Adventure photography in South Africa’s Drakensberg

Adventure photography in South Africa’s Drakensberg

© Kelvin Trautman / Red Bull Content Pool

© Kelvin Trautman / Red Bull Content Pool

Photographer Kelvin Trautman recently covered athletes Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel’s record-breaking run in South Africa’s Drakensberg mountain range, notorious for its tough terrain and changeable weather. We asked Kelvin a few questions about covering the Drakensberg Grand Traverse:

How tough was it to set everything up?
It took three months of route recce’s, team meetings, hours poring over maps, back and forth with permit offices, to collate a 45 page production booklet that mapped out, in theory, how we (the film crew and myself) were to cover the event. I say ‘theory’ because as with any shoot in the mountains, mother nature often throws a seemingly faultless shoot plan out the window within a couple hours of starting.

How did you keep up with the athletes?
By helicopter and on foot. When on the ground I ran with Ryan and Ryno anywhere between 2 and 25km at a time (night and day). The remoteness of the area meant getting images out to the world posed a problem so we planned two helicopter ferries back to our mobile base camp during the attempt so that I could quickly download, tag and upload images for media.

What kind of shots were you after?
When in the air I looked to shoot images that put into perspective the remote, raw landscape. The time spent in close quarters with the athletes gave me a chance to shoot the more emotive, detailed images – I planned on shooting most of these images towards the end where Ryan and Ryno’s mental and physical exhaustion had no filter!

What difficulties did you face?

Since the Drakensberg mountain range is incredibly inaccessible, everyone had to be mountain savvy and vigilant about safety at all times. To be safe, we set aside a weather window of 10 days as to reduce the chances of running into any major weather nuances during the record attempt.

Finding the athletes was a major hassle as Ryan and Ryno could course their way along the escarpment wherever it suited. To avoid flying around aimlessly, the mobile base camp sent us GPS co-ords of the runners’ position every 20 minutes.

How did you gear up?
I divvied my gear into two bags. A helicopter bag and a running bag. The heli bag obviously contained a much wider array of gear when compared to the much lighter, slimmed down running pack.

The helicopter bag included the following:
Lowerpro Rover Pro 45L backpack
Nikon D4, D800 camera bodies
Nikon 400mm, 70-20mm, 105mm macro, 24-70mm, 50mm, 14-24mm, 16mm fisheye lenses
A Manfrotto monopod
Two spare camera batteries per body
Four 32G x800 Lexar CF and four Lexar 32G SD memory cards
A couple Hoya filters, namely a 77mm ND4, and variable density

The running bag included the following:
Lowerpro Rover Pro 35L backpack
Nikon D610 camera body
Nikon 70-200mm, 24-70mm, 14-24mm
A couple spare camera batteries
A Nikon SB-900 Speedlight plus a Pocket Wizard mini TT1 and Flex TT5 transmitter and transceiver
Two 32G x800 Lexar CF and two Lexar 32G SD memory cards

Be sure to check out Kelvin’s website or follow him on Twitter.

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Adventure and automobiles: how Marcin Kin combines two very different kinds of photography

I've yet to get hit by a car, but I was once hit by a motorcycle in front of over 1,000 spectators. I pretended it didn't hurt; it did, but no broken bones or significant injuries. Skiers and snowboarders? More times than I can count.

© Marcin Kin

Polish photographer Marcin Kin is the first tell you: he isn’t an artist, he’s a craftsman. What’s impressive to us is the breadth of what his photography covers – from Moto GP to high alpine climbing in the Himalayas. Read on to find out why he doesn’t have a niche… and doesn’t want one. 

Tell us about your very first camera. 

My first camera was Fuji Finepix 4800 when I was about 14 or 15 years old – it was one of the first digital cameras. My father is quite a tech geek, and he bought this really, really expensive camera. It was only available in Germany and I think he had to drive 100km to get it. When I was trying to shoot sport, such as halfpipe skiing, it was so slow, that I would press the button when the guy went into the halfpipe in order to catch the guy in the air. I think it took about three seconds to take a picture! But I have a few nice pictures from that. It was just so crazy that I could take a picture then go home and deliver it to people that night. Later, in photography school, I learned to work with film. 

What’s your favorite image you’ve ever taken? 

One favorite image? There’s a lot of them… but one that I am really proud of is this shot from my first big expedition to Shishapangma. I really had a certain shot in mind and it took a lot of effort to get to the spot, but then when I did, everything lined up perfectly. This is near Chinese Base Camp, about 30km from the regular base camp of Shishipangma at about 5000m altitude. It’s a long way from any real city. It was me, Andrzej Bargiel, his brother Gregor and Darek Zaluski; a filmmaker who is renowned as a Himalayan climber in Poland. For me, it’s the ultimate journey picture; big mountains in the background, lots of room on top to breathe, and the yaks which are not such well-known animals - and of course Andrew, who simply looks like he is on a real adventure. 

You shoot a lot of different subjects – how do you make it work? 

You have to know the subject you’re shooting. Even shooting skiers and snowboarders is different. The hardest part is making a real emotional contact with the people you’re shooting. Often the athletes or drivers are thinking in the context of their sport, not photography – so it’s a big battle between my ideas and their ideas. But sometimes it’s good to listen to them! 

What’s your everyday carry set up? 

I usually have two Canon 1DX bodies with a 24 - 70 f2.8 and the 70 - 200 f2.8. With that combination, I can usually do a whole job with no problem. Then I keep a couple of fixed focal length lenses in my backpack. I try and avoid super wide angles. At the beginning, I did a lot of skating and snowboarding, and it was really popular to go super wide and get super close. The more experience I have, the more I try and avoid shooting wide – it’s not like what the human eye sees. It’s unnatural. But I do really like to go close to the action! 

How close? 

Close. I’ve yet to get hit by a car, but I was once hit by a motorcycle in front of over 1,000 spectators. I pretended it didn’t hurt; it did, but no broken bones or significant injuries. Skiers and snowboarders? More times than I can count. 

How do you bring variety to your photography? 

I try to clear my mind and try not to imitate someone else’s work. Last year, I did MotoGP for the first time. So I go to Google to see how it looks and what works, but I’m never looking for the work of the best photographer in each sport because I want to leave myself room to be creative. I don’t necessarily want to be influenced by their work. 

Are you an artist, or a technician? 

I’m not an artist. For me an artist is a person who creates something totally new, from nothing. I am a craftsman of photography. If you want me to shoot a wedding, I do a wedding! If you want me to shoot an expedition, I’ll do it. I’m well prepared with my cameras and lenses for anything - and I keep myself in shape to go almost anywhere. 

What do you shoot most often? 

It’s seasonal. During one part of the year it’s cross-country rallies and motorcycle stuff. In the other part of the year it’s free ride skiing and mountain climbing. Then, it’s expeditions. 

What life lessons have you learned from photography? 

Wait. Wait it out to the end. So many times I’ve watched other photographers give up and go home too early. Don’t do that.

Check out more from Red Bull Illume on Instagram, Facebook and Youtube!

Images © Marcin Kin

Gallery: 7 Spring Inspired Images

While spring may not have sprung on us quite yet, the warmer weather is just around the corner. The change in season brings a change in sports, and provides adventure and action sports photographers with a new focus. To celebrate this, we present 7 images from Red Bull Illume that remind us of spring.

© Roman Niemann / Red Bull Illume

Feel inspired? Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more adventure and action sports!

Shooting snowboarders and filming web series with Erin Hogue

People are always going to tell you that things are impossible or too gnarly, but in reality, other people don’t know sh*t. Those are their limitations.

© Erin Hogue / Red Bull Illume

So Erin, how's life? 

Things are good. I am currently in a small abandoned mining town north of Whistler with some of the best terrain in BC. I am working on a sweet environmentally conscious film with Marie France Roy for Transworld snowboarding. We have a rad crew and it’s dumping so yeah - things are good…really good.

You started an online video series right? How did that come about?

I wanted to show the average person what it takes to get the photos that they see in the mags. I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto far away from the mountains, so people back home have no frame of reference for what I do. As a result, when they see my work there is a disconnect and they don’t relate to the images in the same way. The goal of the series is to provide context in order to fill this disconnect so that everyone can value and appreciate my photos.

Any favorite moments from creating seasons 1 and 2?

Alaska was a highlight for sure. Over the years I had had 8 different offers to shoot heli-boarding and all of them fell through for a variety of reasons. Alaska ended up being my first time in a helicopter and it was with a crew that pioneered filming in the area with some of the best snowboarders of today; legend Nicolas Muller, Kimmy Fasani and Manuel Diaz. It was a dream trip that I never thought would actually happen but it did. It is the focus of episodes 5 and 6.

What are the most challenging aspects of creating the series?

The editing and music rights, for sure. I mean, some shoot days can be a lot because I am shooting photos, building a story and making sure I get enough footage to make the storyline work, all while actually doing what it takes to get to the locations. But for me editing everything together has definitely been the biggest hurdle.

How does presenting a video series help a photographer?

I don’t know that it does. It is just something I have always wanted to do and now with the accessibility of filming and how much video content is being consumed it seemed like the perfect time to start doing it. Ultimately though, my goal is to inspire people to get out there and experience epic adventures and mind-blowing locations for themselves. They say that when people have a connection and passion for something, they are more likely to protect it. For me if the series can inspire even just one person to get out there and really experience and document nature for themselves, then it will be a success.

Action sports photography is a largely male-dominated industry... has this had any impact on how you approach your career?

That’s a tough question because I have no idea what it would be like if I was one of the boys. I just always make sure I do everything I can to produce the best photos possible, that the people I work with are beyond stoked on them and that we have fun doing it. Other than that, I have just accepted that my skills will always be second-guessed and I will always have to prove myself - but whether that is different to anyone else I have no idea.

Any female action sports photographers you admire?

There are definitely not enough female action sports photographers but Robin O’Neill is a ski and mountain bike photographer out of Whistler and she’s so sick. Her photos are insane, the color she brings into them and her use of light is amazing.

What have you learned from shooting action sports?

Wow, I’ve learnt so much. By shooting backcountry snowboarding I have learnt how to be in the mountains and how much respect you have to have for them and ‘mother nature’ in general. I have also learnt how to overcome challenges on a daily basis. But the biggest thing I’ve learnt is that other people are always going to tell you that things are impossible or too gnarly, but in reality other people don’t know sh*t. Those are their limitations; you can decide what’s possible for you.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring photographers in the action sports world?

Just do and keep doing it. If you love it, no matter what happens every shoot is worth it.

Want to see more from Erin? Head over to her website, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, or check out her web series.

Touching down in Tokyo: the next stop of the Red Bull Illume Exhibit Tour

The world’s greatest adventure and action sports photographs make an appearance in one of Tokyo’s trendiest neighborhoods.

It’s true that thanks to social media, an image can travel around the world instantly – but an exhibit like Red Bull Illume takes a little bit more time. That said, we’d like to think it has a little bit more impact. It’s Tokyo’s turn up next when the 55 finalist images of the Image Quest 2016 make their way to the Akasaka Sacas commercial complex for April 18 – 27. The venue is in one of the city’s most illustrious neighborhoods, adorned with cherry blossom trees and right on the doorstep of the TBS Broadcasting Center, the ACT Theater, and the famous Akasaka Blitz music venue. The exhibition will be open between the hours of 18:00 and 22:00.

It’s here that citizens and visitors will be able to revel in the breathtaking imagery that Red Bull Illume brings to every tour stop, displayed on 2x2m light boxes.

Alongside these incredible images will be five more – with a special story behind them: prior to the Tokyo tour stop, there’s the national mobile contest – an anyone-can-enter, anyone-can-win photography battle. The catch? Every image must be taken only with a phone. The national mobile contest will be judged by Yodobashi vice president Kazunori Fujisawa, two-time Red Bull Illume winner Lorenz Holder and Red Bull snowboard athlete Miyabi Onitsuka . The contest runs from March 1st to March 25th – and winners won’t just have their images displayed, they’ll be rewarded from a prize purse totaling $2000 USD.

Shooting skaters in the streets of Brazil with Fabiano Rodrigues

I look for natural light and where possible, I prefer to photograph simpler tricks with beautiful aesthetics to create a sense of minimalism.

© Fabiano Rodrigues / Red Bull Illume

What are your basic stats and how did you get into photography?

My name is Fabiano Rodrigues, I come from Brazil and I was born and raised in Santos; a city 1 hour from São Paulo. I’m based in São Paulo at the moment. I was interested in photography because of skateboarding, and as a former professional skater, I began photographing a lot at the time. I was fascinated by the equipment and loved the theme of photography in skateboard magazines.

How did you get into skating?

My mother gave me a skateboard when I was 12 years old and I have not stopped since. At this time I was surfing and skateboarding in Santos.

How was it being a Red Bull Illume finalist for the ‘enhance’ category back in 2016?

I was very happy with this; Red Bull Illume has the best photographers on the planet and being among the finalists is great motivation. It is not a matter of competition or being the winner, but an indication of your trajectory and the recognition you get from it.

What have you been up to since?

I now have ten years of photography experience. During this time I had the great opportunity to be a photographer for Volcom Brazil and shoot their skate team which has taught me a lot. Parallel to this, I worked hard on my personal projects which are influenced by contemporary art. My photography work has also been exhibited at many great galleries in Brazil and Europe.

How would you describe your photographic style when it comes to skating?

I try to shoot non-standard photos without following any rules. I look for natural light and where possible, I prefer to photograph simpler tricks with beautiful aesthetics to create a sense of minimalism. I also love black and white!

What inspires you to shoot skating differently to how we see it in the magazines?

Architecture and unconventional places!

You’ve also been shooting self-portrait skate photos right? Where did you get the idea and how did you do it?

I started this project back in 2011 as an experiment. I just wanted to shoot some skateboarding with my own look. It’s a project where architecture comes first. To my surprise, I was invited to art exhibitions, I won many awards and it opened a lot of doors for me. I was invited to galleries and institutions both in Brazil and in other countries like Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, France, Morocco, Jamaica and Japan. The equipment I used was a Hasselblad H4D with an 80mm lens, a 30mm fish eye and a wireless remote control.

Usually skaters go to a spot with a photographer – why the different approach?

This project is not about tricks but rather about a moving body versus architecture, so it was something I needed to do alone. It takes a great deal of research and I do not know other photographers who would understand what I had in mind.

What are the biggest challenges you face when shooting these self-portraits? 

The remote is a little delayed when I click, so I needed to think a few thousandths-of-a-second ahead to take the shot at the right time. This was a big headache!

What sort of photography do you shoot outside of skating?

I love shooting portraits and street photography. I also have another project called ’Autocollage’, where I transform myself into a collage using only photography. You can watch a short film about it here.

You’re involved in video work too… tell us about your latest film VPS #1?

This is a personal and independent project focused on skateboarding. It’s a series of portrait videos featuring skaters I identify with. The video is simple and there are no interviews. It’s produced in just one day with one camera, one lens and focuses only on lifestyle and behavior. The idea is to produce 12 films, one each month. You can watch the first episode here

What are your plans for the future?

I'm developing collages with my film photography negatives but it's still early stages and just an experiment. I want to make more movies and I enjoy doing commercial work as well. There’s also a book in the works.

Any advice for aspiring photographers, artists or skaters?

Just do what moves your heart and what you truly believe in. Find inspiration, but go your own way!

Want see more work from Fabiano? Check out his website.

Check out Red Bull Illume on Facebook and Instagram.

Gallery: 8 Action Sequences You Need To See

One of the biggest challenges for any adventure and action sports photographer; how to convey the motion of an athlete in a single static image. One solution is sequence photography, a technique in which a series of images are shot and then layered to show the athlete at different stages of successive motion. From sick flips to air acrobatics, we've put 8 of the best sequences you'll ever see into this gallery.

© Daniel Vojtech / Red Bull Illume

Feel inspired? Tag us on Facebook or Instagram to show us your sequence!

The adventure of urban ski shoots - Felix Rioux

"One of the maintenance guys saw us and instead of kicking us out, he was super stoked! He was a big X-Games fan and even offered to turn on the lights."

© Felix Rioux

What have you been up to lately?

I’ve been busy focusing on my photography career. Ever since I started photography, I always had other businesses that would take most of my time. In the 90’s it was a clothing brand and an events company, and then in the early 2000’s I co-founded D-Structure Proshop, which was the first 100% freeski shop at the time. After that it was iF3 (International Freeski Film Festival), which I sold about a year ago. All these projects would take 80% of my time and I never really got to properly develop my photography business. I also have a family now, and after spending the past 20 years mostly on the road, I’m happy to stay home and see them grow up. 

Have you been working on any adventure and action sports projects?

Last season I spent 10 days on an urban shoot in Quebec with skiers JF Houle, Emile Bergeron and Jules Bonnaire. They were shooting a mini film for the french clothing brand Picture Organic.

What were the best moments from the trip?

I think for me it was the session we did at the Chateau Frontenac slides. The set up was amazing and took place at dawn at a historical landmark. The guys had already done most of the set up days ahead working on the take off and landing. One of the maintenance guys saw us and instead of kicking us out, he was super stoked! He was a big X-Games fan and even offered to turn on the lights under the slide’s arches.

What are the most challenging aspects of these kind of shoots?

Definitely the cold, when it’s -20c celsius without the wind factor, it’s really hard to be focused and creative. You’re just trying to keep warm and your gear is not always working properly, especially lighting strobes. Then snow can get really hard and icy, which makes it difficult when shovelling.

Do you think your background as an architecture student influences the way you photograph urban environments?

Absolutely. I learned about composition and vanishing points when I studied architecture. It’s also where I got my style. I like symmetrical lines and making sure everything is nice and level. A few years ago I started shooting action with landscape/architecture panorama techniques. It consists of using a special panorama tripod head and shooting really tight on your subject, then shoot your overall composition before stitching the images in post. This gives you unique perspectives that your usual lenses can’t offer, you can shoot very high ISO without all the noise downfall and the final file can be printed in a super large format.

What do you prefer? Shooting in the city or shooting in the mountains?

I have to say both. The city gives you so much diverse material to shoot, while the mountains are such a peaceful and majestic environment. However, a lot more work, planning and energy goes into shooting in the great outdoors.

Does your camera set up change depending on whether it’s an urban or mountain shoot?

Since that shoot was in Quebec, I was able to load up my car with as much gear possible. I prefer having it easily available, instead of needing something specific and not having it with me. However, it’s quite different when going on a long distance trip. Weight and space is a big factor. I’ll bring mainly zoom lenses instead of all my prime lenses and more speedlights instead of bigger strobes. 

You do a lot of commercial work too, what kind of projects are you doing?

Yes, that is my main occupation now. I’m super lucky to be working in-house for m0851, a high-end lifestyle and fashion brand based in Montreal. I cover all their photo and video needs from studio work and social media to ad campaigns. It’s a part-time gig that has allowed me to open up a whole new style in my portfolio.  I still do sports work with brands like lululemon, TNF, Picture Organic plus national retail chains MEC and Sports Experts. I’ve also been doing quite a bit of architecture/design photography. 

How big of a role does commercial work play in your photography?

Pretty big, probably 90% of my time. Since I don’t spend half the year on the road anymore, I don’t get to shoot action sports and make a living from it like I used to. When I do, it’s more for my own pleasure than anything else and a chance to hang out with my friends.

What is an important lesson that photography has taught you?

To be a citizen of the world.

What advice would you give to aspiring photographers?

Find work as photo assistant. Learn from senior photographers about how they run their business. Then find your style. That’s something I wish I had done when I started out.

Like what you see? Check out the video from the urban shoot here, or find more of Felix’s work on his website and Instagram.

Images © Felix Rioux

Shooting board sports with Alex Papis

"The craziest thing was when Markus rode a line and triggered an avalanche. He almost got buried and lost his glove. Then Arthur released another avalanche trying to pick up the glove Markus lost before!"

© Alex Papis / Red Bull Illume

How have things been since entering the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2016?

It was great to see my photos make it to the semifinals at Red Bull Illume. It showed me that my work is on a good level, but there was no impact on my work situation resulting from it. Times actually got pretty hard for me in the past two years. I had bad luck with the companies I worked for who either don’t exist anymore or just don’t have the money to afford a professional photographer. It’s also tough to find new clients in the board sport industry as the market is decreasing. Luckily there are new doors opening and I find myself working on different subjects nowadays, but I am still trying to stay in the action sports photography game because that’s where my heart and passion is.

You just got back from a snowboard shoot, how was that?

Yeah, I still keep a foot in that door and whenever I get the opportunity to go out and shoot with professional riders I grab my gear and go for it! I was shooting with Elias Elhardt for his next documentary movie alongside Arthur Longo and Markus Keller - three really amazing and talented riders. We went to the Dolomite mountain range in Italy. The move was pretty spontaneous as the snow conditions changed a lot and this was the best area to go at the time.

How was it shooting with those guys?

I knew the guys from before but shooting-wise I was only with Arthur some years back. There is always a big difference between shooting alongside filmers and going on photo-only missions. As this is a movie project, filming comes first and I capture what I can. It’s pretty challenging being in the right spot to shoot without being in the shot of the filmer - and there were three filmers at the same time!

But I think I got some really good shots that tell a decent story about this part of the trip.

Any funny or crazy stories from the trip?

Ha, yeah, a couple… Elias found this crazy, narrow gap between two huge rocks to ride through. The crack was about 20m long and the narrowest part was just two widths of a board. Super sketchy. Elias was going pretty fast to drop into a landing right after the exit. On another day we barely made it down from the mountain. At first Markus lost his phone at the end of a long shooting day. It took us about an hour to find it (thanks to a phone tracker App) and then Arthur set up a nice little bonfire so the filmers got all crazy and we ended up staying until it was completely dark. We had to find our way back without any lights. The craziest thing was when Markus rode a line and triggered an avalanche. He almost got buried and lost his glove. Then Arthur released another avalanche trying to pick up the glove Markus lost before! He grabbed it on the run with all the snow coming down behind him. Crazy dude!

You’re also planning a surf project, right? What’s the concept behind it?

Yes, that concept has been on my desk for two years and there is always something that keeps me from bringing it to life. I am planning on a surf trip, but specifically a boat trip with Europe-based surfers. The concept is to bring surfers from each generation on the trip to showcase how the sport has changed everyone’s approach to a professional career, especially here in Europe. My idea for such a trip came up with a surfer and friend I have known since he was born. He is Austrian but moved to France and became one of the most talented kids out there, winning competitions and starting to make his way to the main events. I began to think of the effort it takes nowadays to get to the top, and I want to know how it was and how it will be for the generations to come.

Where and when will the project be shot?

I am still trying to get things lined up. It is always hard to pick the right time window with guys who are doing contests around the world. I hope to do it in September - I have some good contacts but it still needs more preparation to pull it off. I want to keep it under the radar until it is for sure.

Is it a personal project? Any brands involved?

Yeah, I mean it started very small. I first just wanted to do a photo project but then the idea got bigger. Now there are more riders planned, at least two filmers and it looks like it is going to be a documentary-style project. Here I find myself in a completely new role like a director. This puts me in a position where I have to start looking for brands who want to back the project. I am still looking for partners which is not the easiest part nowadays. 

You shoot a lot of board sports, namely snowboarding, surfing and skateboarding. Does each one require its own approach or are there common rules?

The one common rule is there are no rules! Each sport works differently. The sports are different and every single shoot is different. I am usually not planning too far in advance because anything can change from one day to another; the destination, the weather, the riders. Actually, this surf project is the first time I put in more planning effort and along the way it has already changed a lot.

Do you have a favorite board sport you like to shoot? Why?

I love surfing so much because you can do it all year-round in any kind of environment. I moved to Portugal part-time to spend as much time as possible at and in the ocean. There is so much beauty and energy combined in this sport.

How did you get involved in surf photography? Austria isn’t known for its surf spots!

Yeah, it’s thanks to my Mom. She sent me to France to get better at speaking French when I was in school. (I was really bad in school!) She had friends there who owned a house close to the ocean - best holidays ever! 

If action sports photography has taught you one thing, what would it be?

Be prepared for everything! Adapt to the conditions that surround you and you will find your way!

What advice would you give to aspiring photographers who want to work in this industry?

Its hard to live from this kind of photography. Just get out there and find inspiring, creative guys that rip with style! Know what your work is worth and don’t sell your soul! Always have a backup plan!

Any plans for the future?

Adapt to being a dad!

Want to see more from Alex? Check out his website and Instagram.

What to bring on a mountain bike shoot – Paris Gore

As a full-time MTB photographer, a lot of people ask me what I bring along for the shoot and it’s not a simple answer as it really depends where and what we are doing.

© Paris Gore

There are a lot of times where we have a truck with shuttle access and can hike in about anything to the filming location but for the example today; I’ll be going through what would come with me on an average mountain bike shoot where I would be riding along with the athlete which could end up being a 15-mile ride or more at times. 

Everything fits nicely into my Shimoda camera bag with a medium internal core. Having the right bag is super important to the day as it will make a huge difference to comfort and eventually could wear you down if it doesn’t fit properly. As a previous boy scout, I do like to be prepared and sometimes a little over. Safety is important to me and also not being the person who forgets all the food. A rain jacket in the mountains might save your life, along with a lighter and a small first aid kit. I don’t think many assume this job requires much more than basic photography skills, but to me; the photography is only a part of the job. For the set up below, this would be a bigger kit for a serious shoot. If the ride was longer or less demanding, I might ditch a few items. 

Here we go: 

  • Nikon D5
  • Nikon Lenses - 70-200mm f2.8, 24-70mm 2.8, 14-24mm 2.8, 16mm fisheye 
  • Lens cleaning equipment (it gets dirty out there)
  • XQD cards and wallet
  • Spare Battery
  • Snacks (clif bars, shot blocks, trail mix, beef jerky, etc.) Pro tip - Don’t put bananas in your bag and don’t ask how I know this.
  • Camelbak Bladder
  • Bikes tools, pump, tube
  • Headlamp
  • SPOT Beacon
  • Basic first aid kit (larger kit if multiples nights)
  • Light rain jacket or shell  

If I was staying overnight somewhere, I would be packing a few more things but to keep things simple, this is what I would be taking for a day out on the trails. Remember, things happen fast in the mountains and always use your best judgement.

Let’s take it way back - how did you get started as a mountain bike photographer?

I got my start as a mountain bike photographer by actually doing both separately. I’ve always biked, raced and loved the adventure of riding. Around the age of 15 in High School I also got into photography and loved it. It took me well over a year to put the two together and once I did; it felt like a whole new beginning. From there I just took off shooting my buddies as much as possible.

How have you seen the field change/develop over the years?

I’ve been following the field of other photographers for a long time. Back in the 2008 era, there were only a few MTB photographers that were big names in the industry. I remember seeing other guys like Bruno Long and Reuben Krabbe starting their careers as well, before taking off in a big way. It’s a cool feeling to know you’re in that mix of the younger generation of photographers. 

You shoot a lot of high-profile events like Red Bull Rampage, the World Cup etc. How do you prepare for these?

Events like Rampage and World Cups are super physical on your body and take a lot to run around all day, so I took a new approach this year and started doing some more gym training. I think it helped but in the end, there’s only so much you can do. I also like to find other inspiration from F1 or surfing events because it’s shot in such a different way. Also knowing the event, tricks and riders really helps. It’s hard to come into one of these not knowing who can do what or how someone might look in a particular section of the course. 

What’s one lesson you’ve learned throughout your years shooting?

Being kind and skilled off the camera goes a long way in this world. You can be the best, but if you aren’t someone people want to be around then there’s a pretty good chance you won’t get as much work. Also, just being dialed at what you’re doing helps as well, not showing up with half dead batteries and no rain jacket might raise some eyebrows.

Any tips for aspiring photographers? 

When I was a young up and comer; it was hard to relate to the legends in MTB photography. It felt so far away to ever be at that level like Sterling Lorence (it still does). But if I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be that that however much you feel like a fish; those big fish out there were all little fish once in the same waters. They were all groms, they all fucked up, they were all broke at one point and were barely making a living from photography. The successful ones are where they are because they didn’t get discouraged and kept trying their hardest knowing that the reward would come one day. 

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Gallery: 7 Shots to Illuminate the Darkest of Nights

As an adventure and action sports photographer it pays not to be afraid of the dark. Night time provides a natural backdrop on which photographers can manipulate the light to create something truly epic. We have selected 7 nocturnal images to inspire those who can’t sleep and yearn for adventure.

© Jara Sijka / Red Bull Illume

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