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 first 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.
Whit Richardson, based in Colorado, is a successful landscape, & action photographer and was kind enough to let us quiz him a little on how he gets such incredible images...
Whit, thank you for speaking with The Performance Kitchen; equipment-wise, what is your go-to set-up for action and sport photography? "When weight and size are a concern I currently use Sony a6000 body with 16-70mm f/4 (24-105mm equivalent), Sony 10-18mm f/4 (16-35mm equivalent), and Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 (24-75mm equivalent, small lens that comes in kit version). There is a more current camera model called the a6500 which I am looking to upgrade to soon".
And for landscape; does it differ much? "Canon 5D Mark IV, I have lots of lens's, but for wide angle landscape I would use my 11-24 f/4, or if wanting to go lighter I would use my 16-35 f/4. Of course a tripod, mine is an old carbon fiber Gitzo".
When you're on your trips into the mountains or desert, what non-photography item(s) do you feel are an essential piece of kit? "Camera bags. There are lots to choose from. I like F-Stop bags, but the company apparently is not well run so it's hard to get a bag. I have all sorts of backpacks and bags for different activities and needs. For the a6000 I will often put it in a little case I got locally and hook it to a chest strap set-up I got online. This make for very easy access and works well for mountain biking or hiking. When bringing more gear or my Canon setup I will use the F-Stop bags".
As an adventure/action photographer, what do you find is usually the biggest obstacle to photography (time, weather, etc)? "Weather, and the fact that only 10% of your time is spent actually shooting, 90% is editing and running the business, which is an obstacle to any photographers sanity".
And with landscape photography? "It's a very saturated market so I would not approach landscape photography with the goal of making money, but rather to fulfill a passion and get you outdoors to places you would otherwise not visit, and at times you would otherwise be in bed or having dinner. As hard as it can be to get up for sunrise, no one ever regrets it".
So what has been your best adventure/outdoor photography experience? "There has been a lot. My first big trip sticks out, three months in Nepal back in 1991. Shot 20 rolls of film which I thought was a lot. Also my first Grand Canyon trip had a big effect on me, three weeks rowing down the river with a small group of friends. I moved to Moab shortly after that to pursue a more desert based lifestyle".
What is the story behind your own favourite photograph/set of photographs? "One of my favorites is the two bikers on Uranium Arch near Moab. It's one of the few arches you can get on top of easily and that is not in a national park. It's off the beaten track and not well known. I had seen a similar photo of it with bikers on it from Scott Markewitz but under different light. So I paid a few friends to go out with me and ride around while I shot a variety of photos. It's actually a composite of multiple exposures to deal with the extreme contrast".
On a shoot, you can be out of the house or away from a tent for hours at a time; what do you tend to carry with you to eat & drink? "At home I try and eat pretty healthy, mostly primal/paleo type meals. It's a bit harder to eat this way when traveling or camping but not impossible. There are all kinds of paleo freeze dried options for dinners. Gorp, bars, beef jerky for lunch. Granola, or some kind of nut/seed mix, or gluten free oatmeal with almonds and raisins for breakfast. Be careful with bars, most are not that great. My current favorite bars are the Bulletproof Vanilla Collagen protein bars. Meal replacement powders can be great too, a quick google search will yield many options. I just ordered a package of 30 meals from www.Amplemeal.com, not cheap but totally awesome. Listen to Ben Greenfields podcast if you're into health, fitness, and nutrition for more ideas".
For athletes on a beach, or up a mountain, what should they be looking for to get that perfect shot? "Personally, I've always been drawn to big landscapes with little people in them. Can be helpful to get a higher perspective if possible. But this works best with dramatic scenery, you don't always want to shoot wide as it diminishes anything interesting in the distance. There is no formula. Compose initially for the surrounding landscape and then direct your subject to the place in the frame you want them. Always experiment if you can because that is where you learn and were the fun is. Shoot different lens, different angles like ground level or high up, play with slow shutter speeds and motion, shallow depth of field, etc".
What are the most common mistakes in action/adventure photography? "I think one area that adventure photographers have a hard time with is the post production, workflow, storage, archiving, organizing, labeling, keywording, etc. You should be able to find any photo you've ever taken in less that 30 seconds, preferably faster. Also knowing how to process your photos, most people use Lightroom, is important".
Are there any photographers you really admire or find inspiration on their work? "I will spend time on Instagram looking at all kinds of photos and photographers and get inspiration there. There are so many good photographers it's hard to not fall in a rut and think your not worthy".
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? "You can't beat scenic locations, and being in the right place at the right time is a big part of what goes into a great photo. That said, you don't need the Grand Canyon unfolding before your camera lens to have fun with it and to get creative, like with some of the things I mentioned before. Maybe google 'best photography books for creativity' or something like that, and order a book that will give you all kinds of ideas you never thought of, it can be a great source of inspiration. Don't get caught up comparing yourself to others because, one it's subjective, and two there is always someone better no matter how good you are, and that applies to everything in life. Just have fun with it".