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:

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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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


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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”.


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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

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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!

Best of 2013 - My Instagram

December 30th, 2013

To celebrate the year that was, here are some of my favorite pics from 2013 Instagram feed.

Thanks for reading in 2013.

Alex Honnold doing what he calls “scrambling” or “technical hiking” (or what most of us call free soloing) during our Musandam expedition in Oman. Editing is always a tough process. This is another one that didn’t make the cut.

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Kasha Rigby….always in the right place at the right time.

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Arch of Bishekele, Ennedi Desert, Chad. Always nice to have a solid tent in viper and cobra infested territory.

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My next big adventure….Welcoming Marina Yen Yen Vasarhelyi Chin to the world. Can’t wait to ski climb surf and play with her! Probably a few more diaper changes before then….

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The boys at Sherpas Cinema putting on the final touches to Into the Mind. I was proud and honored to collaborate with them on such an amazing project. Corked sunset grab by Tom Wallisch.

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Alex doing what he does best on Separate Reality. Yosemite, CA.

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Christian Sea lining up on another Indo beauty. I jokingly call him the Mer-Man. The guy can surf any board, charge barrels switch, go down spearfishing and come up w two huge fish on one breath. He basically has gills. A true waterman and a helluva nice guy. And yes, he’s surfing a 0 mil wetsuit.

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“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion” - Camus

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Always nice to find some forgotten moments in the archives. Mark Synnott rappelling over the South China Sea while climbing a new overhanging big wall route on Mount Kinabalu. Borneo. Definitely one of the most outrageously positioned walls I’ve been on.

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Penthouse suite. Kevin Jorgenson and Tommy Caldwell hanging out on El Cap.

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I’d like a table…for 1000. Thanks Summit for making the reservation!

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Hanging out at the office. Rob Frost having a high angle kind of day in the Bugaboos. All in a days work.

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After two months of fighting bitter cold, massive storms and an avalanche that swept most of the climbing route on the Lhotse face, Dave Hahn, Kit and Rob DesLauriers make a late post monsoon summit bid on Everest. This shot of the team climbing above the Balcony at over 27,000ft with Makalu (the fifth highest peak in the world) in the background was one of the few frames I got that morning due to a frozen shutter. We were the only team on the mountain that season, a rare experience to have on Everest these days. Besides not having to deal with crowds, we chose to climb in the post monsoon for the best chance of having enough snow coverage to attempt a ski descent of the mountain. That ended up both working in our favor and against it.

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Last look for Renan Ozturk after a couple epic days in the Tetons. It’s not a real shoot unless you had to hack out a bivy ledge in a storm.

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Ennendi Desert, Chad. Still life.

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The Rise of Superman: Flow State and the Adventure Athlete

December 18th, 2013

There is an effort being made to unravel the mystery of the “flow” state, often experienced by athletes — extreme or otherwise — where time slows down, decision-making becomes an almost unconscious act and moments of athleticism take on an almost superhuman quality. This “source code of human performance” is explored by author Steven Kotler in his upcoming book, The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance.

I am humbled to say that I have a small role in the book and also played interviewee a ways back for a promotional vid of the book, which you can see below. The role of the Flow state in the life and career of an athlete fascinates me. Kotler does a great job describing a state of being that many of us have experienced but — as you can see — sometimes struggle to put into words. Time slows down. The future is perceived. Life-saving decisions are made almost without conscious thought. But Kotler doesn’t stop at athletic pursuits. Flow plays a huge role in creativity, too. Who can’t relate to snapping out of a writing/painting/music session only to discover half the day has disappeared? Or looking back at some creative turn and wondering where on earth the idea came from?

Watch a few of us athletes and creatives try to get to the heart of Flow and read more about the project here.

Holiday Gifts for the Adventure Photographer

December 13th, 2013

Some people are impossible to shop for. But the Adventurer/Photographer need not be one of them. To take some strain off your Holiday gift-giving I’ve put together this list of approved gifts for that special someone in your life who also happens to getting outside AND taking photos/videos. Some of these items are near and dear to my heart. More than a couple are with me on almost every trip I take, in order to stay light, fast and connected. I’m not one to give in so readily to the materialism that often runs rampant this time of the year, but I also acknowledge that in this profession/hobby, there are things that are really nice to have and some things that are nice to wish for. You’ll find a little of both below.

Happy Holidays to everyone!

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1. Olympus OM-D

Yup, I’m starting off with big-ticket. The Olympus has been in my trusted ally in so many situations that it would be unjust not to include it. When I can’t pack heavy, I pack my OM-D. It’s weather-sealed, super compact (about a 1/3 the size of a DSLR) and yields super nice photos, especially in the right hands.

The mirrorless camera category is really taking off, but despite some recent entries by big players, the OM-D still remains one of the top dogs. A shame you didn’t have it for Christmas Card picture time but I guess there’s always next year. Definitely on the pricier side as this gift list goes, but worth every penny.
Price: $1,399

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2. inReach SE

Do you get nervous when your loved one departs on a trip? Give yourself a little peace of mind by giving the inReach SE satellite communicator. It fills in the cellular coverage gaps (which are enormous) to provide service anywhere on the Earth, from the tallest peaks to deepest canyons.

I’ve highlighted the inReach in a recent post about travel safety and it’s another one that I don’t leave home without. It’s as close to a get out of jail free card as you’re going to get in real life.
Price: $299.95

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3. GoPro Hero 3+

Forget adventure photographer. The GoPro Hero 3+ will make the sweetest stocking stuffer for pretty much anyone in your life. Literally any trip taken can become an awesome visual story by bringing a GoPro along. It’s also great for shooting just about everything else in your life including your baby or kids growing up.

One of the best parts about having one is becoming part of the huge GoPro community of users who share sick edits and vids and constantly push the envelope on what this magical camera can capture.

Price: $399.99

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4. Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Panel

There’s a harsh reality we face when heading off the grid for a few days with electronic devices that need to stay charged. You start looking at battery power the way a desert wanderer looks at his water supply. The relatively inexpensive Goal Zero products lessen the harshness of that reality.

We do a fair amount of timelapse shots on the projects I’ve been involved with, and the Goal Zero provide assurance that the batteries aren’t going to quit during the money sunset shot.
Price: $79.99

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5. NOLS Course

I taught for NOLS right out of college in my early twenties. I know personally that NOLS builds an incredible foundation for a life in the outdoors. The best part about NOLS is that they offer courses for all ages and across a spectrum of disciplines, including mountaineering, rock climbing, skiing/snowboarding and backpacking, to name a few.

They’ve got locations all across the world, with a whole slew on the West Coast. There’s nothing like the gift of experience!

Price: Varies

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6. Black Diamond Headlamp

A nice BD headlamp is always useful for adventure travel or to keep in the hiking backpack, backcountry ski pack, car for emergencies, etc. Having a back-up is never a bad thing, either. I can’t imagine heading out the door without one in my pack.

I didn’t specify a model because they’re all really quite nice and there are a couple features here and there that may work best with the person you have in mind, like waterproofing, running-specific, and so on.

Price: $49.95 (for pictured)

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7. Leatherman Wave

No, there is no shortage of multi-tools to choose from. I have tons of experience with the Leatherman Wave, however, so I stand by it. And it has stood by me. 16 tools, one-hand accessibility, compact and light. Remember those “must-haves” I was talking about? Yup, this is one of them.

Between the skis, bindings, camera equipment, climbing gear and various and sundry items that are routinely on my person during an adventure shoot, having one tool that can rule them all is pretty sweet.

Price: $80

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8. The North Face Power Guide ABS Vest

Big ticket, I know. But NOT a luxury item. This is a life-saver. I can speak first-hand to the power and unpredictability of an avalanche. The ABS vest not only gives you a great chance of surviving one, it also distributes your backcountry kit weight nicely AND keeps you warm. Looks kinda badass, too.

In all seriousness, I would recommend anyone doing skiing or snowboarding in avalanche-prone areas to have some kind of avalanche airbag system on their person.

Price: $1,397

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9. Dynafit Vulcan TF

I consider the Vulcan the perfect combo / Holy Grail of backcountry ski boots. It’s lightweight, super stiff and manages to be all about both the up and the down. These say “I love you. Period.”

Yes, you’re likely dropping more on a pair of boots than a pair of skis, but no one is going to argue that the boot makes the biggest difference in the backcountry experience. Or at least I’m not going to argue.

Price: $1000

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10. GoPro Telescoping Pole

POV shots with the GoPro are essential, but since the subject of the video is YOU (or the person you’ve given the GoPro to), the camera has to be turned around from time to time. Enter the telescoping pole. I went with the GoScope® Extreme – GoPro Pole 2X Telescoping pole because they are sturdy, light-weight and durable in saltwarer, freshwater and snow.

Best of all, it may just fit in the stocking when collapsed.

Price: $54.95

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11. DJI Phantom

I wouldn’t call the Phantom a GoPro accessory, but it was designed with the little camera in mind. It may seem like a hefty price tag, but it’s about as budget-friendly as you’re going to get in a drone, and the aerial footage yielded will put any amateur video over the top.

Note that I also wouldn’t call the Phantom a toy. It really is a tool first. Yes, flying it is fun, but it should always be done responsibly, and these control belong in responsible hands.

Price: $479

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12. TNF Super Diez Jacket

The Super Diez from The North Face is one of the nicer jackets I’ve ever worn. I love this jacket. Packed with 900-fill down, it’s ultra lightweight, packs down and is sooooo nice to put on. Great Winter coat that will last the years.

If the Super Diez isn’t the right style, check out the Supernatural. 950-fill goose down! It’s the highest fill down in the world. Plus a super weight-to-warmth ratio. Only available in limited supply.

Price: $349 ($449 for Supernatural)

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13. TNF Kelvin Glove

The Kelvin was made for mountaineering but makes a great, warm ski glove. It’s what I ski in all winter in super cold Jackson conditions. It’s waterproof and breathable and provides great movement even when things get really frosty. You don’t have to worry about losing grip on your poles, axe, etc.

Despite the abuse I give it, the Kelvin holds up nicely, so though you’re investing a decent amount for a glove, it should last well into next season and beyond.

Price: $165

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14. Canon 24-70mm 2.8 USM

If you’re a Canon shooter, Canon’s latest 24-70mm 2.8 is probably one of the nicest zoom lenses I’ve used. Beautiful bokah for a zoom and sharp as shit. I don’t like to admit it but I’ve found that I’ve been shooting with less primes since I got it.

It’s sealed and gasketed against dust and moisture — super important for any adventure photographer heading out into the wilderness. Great for digital and film shooting. Nice, fast AF.

Price: $1,399

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15. Armada JJ skis

The JJ’s might seem like an unlikely ski to consider for backcountry use but they are my favorite because they are light for hiking or skinning and are awesome for shredding pow.

They’ve got great floatation in the soft stuff but still handle great in the crud.

Price: $674.99

At the Intersection Of Artist + Athlete

December 10th, 2013

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It’s hard not to be a fan of Travis Rice. He’s a Jackson Hole local and is considered one of the most influential snowboarders of our time. Despite always having several major projects firing and some serious sponsorship face time obligations, the man refuses to rest. Travis is always looking to take things to the next level and gets after everything he does, whether that is with his snowboarding, building inner tube race tracks for his annual party or finding people to collaborate with in his relatively new Asymbol initiative.

Having long been inspired by photographs (or paintings) of mountains and fascinated by the art that graces snowboards, particularly art created BY athletes, Travis founded Asymbol as a way to recognize the artists who have been inspiring his kind for so many years. On the Aysmbol site, you can go from prints by Jamie Lynn and Hydro74 to photos by Chris Brunkhart and Danny Zapalac. There’s some seriously beautiful work found on Asymbol.

Which is why I’m honored to have some of my work up there now. Asymbol reached out to my good friends at TheGoodLife and forged a collaboration to feature some pieces by a few TGL artists — Dean Blotto Grey, Cole Barash and Laura Austin. My shot from Charakusa Valley in Pakistan (pictured above) made it into the co-curation initiative, alongside the photos you see below.

The Charakusa pic is from one of my first rolls of film shot on a proper SLR camera. In a lot of ways, it marked my start as a professional photographer. At any rate, pop over to Asymbol and check out the artists and work featured there. It’s a rabbit hole worth jumping into.

Dean Blotto Grey, Lift Station db_lift_station

Laura Austin, Road to Nowhere la_road_to_nowhere

Cole Barash, Untitled cb_untitled

How to Navigate the Client-Guide Relationship

December 4th, 2013

North Face Climbing expedition, Chad, AfricaSo you’ve booked your next adventure. Nicely done! What’s more, you’ve followed the wisdom of the sages and hired a professional guide or outfitter to assist you in your travels. Smart move.

However, the client-guide relationship can be tricky, so I’m offering these words of advice, starting with a lesson I learned from Homer. [No, not that one!]

One of the main themes in Homer’s The Odyssey is the notion of xenia, an ancient Greek concept of hospitality and treatment of those who are far from home. Odysseus finds himself in many situations where xenia is applied — or violated. I am reminded of Odysseus and this theme when I travel. Countless cultures apply the principles of xenia when interacting with outsiders. They’ll offer portions of an already meager meal to a guest, or make space in cramped quarters to provide shelter. I’ve also been to places where the opposite is the norm.

I’ve also learned that xenia is a two-sided coin. The burden of hospitality may fall upon the host, but in return the guest must not be a burden upon the host. Courtesy and graciousness are an obligation.

If you find yourself on a guided adventure in a strange land, think of yourself as the guest, and your guide as the host. To wit:

You are a Guest. Act Like One. There may be some behaviors you can get away with at home, but this is not your home. There are rules — and more importantly, laws — in this foreign land. Your responsibility as the guest/client is to know those rules and laws and to obey them. If the sign says “no trespassing,” don’t trespass. Even if an epic photo op awaits. Breaking cultural rules and laws of the land is a sign of disrespect for the people of that land. When you go over to the house of some new friends for the first time, the first thing you [should] ask is “shoes on or off?”

Your guide can be a great asset when it comes to understanding the customs of their land. Ask questions. Your interest in following local customs and laws will earn you an ally — and hopefully a friend. Which dovetails nicely into my next piece of advice, which is:

20060917_everest_1_0088Make Friends. Sure, you are paying for their service, but that doesn’t mean there has to be an awkward barrier between you and your guide. They are human beings, just like you and me. Guides have families, experienced childhoods, got into adventures, love some kind of music. Your adventure will always be a little less rewarding if you don’t come away with some sort of real connection with your guide. You don’t have to be soul mates, but you ARE on the same trip together. That’s common ground, isn’t it?

Be Generous. The best guests are givers. Let’s hop back to that house-guest analogy. You’re invited over for a dinner party. What do you do? You bring some flowers or something to contribute to the meal. You also help with meal prep and clean up. Do the same with your guides. Bring a gift that represents you and your country or region. Help schlep, or set up camp, or break down camp, or cook, or clean up. Be an asset, not a liability. And I know what you’re thinking, “But we paid to have all our stuff carried.” Maybe so, but do you REALLY want to be remembered as that “lazy so-and-so” who sat on your a$$ when everyone else pitched in?

Also, don’t be stingy when it comes to tipping. On most guided expeditions that involve porters, it is customary to tip at or near the journey’s end. Find out ahead of time what is customary.

I’ve been on many trips to some pretty remote places. Although I feel pretty comfortable on my own in some spots (Everest; Bugaboos), there are others (Chad) where I’d be a waterless fish without some sort of local help to steer me true. In at least one situation, having someone who knew the lay of the land kept me safe when some knife-wielding locals descended on our group. [Check the footage from that confrontation below] I’m never too proud to know when I am lacking the experience or know-how to successfully complete a journey or adventure. And I hope you never are, too.

PAUSE #19 from PAUSE on Vimeo.

Why Your Next Expedition Should Be Guided

November 27th, 2013

20060921_everest_2_0058There is an undeniably romantic quality about being alone in nature. Reality shows like “Survivor Man” and “Man vs Wild” have elevated the solo outdoorsman to rock star status; climbers like Alex Honnold demonstrate the breathtaking beauty and present-ness that is free climbing massive rock faces; a solo swimmer crosses the English Channel and a solo sailer circumnavigates the globe in a bathtub boat. We glorify those who take up the quest without support or guidance and only their training and wits to keep them alive.

The cost of all this is a sense of “cheating” when it comes to hiring an outfitter or company to assist in an expedition. I don’t know if this is more of an American thing — I tend to hear it less from Europeans, for example — but there are so many benefits to engaging a local expert that it’s something you may want to consider seriously for your next big expedition.

Here’s what you’ll be getting:

Logistics & Travel

There are companies that will do everything from handling your international flight, securing your visa and permits and getting you from the airport to your accommodations to the trailhead, etc. It does not lessen your achievement to get a ride to your hotel.

Access

For some expeditions, guides are almost the only way in. For some trips, working with a guide is the best way to obtain necessary permits without months (or years) of wrangling with the local bureaucracy. And let’s be honest, a local who spends 365 days a year climbing, trekking or skiing in a mountain range has an infinitely better idea of what aspects, elevation or areas are in good condition on any given day. If you only have a week, sometimes its better to spend it getting the goods than trying to figure out how to navigate the region.

Three Needs

With the prospect of tackling a 8,000 meter peak renting space in your mind, it’s a huge relief to know that your food and shelter is taken care of. A “full service” base camp package will handle the following details for you:

  • Tent
  • Food (which can include mid-day snacks)
  • Bathroom Facilities (yes, hot showers at base camps do exist)
  • Support

    High output adventures like mountain climbing require a good deal of experience and a great deal of energy expenditure. A quality outfitter can stop the gap in the former and address the latter by handling things like rope fixing, porterage of gear and supplying oxygen for high altitude ascents.

    Safety & Communications

    This, in my opinion, is the biggie. I’ve brought up safety steps in a past post, and I know first-hand some of the dangers that can strike even the most prepared traveler and adventurer. When you hire a guide or expedition company, you’re not just getting a hot meal and a dry bag. With the right group, you’re getting a med kit, emergency kit, plus a line of communication (and the equipment) to the outside world. If they’re really good, they’ll also know how to handle an emergency situation, like altitude sickness or a dealing with a broken bone on the side of a mountain.

    Yes, all this comes at a cost. A real, monetary cost. But better to have achieved the goal — and come home alive and intact — than the alternative.