A LOT OF PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES ARE KEEN PHOTOGRAPHERS. COMPETING IN THE MOST SCENIC, DRAMATIC, TENSE, AND FRAUGHT ENVIRONMENTS IN THE WORLD, MANY LIKE TO CAST A KEEN EYE OVER THEIR SURROUNDINGS AND TAKE SOME IMPRESSIVE PICTURES. BUT HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR TIME UP A MOUNTAIN, OR ON A TRACK, OR BY A BEACH?
This is the fifth of a series of interviews, where we reached out to some amazing action photographers, to ask them for some tips and tricks that could help anyone competing up a mountain or on the waves, take some incredible shots.
What is your go-to camera set-up for outdoor/action photography (equipment-wise)? “I use a Nikon DSLR, currently the D810, and a combination of 16-35 f/4, 85 f/1.8 and 70-200 f/2.8 lenses. I carry my camera either with the Peak Design Capture (a clamp system that attaches to a backpack strap or a climbing harness) or in pouches from Think Tank hung on a special belt”.
What is your go-to camera set-up for landscape photography (equipment-wise)? “Pretty much the same, as I tend to shoot landscapes when I am out shooting adventure or action”
What non-photography equipment is essential to a good photographers kit? “In my field, people can sometime overlook that they need to be in good physical shape to even be in the position to take photos. So all the outdoor equipment one would need to climb, trek or camp efficiently and remain dry and warm is absolutely essential. I would argue a good pair of gloves can be much more important than a fancy tripod!”
As an adventure/outdoor photographer, what is the biggest obstacle (i.e. light, weather, location, time, etc)? “Weight of the equipment is a huge obstacle in many situations, especially if I need to be performing at a similar level as the athletes I am shooting. I can’t afford to be left behind, and often need to be running around, ahead of everybody looking for the best angle, so keeping things light and staying in good shape myself can be one of the biggest challenges”.
What is the biggest obstacle to overcome with respect to Landscape photography? “To me, living in a place like Chamonix, the biggest obstacle is finding original images. It sometimes feel like every single angle, every single light condition has been photographed thousands of times before, so it is up to me to find something new, never before seen. And that most often comes down to getting a unique light and spending a lot of time out”.
What has been your best adventure/outdoor photography experience? What was the worst? “Too many to recount, but the ones that stick in my mind usually involve flying down after climbing up a peak. I also think few experiences can best a long day of granite rock climbing in the summer, up in the mountain, especially if I am partnered with a good friend.
As for worst experience, I have been injured a couple of times and had a few close calls early in my climbing career. Back in 2011, I was caught in an avalanche while approaching a remote frozen waterfall in Norway and started suffocating before miraculously ending up on top of the debris, at the base of the couloir. Not something I am keen to repeat any time soon”.
What is the story behind your own favourite photograph/set of photographs? “One of my favorite images is quite old, from 2009. It was my first 6000m climb, in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, and we almost didn’t leave the altitude camp as the weather started to turn. Still, we summitted a few hours later and, on the descent, the clouds and the light aligned for just a few minutes on the seldom climbed northwest ridge of Nevado Chopicalqui. I captured this without even stopping!”
On an adventure/action shoot, you could be out of the house for days at a time; what sort of meals/drinks are you taking with you? How much can you carry with you? “I am lucky to live in the Alps, where we have an extensive system of mountain huts with usually excellent cooking. If I am going to remote valleys in winter or on an expedition, I usually eat freeze-dried food for dinner, which has the best calories to weight ratio (if not great taste). I complement this with soup and tea to increase liquid consumption, always a major issue. During the day, I would have beef jerky, salami (the good French kind) or a big piece of hard cheese. I resort to energy bars or other artificial foods only as a last resort.
When I was in the North Pole, I carried all the food for about 8 days, as well as gas to melt water, all in a little sled behind me. Otherwise, I rarely carry more than 1-2 days worth of food as I wouldn’t be out for so long without chances to resupply”.
For athletes on a beach, or up a mountain, what should they be looking for to get that perfect shot? “Getting all the technical bits right (in focus, well exposed, etc) is important, but not nearly as much as emotion and authenticity. Just try not to pose anything, let the moment unfold naturally and ideally be a participant in it too. Then, at the right moment, capture a couple of images. Chances are, they will be much greater than anything staged could ever be!”
What do you feel are the most common mistakes in action/adventure photography? “There are a lot of “cookie cutter” photographers, trying to reproduce the same images ad eternam. If they are becoming a meme on Instagram, what exactly are you trying to say by trying to get the exact same image?”
Are there any photographers you really admire or find inspiration on their work? “Too many to name, but a few are Sebastião Salgado, Éric Bouvet, David Burnett, Galen Rowell, Jimmy Chin, Pete Souza and Ami Vitale”.
Are there any tips you might have for athletes & adventurers who want to improve their own photography in very scenic locations, and any tips for athletes who might be in slightly less picturesque settings? “My advice would be to learn about good photography. This comes from consuming a lot of images and learning about the culture, what came before and what others have said and done already. It can be on Instagram, but is more likely to be found in museums and photobooks. And if they are interested only in outdoor photography, some of the best ever can be found in the Patagonia catalogs! Learn to read images, try to see what works and what doesn’t in all the photographs that surround us daily, and you’ll be training your eye in ways much more important than learning about every button on your fancy camera”.
How different is your prep before a shoot, between going to a hot climate & a cold climate “Not much changes in terms of camera equipment, though I will obviously take very different equipment for myself. Protecting my equipment from snow and from sand are actually very similar. The worst would be humidity, especially salt water, for which I pack a lot of dry bags and silicate gels”.