Plumes of smoke rise and merge into the leaden sky / A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers

- Pink Floyd



Mar 10, 2017

Female Adventure Photographers Risking Their Lives For the Shot – Part 2

Following up on Part 1, here are more wildly talented women, the extreme mental and physical obstacles they face—being both athlete and photographer—and their tricks of the trade.


Laura Szanto

Read the first part of this series with invaluable insights from adventure photography rockstars, Krystle Wright, Camilla Rutherford and Dawn Kish, here.

Although a healthy number of us will probably never find ourselves in a squirrel suit about to jump off a cliff, we continue to enjoy thrills through the comfortable front row seats of our social media viewfinders. Popular adventure photographers around the world use Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat to make it easier more than ever for us to experience extreme sports through their lenses. Why not go snowboarding down steep spines in Alaska, or rock climb up daunting routes in Yosemite? There is no limit to what we are able to visually experience online. And it is made possible thanks to the dedicated work of photographers like the following—who are willing to go out there and capture these extreme moments for us.

JODY_MACDONALD_15052_MNCTZ2KLFL-reg-magJody MacDonald

An award winning adventure sport and documentary photographer who’s stunning portfolio will take you on an extraordinary sea to sky experience. Her images of surfing, kiteboarding and paragliding will surely quench your thirst for adventure. But if that’s not enough, she also boasts an enviable travel portfolio as well. Not only did she grow up in Saudi Arabia travelling as a child, but her sailing adventures in the last decade have brought her to over 60 countries around the world such as India, Mauritania, Panama, Caribbean and Chile to name a few.

Her dynamic, bold and fearless photography will surely inspire you to get out on the field and pursue your own adventure photography career. This is what she has to say about her experiences as a successful adventure photographer.

JodyMacDonald-GavinMcClurg-Sierra Moutains, CA, USA-WingsFinalist
Paraglider Gavin McClurg through Sierra Moutains, CA, USA. A Red Bull Illume Wings Category finalist by Jody MacDonald

My advice would be to start off by photographing the sports and adventures that you enjoy. Photograph as much as possible and be critical of your work. Study the greats. Figure out what kind of photography you like and don’t like, then understand why. Answering these questions will help shape and mould your work into your own style and help you focus on the things you are passionate about. Then shoot some more. Photograph as much as you possibly can and be extremely critical of your own work. Immerse yourself into it and start submitting to magazines that fit with the type of photography you are doing. You will likely get rejected, but it doesn’t matter… it’s all part of the process. Repeat and never give away your work for free.

Then ask yourself “is this something I can live without?”

If the answer is yes…stop. Because that’s what it’s going to take to do well in this profession. It needs to be apart of your DNA.

I became a paragliding pilot over a decade ago and have been flying ever since. It is an incredibly challenging sport to photograph, especially when you’re trying to pilot your own wing and take pictures at the same time. The logistics are definitely the hardest thing. A lot has to come together—not just light, background and all the things that usually go into making a good photo—but I have to be in the air, my subject has to be in the air, the weather has to be right, at the right time of day and we are both moving within the landscape.

Jody MacDonald - Morocco
Photo by Jody MacDonald

When you imagine the immersion that is required to shoot well when you’re on land, the challenges increase dramatically when you’re in the air. Lens caps, changing expensive lenses, changing CF cards, changing batteries—one quick slip and your gear is gone, forever. When I shoot in the Himalayas, we can often get up to altitudes near 20,000 feet or more, with temperatures well below zero. In these cases, frozen hands, nausea and hypoxia are issues. What minimises all these challenges is having a good group of people and pilots to work with, good weather conditions and then like anything, the more you practice the easier it gets.

Essential Gear
I shoot with Canon equipment for water sport photography. The camera I am photographing with now is the Canon 1DX with an Aquatech Housing and Leica’s new X-U waterproof camera. My essential equipment is surf fins, mask and snorkel and camera and housing. Less is better.

When your getting pummelled by waves you want to keep it simple.

Jody Macdonald
Photo by Jody Macdonald

Find more of Jody’s stunning work on Instagram: @jodymacdonaldphoto

Savannah Cummins

North Face athlete Savannah Cummins is an Ohio born adventure photographer and film maker. Whether it’s climbing, camping, hiking or exploration, her content is a pure celebration of mountain sports and lifestyle.

A professional climber herself, she has left no category unchecked in her climbing portfolio. From rock climbing in the desert in Utah to ice climbing in Canada, her exceptional climbing images and films have gained international recognition and publications in climbing magazines around the world.

Savannah’s success comes at no surprise as she continues to capture the essence of what it means to push the limits and thrive in the outdoors. These are her tips for what it takes to be a successful adventure photographer.

Photo by Savannah Cummins
Photo by Savannah Cummins

My advice for other adventure photographers would be that when the adventure is hard, and you’re tired, it’s usually the best time to break out the camera. It’s something I struggle with myself, but being there to capture a real and unstaged moment that won’t ever happen again is an amazing opportunity—so embrace the moment and make some beautiful images! Also, investing in a Wilderness First Aid or WFR course is something I highly recommend. Accidents can happen, and they happen fast, so you can NOT rely on your athlete(s) to help you out of a dangerous situation. These courses will help you be better prepared for the unexpected.

Savannah cummins femaleclimbing
Photo by Savannah Cummins

Whether I’m shooting for fun or for a client, all projects require quite a bit of planning. If I’ve never been to a location before I try to do as much research as possible beforehand so I have an idea for what the terrain and setting that I’ll be working with is like. If the location is accessible before a shoot, I will go scout the scene(s) to figure out the best angles and lighting, as well as rigging and descent logistics. I typically try to come up with a shot list beforehand, and I always make sure that if the client hasn’t provided specific clothing or gear to showcase, my athlete or model is wearing good colours that will stand out in whatever setting we will be in.

I’d say ice climbing has proven to be the most challenging type of shoot, but also by far my favourite thing to shoot. Ice climbing is cold and requires a lot more gear, layers, food, camera equipment, ropes, jugging gear, crampons, ice tools, helmet and boots…all that weight quickly adds up! Getting lines rigged for ice is rarely an easy task, and when I’m above the athlete shooting, I’m constantly trying to avoid knocking ice down on them while trying to use any tactics possible to keep my hands and feet from going numb.

I realise I’m not making it sound very fun, but I’m always beyond stoked with the images I walk away with after an ice climbing shoot and pretty quickly forget about the suffering. I learn something new every time I go out and shoot, and that’s why I love it so much.

Needless to say, she spends some time in some unideal weather conditions. Photo by Savannah Cummins

Essential Gear
My camera of choice is the Sony A7rII. It’s pretty light compared to my old Canon set up, and although the digital sensor took me awhile to get used to I absolutely love it. My other favourite function with my Sony is the silent shutter. People act differently when they know they’re getting their photo taken and this allows me to be more stealth and capture images without letting the subject know I’m even taking photos—they usually assume I’m just changing settings and such. F-Stop is my go to with camera bags. They make organisation easy, and going climbing or adventuring already requires a lot of gear and equipment so being organised is the easiest way for me to not lose my mind when shuffling through gear at the base of a mountain or cliff.

Savannah Cummins sleepingbag
Photo by Savannah Cummins

The most memorable adventures I’ve been on have always come with a hefty degree of suffering. What they call type 2 fun, it’s usually not the most enjoyable during the moment…I’m either cold, the hike sucks, it’s scary, I forget something, mess up the beta, or it’s just an insanely long day without enough food or water. When those days are over I’m pretty happy, but after a good night sleep I wake up ready to do it again and already dreaming up my next adventure.

More of Savannah’s intensely beautiful shots on Instagram: @sav.cummings


robin-o-neill-11-2013Robin O’Neill

Robin O’Neill is an action and outdoor lifestyle photographer based in Whistler, British Columbia with award winning images and a huge client list—for good reason. Her action sports & lifestyle portfolio showcases spectacular images of snowboarding, skiing, mountain biking, surfing, trail running, paddle boarding and fishing.

Aside from working with reputable athletic brands and products, she also incorporates intimate humanitarian scenes as well. Whether it’s for sports, tourism, hospitality or humanitarian work, be sure to check out her amazing work and read what she has to say about her experiences in the field.

Photo by Robin O'neill
Photo by Robin O’neill

Good light is paramount. Choose a direction of light that helps bring more depth and dimension to an image. Or create it with lights. Listen to your athletes and work WITH them. Let them select locations, features and terrain that enables them to showcase their talents; the results are unmistakably better. Composition is key to the perfect shot. Take care in where you place the subject and lens selection is a big part of compelling composition.

 A little bit is just luck. You have to be out there and taking photographs, but sometimes on that day, the environment just hands you gold.

Ha! I have two. One I can influence, but don’t feel like I can; balance. The other I can’t influence; weather conditions. Because my work is an extension of my life, meaning I am documenting what I love to do, it’s easy to work and travel too much, to feel pinned and depleted. But the work is so exciting and it’s hard turn down opportunities. As for weather and conditions, it affects ski photography the most. But camping in the rain day after day on a MTB shoot, can also become challenging. It can be tough just to keep gear dry and functioning.

Usage: Arcteryx (2016)
Photo for Arc’teryx by Robin O’neill

Essential Gear
I depend on all my gear! Canon is my go to for camera gear—the 1Dx Mark II is my right-hand. The 50mm 1.2, I couldn’t live without that one either. The 14mm and the 70-200mm. I love my Cecilia neck straps, and my F-stop packs.  And I rely on my Arc’teryx outerwear to keep me dry and warm.

Photo by Robin O’Neill

 Build relationships, work hard, take chances on opportunities, and give athletes feedback to keep them fired up on what you’re shooting. Plan everything and then expect it to change at the last minute. Don’t give up.

Follow more of Robin’s stunning life in the mountains on Instagram: @robinoneill

Feature image by Robin O’neill

Continue Reading



Sep 09, 2019

How To Choose A Safe Whitewater Rafting Company

Whitewater rafting is a unique experience in nature, filled with adrenaline and excitement. Recently though, we have been reminded of the real risks involved.



Benjamin Baber

Last year, headlines from around the world were plagued with tragic river accidents. Four Americans passed away on a rafting trip in Costa Rica. Two Australians passed away in separate kayaking incidents in Nepal. The southeast U.S. alone had four separate whitewater kayaking deaths. And these examples are only a small sample of the river tragedies that occurred in 2018.

While some accidents are unfortunately inevitable, there are many situations where an accident can easily be avoided. Unfortunately, most countries lack standardized rules that you might expect from within the whitewater industry. This is more common in less economically developed countries. However, it’s important to stress this doesn’t mean that all companies in less economically developed countries are unsafe. You just have to set a few basic standards, and know how to pick the best one! No matter where you are in the world, there are a few basic things to look for in a rafting company to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable whitewater experience.

Rafting in Morocco. Photo: Ben Baber

Leader to Participant Ratios

The whitewater industry has general safety standards for guide-to-participant ratios on commercial rafting and kayaking trips.  

A safe industry standard on a fourteen-foot raft is one guide to every six participants. Most companies won’t live up to this standard, but if you want the safest experience – this is it! Ask your company what their leader to participant ratio is! 

It all boils down to this – any raft can flip. When that happens, one guide is expected to rescue the raft, re-flip the raft, then save each participant. If you are one of those participants, do you want to be the sixth person to be rescued or the ninth? The better companies will reduce the number of people in the raft to keep the weight balanced, the trip safe, and to maximize the rafting experience.

Kayaking carries greater risk than rafting simply due to the fact that the participants are in control of their own boat, rather than a trained guide. Instead, the guide is usually in their own kayak telling you how to manoeuvre from a separate craft. Industry standards recommend a ratio of one guide to every four participants for kayaking and canoeing. However, this ratio may decrease and become 1:3 or even 1:2 as the whitewater gets more challenging and consequential.

Read next on TOJ: A veteran river runner turns 70, and heads off into the Peruvian wilderness to raft the Rio Marañón, the headwaters of the Amazon.

Safety Boats

Safety boats are your best friend on the river. If a participant falls from a raft, they run the risk of being swept away by the current. This is when the safety boat shines. It will pluck you out of the water and give you a safe ride back to your raft or shore. It is a recognized industry standard to never have a single-boat trip. If there are only enough customers to fill one boat, then there should always be a safety kayak or safety raft along with the participant-filled raft.

With multiple rafts on the river, there should always be a safety kayak or safety raft to support the trip. This may pose an extra financial burden for the rafting company, but it is a small price to pay to increase participant safety. Problems sometimes arise when companies try to cut corners, perhaps deciding to take a guide off the water and undercut the competition by 5 dollars. If your company doesn’t have a safety craft, find out why.

In some locations, it has become standard for single or half-day trips to not have a safety boat when they have 2 or more full rafts. The theory here is that the other boats on the river will provide safety for one other. This is a debatable standard, but in some locations, you might not be able to find a company that uses safety boats for shorter trips. Certainly for multi-day trips, no matter how many rafts, there should be a safety boat.

Rafting in Nepal. Photo: Ben Baber

Cut-Off Levels

Every river rises and falls according to snowmelt, rainfall, or changes in upstream dam release. It can happen with the changing of the seasons, or it can happen in ten minutes with changing weather patterns. Companies should have a set cut-off limit for each river they operate on. This cut-off level should be based on their own expert knowledge of that river.

One good way to double-check a company is to find out the cut-off levels for several other companies running that river. Call them up, send them an email, check their website – whatever you need to do to find out. If your company’s level is much higher than the competition’s, ask why! Is it because they have more experienced guides and provide more safety kayakers or rafts? If not, it may be a money-motivated decision that could translate to a dangerous experience for customers.


Properly maintained and up-to-date equipment is a vital part of whitewater safety. All participants should wear a Personal Floatation Device (PFD), closed-toed shoes, and a helmet. If the guide hasn’t checked that your equipment is fitted correctly, don’t get on the water.

The shelf-life of most outdoor gear is around 10 years. You can use this as a guideline when deciding which equipment will keep you afloat and keep your head intact.

All PFDs from the United States must be approved by the United States Coast Guard. They will be marked to show they have been through a standardized testing process. You will see this written as “USCG Type V.” Any product from Europe must have a certification “EN ISO 12402-5 / 12402-6.”

Find out more information on IOS standards relating to PFDs here.

For Helmets, look for the CE standard CE EN 1385. This ensures your helmets is suitable for whitewater and has been tested accordingly.

Further reading:

Buying a canoeing & kayaking helmet – what does the CE mark really mean, and Sweet Protections guide to Helmet testing.

Whitewater Kayaking in Nepal. Photo: Ben Baber


It is forbidden for guides and participants to consume alcohol on the river. Intoxicated participants can pose as much of a threat to the safety of the trip as an intoxicated guide. Take note of the company’s alcohol policy, and if you have any concerns that your guide or another participant may be intoxicated, make sure to raise those concerns.


There are various different qualifications for whitewater guides. From the British Canoe Union, to the American Canoe Association, to Rescue 3 International. The trouble is that certifications cover different skills according to the river and country in which the certification process took place. However, no matter how much the certifications vary, every guide should have a minimum of a swiftwater rescue certificate, a First Aid/CPR certification, as well as some sort of whitewater guide certification and/or in-house whitewater training.  


Whitewater activities are risky. There is no way around it. However, with proper training, skill, equipment, and experience, this risk can be mitigated. Take the time to research the company you go with, and make it a lasting memory for the right reasons.

Rafting in Nepal. Photo: Ben Baber

Recent Articles

India Must Stop Deforesting its Mountains if it Wants to Fight Floods.

During floods and landslides in August 2019, two villages were completely destroyed killing several people, while a year earlier Kerala saw its worst floods in a century.

How climate change is driving emigration from Central America

Rising global temperatures, the spread of crop disease and extreme weather events have made coffee harvests unreliable in places like El Salvador. On top of that, market prices are unpredictable.

The Great Barrier Reef outlook is ‘very poor’. We have one last chance to save it.

It’s official. The outlook for the Great Barrier Reef has been downgraded from “poor” to “very poor” by the Australian government’s own experts.