Virtually there: bringing nature into our digital lives
National Geographic photographer Martin Edström heads out on his latest assignment
National Geographic Explorer Martin Edström is a Swedish photojournalist who uses 360-degree and virtual reality optical technologies to turn simple photographs into immersive, digital natural world experiences. His team has documented everything from close encounters with lions in Zambia to Hang Son Doong in Vietnam thought to be the world’s largest cave complex. Edström headed to Sweden’s High Coast region to put the new Nat Geo Apparel collection through its paces.
High Ways: Heading along Sweden’s Höga Kusten (High Coast)
Much of Edström’s work highlights unique environments, habitats, or species that are under threat. Hang Son Doong cave in Vietnam, for example, was only discovered in 1990, exciting much interest from the tourism industry. Edström’s immersive 360-degree and virtual reality videos of the cave complex helped to raise the site’s international profile and increase public pressure to protect it from tourism development. “What really drives me is to use immersive and interactive storytelling to let people step into the story and be inspired enough that they care more about the important stories of our planet,” says Edström.
Ice Age Artefact: Glacial melt created the High Coast’s distinct geology
Edström feels a particular connection to the High Coast region, and often visits. “The High Coast feels very special to me,” he says. “My grandfather grew up here, and the first time I came, I just felt at home.” Located in northeast Sweden, the region features sheer cliffs, rolling mountains, and thick boreal forest, all against the backdrop of the Baltic Sea. The many interesting geological features, including the unique moraines, are products of the combined processes of glaciation, glacial melt, and new land uplifting from the sea at the end of the last ice age and melting of the continental ice sheet between 10,000 and 24,000 years ago.
Edström hikes along granite cliff tops in Sweden’s High Coast region
The High Coast is popular among hikers, especially in spring and summer months. “You can feel how the elements have shaped this place over millions of years,” says Edström. Glaciation, followed by glacier retreat, have had a huge impact on the geography here―the land has risen by up to 285 metres over the last 10,000 years. This uplift is responsible for the region’s dramatic topography and abundance of steep cliffs. In April, when Edström visited, spring had yet to take hold, making it the ideal time to test out some items from the new National Geographic Apparel Collection.
World Building: Edström prepares the gear he needs to capture a landscape
Though Edström started out as a traditional photojournalist, he and his team now focus on using innovative techniques like 360-degree and virtual reality to create images that immerse his audience and allow them to “step into” the story. They do so by using drones and 3D cameras on stands to take thousands of images which are then stitched together to create a seamless environment that viewers can “inhabit”―either by exploring with a cursor or by donning a virtual reality headset for an even more immersive experience. “If you want someone to care for something, you first have to make them feel it,” says Edström. “That’s why working with these immersive techniques is so powerful.”
Trekking through Slatterdalsskrevan–a sheer crevasse in the High Coast
Slatterdalsskrevan, a steep, narrow crevasse in Skuleskogen National Park, is easily accessible via a well-marked hiking trail―and is a typical geological feature of post-glacial rebound. There are many similar features in the area, though at around 40 meters high, 200 meters long, and 7 meters wide, Slatterdalsskrevan is a particularly dramatic example. Edström has created immersive 360-degree experiences of similar geological features, including caves in Kazakhstan and Vietnam, that allow audiences to experience these unique places without even leaving their living rooms.
Edström and his colleague set up a 3D camera at Slatterdalsskrevan
Edström’s goal has been to push the boundaries of immersive filmmaking, both from a technical and storytelling perspective. As well as using existing technologies, he and his team have engineered customized 360-degree cameras and a mobile armored camera platform for projects, including unique footage from “within” a pride of lions in Zambia. “I want the experience to essentially be as close as possible to actually being there,” says Edström. That sense of firsthand experience helps to create a stronger connection between people, nature―and the world Edström hopes to help conserve through his work.
Drones technologies are essential in building immersive environments
Edström’s concerns about conservation carry over to his choice of gear when he’s heading out on an expedition, so he was intrigued to see how the new National Geographic Apparel performed in outdoor conditions, given its impressive sustainability credentials. While not designed for the most extreme environments, this is still technical outdoor wear―and perfectly suited for the High Coast in winter. “Knowing I’m wearing gear that performs, but is also truly sustainable. That’s a big part of the story,” Edström says.
Getsvedjeberget overlooks the Baltic Sea on Sweden’s High Coast
Technology is often seen as something that separates us from nature. However, Edström and his team are using technology to bring audiences closer to nature by bringing remote and unique environments into our living rooms―with an ultimate goal to encourage real-world action to help protect these places. Myriad actions play a part in conservation―from major policy decisions that are impacted by public opinion to the small choices we all make in our everyday lives that, amplified by millions, have a real-world impact.
Discover the new National Geographic Apparel Collection: adventure-ready clothing with sustainability at its core.
Visit thecorem.com/nationalgeographic to shop the collection.