The story of the Himalayan dog titled "winter is coming" that went viral came from amateur photographer and 500px member, Sebastian Wahlhütter. We spoke with him about photography, that loveable dog, and the photo that bounded him into fame.
Hey Sebastian! Can you tell us a bit about how you got into photography?
I had my first serious encounter with photography 15 years ago when I looked through the viewfinder of a friend's analog SLR. This experience has gripped me ever since and I bought my own SLR a couple of weeks later. Parallel to my university training I took classes in Photography and participated in a one year photographic program called 'Photoakademie'. That was the beginning of my career.
That's cool. Is photography a passion or a profession for you?
A lot has happened since that first analog SLR and at one point I noticed that passion alone is eventually not enough for improving skills. Along with the help of other dedicated people with the same intentions and a lot of effort studying the more technical dimensions of photography, I finally gained a Master Craftsman's Diploma in Photography in 2010.
What type of photography do you enjoy most?
There is no particular type of photography I favor in general. Since I love the outdoors, a lot of my favorite images are in the field of wildlife and adventure photography. I'm not really into arranged studio photography and prefer more the spontaneous shots that arise from a particular situation.
Is there anything you're drawn to in particular when photographing?
A good photo must tell a story on its own and provoke feelings and emotions in the spectator's eye.
I agree. Can you tell us about the dog in your photo winter is coming?
The dog showed up in the beginning of an 8 day trek in Ladakh, India, close to the Tibetan border. It's a region that is very remote except it's vast mountain landscape. He appeared out of nowhere and kept following our small group of six people. First we tried to ignore him for a while since we didn't want him to follow us all the way, but he just didn't want to give up.
After realizing that he had no intention to stop following our group, we started to feed him. Since the nights where pretty rough, with temperatures far below 0° Celsius and additional snowstorms, we let him sleep in our foretent. In return he guarded us. For example, one time we built our shelter in a nomadic camp surrounded by other rather unfriendly dogs. He kept chasing them away from us the whole time we were there. I know, it sounds a bit like a romantic drama that you'd expect in a fictional movie, but on this occasions we were glad to have him.
It was obvious that the dog was used to the rough conditions and the high altitude, that was up to 5600mASL. It was quite funny watching him running around, chasing marmots while we were catching our breaths. And even though this dog did not have the slightest chance of catching them, he never gave up. His endurance was impressive. The dog was not only friendly and a good companion, he was clever too. I had the impression that he liked his role as a watchdog. My guess would be that he is used to following people on this trek, guarding them in return for food - it is probably his way of making a living. Guarding for food. Fair enough.
My feeling was affirmed when a guy sent me images of the very same dog after he recognized him [from my photo] on the internet. He was accompanied by him one month before us hiking in the same place.
What a smart dog! What about the photo itself?
My intention on that morning was to get early enough on the top of the next 5000m peak to take some shots of the whole countryside at sunrise. It was still dark while I was ascending the mountain and it took a while for me to realized that the dog had followed me again. On the top I set up my tripod and took some shots when I suddenly noticed the dog sitting on the place next to me gazing in the countryside, totally quiet. The dog didn't show any intention of leaving his spot. So I tried to integrate the dog into my morning landscape image. Et voila - You have seen the rest.
So when did he leave you?
After this shot the dog accompanied us for five more days and followed us the whole way to the end of the trek to Korzok, a small village on the shore of Lake Tso Moriri. And, of course, we were debating and wondering what will happen to the dog at the end of our little journey but it turned out that these questions are just the way humans think.
In the end, the dog made the decision by himself. He disappeared as fast as he had appeared. We spent a whole day and night in the small village but the dog had left our camp soon after our arrival and never showed up again. We went on with our trip the following morning and headed for the next adventure conquering high altitudes. I believe the dog probably did the same thing following the next random group of people leaving for a trek in the mountains.
Amazing. What advice would you give to aspiring photographers?
I don't think there is any real general advice on how to improve ones photography. It all comes down to what you are interested in and what your aims are. The most important thing is to feel joy in what you are doing. Even if that sounds quite trivial it still is one of the keys to improving. You can just take those images and be aware that they exist - and this awareness is the key to photography in my opinion. It all comes down to how you perceive the world and in many photographic disciplines the technical skills or the high end equipment are the minor parts of what makes a good photo. Of course, the choice of equipment and the ability to handle it at any moment in the right way is important, too, but I think these skills grow along with your dedication to photography anyway.
Great advice! Thanks for taking the time, Sebastian.
What do you think of Sebastian's story? Have you ever been in a wild animal situation like this? Explore more animal photos here!