Anatomy of a Shoot: The Squarespace Spot

October 14th, 2014

20140914_squarespace0168I often get asked about the process, planning, gear, etc. for some of my shoots. A few weeks ago I was in Yosemite directing a web piece and commercial spot for SquareSpace, the website platform. I thought it would be a good shoot to deconstruct.

High angle, high stakes shoots while working with world class athletes and highly specialized crews are my favorite types of shoots. On this shoot in particular, we had several lifestyle scenarios but the main highlight action of the piece would be Alex Honnold freesoloing (climbing unroped) the severely overhanging route “Heaven.” It would require a complex set up with two camera crews hanging over a ledge several thousand feet above the valley floor rolling on Alex Honnold as he climbed the route.

There are endless factors and decisions to make on a shoot like this. While I can’t cover all of them, below are some of the details surrounding the shoot.

The Plan

Squarespace reached out to Alex Honnold and I a couple months ago about doing a commercial spot and brand vignette on Alex for the company’s “Squarespace Presents” series. They had heard Alex was a Squarespace user and brought us in to find some overlaps between their product and Alex’s lifestyle and passion for climbing. I met with the Squarespace creative team at the NYC headquarters and we discussed some concepts and locations. Among other details, I was told Squarespace was under an extremely tight deadline and we’d only have two days for the shoot. I called up Alex and we decided Yosemite would be the perfect spot to get what we would need based on the creative.

Yosemite is big and there are a lot of great routes we could have picked for Alex to climb that would have given us some pretty spectacular shots of the valley. While Half Dome or El Cap would have been epic, I knew we only had two days for shooting. On top of the climbing sequences, the shot list included a long list of lifestyle shots as well. It would have taken too long to haul the gear, get into position, rig etc. on Half Dome or El Cap, so Alex and I decided to shoot on Heaven, a route that was high above the valley floor but had relatively easy access to move in gear and personnel.

The client was expecting high production value but getting a Cineflex shot from the air or using drones was out of the question since both are prohibited in Yosemite. On most climbing shoots, we’d rig one or two cameramen hanging from a rope to shoot from above the climber. I really wanted to bring back something different and decided, for better or worse, we would try and rig a crane above the route to shoot Alex climbing out the severely overhanging pitch. I knew positioning, anchoring, and operating a crane on steep, exposed terrain was going to be a bit of a nightmare but I also knew the effort would really bring some additional motion to the sequence and much higher production value. (You can see the set-up below.) Which brings us to the climb itself…

Photo by Jimmy Chin.

Photo by Jimmy Chin.

Alex is famous for his free soloing feats, but going into the shoot I told Alex a number of times that there was no pressure for him to solo….at all. Having Alex roped up would make it a lot easier to shoot multiple angles, repeat climbing sequences for the camera and, needless to say, a lot less stressful, but Alex was pretty set on free soloing the route. This was a very personal decision on Alex’s part, but it has to be said here: we’re talking about freesoloing a 5.12d and a route that’s only been free soloed twice - once by Dean Potter and once by Alex himself. It’s insecure to say the least and the top out is a difficult mantel on a sloping ledge while reaching for a rattly fist jam. In climber speak, that means it’s scary. If he soloed it, we’d have one — maybe two — chances to get all the shots we needed, and as Alex says in the vignette, if you blow the climbing sequence on Heaven you bounce once and then fall 2000 feet to the valley floor. The stakes really couldn’t have been higher.

The Crew

Photo by Wynn Ruji.

Photo by Wynn Ruji.

As you can see in the photo, we’re not shooting on a set and there’s not a lot of room for a big crew. So I chose to go with a tight, specialized team. I needed a dependable crew experienced in high production / high pressure commercial shoots and comfortable working in high-angle terrain. I brought along TGR co-founder Dirk Collins (DP), Shawn Corrigan (DIT), Wynn Ruji and Rob Frost.

I had worked with Dirk before on a couple other high stakes shoots, he is one of the great action sports filmmakers in the business and works well under pressure. I’d also worked with Shawn on several shoots - reliable in any situation and extremely tech savvy. We would tech the cameras, the Movi and manage all the equipment. Wynn came on as our AC, focus puller and did just about every other job in the book too. Rob brought significant experience filming climbing and big alpine expeditions. He is very comfortable filming in high angle terrain and would be critical for rigging…and humor. Essentially, it was all hands on deck, all the time.

It was definitely the A-Team. There’s no room for error up there, and since we’d have Alex doing the route two times max, everyone needed to be able to nail their part(s). Which they did….beautifully.

…And, Action

It’s hard to overstate the pressure you feel on a shoot like this. You’re pretty much getting one take to get what you need and the talent is in a do-or-die situation. The talent also happens to be a close friend.

It took us about 5 or 6 hours just to rig the crane set up. We didn’t want to use bolts so we had to get creative with rigging the anchors to get the crane into position so the arm, MOVI and Red Dragon on the end of it were hanging over the lip. It took three people to get the crane shot — one to operate the crane, one to pull focus and one to operate the MOVI and camera. I split the crew split in two teams so we could shoot from two different angles. Shawn, Wynn and Dirk on the crane, Rob and I set up at a different angle.

Alex is a true professional. It’s not everyday that someone solos 5.12d, to be able to do it on demand is beyond my comprehension. Not only did he float the route once, he topped out, turned to me and said “give me twenty minutes and I’m going to do it again,” and then did the route a second time. Anyone who knows Alex knows that it takes a lot to get any sort of rise out of him. That’s one of the reasons he can do what he does. I knew we got something special when he finally got a chance to review the footage with the team and seemed genuinely pleased.

As you can see from the vignette below, we shot a bunch of lifestyle footage as well, but getting Alex freesoloing Heaven was definitely the highlight.


The Gear

Given that this was a high production commercial shoot we opted to go with two Red Dragons. We planned to shoot most of it in 4K but knew we’d also shoot some 5K in case we wanted to punch in on some of the interview footage. Our main lens was the Red Pro 17-50mm 2.9, but we also had a stack of Canon Cinema Primes as well.

Obviously the crane set up was important for the shoot. Because of the environment we’d be using it in, we couldn’t go for a really stable / heavy crane, but VariZoom Snap Crane definitely wasn’t the lightest either.

The MOVI was great for the crane shot and for getting nice stablized motion in the lifestyle shots.

We also used a Cineslider to add some camera movement.

Check the full gear list and vignette below and keep an eye out for the commercial spot, coming soon!

Full Gear List

Red Epic Dragon Package (2)
MoVi M10 Cinema Gimbal Kit
Varizoom Snap Crane
3 ft Kessler Cineslider with tripod
Sachtler Video 20 S1 Fluid Head 100m
RED Pro 17­-50mm T2.9 Lens
REDMag SSD 256GB (3)
Red Volt Battery (8)
Anton Bauer Battery Mount for RED
Red Volt Quad Charger
Litepanels 1×1 Daylight LED Kit (2)
Anton Bauer Dionic (4)
Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 ZF.2 Nikon Mount
Canon CN­E 24mm T1.5 L F Cine Lens
Canon CN­E 35mm T1.5 L F Cine Lens
Canon CN­E 50mm T1.3 L F Cine Lens
Canon CN­E 85mm T1.3 L F Cine Lens
Nikon Lens to Canon Camera Adapter
Nikon G Lens to Canon Camera Adapter
Sachtler 0742 FSB­8T Tripod System with DA 75L Tripod (2)
BoomMate Boompole Holder
K­Tek Aluminum Boompole with Internal Coiled XLR Cable
Zoom H6 Handy 6­Track Recorder with Interchangeable Microphone
Kessler Hi Hat Accessories
Anton Bauer Battery Mount for Litepanels (2)
Lectrosonics 100 Series Wireless UHF Lavalier Mic Set
Sennheiser EW122­p G3 Hotshoe Wireless Lavalier Mic
GoPro Hero3+ (4)
GoPro Battery BackPac (4)

The GoPro Hero4 Quick + Dirty

October 11th, 2014

jimmychin_gopro_hero4There’s nothing like getting new gear right before a big trip. My GoPro Hero4 arrived on my doorstep last week a few hours before my flight to South Africa. Needless to say, I was pretty stoked.

After having a chance to play with it for a spell, I’ve distilled the newest features into a top 4 list.

“4″ Stands for “4K”

This is big. The move to 4K at 30 fps in a camera that fits in your palm is pretty outrageous. We’re all still a little gaga over the fact that it’s here. The Hero3+ did 4K but only at 15fps, which meant some missed ops for the GoPro on professional shoots. The Hero 4 is going to make quite the stocking stuffer for filmmakers….

The Low Light Highlight

By the time the Hero3 came out, it was pretty widely accepted that the GoPro was never going to be your go-to for low light situations. Seems the company changed all of that. Not only can you adjust ISO and exposure settings, the Hero4 brings two new modes to the (dimly lit) table: Night Lapse and Night Photo. I’m assuming for better low light time lapses and still results. Mountains + Stars always equals epic.

Hardware Changes

GoPro made two pretty big hardware changes with the Hero4. It added Bluetooth as a connectivity option (the WiFi is still there) and it changed up the battery housing from the clunky old door to a spring-loaded trap. It does mean those Hero3 batteries are obsolete, so you’ll probably want to pick up a few extras of the new ones. Or do as I do, and hook yourself up with the Goal Zero solar panel to recharge as you go. By the way, GoPro says shooting in 4K won’t drain the battery any faster.

Silver is the New Black

Okay not really. The Silver won’t shoot 4K in 30fps (its ceiling is 4K at 15), but the Silver does have something the Black does not: a built-in touchscreen display. Now you can see what you’re recording (or recorded) AND adjust the camera settings using the touchscreen buttons. GoPro made it a tough choice between the two. I’ll be carrying both.

Here’s an obligatory selfie taken with the new Hero4 on Half Dome in Yosemite around sunset. More to come…


Get a better look at the Hero4 here:

Exposed: Behind the Shot of the Arch of Bishekele

September 3rd, 2014

North Face Climbing expedition, Chad, Africa

My Gear: Canon 5D Mark II; 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

Camera settings: 1/2500 at f/6.3; ISO 400

Getting there: We flew from the States to N’Djemena, Chad, met up with our local operator, Piero Rava, hopped into two Land Cruisers, then drove off road for four days across the Sahara to the Ennedi Desert, guided mainly by GPS. Once in the Ennedi, we drove around the 60,000 square km area for almost two weeks before we arrived at the Arch of Bishekele.

Getting into position: After Mark Synnott and James Pearson made the first ascent of the arch, I climbed up to join them. I really wanted to show the arch’s shape and the uniqueness of the formation so I rappelled in from the top to a point where I was hanging in space in the span between the two sides of the arch. This way, I could get some sky below the bottom of the arch which helped define the arch’s shape.

What the photo doesn’t tell you: The day before we got to the Arch of Bishekele, we were attacked by knife-wielding bandits. They tried to rob us while we were doing a recon of a few towers and canyons far from the cars and our local guides. At one point, I was literally holding a grapefruit-sized rock raised up as a weapon while facing off with a masked, turbaned desert bandit making stabbing motions with a 10-inch blade over his head. There were 4 or 5 of them and they were all dressed like the Sand People straight out of Star Wars - with turbans wrapped around their heads hiding their faces. (I swear I’m not making this up.) They ended up backing off and we eventually got out of it, but were certainly shaken up. Despite the attack, we decided to keep driving out into the maze of formations to find the arch we had seen pictures of months before.

When we finally got there, the rock was far from ideal. Several parts of the arch were totally loose and crumbly. Mark Synnott and James Pearson (pictured) spent a day attempting the first ascent of the tower but turned back due to the bad rock, massive run-outs and heat. We were all road weary and tired in general after weeks of travel and living in the desert. The next day, Mark and James got up early and after much debate, went for it again. James led a long run out pitch with very little protection. He pulled through the steep section but had to paw his way up and onto a slab at the top of the final pitch. If he’d fallen, he definitely would have gotten hurt. On top of that, we had no chance of any type of immediate rescue. We were literally in the middle of nowhere. We would have had to reverse our entire course of travel, driving for days back through the Sahara to get him to N’Djemena. And, my guess is that hospitals in N’djemena don’t exactly inspire confidence either. It wouldn’t have been pretty. Fortunately, James didn’t fall and we got this picture out of it.

Insta-Ode to Landscapes and Seascapes

July 9th, 2014

I love action, adventure, lifestyle and portrait photography, but sometimes the landscape and the elements tell all the story you need to know. So this week I dove into the archive of my Instagram landscape pics and put together this little collection to check out.

A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment someone contemplates it, bearing within them the image of a cathedral. - Antoine de Saint-Exupery El Capitan and the Cathedral Group. Yosemite, California. @thephotosociety @natgeo

This is my reason to #ActOnClimate. Glaciers world wide are receding at an ever alarming rate. The ramifications are far beyond the loss of their beauty. @whitehouse announced some exciting news today about taking action on climate change. Stay tuned. @protectourwinters

Arabian Sea. Shot on assignment for @natgeo. #waterstudy @thephotosociety

Sunset over the Gulf of Oman. Shot on assignment for @natgeo. #dreamscapes @thephotosociety

Jackson summertime goodness…

On the move and missing the Tetons. On to another adventure…. @thephotosociety

I know….another beach, another sunset….but sometimes it’s just #tooepicnottopost. @dontfightthefun @saytisntsoph - It ain’t Bali but it’s #goingoff #eastcoaststyle! #sailorsdelight #ny

“Whether or not one can live with one’s passion, and accept its law, which is to burn the heart it simultaneously exalts, that is the question.” - Albert Camus A year ago today, the answer was yes. East Face of the Shark’s Fin. Thanks boys…@conradclimber @renan_ozturk #merufilm

Here’s a little something for your imagination….Mountains never cease to amaze me. South Howser Tower, British Columbia. #mistymountainhop #mountainarchitecture #happyplace @thephotosociety @thenorthface @gopro

Indo perfection. Christian Sea photo from our evening session a few days ago. Thank you @dontfightthefun and @sayitaintsoph for sharing….

The Torres. Beautiful and menacing. The two aspects to climbing in #Patagonia. Hoping all my friends down south are sending. #mountainportrait @mikeylikesrocks @thephotosociety @thenorthface #neverstopexploring

Dean Potter: The Modern Day Adventure Samurai

May 12th, 2014

Photo by Renan Ozturk

Photo by Renan Ozturk

Dean Potter has always pushed the edge. Whether that meant free soloing, slack-lining or BASE jumping—the 3 Arts, as Dean calls them—he’s had more than a few ground-breaking moments in his career, and some seriously close calls.

Dean is easily misunderstood if you don’t know him. Some of his peers even refer to him as the “Dark Wizard,” and he’s certainly endured a few controversies in his time. But, I’ve worked with him on a lot of pretty insane shoots over the last 15 years and I’ve always appreciated his strong opinions, unique outlook on life and his passion to get after whatever he sets his mind to. He’s always looking to change the game to the next level.

In an effort to get into his head and understand where his inspiration comes from, I caught up with him recently and got a download on some of his legendary accomplishments, his motivations, his take on life and the pursuit of happiness. Incredible. You can think what you want, but the guy gets it done….

1. You enjoy a variety of pretty intense activities: BASE-jumping, slacklining, free-soloing. What’s the common thread here, besides the adrenaline piece?

The common thread in my 3-Arts is pushing into fear, exhaustion, beauty and the unknown. I willingly expose myself to death-consequence situations in order to predictably enter heightened awareness. In times when I’m going to die if I mess up, my senses peak in order to survive, and I see, hear, feel, intuit in vast detail, beyond my normal, day-to-day consciousness. This pursuit of heightened awareness is why I put myself in harm’s way.

In addition, while doing my arts, I empty myself and function within a meditative state where I focus on nothing but my breathing. This manifests emptiness. This void needs to be filled, and somehow it draws in and makes me recognize the roots of my most meaningful ponderings and often leads to a feeling of connectivity with everything.

2. Much of what you do has been documented in film and photography. What’s it like to do what you do, and also have to perform to some extent?

I used to be uncomfortable with performing my Arts for the camera, and I still far prefer being alone in nature, undisturbed. I have had some very meaningful and fun times on film projects, though. What I’ve found is that filming and my pursuits have fundamentals in common. The primary connection is beauty. Being in a stunning location at just the right moment with the rising or setting sun or moon also brings me heightened awareness. I become overwhelmed with where I’m at, and I lose all else. Good filmmakers are often searching for this exact same thing, so we groove out as we are infused with the light.

I’ve also realized that when working with the right film crew at the right moment, everybody on the team becomes elevated through the group energy. Additionally, we all subtly start communicating on a different level than normal. While free-soloing for the camera, I’ve often found myself reading the minds of the cameramen and understanding that they are reading my body language and thoughts as well. The exploration of these other senses within all of us is one of my primary focuses in life. I feel a connection with the mountains I’m playing with. It doesn’t happen every time, but in the rare moment that I’m with friends filming and making art in the mountains, even more variables line up and we are all lifted higher, even the eventual viewers.

3. What are you reading right now?

I am reading The Life-Giving Sword, by Yagyu Munenori. Translated by: William Scott Wilson.

4. Name your proudest accomplishment as an adventurer.

I still look back to my time climbing solo in Argentina in 2002 as my proudest adventure. During a three-week trip, I speed soloed Cerro Torre and free-soloed Fitz Roy two times, the second of which was a new, 7,000-foot free-solo route that I named “Californian Roulette.”

While descending off of Californian Roulette, I was struck by rock fall and barely crawled out of the mountains. During this time on my hands and knees, I realized there had to be a better way to descend safely. These thoughts led to my introduction to BASE-jumping, and I’ve never looked back.

5. What is your greatest fear in life?

My greatest fears in life are hurting the people around me, and not being true to my calling. The combination of these two aspects of being seems to offer challenges. We should think carefully about this.


6. You and I both played parts in the book The Rise of Superman, which gets into the flow state. What part does fear play in flow, and how do you manage fear when facing a new challenge?

It’s great what Steven Kotler is doing with The Rise of Superman. He is defining emotions and struggles I’ve had for my entire life but have never really been able to articulate within myself and to the masses. In addition, Steven has shown me that I am not alone.

I practice the art of remaining calm. When fear creeps into me, I feel a surge of energy and if I can keep relaxing through this discomfort, a whole new world opens up (flow), and I see, hear, feel, intuit the world more clearly.

7. Do you have a favorite quote or motto?

Fly Free.

8. I imagine that your schedule keeps you pretty active, but how do you stay fit physically during those longer stretches of down time?

I don’t really stay physically fit in the short term during the longer stretches of down time, though I’m never totally stagnant. I always go on long walks with my dog, Whisper, and my girlfriend, Jen, and we spend much of our time outdoors. This time in nature – breathing fresh air and drinking pure water and relaxing my nervous system – seems far more important than continuously stressing myself when I’m not inspired. Sure, I could probably climb harder if I trained consistently. Lack of regimentation is a big weakness of mine.

Strength is essential for most of the things I do, and I’m thankful that I’m blessed with good genetics. Listening to the bigger picture of long-term health, motivation and happiness seems to be my higher calling.

I just turned 42 and have remained healthy and injury free for my entire life, so far. Sure I’ve had some sprained ankles and scrapes and bruises but I’ve never been debilitated. I think this is because I take long breaks away from each of my three Arts. For example, when my fingers are hurting from climbing, I walk lines or fly and visa versa. I try to enjoy these long breaks. My Arts are far more mental and emotional than physical. After a long spell of taking it easy, I come back with enormous fire and any physicality eventually falls into place with enough psych!

9. You’ve continued to push the limits of what most would think is humanly possible. What’s next for you?

This past summer in the Alps really changed me.

Close to 30 wingsuit BASE-jumpers died world wide in 2013. I still have never been on the scene for a fatal accident during my 28 years pursuing some of the most dangerous endeavors man can undertake.

Last summer, I started realizing that there is a flaw in the wingsuiting system. I started to become conscious of some basic safety rules that I’ve followed all my life that used to live purely in my subconscious mind. I realized that I haven’t just been getting lucky; there is methodology that has been helping to keep me safe.

I flew more than 200 wingsuit BASE-flights during my stay in Switzerland. One is the biggest wingsuit BASE-flight worldwide that only my partner Graham Hunt and I got to fly together. Many more were with Whisper dog. During all of these flights, I never felt on the edge of death. Many times, I walked or down-climbed out of the mountains and decided not to fly that day.

When I got home to Yosemite, I poured all of my energy into starting to redesign the wingsuiting system. All of my other flying buddies kept pushing it harder and harder. Though I did climb, walk lines and fly regularly throughout the autumn and winter, I definitely reduced my physical pursuits and enhanced my mental outreach with innovations. I tried to caution my friends about the unnecessary risks they were taking and they all looked at me weird and perhaps thought I was losing my grip. This past month, four friends died wingsuit flying, one of whom was my very good friend and wingman, Sean Leary.

I feel fortunate that I listened to my gut and rational thoughts and “looked before I leaped.” I am more psyched for wingsuit flying than ever before. I feel passionate about advancing human performance, technological advancements in gear, safety and predictability. I am also locked onto safely and repeatedly flying and landing the human form.

10. Who is your greatest inspiration and why?

mm7955_100702_01081I wouldn’t say that I have one greatest inspiration but I do read and learn a lot from the teachings of Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi was the legendary samurai known throughout the world as a master swordsman, spiritual seeker, artist and author of the classic book on strategy, the Book of Five Rings. For Musashi, the way of the martial arts was about mastery of the mind rather than simply technical prowess.

11. What do you think is the most important characteristic in a person?

Being truthful and honorable combined are the most important characteristics in people I like to spend time with.

12. What’s your biggest weakness?

My biggest weakness is my tendency to go very high and then very low. More and more I’m learning to become balanced and more consistent.

Follow Dean across these channels to keep up with his adventures:


Insta-Pow: A Collection of My Favorite Ski Pics of the Season

April 28th, 2014

Another epic ski season has come and gone. I had a ton of travel and work this winter but still got out for a stack of beautiful days in the hills. It never gets old to be in the mountains with friends. Super grateful for everyday, every season.

Here are a couple of my favorite winter pics posted to Instagram this winter. To those who are still milking every last turn out of Spring, stay safe and enjoy!


Is it time yet? Contrail by @jxnhende. @dynafitna #jhdreaming #inyourface #yespleasemayihaveanother #neverstopexploring @thenorthface @gopro


The mountains are calling….. #chamonix @kitdski #winteriscoming #nofallzone @thenorthface #neverstopexploring


Photo by Chris Figenshau
So stoked to get some soul food this week. Thanks for the pic @jxnfigs! - If you don’t recognize the name, you’ve probably seen his work in The North Face ads or in and Teton Gravity Research films. When the shooting gets tough, the tough call Figs. #stillfeelslikewinter #happyhunting @jimmyhartman


Home sweet home. That was nice while it lasted. Sunset session w mi compa @jimmyhartman. @jacksonhole


Kit DesLauriers making it look casual on the Grand Teton. The first run I ever skied w @kitdski was Central Coulior on Cody Peak, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. My second run w her was the Ford Coulior on the Grand Teton (pictured here). Our third day skiing together was from the top of Everest. We had a pretty good run there for a bit….


The one and only Chris Figenshau going to his happy place. #tetons #homesweethome #iphoneglory — with chris figenshau.


Higher elevations. @hilareeoneil and @lucasdebari pushing through the last 100m to the summit of Denali at over 20,000ft. An hour later, Hilaree on skis and Lucas on a snowboard, were both charging perfect pow off the top along w Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, Ingrid Backstrom, Conrad Anker, @acpictures #jimzellers. It was quite the shred posse. #thedenaliexperiment The North Face #neverstopexploring


Wow….that was fun. Somewhere in there is @shroderbaker. #pitted Thanks Jackson Hole Mountain Resort! Always nice to be home. @jxnfigs @jimmyhartman

How to Start Your Photography Business [for Under $3,000]

April 8th, 2014

JimmyChin_GearMost businesses require some investment at the outset. A photography business is no different. And while damn nice DSLRs are relatively affordable, adding lenses, accessories and memory can quickly drive that bill north of what you might be able to spend.

But a basic pro-level photography kit doesn’t have to be cost-prohibitive. I often get asked often what gear I would suggest to an aspiring photographer, and what follows are my suggestions.

First, let’s start with the stuff that won’t cost a cent.

The Free Stuff

Passion and motivation are free. These are the first things you’re going to need. I always tell folks it’s good to start out shooting something you’re passionate about. If you have an insiders perspective and deeper understanding of a topic or subject, you’ll be able to share something out of the ordinary. And if your passionate about something, the motivation will be there to get out early or to stay late for the good light, to carry a camera all the time, to pursue subjects, set up shoots, etc. I started with a DSLR and zoom lens, but more importantly I was passionate about climbing, skiing and being in the mountains. I had the idea of sharing my friends’ experiences - specifically, I wanted to share stories of expeditions in remote places. You’ll need passion for a topic, to travel, to find your perspective on the world and to share it. These things are free, but without them, you’ll be short on creative and motivational capital.

Ideas are also free. These days you can build a brand with your iPhone shooting photos for your Instagram account. It’s a pretty cool platform to get your work out or just to have fun with. It can certainly do both. San Fransisco art director Michael O’Neal basically launched his career using Instagram. Eventually his work was seen by Instagram and they started promoting him as a “suggested user.” Now he has over half a million followers and he routinely gets job offers because of content he posts to the social platform. (Check out O’Neal’s work here.) As cameras go, the iPhone is relatively cheap. The days of working your way into a magazine as the only way to share your work are over. Instagram and other social media outlets give you a platforms to get your work seen—potentially by a TON of people.

Sometimes motivation and passion aren’t enough. You’re going to need a decent Work Ethic, as in, get ready to work your ass off. Motivation may get you off the ground, and talent can get you noticed, but it’s your work ethic that will take you to the next level. Climbing is fun. Skiing is fun. Hiking is fun. But adding photography into all those activities—great photography—is hard work. It can be frustrating. It’s constantly challenging and there is a ton of talent out there who want the same thing you do. You can’t just rely on luck, good timing and talent to build a career or business.

Here’s some more free advice on adventure photography to consider before you open your wallet.

And now onto the shopping cart.

The Gear

As I said, I started with a single body and a zoom lens. The combinations available now are almost endless. I’ll be sticking to the camera body, lens and immediate accessories. I haven’t included a computer/laptop—which you’ll obviously need—as most people are already running with a machine that will suffice for those early days.

A nice DSLR body will set you back about $1,000-$2,000, and some of those packages will include a decent lens. But for the sake of keeping things under $2,500, let’s start you off with the Canon 7D, mainly for its versatility. You’ll get meaty stills with this body and a lens (below), but it can also serve up some decent video, too.

Camera Body: $1,299

A little while back I wrote a post about my all-time favorite lenses. Admittedly, a few of those just won’t fit into our budget. One will, though, and that’s the Canon 24-105mm f/4 L IS. It’s a very capable mid-range zoom that’s great for run & gun style shooting. Novices especially will benefit from a decent autofocus and solid image stabilization.

conradclimberLens: $1,149

I’d never weigh you down unnecessarily, but I couldn’t send you out into the field without a solid support system. Manfrotto has being consistent in their manufacturing of reliable, durable tripods and support for photographers and videographers. You can spend a lot of money on a tripod—but for now you’re better off spending a little extra on the lens and saving a bit on support. The Manfrotto 293 4-Section Carbon Fiber Tripod should be more than up to the task.

Support: $284.99

Lastly, you’ll need some memory cards to store your photos while on location. I’m recommending a handful of 32 GB SDHC cards from SanDisk. These are super fast (95MB read speed) and big enough that you shouldn’t run out of space during a day of shooting.

Memory: $149.85 (3 @ $49.95)

Grand Total: $2,882.84

Option #2

Fitting a nice lens to a DSLR is just one way to go about it. When I like to stay fast, light and connected I always throw my Olympus OM-D in the bag. One of many in the burgeoning mirrorless camera category, the OM-D is about a third the size of a DSLR but takes heavy-weight shots. It’s also weather-sealed and super compact (by comparison). An OM-D body/lens package will cost you about $1300.

Another great mirrorless camera to consider is the recently-released Sony Alpha a7. Like the OM-D, the a7 is a deal lighter and more compact than a DSLR, so it’s great for street photographer-type shoots, hikes and the like. A package including a FE 28-70mm lens sets you back $1999, which is still cheaper than the DSLR body/lens combo listed above. This gives you a little extra to spend on nicer support, accessories, etc.

So there you go. All you need to jump-start your photography business for under $3K. With either option you’ll still have some money left over to get some filters, a lens cleaning kit (which I highly recommend) or an extra battery.

But don’t get too hung up on gear. All that free stuff in the first section is what matters most.

Climbing, Filtered - A Collection of My Favorite Instagram Climbing Photos

March 18th, 2014

I’m extremely grateful to have a job that takes me to all corners of the Earth and keeps me in the company of amazing athletes/friends. I love what I do and the people I do it with. But one of the best parts of this job is inspiring other people to get out there and explore this planet and to get out into the  mountains. I’ve been snapping climbing photos — and popping them on Instagram — for some time now, enough to feel pretty good about some of what’s been captured.

A ton of the credit goes to the talent in the frame, of which there’s no end: Conrad Anker, Alex Honnold, Mark Synnott, Hazel Findlay and a bunch of other top climbers have slowed down long enough for me to catch them in action. This little collection is my salute to their achievements, for inspiring me to always get after it in climbing and life. Hoping it rubs off a bit on some of you….

In no particular order, here are some of my favorite Instagram climbing shots:


Here’s Conrad Anker at 20,000 feet ascending a fixed rope on overhanging terrain. Every time I think my respect for Conrad has maxed, he goes through the ceiling again. Meru, Garwhal Himalaya, India.


The recent issue of National Geographic featured a story I shot on exploratory climbing and deep water soloing on the Musandam Peninsula. Here I got Hazel Findlay going for a swim. Hard to find anyone with her same level of grit and focus. Oman.


No collection of climbing photos would be complete without one of Alex. Alex is an enigma. Despite being happiest living the “dirtbag” life in a van, he still somehow manages to feature in countless short films, adventure articles and climbing photo galleries throughout the year. Here he is soloing Separate Reality, Yosemite.


This one is actually a shot of me scrambling around on Mount Owen. Renan Ozturk snapped this one on the GoPro Hero3 when we were playing around in the Tetons during a The North Face shoot.


I love this shot of Japanese climber Yuri Hirayama “thinking lightly” of himself in Geyikbayiri, Turkey.


Another one of Conrad Anker, this time in the Bugaboos shooting part of the Northface Unearthed series. This was a rest day, (a Conrad type of rest day) which usually still meant climbing something. This pic is of Conrad on Pigeon Peak above Base Camp “resting”.


This overhanging big wall route on Mount Kinabalu in Borneo was one of the most outrageously positioned walls I’ve ever been on. That’s Mark Synnott rappelling back to our hanging portaledge camp, basically over the South China Sea.

My 6 All-Time Favorite Lenses

February 5th, 2014


I’m not one to play favorites very often, but there are a few lenses that I reach for far more often than most. I’ve assembled this short list of my six personal favorites, with a few notes reserved for application. I think most photographers will agree there aren’t many “magic bullet” lenses that will kill across any and every situation, so I’ll try to be as specific as I can.

As a side note, I suppose it’s just coincidence that five of the six lenses are Canon. I’m not sponsored by Canon, nor do I receive any compensation for using their lenses, or including them in this post. They simply happen to be the lenses that I’ve experimented with and found that I quite liked.

If you have some favorites of your own, by all means sound off in the comment section below.

In no particular order, my six favorite lenses are:

canon-ef-24-70mm-f_28-ii-usmCanon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 II USM

Yes, the older version had its issues, but the new edition (released in early 2012) is great. It’s a workhorse for me, and though it was designed with the Canon full-frame bodies it’s not limited to those.

Anyone who is upgrading from version I will notice a few things, particularly less weight, sharper optics and a bit more plastic.

Cost: $2,199.00

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L USM

This is always in my arsenal for shooting climbing, skiing or snowboarding. (That’s the 70-200mm I’m holding in the top photo.) As much as adventure photographers try to get close to the action, sometimes situations/geography forces us to keep our distance.

It costs half as much as the IS II because you’re dropping Image Stabilization and a little bit on the AF side, but you don’t need IS when shooting action stuff like skiing or snowboarding or if you’ve packed a tripod.

Cost: $1,449.00

canon-24-105mm-f_4-l-isCanon 24-105mm f/4 L IS

I use this lens for film paired with the DSLR. It’s a mid-range zoom with decent optical performance. If you’re getting into run & gun style shooting, I highly recommend this lens.

This lens is probably the most useful for its great image stabilization and, if you’re the autofocus type, really fast and accurate autofocus. Runs a little on the heavy side.

Cost: $1,149.00

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

The 50mm 1.2 is a beautiful lens for portraits and for film. It shoots great in low light and you get incredible bokeh and control over depth of field. Very fast autofocus, but you get the manual override even when in auto by simply grabbing the ring.

Cost: $1,619.00

canon-35mm-14Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 USM

Like the 50mm 1.2, the 35mm 1.4 is also a beautiful lens with incredible bokeh. I find I end up using this a ton on lifestyle commercial shoots. It’s especially great when shooting backlit images.

The 35mm 1.4 produces tack-sharp and beautiful images. In fact, I just did a Roxy shoot and used this lens for more than half of the shoot.

Cost: $1,479.00

Zeiss 15mm Prime

Great lens for those moments when you need something a bit wider. I don’t usually like the look a very wide lenses, but sometimes you need it and this one shoots beautiful imagery and has great rectilinear correction. It is a manual focus, so take that into consideration. It’s also big and pricey, so it might be a better rent option (around $200 for a 3-day rental, depending on where you go.)

Cost: $5,700.00

So that’s what I roll with. I’m always excited to try out new lenses, but for the moment these are my go-to six. What are you shooting with?

How to Stay Healthy During Travel

January 8th, 2014

sun_salutationTraveling can be super tough on the immune system. Long flights, busy airports and crowded buses put you in contact with a lot of potentially sick people. Add jet lag and lack of sleep into the equation and you’ve got a recipe for a nasty show stopper.

In general, I think managing stress is a big part of keeping your immune system in good shape. Stress is an immune system killer. Meditation is a good way to try and mitigate stress and there is plenty of research that supports the many benefits of meditation. So I try to incorporate a healthy dose of meditation during my travels to keep the system at full strength. A solid yoga session after a long flight or bus ride is great for both body + mind.

In addition to meditation, I always bring/do the following when on the road:

1) Ola Loa Energy drink mix is a great supplemental multi vitamin drink. (Emergen C has quite a bit more sugar but is probably easier to get in a pinch.) More than anything, it’s important to keep hydrated while traveling. These drinks are great reasons to pound fluids while traveling and being in the airport. Short a drink mix, keep the H2O flowing.

2) Nutri Biotic Grapefruit seed Extract is a great to carry on any type of trip. Check out some some of the benefits here.

3) I also bring Wellness Formula with me. It’s a capsule/tablet supplement that uses a blend of herbs, antioxidants, and vitamins to keep the immune system fully charged.

4) Try to eat as healthy as you can while you’re out there too. I know many people who see travel as an excuse to abandon all sensible eating habits, but downing the airport fast food and the equivalent at your destination is not going to keep your body happy. Traveling with a bag of healthy snacks to munch on and a water bottle to supplement the shot of water you missed while you were dozing for a few minutes. (Obviously you need to go through security with an empty waterbottle.)

5) Sleep! The challenge here is finding the balance between fighting jet lag (getting your body’s clock attuned to your current location) and getting enough sleep. In my opinion, the worst thing you can do is sacrifice sleep in the first day or two after your arrival just to get adjusted. This deprivation - coupled with the exposure to viruses, etc during your travel - can set you up for a miserable, sickness-laden journey.

I’d love to hear your travel health tips! Sound off in the comment section below. Good luck out there and stay healthy!