Kamil Sustiak's shot that made it to the final stage of the Image Quest 2019 and took away the Best Mountain Sports by Salewa Award, shows the impact light can have on scenery. It highlights the human capabilities and willpower in a truly unique way. Find out what inspires Kamil, what's his favorite style of photography and what challenges he has to overcome when shooting.
Almost a visual Q&A with Kamil Sustiak
We planned a traditional Visual Q&A with Kamil Sustiak, winner of Best Mountain Sports Image by Salewa and Red Bull Illume 2019 finalist, but the stories behind each of his jaw-dropping images were too interesting not to be told. That's why we made a little exception to the rule!
I'm a Czech climber who spent a season in New Zealand with no rope, no climbing gear and no climbing shoes. But what I did have with me was a camera. That season I fell in love for the third time (first was when as a boy I went climbing for the first time, the second time was when I met my now-wife) and I have been obsessed with taking photos ever since. The most natural thing for me to do was to point my camera at my climbing mates but with time I also focused on highlining, trail running and BASE jumping. Basically, if it's adventurous and takes place in nature, I'm shooting it. With my wife and two dogs I'm building a live in the Blue Mountains, Australia, it's like living the dream for me!
There are so many things I love about photography. The creative aspect of conceiving a shot, pushing the technology to its limits, immersing myself in adventures, travelling to beautiful and often unknown places. The more passion I put into my projects the more amazed I am of the results, it's quite addictive.
Landscapes fire my imagination, I'm in awe of the mountains, afraid of raging rivers, transfixed by the swell and retreat of the ocean, humbled by ancient forests, but without the people nothing I do would make sense. They are the beating heart of all my photos. Without people there is no adventure, I get my drive from the people around me. When they push their limits and throw themselves at the impossible so that they burst with effort and emotion that is what inspires me to ensure my work does justice to their dreams.
I try to find the strong and powerful human in beautiful natural landscapes, chasing that fleeting perfect light that only comes at the end of the day or at the beginning of a storm. But I also show up when I don't get perfect light conditions. I get out of bed when the forecast is grim, I rap over the cliff edge even when I’m not sure it’s worth it because you can still tell a powerful story in the contrast of the middle of the day or when the rain is smashing down. What I love is that when you get it right, photography can freeze these moments of pain and fear, elation and grandeur in a way that it can tell a story of place and people that is so much bigger than that single frame.
Natural, sculptured shapes daubed with swirls of colour draw my eye, add in the changing play of the light illuminating a human doing something incredible and my eyes bulge. Other than that, I am attracted to human faces charged with emotion, be that elation, frustration or insufferable pain – that really gets my shutter pressing.
Remote location, a brutal walk, a lonely mountain, unpredictable weather and having no second chances to capture both climbing up and BASE jumping off – shooting on Frenchmans Cap in Tasmania’s Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park was tough. But we were a team of six and collective suffering does wonders to lessen your own – it also helps when you’re in paradise.
The six of us were there to make a feature film of the whole trip but it is shooting the jumping that I remember most clearly, back then I had never even seen a BASE jump before, let alone photographed one. The first time I was terrified, hardly able to think. ’Five. Four. Three...’ just stick to the pre-composed frame “...Two. One. See ya!” They jumped, the camera fired, the whistling of the tracking suits faded, I could not breathe then relief flooded in as I heard the bang of the canopy opening far below.
Reward is a strange thing; is it nailing the perfect shot? Is it getting paid back for dragging yourself out of bed? Is it realizing that just turning up is half the game? I woke up and the first thought that came to my mind was this morning was going to be special – to be fair I always say that as it makes hitting the snooze button way harder. When we arrived to the line though it was surrounded by fog so thick you couldn’t see the hand in front of your face. An hour passed and still the magical sunrise I had envisaged hadn’t materialized. I thought, “Well, not today mate. It’s happened before. It’ll happen again... the world is not turning around your camera lens.” I was ready to bail when in a dramatic whoosh the fog dropped a tiny bit down into the valley leaving us in an otherworldly middle space between the surging cloud above and the roiling fog below. It lasted no more than an hour before the sun burnt everything off and the world turned normal again.
I look for natural wonder and human drama. For me, a good adventure photo will usually have one or the other but great photos – the kind that make you stop and say “wow”, that make your palms itch with the desire to get out there – must have both. It’s hard to get it right but when you do, actually taking the photos is completely intoxicating. Increasingly for me the magical element is the light and one of my favorite kinds is storm-light. There are seconds when the clouds part or just as the storm eases when the fight between colour and shadow can be at its most intense, then you just have to be lucky enough to be looking at someone doing something awesome.
I feel so lucky to live right in the middle of the place that is my favorite to shoot – the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney. Within fifteen minutes of my house there are deep, forested valleys out of which rise huge sandstone cliffs, cliffs that contain literally thousands of climbing routes. The surrounding bush is riddled with hundreds of kilometres of trails to run and hike and bike. The promise of living in an adventure playground attracts runners, climbers, BASE jumpers, flyers, highliners, oddballs and nutjobs – the perfect community to photograph – all of whom are not only pushing themselves but also supporting each other to achieve wild and audacious goals. The Blue Mountains and the unique community that lives there constantly amaze me.