"Night Sky and Crazy Scenery": Interview with Virginie Bitterlin

Virginie, tell us about you...

I’m a 31-year old woman, originally from France. I came to New Zealand in March 2019 with a Working Holiday Visa, before extending my stay with a work visa. It took me eight years to come to this incredible country but I finally made it and am loving every minute of it!

So what is it about New Zealand that you're loving most of all right now?

One of the things I love most is the night sky - It’s one of the reasons I came to New Zealand. And obviously the crazy scenery. I’ve been living in Twizel for a year and that view of Mt Cook doesn’t get old. I can photograph it every day, it’s always different and there are so many possibilities. It’s endless!

by Virginie Bitterlin

How did you become interested in photography?

I was gifted with a DSLR for my 24th birthday by my parents and my brother. I had been taking some photos before that with our regular camera and I guess they noticed it. The first thing I did was to read the manual from start to finish, from the very first to the very last page. It was the first time I had ever done this… And when I found out what was possible with such a tool, I quickly wanted to try it out on the field.

I remember seeing a panorama of the Milky Way by Mike MacKinven, shot from Lake Wanaka, back in 2014. I thought to myself one day, I’d like to take photos like this. I’ve been fascinated by astronomy and the universe since I was a little girl and when I realized that it was possible to photograph the night sky with a simple DSLR, I was more than excited. Six years later, here I am in New Zealand actually shooting panos like the one that fueled my curiosity and passion for photography at the very beginning.

by Virginie Bitterlin

How would you describe your photographic style?

I don’t like locking myself into a specific style as it's always good to try out new things. However, I think my type of photography is generally pretty simple, to the point, not over the top. Photography for me is simply about capturing the beauty around me and sharing it with others. It doesn’t matter if it is a grand landscape or a tiny detail.

What are you shooting with?

I am shooting with a Canon 6D, which I purchased a year after getting my first DSLR (a Canon 650D) because I knew I wanted to shoot the Milky Way and the 6D was the best tool for that, given how well it handles noise at high ISO. Most of the time I shoot with the Canon 24-104 f/4 but I have been using more and more my Canon 70-200 f/4 for landscape. I use the Samyang 24mm f/1.4 for night sky photography; I love this lens! I also asked my brother to send me my Samyang 14mm f/2.8 and Canon 50mm f/1.8 for more flexibility and new things I wanted to try for night sky photography. It took two months for the parcel to get to New Zealand because of Covid… But I have made good use of them since it finally arrived!

Scotland is one of your favourite places too, can you tell us about your time there and share a favourite photo?

One of my favorite photos is from The Quiraing, which is probably my favorite place. Turns out I was already drawn to capturing the details in the mountains, with big dark clouds even back then!

I’ve been thinking a lot about Scotland lately and I know that this will be my first trip whenever I’m back home to France. I was there in 2017 and 2018 for about eight to ten days, both times enjoying a short road trip purely for travel and discovery.

"Scotland" by Virginie Bitterlin

I loved the scenery and New Zealand reminds me a lot of Scotland at certain places (or vice-versa), both in terms of landscape and those wide open spaces, treeless mountains that I love... There’s also a sense of peace and quiet that I find in both countries. I often say that half my heart is in Scotland and the other half is in New Zealand.

Whenever I do get to go back, I want to travel in a van and focus on photography with sunrises, sunsets, and probably night at well. I’ve got so many ideas already... The thing is, I want to see it with snow (call me weird but I love the winter!)... but I also need to be there in the summer if I want to shoot the Milky Way. My time in New Zealand has made me want to spend more time in countries, instead of going for a short two-week trip. It would be nice to be able to live there for a while, working and enjoying the place.

You've also visited the USA numerous times, is there a photograph that stands out from one of those trips?

It is so hard to choose only one photo, especially from a country that has so much diversity in terms of landscape. Between the big cities and the wide open spaces of the West for example… They are worlds apart. I’ve absolutely loved my road trip from 2017 in the National Parks of Utah, Nevada and Arizona. I was shooting like crazy too, from sunrise to sunset.

There are two that I like for different reason. I loved that tree on the photo below, and then a photographer just came out of nowhere and sat there, not even bothering asking if he was in the shot or not… Well, I tried to make the most out of it anyway.

By Virginie Bitterlin

I like the bikes on this photo, which are a really good way to give a sense of scale. I love this photo but couldn’t really tell why.

By Virginie Bitterlin

You sell your photography via Society6, tell us about your experience with the print on demand sites and why you chose this over others.

I like the simplicity of print-on-demand - gaining time as I don’t have to worry about getting in touch with printers and sending items out myself, etc. I recently sold my first Fine Art print to someone in Australia who contacted me directly via Instagram. I had to spend long hours researching and contacting printers, getting quotes, etc. It’s a lot of work. Websites like Society6 make it easy, though I haven’t really advertised lately and I’m not selling much so I may delete my account once I’ve set up something on my own website. We’ll see.

How did you spend lockdown, did you work on any photo projects?

I was actually working during lockdown, as I was working in a lodge where we had either people staying there for lockdown or essential workers staying for a night or two as well. I respected it scrupulously and didn’t go out of the property for weeks... I was glad we have a lot of green space around the buildings (I was living on site at the time). I didn’t do much photography, except for the night sky. It is unbelievable to think that I could shoot the Milky Way even though we were in the middle of a town! I was out shooting when I saw the aurora: it was insane! I was so frustrated not to be able to go somewhere else. I managed to get something from the lodge but of course it would have been awesome from other locations in the area.

"Lockdown" by Virginie Bitterlin

I took the time though to catch up on editing months of photos that I hadn’t had the time to process yet, to finally be up to date. That was a good thing. Since then, I’m behind again…

I was so frustrated to miss the autumn colors though, the beautiful and colorful foliage in trees. It was one of the reasons I wanted to stay longer in New Zealand and spend another autumn and winter here. I guess I’ll have to come back for that… or stay long enough to see a third autumn in New Zealand!

What else should we know about your photography journey?

During my time in NZ, I’ve often found myself emotional in front of a landscape scene... at some point I wondered if it had something to do with the fact that I do photography. We tend to be more aware and pay more attention to light, contrasts, textures, shapes... and things can be seen as amazingly beautiful to us, but some people may not even notice. Many times I've found myself somewhere where all the tourists were looking in one direction, but I was looking in another direction, totally amazed by what I had noticed whether that be one detail in a huge landscape or something else.

My time in New Zealand has allowed me some amazing photography training including the art of patience. There's no better way to improve than to practice and I have practiced a lot. The first six months I was traveling and I was shooting sunrises and sunsets... My friends at home were wondering when I was getting any sleep. I can totally see how much I’ve improved, both for landscape and night sky photos. I am getting more drawn to mountain tops lately… I love close-ups of those details in the rocks, snow, light, clouds...

What's next for you?

I definitely want to go back to Scotland and hopefully I’ll get to stay longer to take the time to enjoy the place in different seasons and get to know an area more in details. I also want to do the same as I’ve done in New Zealand (Working Holiday Visa) but in Canada. I still have until I’m 35 to do it.

There are so many more places I want to visit... Iceland, Greenland, Feroe Islands, Norway, Svalbard, many more places in the US, Patagonia... As you may notice I’m more drawn to northern countries. Places are added to this list on a regular basis.

Where can we find you online?





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