Discover the secrets of shooting in dangerous locations with insight and experience from eight unstoppable adventure photographers.
When photographing Alaska’s glaciers and mountains, the legendary explorer Bradford Washburn (1910-2007) regularly tethered himself to the cabin of an unpressurized aircraft with the doors removed—often, in temperatures that dropped below zero. Even the landscape photographer Ansel Adams, when presented with Washburn’s work, was astounded by the risks he’d taken to get his extraordinary shots.
For more than a century, photographers have been some of history’s most intrepid explorers. They travel to the ends of the earth, and through pictures, they introduce us to some of the harshest and most extraordinary landscapes known to man. And sometimes, their personal stories of fear and triumph are just as enduring as the photographs themselves.
We spoke with eight extreme photographers who went out on a limb to capture difficult terrain. Some work with extreme sports, while others prefer extreme climates, but they all share a thirst for adventure. Like Washburn before them, they’re not the type to give up or say no to a challenge. Read on for the stories behind some of their most memorable shots.
1.”I live for those moments when it all comes together.”
Image by Jason Wolcott. Gear: Canon 7D Mark II camera, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. Settings: Focal length 170mm; exposure 1/1000 sec; f8; ISO 200.
What’s the story behind this photo?
Last year, I was asked to come out to Nihi Sumba, two-time #1 hotel in the world (Travel and Leisure) as a resident photographer. Sumba is one of
the wildest islands of Indonesia, featuring megalithic carvings, ritual blood rite sacrifices, and animist religious beliefs. It also has many world-class waves, the best being right in front of the luxury hotel which has become my second home over the past eighteen months.
The Indian Ocean is at its fieriest in July and August, as it faces straight south, looking down the barrel of Antarctic winter swell—which creates some of the best surfing in the world when it meets the Indonesian Archipelago.
I found myself in a small Zodiac with an underpowered engine, driven by a local, and on this particular day, the waves were huge, and the current in the channel reminiscent of class five rapids. I was very grateful for my Pelican case to protect my camera, and I even threw a pair of swim
fins in the boat in case something went wrong and I had to swim for it.
Lucky for me, on this particular day South African big wave surfer Shawn Denis was surfing and took off on this beautiful beast of a wave. The tide eventually came up, and the waves became bumpy, signaling that the end of the session and the treacherous return to the beach were imminent.
The massive swell had washed most of the sand away, and getting the boat landed on the beach was one of the most dangerous things I would do in years. I held my breath as the driver gunned it and put us on a tiny spot of beach less than five feet away from jagged rock breakwall.
A large shore break wave was looming behind when both of us decided to run for our lives before being smashed into the sharp rocks. We ran and climbed as fast as we could as the boat was flipped and smashed just behind us. Somehow, we made it safely up, and at that moment, I
realized that I had instinctively grabbed my Pelican case, saving my camera gear and the images I had captured that day.