Adventure Photographer Series | Andrew Peacock
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 second 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.
Andrew Peacock, currently based in California, is a an outrageously talented chap: Adventurer, Doctor, Photographer, Sportsman... we spoke to Andrew to ask him how he gets the most from his amazing trips...
Andrew, thank you for taking some time to sit with us; as we spoke before, a lot of athletes are really keen photographers, what is your go-to camera set-up for adventure travel photography (equipment-wise)? "Oh it varies enormously between situations. A good example would be from May this year when I did a three-week stint as a volunteer medical climbing ranger based at 4300m on the slopes of Denali – North America’s highest peak. I couldn’t carry a large amount of equipment and my set up was simple, a Canon 5D MarkIV with Canon 24-105 f/4L IS lens carried in a Lowepro Toploader Pro 70AWII with a chest harness so it was always easily accessible when moving up or down on the mountain. In addition I took a Canon M5 with a 22mm f/2 lens as an excellent lightweight option for moving fast up high".
So what is your go-to camera set-up for landscape photography (equipment-wise)? "When shooting landscapes I like to use a wide angle zoom like the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III on my usual camera body (the 5D Mark IV) stabilized with a Gitzo tripod".
Not every athlete will have, or will be able to carry loads of expensive kit, what non-photography equipment is essential to a good photographers kit? "Think about the environment you’ll be in and how long you’ll be there. If your comfort level is compromised it may be more challenging to stick with it to get “the shot”. Remember extra clothing, food, water, sunscreen, perhaps a portable chair (for that long night out shooting astrophotography) if it’s possible. On Denali frostbite of my fingers was a real possibility while handling a metal camera so warm gloves that were thin enough to allow me to operate the camera were my number one priority".
As an adventure travel photographer, what is the biggest obstacle or most challenging aspect (i.e. light, weather, location, time, etc)? "Light is not necessarily an obstacle, but it is every photographer’s concern - or should be! In the outdoors you have to work with what you’re given, however you can maximize your chances of good light by choosing the time of day that will best suit what you’re aiming to achieve. Certainly early mornings and later evenings usually provide the best natural light. Pick the spot and compose your image before the light gets good if it’s possible to do so".
What is the biggest obstacle to overcome with respect to Landscape photography? "In my mind composition is everything, I believe it’s as important to think of what to exclude as what to include in a good image. First look at the big picture then narrow it down to what you’re really trying to “say” with your image. Digital photography has certainly aided the process of trial and error by making it possible to self-critique right there and then. The next challenge is ‘keeping it real’ in post processing your images on the computer. I shoot in RAW and process with Lightroom and try to convey a realistic sense of the scene I saw, too many landscape images are processed intothe domain of ‘photo-art’ in my opinion these days".
Andrew, what has been your best adventure/outdoor photography experience? "I was in the right place at the right time when kayaking in the calm waters of Paradise Harbour on the Antarctic Peninsula when an inquisitive Minke whale swam immediately under my kayak. I had my large DSLR camera in the Lowepro chest harness so it was there for me to use but I had to trust that the huge mammal knew I was there and wouldn’t tip me out of the kayak. I managed to stay calm and collected enough to compose an image and fire off a few frames before the whale slipped back into the dark depths of the frigid Antarctic waters. The result was an award winning and widely published photo".
Can you tell me, what is the story behind your own favourite photograph/set of photographs? "I was in a unique situation a few years ago where the research vessel I was on in East Antarctica became stuck in fast ice. In a matter of hours the ice edge went from being next to the ship to kilometers away. The next 12 days became my photographic playground and the images from that time were published world wide and also led to co-writing a self-published children’s book using my images to illustrate the story"
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? "If it’s a vehicle based shoot then weight isn’t an issue making it possible to bring heavier ‘real’ food to cook including fresh items. I’m a carbs focused guy and like to have cereal and oats for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and pasta with salad at night".
So, if/when you camp on a shoot, what food/drink do you take with with you? "In terms of hydrating, if I know I’m going to be camping out and carrying a heavy pack I like to mix water with either Gatorade or lemonade to provide energy during the hike in. Meals will be lightweight, dehydrated foods. Couscous with flavor packets is a favourite and dehydrated mashed potatoes with a packet of tuna or salmon also makes a tasty dinner. In between meals I prefer various types of energy bars and trail mix to keep my energy up".
A lot of athletes find themselves in some pretty scenic locations in forests, or up mountains or on a beach; what should they be looking for to get that perfect shot? "Number one - have your camera at hand and easily accessible as the action unfolds! And number two - there is no ‘perfect’ shot. Choose subjects that interest YOU, take chances with angles and positions from which to shoot and get creative. In these days of digital you can always delete. Know your correct exposure ahead of time by shooting some test frames, bright sand or snow can really throw off the camera light meter and cause trouble if you are trying to photograph people in that environment".
What do you think are the most common mistakes in action/adventure photography? "I think it’s getting harder to deliver unique imagery because so many good photographers are out and about now but too many people are shooting generic content that mimics what they see on Instagram. Avoid copying others, find your own voice/style and seek out unique situations to photograph and then really make sure to tell a story with the images".
Are there any photographers you really admire or find inspiration on their work? "Absolutely, Jimmy Chin, Keith Ladzinski, Andy Mann are just a few currently in the adventure area but Galen Rowell was my original inspiration".
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? "In scenic locations you need to move around and find an angle, a foreground, something to try and make your shot different from all the rest. Include people in the frame; tell the story of the location by showing how others are enjoying it. In less picturesque places pick out an interesting element and make that the focus by blurring the background with a wide-open aperture and make that the focus. Photograph movement by panning (moving the camera) to keep the action sharp but blur out the background. Always try something different and experiment when conditions aren’t perfect you may be surprised at the result!"
How different is your prep before a shoot, between going to a hot climate & a cold climate? "Both hot and cold climates are a challenge for any photographer. Batteries and cold don’t mix well, so I take extra batteries into a cold environment and keep the spares I’m carrying warm in a jacket pocket or similar. On Denali I always removed batteries before leaving the camera outside in the frozen air and I avoided taking it into a warm tent because condensation could form which would then freeze inside the camera if I returned outside quickly. A hot environment might also be a wet or dusty one so keeping the camera and lenses protected is paramount. Having a water-proof camera bag or rain cover in such conditions is important. Overall one thing I’d point out in terms of environmental conditions is that the better weather sealed your camera kit the less you need to worry".