If you take a look at Robin O'Neill's portfolio all you want to do is get outside and hop on your bike, put on your skis or simply go for a long run. Her images don't just capture moments outside, they are truly honoring them! But the Image Quest 2019 Finalist (Category: Energy) not only captures unique outdoor adventures, she's also focusing on the human perspective behind every image. Read our interview to find out more about Robin's projects, her inspiration and her advice!
Could you tell us a little bit about your the beginngs of your carreer as an outdoor photographer? How did it all start?
During the summer of my third year at university, I decided to do some international non-profit work to mix things up. I spent my time on a project in South America, documenting the world around me on my dad’s 35mm film camera that I taught myself to use en route. There was no turning back from there - I was hooked on both travel and documentary photography.
How do you choose what projects you like to shoot?
I am drawn to projects that involve self-propelled access by ski, bike, or foot; assignments that involve collaboration with like-minded impassioned people, and that contribute positively to the world. Sometimes I select these projects and sometimes I’m fortunate enough that they select me. I have built a body of work that shows my style and what I am passionate about, which has helped build momentum in attracting projects that I’m passionate about.
Any projects that you would describe as "close to your heart"?
There are the projects that are simply meant to create an advertising campaign, which I do enjoy, but the projects that are closest to my heart involve a philanthropic aspect. These are the ones that develop meaningful connections, cultural exchanges, and a good challenging adventure.
Most recently, I was approached by an Arc’teryx sponsored ultra runner wanting to do a story in Nepal. So I began to dig deeper into how we could plan an adventure that would also make a contribution to the area we would explore. I landed on an NGO called the Mira Rai Initiative. This is a group that sponsors five young Nepalese girls every year to train as trail runners, teach them English, and give them training to become guides. This is something I could get behind and incorporate into our project. Not only do I get to trek and trail run while shooting for a company I love, I could also give a young female guide the opportunity for leadership training and exposure.
Why did you choose to submit your image to Red Bull Illume?
To be honest, I had never considered entering an image to the Red Bull Illume contest - an intimidating competition, packed with testosterone, and talent. But luckily and to my surprise I was messaged directly by Red Bull Illume saying that they liked my work, and would I consider entering the competition this year. This invitation stripped away the intimidation of entering, and I submitted to the esteemed event with no thoughts I would ever make it past the first round.
Mountainbiking, Trailrunning, Skiing .. you are shooting quite a lot of different sports, what’s the one you enjoy the most?
Oh, that’s a tough question! Probably the most rewarding is ski photography. It’s the most elusive, as so many conditions have to come together to create a great shot. There is no track to follow, so you have to read the terrain for where the athlete is going to go. And there are no do-overs in ski photography, because once there are tracks visible in the shot, it’s done. When you nail it, it’s the best feeling in the world.
Any stand-out memories or moments in your career?
With absolutely no prior experience photographing skiing, I created an award-winning show in Deep Winter, a Whistler ski photography competition against leaders in the ski industry. News travelled fast and the following week, I received a call from Dave Reddick, the photo editor of POWDER magazine, asking if I would be interested in going winter camping with an A-list crew to shoot ski film. Knowing I would be completely out of my league, I agreed (of course), and was catapulted into my first real ski shoot. Before I knew it, not only was I having my first experience in a helicopter, I was roped in with the doors off, legs dangling, and shooting the biggest line of Eric Hjorleifson’s career. No pressure. I remember that moment well!
Do you have any tips for up and coming photographers?
Always be shooting; it’s a muscle that you have to keep strengthening. Try to stay away from comparing your work to others. It’s inevitable, but always gets in the way of your creativity. Lastly, learn about business. It’s a lot of hard work to ensure making a living as a photographer, and business is something that I have to embrace. It’s all worth it though.
How do you cope with the current COVID-19 crisis? What’s your experience as a professional photographer?
What a weird time! All of the shoots that I had lined up previously were cancelled, of course, so I’ve been forced to think about how to deal with the loss of income while keeping my creativity and presence alive.
My first thought was ‘what I could do to show my support?’ That is when I began taking photos of the “unsung heroes” -- front-line workers who were still on the job while our province was in a state of emergency. These are the people who never receive, nor ask for any recognition, but are the ones who really keep our day-to-day lives moving forward. This included bus drivers, grocers, waste removal workers, and janitors, to name a few. Although this personal project was meant only to find a way of showing thanks and keeping creativity flowing during a time of upheaval, it led to a collaboration with a brand that I work with and a paycheck!
I also have dug deep into my non-urgent folder, and have spent more time connecting personally with work colleagues. This way when restrictions and budgets open up again, I’ll be ready.
What’s next for you?
COVID has certainly made ‘what’s next’ a little unpredictable. I do have some specific places in the world and people in mind that I’d like to document in the year ahead, but those ideas will have to stay secret for now until they are nailed down. I will definitely continue to create projects and partner up with brands to put together winter and summer adventures that inspire and motivate people to get outdoors, push their
limits, and live their lives to the fullest. I also really hope to continue working with NGOs to document and bring more support to world health issues and humanitarian efforts.
Where can we find more of your work?
If you want to see what I’ve been working on, my project from Nepal just got released by Arc’teryx and can be found here. Also, POWDER recently profiled my ski work.
My profile is continuously being updated on Instagram. For a wider body of work, please check out my website.