The Huddle

Stefan Christmann's Image

More than 5,000 male emperor penguins huddle on the sea ice, backs to the wind, heads down, sharing body heat. ‘It was a calm day,’ says Stefan, ‘but when I took off my gloves to focus the lens, the cold felt like needles piercing my fingertips.’ Antarctic winters are fierce, with temperatures below minus 40 degrees Celsius.

While the females spend two months at sea feeding, their mates care for the eggs. The male balances his precious cargo on his feet, tucked beneath a fold of skin called the brood pouch. Penguins on the windward edge of the huddle regularly peel off and join the more sheltered side, creating a constant rotation through the warm centre. Survival depends on cooperation.

Behind the lens

Stefan Christmann

Stefan Christmann


Receiving a photography scholarship from the North American Nature Photography Association in 2005 was a life-altering experience for Stefan. Working as a scientist in Antarctica in 2012, he used every free minute to document the life of a nearby emperor penguin colony. He returned in 2017 to complete a comprehensive body of work about one of nature's most gripping survival stories.

Image details

  • Nikon D810
  • 45mm f2.8 tilt-shift lens
  • 1/60 sec at f11  •   ISO 800  •   Gitzo 5562LTS tripod + Novoflex CB5II ballhead
  • Atka Bay, Queen Maud Land, Antarctica
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