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I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote

- Herman Melville

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Adventure Travel

Mar 08, 2017

Female Adventure Photographers Risking Their Lives For the Shot – Part 1

In a field heavily dominated by men, it takes a few dedicated, badass women to push the limits and influence their industry.

WRITTEN BY

Laura Szanto

Here are tips from some of the most talented female action photographers thriving in adventure photography, giving us a look through their lens.

More adventure visuals in Part 2 with the wildly talented Jody MacDonald, Savannah Cummins and Robin O’neill here.

Adventure and action sports have drawn our attention for decades. Regardless of which specific adventure sports we are drawn to, we find meaning in the pursuit of psychological thrill despite its inherent risks. It allows us to explore new territories, test physical limits, and most importantly, to feel alive.

Elias Ambuhl in Cardrona, NZ. Photo by Camilla Rutherford

Passion, persistence and hard work are all imperative driving forces in an adventure photography career. Days in the field can be long and adverse circumstances such as terrible weather can make it especially exhausting. However, challenges aside, there are adventure photographers out there who know how to push the limits and deliver incredible work.

Female adventure photographers are a less dominant, but an equally inspiring and influential group of talented athletes, who risk their lives daily to produce captivating stories and compelling sports imagery.

To celebrate the lives of these extraordinary women and get a more personal look at how they do what they do, here are the first 3 of 6 interviews exploring their challenges, pro tips and types of essential gear needed in their exceptional adventure photography careers.

KrystleWright-This is Spanish paraglider Horacio Llorens sweeping over the streets of Medellín
Spanish paraglider Horacio Llorens over the streets of Medellín. Photo by Krystle Wright

Krystle Wright

KrystleWright headshot - CanonAustralian born extreme sports photographer Krystle Wright is known for her fearless and ambitious photography projects. From paragliding above the Karakoram Range in Pakistan to hanging outside of helicopters to capture base jumpers in Utah, Krystle doesn’t shy away from even the most precarious of opportunities. Krystle has earned a top spot as an adventure photographer and has had her photography showcased in variety of international magazines, publications and contests. Her extensive portfolio includes sports such as base jumping, rock climbing and paragliding, surfing, kayaking, mountain biking, skiing, mountaineering, slack-lining, freediving—and even elephant polo. Is there anything out there that she hasn’t photographed yet? Earning her title as a Cannon Masters ambassador, Krystle’s creativity is as limitless as it is bold. If you want some great insight into a day in the life of an extreme adventure photographer, take a look at her personal experiences and advice.

Photo by Krystle Wright
Emily Sukiennik highlining between a natural arch outside of Moab, UT. Photo by Krystle Wright

Challenges
There have been so many challenges in my career but to be relatable to the present, I’m currently struggling with balance. Being a freelance, there’s no set hours and I find it a huge challenge to balance between running my business, training, actually shooting and maintaining relationships with friends and family. It’s been a big learning curve in learning how to prioritise my time and use it well.

Krystle Wright injury photo Instagram

Tips
For any aspiring photographer I always tell them that you will need patience and persistence. This is not an easy career to break through but any career that is a passion will always take the extra mile of hard work. The other challenge of being a new photographer is that I think it’s essential to develop a thick skin because not everyone is going to love your work and it’s important to take on criticism in order to evolve and grow as a photographer. Finally, when it comes to adventure photography, this is a lifestyle, not a job.

Matt Fleischman leaping from Looking Glass Arch. Photo by Krystle Wright
Matt Fleischman leaping from Looking Glass Arch—taking off only 128ft. above the ground. Photo by Krystle Wright
Highlining Cape Pillar in Tasmania. Photo by Krystle Wright
Highlining Cape Pillar in Tasmania. Photo by Krystle Wright

Essential Gear
Well I rely on everything in my kit to work. I use Canon cameras and lenses, AquaTech underwater housing, Western Digital hard drives, Goal Zero for solar and battery charging equipment, KEEN to make rad shoes, F-Stop Gear for the most durable camera backpack I’ve ever owned and SanDisk for CF cards. There’s nothing in particular that stands out because depending on the job whether it’s in the ocean or on the mountain, I need to rely on everything I have.

Photo by Krystle Wright
Brett Wright carves a turn whilst kite surfing off the coast of Eagle Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Photo by Krystle Wright

Find more of Krystle’s limitless work on Instagram: @krystlejwright


Dawn Kish

Dawn KishThis Arizona based outdoor adventure photographer is unique in how she engages her audience with playful and humorous imagery. Her portfolio ranges from stories of people with odd jobs, to videos of a day in the life of her quirky photography adventures. Amusement aside, she also showcases award winning imagery of glacier crossings, wanderings in the desert, slacklining, ice climbing, rock climbing, white water rafting and mountain biking. She covers everything from action sports photography to archeology—but not without her own playful flare. Prepare to be inspired by Dawn’s incredible and creative portfolio and her experiences as a successful adventure photographer.

Tips
It helps to go light so you can go fast and work with the light you have. Pay close attention to the weather because you really can make or break a photo if you’re not observant. Also, make sure you know how to survive out there. It helps to take Wilderness First Responder courses or any backcountry course. If you can, I would scout locations as this is very beneficial. You need to have everything working in your favour out there in those wild places.

Being a photographer is hard work. If you have a good work ethic, you will go a long way. Also, you have to become a business person which is really difficult because all you want to do is take the photos and travel. Sorry gals, you’ve got to get a plan together.

Photo by Dawn Kish
Photo by Dawn Kish

Challenges
Outdoor photography is a challenge. Keeping things dry or dust free with many environmental changes are always a factor. Never change a lens in the wind. Batteries in cold weather suck so I put them in your pocket to keep them warm. Being on a river, well, waterproofing is always difficult. Freezing your knees off in the snow is not fun so i wear knee pads. You learn and suffer over the years to make things work better for you.’

Margeaux Bestard in the white-water, Colorado River, Grand Canyon, Arizona. Photo by Dawn Kish

Essential Gear
I have all types of cameras and lens but I mostly shoot with Nikon. But, a camera is a camera, it is your creative eye that makes you and not the gear. I use my iPhone a bunch and just had a portfolio published just from my phone. Gotta love that.

Photo by Dawn Kish
Photo by Dawn Kish

Extra Words of Wisdom
Photography should be fun and creative so make sure you have a blast out there. Have respect for your lovely models and make sure you pay them whether it is with beer or your beer money.

Have respect for the environment you are in and leave it better than you found it.

Dawn Kish slacklining sunset
Photo by Dawn Kish

Encourage each other. Photographers should help each other out and not become competitive. We should not take things so personally. Try to inspire and keep your chin up when things don’t seem fair. A positive attitude goes much further in life. Who cares what other have going on. Focus… hahaha… get it?

Dawn Kish backbend
Photo by Dawn Kish

Find more of Dawn’s beautifully quirky work on Instagram: @dawnkishphoto


Camilla Rutherford

CamillaRutherforddouble_profile

Camilla Rutherford is an adventure, commercial and travel photographer based in New Zealand. Her reputable photography in sports such as mounting biking, snowboarding, hiking, base jumping have earned her international publications and awards around the world. Aside from her successful editorial work, Camilla is also a passionate traveler. Her journeys to Nepal, China, Japan, India, Switzerland and New Zealand will surely inspire you to explore new perspectives and discover the unknown. Her talent will blow you away. With Camilla’s extensive amount of experience in the field, these are some of her invaluable suggestions.

Kelly McGarry-Central OtagoNZ-Camilla Rutherford
Kelly McGarry, Central Otago, NZ. Photo by Camilla Rutherford
Tips
Being out there! I always think to myself, even if I have no work or current projects on the boil, I’m not going to take any awesome photos sitting inside! So I try and get outside as much as possible, even if its raining, as you never know whats going to happen.
Also self belief. Its not easy, but nothing worth doing is! The way I see it is that
I didnt have a choice. It’s what I do, it’s in my blood, and I would never ever
have considered doing anything else. It’s my unconscious choice, and you have

to be in it a thousand percent to make it work. I’m still trying every day to make it work.

I don’t think you ever stop.

ConorMacFarlane-QueenstownNZ-Camilla Rutherford
Conor MacFarlane, Queenstown, NZ. Photo by Camilla Rutherford

Ski shot tips
Shooting skiing is very hard. There are so many elements to make a great ski shot. Experience, I think, is the best thing that’s going to make you ‘good’. Being at the right place, at the right time, and communicating with your athlete are only small portions of what it takes to get a great ski shot. Light, snow and luck come into it hugely. It is harder than anyone could imagine to get that perfect powder shot, and many times its just one turn on the right spot that gives you the gold.

Heli skiing BlackPeak, NZ. Photo by Camilla Rutherford
Heli skiing BlackPeak, NZ. Photo by Camilla Rutherford
Challenges
Being there. The physical aspect of being at the right place at the
right time is a challenge. Climbing that mountain, skiing those steeps, biking
those trails to be with your athlete, to get the shot—all while carrying camera

gear!

Janina_Kuzma_mountaineering - Franz Joseph Glacier, NZ-Camilla Rutherford
Janina Kuzma, ski mountaineering for North Face Shoot on Franz Joseph Glacier, NZ. Photo by Camilla Rutherford
Essential Gear

I shoot on Canon and I almost always use my Canon 24-70 f2 lens. It’s the most versatile lens when carrying gear and weight is a serious issue. Unfortunately for outdoor photographers who have to hike/ski/climb with gear a pack full of prime lenses is just not possible, unless you are iron woman! F-Stop Gear adventure camera packs and Peak Design clips and straps are also the way to go for anyone shooting outside.’

Find more of Camilla’s inspiring perspective’s on Instagram: @camillarutherford_photography


Part 2 being published soon with more wildly talented and limit pushing photographers.

Feature image by Krystle Wright

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Focus

Oct 01, 2018

The Forbidden Zone: Mongols, to Your Horses

The rolling green hills, rocky passes, flower-laden meadows and clear streams of Gorkhi Terelj National Park in northern Mongolia is the birthplace of the Mongols. The Outdoor Journal spent a week on horseback with Stone Horse Expeditions in the heart of this country’s vast wilderness.

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WRITTEN BY

Apoorva Prasad

Tdrihe Khan Khentii mountains stretched before us, from one end of the azure sky to the other. Tegri, the Great Sky God, watched us with his infinite panorama. From here, I could see miles and miles into the distance. This was the “Forbidden Zone”, that unknown wilderness where Genghis Khan was born. As a child and then again much later on, he hunted here, his true home, on a horse, sheltered in a ger or under the blue sky. When he was a boy, exiled with his family into the cold and harsh wilderness of the northern Mongolian hills, his only friends were what these lands contained. After he built an empire and died, it became a sacred and taboo zone, left to the deer and wolves. For decades the area had been closed off. The Soviets enforced it as a Highly Restricted Area to allow them to do what they wished with it – from logging and military exercises, to also countering any potential rise of Mongolian nationalism around the great Khan. Despite those years, the Area remained wild.

No wonder the Mongols worshipped it.

A day before, we had crossed fresh bear tracks. There were no signs of human presence apart from our train of horses and riders. And now, this vista lay in front of us, green and yellow grassy hills, long valleys, meadows of flowers stretching to higher mountains all the way to Siberia, some still snow-dusted despite the summer sun. Burkhan Khaldun stood further behind higher peaks. And that incredible sky. No wonder the Mongols worshipped it. We all lived once under this blue infinity. As we’d ridden northwards away from Ulan Bator, the city’s pollution had faded away long ago, the gray curse had lifted and my eyes had once again accustomed themselves to what they had evolved to do – see long distances, look for hares, deer, bears, navigate passes and ford streams, climb rocks, and watch falcons circle on thermals above. And over the last few days, we had done all these things.

_mg_6537
The weary horseriders arrive in the ger to refresh themselves.

We had left our last camp around mid-morning, some hours ago. One half of the party broke away to ride into another valley out west, while Keith and I wanted to ride up and to the pass in the range of hills that separated the Gorkhi Terelj from the Khan Khentii. We skirted the granite mounds which punctuated the ends of this valley, forded a marshy grassland below the campsite, fought off the bloodsucking horseflies that made our horses’ lives miserable for a little while, eventually entering a tall forest of larch and birch. The ground began to rise as we entered a narrow rocky trail that started to wind uphill. Jerry, my sturdy, stubborn little Mongolian horse plodded on. This easy gait was infinitely more comfortable than the long trots of our previous days in the saddle. Keith Swenson, a taciturn, the 64 year-old owner of Stone Horse Expeditions along with his wife Sabine Schmidt, showed none of the wear I felt – my skin of my thighs were quite literally raw after 50 kilometers of riding and trotting in the wilderness. After a few days Keith opened up with wisecracks. “People ask what do you do, and I say I’m a rider”, says Keith, punning on his American accent. “They think I mean ‘writer’, “and they ask, what have you written?” “So I say, Blackie, Brownie, Ol Dirty Face…”, naming his horses.

These lands, however remote, are important.

Halfway up the trail was a shaman’s totem, poles placed on the ground to make a conical structure, wrapped with bits of fabric and ribbons. But at the base, and near a tree, we also found broken shards of glass, vodka bottles drunk and thrown by unknown travelers who no longer respected their old ways. We’d been riding for an hour or so and we stopped for a short break in the little opening in the forest. It was quite warm in the strong sun, perhaps 30C like every day of the summer, but cold at nights, often dipping below freezing.

_mg_7103
These Mongolian horses play a huge role in making a trip across the steppe easy and fun for riders. Each horse has a unique personality. Big Dirty Face pictured here loves coffee and will drink it straight from your cup if you let him.

The Mongols invented the modern world*

The old ways are important. These lands, however remote, are important. The Mongols invented the modern world*. When, at the age of 55, Genghis Khan rode out into Asia and Europe, he created the largest empire known to humanity, as well as its first international postal system, and the largest free-flowing network of ideas, trade and culture. But today, Mongolia feels relatively isolated and far away, landlocked in the Eurasian continent. And getting there turned out to be a greater adventure than we’d expected. Instead of flying, we took the famous Trans-Mongolian from Beijing to Ulan Bator. At 11pm, the train pulled into the last station on the China-Mongolia border to change the undercarriage (the railway gauge is different in Mongolia). Three hours later we got back on the train and waited patiently for the Chinese guards to hand us all our passports back. Our intern’s passport was returned ripped from its cover. Before anyone could make a move, the train entered Mongolia… where the Mongolian border guard insisted that the 18-year old girl get off the train because she wasn’t allowed to enter on an invalid passport. Twenty minutes of arguing later, at nearly three am, we got off and watched the train leave without us.

_mg_6297
Mongolian cuisine is typically meat and dairy products. Vegans beware.

Fifteen hours later, after many phone calls and emails to various embassies and important officials, she was finally allowed to enter the country. The Trans-Mongolian having long gone, we finagled an eight-hour taxi ride across the great steppes (on a second-hand car coming off a goods train) for $45. Welcome to Mongolia.

REAL MEN TROT

I did not have much riding experience, but I usually don’t let a little thing like that deter me from a trip. Keith, once also a climber, agreed that anyone up for adventure would be perfectly fine on a Mongolian horse. They were sturdy and forgiving. We all gathered at their staging camp an hour’s drive from Ulan Bator – a Singaporean couple on their second trip with Stone Horse, their friend from Hong Kong, a French diplomat from Swaziland, our team of three, Keith, Sabine and their crew – Nyamaa, Buyana and Jackson, the American intern. Soon, our team of 16 horses and Stinky the Mongolian Dog, a most genuine companion if there ever was one, were off towards the north. Day one went reasonably well, with a short four hour ride to our first campsite inside the Gorkhi Terelj National Park. The other experienced riders asked me various questions about how I felt and whether my horse had cantered or galloped, and I said I didn’t know, but the horse seemed to know what it was doing. Apparently, they have many gaits.

img_1668
Nomads Yadmaa and Tavaasurn inside their summer ger, just outside Gorkhi Terelj.

I learned what that meant the next day.

The morning begins easily and we move along a gentle valley. At a stream, the horses bend to drink. They’re herd animals, comfortable only in their own numbers. Suddenly, there’s a commotion as one of the pack horses spooks and bolts. We’re unprepared, and good old Jerry decides to follow the bolting horse too, suddenly turning 180 degrees and galloping wildly. I have to pull firmly on the reins to stop him, while the teamsters have to get the other fella back. He’s bucking around wildly, his unshod feet stamping, his grass-eating brain telling him that that bee sting he felt on his hind was a wolf’s nip. Stinky ignores the commotion, running ahead happily back in his favorite hunting grounds, chasing ground squirrels to their holes. We continue, entering a forest and then riding uphill to a pass. On the other side, a wide open valley, and our first real gallop. Now I feel the sensation, riding with the animal as one, gently cycling my feet in the stirrups and gripping with my knees, all of it coming naturally to me and I urge Jerry on, on, on. Chhoo, Jerry, Chhoo! We stop at a babbling brook in the valley below where we wash our faces. Are we in paradise?

And then the long trot begins. For a horse, it’s the most comfortable way to move. But it’s bouncy. I try to “post” like all the real riders. Watching me grimace in agony, Keith smiled and said, “real men trot,” as he rode along comfortably with that rolling ankle movement to compensate for the horse’s bumpy ride. “Trotting is how the Mongols moved such vast distances. If you make him gallop, you won’t get very far, you’ll kill the horse”.

a melting pot of humanity and ethnicities

But Mongolia changed the course of human history since long before the great Khan and his riders, the ultimate, self-sufficient soldiers. Apart from the Mongols, it is also the original homeland of the Huns and the Turks. It is a melting pot of humanity and ethnicities, where thousands of years ago two language families met and separated – the Indo-Europeans and the Altaics – and possibly where the wild horse was first tamed, thereby changing the course of history. When men on horses first raced out of Central Asia, first ancient Mesopotamia, then Egypt fell. Europe’s original ‘mother culture’ and India’s Harappan civilization disappeared. Humans, moving incredible distances on horses, spread across Asia, from the western end of Europe to Korea, all the way down to Arabia and India, creating nearly all the cultures we know today. Some of the languages they spoke evolved today into English, and others evolved into Japanese, but some of their words have become so intermingled that it’s hard to distinguish which came from which. Hindi is an Indo-European language, but today the common Hindi word for “home” is “ghar” (from the Sanskrit “grhá”) which is nearly identical to the Altaic Mongolian’s word for home, ger.

When the Hunnu (“Huns”) fought the Chinese Hans, the clans that lost fled towards Europe, creating Hungary, as well as leading to the downfall of the Western Roman Empire. Centuries later, the Turkics originally from the Mongolian steppes came hurtling into Constantinople, wiping out the Eastern Roman Empire.

We ride through rocky hills and rock formations, up and down defiles, over passes and across shallow streams, through meadows of flowers and knee-high grass. We ride all day, and every evening set up our traveling camp like the Mongols of old. We sleep in modern-day lightweight tents, under trees or under the stars, breathing cold clear air, drinking from fresh rain-fed streams, eating atop rocks while falcons circle above and the horses graze.

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The Stone Horse team from left to right – Jackson, Keith, Buyana, Nyamaa and Sabine.

The world has continued to change, but horses and men will forever ride together.

One day we stretched out the ride to reach a farther campsite, a Hunnu gravesite. We set up our tents atop 2000-year old graves, low mounds of stones marking the places where men, women, children and horses were laid to rest. “I believe that these people would have loved us to be here, living like they did,” said Keith. When they hear our horses, they’ll feel alive”. The next morning, I pulled my horse off to a side and to a vantage point to shoot the group riding further down the valley. Jerry stomped and neighed angrily as the herd passed him by, but I held him back. When the group disappeared into the distance, I quickly packed my camera gear back into the saddlebags. Then jumping back on, I let the horse fly as he wished, back to his herd. Jerry, the funny but tough little horse, galloped madly a mile north over the gently rising slope. Our hooves rang out in the valley, as two large round mounds, Hun graves, emerged in front on the mountainside. Neither Jerry nor I needed to veer, and we galloped directly over the centre of the mounds, the sound of our hoofbeats gladdening passed Hunnu souls. Their ancestors, our ancestors, had once tamed wild horses, and together changed the world. The world has continued to change, but horses and men will forever ride together.

Images by Madhuri chowdhury.

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