achieves them in the new The Weather Channel series, "From the Edge with Peter Lik," premiering March 31.
"Weather influences our lives every day and it controls my photography," says Lik, explaining why The Weather Channel is a good fit for the series, which follows him to Hawaii's Big Island in the premiere. "With modern technology, we can track where I'm going, give GPS coordinates for the shot, give some before and after shots — the difference between one taken at 6 or 6:30, horizontal and vertical, or the sun in a different place," he explains. "We do a lot of time-lapse and use remote-controlled helicopters and really radical camera angles to showcase the beauty of America. I'll be meeting local people who can tell me where to go and give some history about the place. I'll explain why I took the photograph and give some tips," says Lik, who uses both film and digital cameras.
"Digital gives you the opportunity to look at a shot straightaway on the screen. It allows you to take many more exposures and bracket and look at the shots," he notes, adding that he uses long exposures, often 30 seconds to a minute, to capture many of his images, such as the ethereal night sky photo he took at the observatory atop Mount Kilauea. "It's an adrenaline rush when I take the photograph and when I do the print, it takes me right back to that moment and then I can share it with other people. That's what the show is about," says Lik, though he admits that one aspect of TV production took some getting used to. "Being on the other side of the camera is another world, very difficult. I guess the hardest part was losing control. I've got someone else shooting me and telling me what to do."
He's less rattled by the physical dangers that his job presents, although he's had several close calls. "I was almost killed in a helicopter crash in Australia about 10 years ago and the collapsing of the lava fields in Hawaii last year," reveals Lik, referring to the Mount Kilauea trip seen in the first episode. "You don't really care. You've got to get that shot," he says, and indeed, the images are spectacular.
In subsequent episodes, Lik treks to canyon country in Arizona and Utah, the Mojave Desert in California, Utah's Arches National Park and Glacier National Park in Montana. "Being on location just changes your life, and I'm fortunate enough to go the most beautiful places on Earth. And America is the most beautiful country in the world," says the Melbourne-born lensman, who came to the U.S. five years ago and wants to become a citizen. He expects to visit Down Under after a shoot in American Samoa, however, and calls it "a great place to grow up."
Lik, the son of Czech refugees, was eight when his parents bought him his first camera, and he combined what would become his life's obsession with a fascination with nature. "I think the camera is the most important invention we've ever seen in our lives," says the self-taught photographer, who feels "compelled to showcase the beauty of nature. We take it for granted," he believes, hoping that the series will prompt viewers to get out and explore it.
He was looking forward to his next expedition to photograph the northern lights in Alaska. "They're like paintings in the night sky. They're so magical," says Lik, who plans to include international destinations if "From the Edge" gets a second season. Currently, he sells his photos at galleries and at PeterLik.com in limited editions of 950 maximum, for elite prices. He sold an image of a fall landscape, a reflection in the water taken in New Hampshire that resembles an impressionist painting, for $1 million.
His favorite shot, however, is a photo called "Ghost," made in Antelope Canyon in Arizona, in which a shadowy figure appears as the result of dust and refracted light. "I'd never be able to repeat that in my life," notes Lik, who has compiled more than 1,000 of his photos into a 45-pound book using paper made from sustainable wood that costs $2,700. "We just about sold out 7,500 copies," he reports, adding that he's producing a somewhat cheaper version that will run about $1,000 "so more people can look at the beauty of nature. Beauty is everywhere — we just have to find it," he believes. "It cleanses your soul."
Photos courtesy The Weather Channel