Safety Advice for Adventure Travel

October 30th, 2013

Shangri La Expedition, HimalayasJust recently five kayakers went missing in the remote Badakhshan National Park of Tajikstan. I was amazed to see how quickly word and updates spread across social media channels and relieved to find out that all five were rescued after a three-day search. As it turns out, one of the kayakers (Ben Luck) came down with high-altitude sickness at 14,000 feet on their way to descend the Muksu River.

This was not a case of careless travelers becoming victims of their own poor planning. The group, which included 2011 Outside Magazine Adventurers of the Year Matt and Nate Klema, were experienced expedition kayakers who followed some solid safety precautions, including packing the SPOT beacon which they used to trigger the emergency signal when Luck got sick.

The group’s trial and ultimate happy ending warrant this short guide to expedition safety. Some lessons are best learned the easy way.

1) Share your itinerary. I know in past posts I’ve encouraged being flexible with your adventure travel schedule, but for serious expeditions like the one Luck and the Klema brothers were on, sharing your itinerary with family and/or friends and sticking to it can mean the difference between life or death. Naturally weather can impact start times and distances covered, but so long as the general route isn’t deviated from (e.g. we’ll be kayaking the Muksu River from point X to point Y), help will be much more likely to find you in the case of an emergency.

2) Pack proper emergency gear. This is not a place to skimp or drop ounces. One can make a solid argument that these five were saved because they packed a SPOT beacon. When they activated the emergency signal, it connected them to the GEOS Alliance, which offers SAR (search and rescue) and Medivac services to members. Think of it like an insurance policy for travelers. (It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: familiarize yourself ahead of time with the emergency gear. No one wants to hear “how do I turn this on?” from the guy who was supposed to have this covered.) Side note: I always travel with the Delorme InReach SE, which is small, relatively cheap and allows you to communicate through it. If Ben and Co had this device or a sat phone, they would have gotten help a bit faster, or at least saved their families a bit of grief wondering whether or no they were alive.

3) Align your abilities and fitness with the adventure. I’ve touched on this before, but this bears repeating - it’s good to push your limits with each outing, but you don’t go from the T-bar to double black diamond on your first day on skis. And even the most accomplished of mountaineers know that you can’t pack your bags after months of inactivity and think that a Meru ascent is going to be like a jog through the park. None of this is to say that Ben Luck was neither fit enough nor experienced for Muksu, mind you. Altitude sickness is a whole other ball game, and even those who take proper acclimatization steps can be afflicted.

4) Get Travel and Evacuation Insurance. I use Global Rescue insurance. All of the North Face athletes and expeditions going out right now are covered by Global Rescue policies. They have a ton of experience in remote location evacuation and they pride themselves in executing missions swiftly. They also proudly proclaim to be the only emergency response service that will rescue you anywhere in the world and bring you the hospital of your choice. That’s pretty serious peace of mind.

Other safety measures to consider:

  • Pack a first aid kit
  • Only use a reputable, established guide or outfitter (3+ years of continuous business history)
  • Check the CDC website for travel notices
  • Research required vaccinations for your destination and schedule a doctor’s appointment to get them
  • I’m thankful that Ben made it out okay. His survival story is a reminder that proper preparation will save lives.

    5 Tips for Shooting on Snow

    October 22nd, 2013

    jimmychin_snow_insta3Since my job has me regularly traveling to locations with year-round snow, it’s easy to forget that back here at home, we’re at the mercy of the seasons. This time of the year that means patiently waiting for the temps to drop and the clouds to roll in. Is there anything quite like that first big snowfall?

    For me, a mountain of snow is not just a playground. It is the backdrop, the foreground and sometimes the subject of a photo all at once. It can also be a b!@$# to shoot in if you’re unfamiliar with alpine light and working in cold conditions.

    In preparation for this year’s winter season, here are some of my tips for shooting on snow. I hope they help.

    1. Coddle Your Gear. It should go without saying that you should dress appropriately for the colder weather. (Warm hands in particular are vital, so gloves that let you shoot but also keep those fingers from freezing up are a good investment). Your gear needs to be protected, too — particularly those batteries. I suggest carrying them as close to your body as possible to keep them warm.

    When you get a break in the shoot, rotate a warm battery in for the one being used, to keep it from dying on you mid-shoot. Side tip: Your camera and gear want to warm up gradually post-shoot, so keep it far from that crackling wood stove when you do come in from the cold. One mistake people make is leaving their camera / lenses in a damp bag from the shoot the day before. If you don’t let it dry out completely, you’re likely going to be dealing with a fogged up interior element which is a pain to deal with the following day. Make sure you dry out those damp bags and leave your lenses and cameras out in a place that allows them to dry out over night. Then pack them in the morning. Lastly, add a lens cleaning cloth to your gear list if it’s not there already.

    jimmychin_snow_insta22. Proper Exposure. If you shoot on auto mode in the snow, there’s a damn good chance you’ll see a lot of grey in the final shot. That’s because the camera gets a bit overwhelmed by all the white and tries to find that mid-tone middle ground. To correct, try overexposing the shot by a stop or two. You can use the camera’s histogram to get it right — literally — by adjusting the “hump” (all that white) to the right (over-exposing). Just don’t overdo it, or you’ll blow out all the highlights in the shot.

    3. Time of Day. One way to deal with the harsh light bouncing off the snow is to shoot early morning and late afternoon: Magic hour, magic light. With the sun at a low angle, you’ll be picking up cool shadows and contrast in your shot, and the light is much softer. Experiment with location of the rising/falling sun in relation to your subject. However, remember that mountains cause different areas to fall into the shade at radically different times, so think ahead.

    4. Timing. Whether you’re shooting your buddies, your kids or any sort of action, timing is critical. Off-the-cuff moments aren’t impossible, but you have a much better chance of nailing the shot with an ounce or two of preparation. If you have directorial control over the scene, work with your subject to determine where you are going to sit, where the subject will drop in, and where he/she will pass you. Quiet that voice in your head telling you that you sound too bossy and controlling. Know the shot you’re after, communicate your vision and be patient during re-takes. Side tip: While some autofocus features are fast enough to both focus and capture the action, it’s a good idea to test your camera out ahead of time to determine if yours is going to get this job done. You can always use manual focus or focus lock and position your subject (or a subject) in the spot where you’ll be capturing the action.

    5. Contrast and Composition. Winter sport action shots benefit from a built-in contrast — the subject almost always stands out in form and color against the white snowy background. Keep this element of contrast in mind when you are shooting a snowy scene. Look for contrasts in color and find at least two cool features in the scene — a tree, interesting shadows, rocky outcropping — to play against all that white.


    Bundle up, get out there and have fun!

    The New GoPro Hero3+ Is Next Level Impressive

    October 1st, 2013

    If you’ve been near a screen in the last 12 hours, you’ve probably noticed a little buzz coming out of GoPro’s corner of the world. They’ve just released the next iteration of the Hero3, called Hero3+. At this point we’re all used to upgrade announcements that are more fanfare than substance, more hype than delivery, more talk than walk. This is NOT that. The Hero3+ is 20% lighter and smaller than the predecessor and it features a new SuperView video mode as well as an Auto Low Light mode that will adjust frame rate to maximize performance in those situations.

    Oh, and the battery lasts 30% longer, the built-in WiFi is 4x faster and the lens got an upgrade.

    Convinced? Head over to GoPro HQ and check in out for yourself. And don’t feel guilty for watching the above video more than once. Everyone’s doing it.

    If you’re clicking to buy, don’t forget to read up on my Top 5 GoPro Accessories. They’ll still apply to the Hero3+, though you’ll want to stay tuned for new accessories that make the most of this upgraded beauty.

    “Into the Mind” of Sherpas Cinema director Eric Crosland

    September 30th, 2013

    Working on Into the Mind with Sherpas at Bella Coola.

    Working on Into the Mind with Sherpas at Bella Coola.

    One of the highlights of my year was working with Eric Crosland and Dave Mossop in Bella Coola on the Into the Mind film. At worst, creative collaborations can be unsuccessful juggling acts with too many cooks in the kitchen, too many egos and agendas especially in high pressure shooting situations. At best, they can be an amazing team effort with creative results that add up to more than the sum of its parts. I’d say my experience with the Sherpas Cinema crew was the latter. Not only are Dave and Eric incredibly talented and tireless filmmakers, they’re awesome guys to hang with in the mountains. It was truly an honor to work with them and I think the results speak to the tremendous effort and vision of these guys and the incredible athletes they worked with. I was able to catch up with Eric to get an inside look at what makes him tick and why the Sherpas are at the top of their game.

    1. Let’s get some of the basics out of the way. Can you give me a quick introduction to yourself? Where did you grow up? What did you do for fun? How did you get into filmmaking?

    Hi I’m Eric Crosland - co-founder and a director of Sherpas Cinema. I live in Nelson BC Canada, but I was fortunate to grow up in Calgary Alberta. Calgary is really close to the Canadian Rockies which are some of the most breath-taking mountains on earth. Visiting the mountains regularly as a kid I became a mountain advocate. In my free time when I’m home I ski, mountain bike and play with my son, but mainly I work on the road, which on some days can be fun. I got into film making through still photography at a young age, and I made my first ski movie when I was 20 on digi 8mm camera. Dave I started collaborating shortly after that. I was hooked instantly on film making and I knew it was what I wanted to do with the rest my life.

    2. Do you have a specific director or DP that you feel has really influenced your work?

    I have been influenced by Mark Romanek, Michel Gondryi, Spike Jones, Wes Anderson, Ron Fricke, David Geffen and Rick Rueben.

    3. What is/are your all time favorite films?

    My favorite movies are Koyaanisqatsi, Fubar, There Will Be Blood, and The Cove.

    4. What inspired the themes and messages of INTO THE MIND?

    The themes and messages in the movie were inspired by our own life experiences in the mountains. Personally having been through some bad accidents, the mountains’ power and beauty have always drawn me back in. [I take] inspiration from my personal heroes and how they made it through a life of exposure climbing and skiing, as well as Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces for our chapter titles. …part of the “protagonist journey” sections of Into The Mind is based on Renan Ozturk’s life and his story of how he climbed Meru after recovering from a life threatening injury.

    5. What was the biggest challenge in making this film?

    I think the biggest challenges in this film was continuity. In the start it was difficult figuring out what we were trying to say and finding a vehicle for all the ideas Dave and I had. [It was also difficult] finding a marriage of all the different concepts. The final 12 months of shooting and editing was intense, as I had to spend a lot of time away from my wife and son. It was depressing being away and missing large gaps of my sons son life while trying to create a great film that would live outside the shadow of ALL I CAN and exceed the expectations we had created with the ITM trailer.

    6. What was your favorite part about making this film?

    My favorite part of making ITM was collaborating with great people. My best memories are always of the friends I’ve made along the way of making films. In particular this time it was working with Renan Ozturk. He is a very inspiring guy with absolutely no ego, and he made a huge impact on the film.

    7. What was your original vision for the film? Did it change?

    Well, the original vision of the film was ridiculously ambitious and we sort of worked backwards from there, putting out fires as they flared up in our faces. The film changed drastically and we cut out large parts that we did not capture properly. The skeleton of the film was always the same but the circulatory systems of the film changed everyday depending on what shots the natural world gave us and what we failed to capture. The editing process was truly how the film was shaped. Our original edit structure made sense on paper but was too complicated, so we had to re work our stack of segments and the protagonist’s journey.

    8. If you wanted the film to say something, what would it be in one sentence? What do you hope to inspire and/or what idea do you wish to share with the viewer?

    “The mountains will always draw you back in”. We really wanted to leave it open ended, so the viewer could come up with their own conclusions and make his own meaning based on their own life experiences. Some say great art is achieved when each viewer takes something different from the experience. We just showed 3 different outcomes to an adventure in the mountains - no one outcome is wrong or right.

    9. If you had to choose one, what’s more important - narrative or images/ visuals? Why?

    In general you could never choose one over the other for film, but since we are making a film that is rooted in action sports I would have to say images or visual story telling. Visual story telling relies more on filming the natural world, which in my opinion is the greatest single star in every film ever made.

    10. What was the hardest / lowest moment in the making of this film?

    The lowest part for me in the making of ITM is seeing athletes hurting themselves. Both Kye Petersen and Ingrid Backstorm had some bad accidents. Every time this happens and you see your friends lying in the snow in pain, I really question what I’m doing with my life, and why I put them in this situation or why I am making this movie if someone could die. I just really struggle with the risks involved and whether it’s worth it.

    11. What was the highest / best moment in the making of Into the Mind?

    The best moment while making into the mind is hard to say because it’s not over yet. I would say the best moment during shooting the project would be the ski sessions we had in Bella Coola BC in April 2012. It was perfect conditions and I got to see some incredible athleticism go down. I also was very happy when we finished shooting the movie and nobody got seriously injured or killed. I imagine the Whistler world premiere could be a highlight.

    12. How do you see narrative playing a role in this movie? Should we expect to see more narrative based films coming out of Sherpas?

    I think you will see more narrative films from sherpas, but that is not our M.O. The Sherpas at the core are an art collective with many talented people working in a team. Different directors may take on different projects based on their passion and we all support each other. So I imagine that we will be dabbling in all genre of film making as we move forward. Our films tend to be fusion of multiple genres, but our roots are based in nature cinematography so we will continue along that path. The Sherpas are just trying to pull off the ideas in our heads and manifest them on screen. We are just truly grateful that we have the opportunity to make these films.

    See the new trailer here:

    Top 5 GoPro Accessories

    September 26th, 2013

    jimmychin_tetons_goproSo you’ve just dropped $400 on a new GoPro Hero3. Well played. Take it everywhere and test it like crazy. But first, get ready to swallow this pill — they haven’t taken your last dollar yet. While great out of the box, a GoPro — like any camera, really — requires a few add-ons to make it a truly trusted tool in the arsenal of the adventure storyteller. Consider:

    1) Battery BacPac. Technology has opened a million doors for us creatively, but it has also made us slaves to the battery. I lessen the pain of that shackle by carrying extras…a lot of extras. The Battery BacPac essentially doubles your battery life, letting you grab those time-lapse shots or capture long sequences without interruption. It doesn’t mean you won’t run out of juice, and it still pays to know exactly how much battery life you have left, so test this appropriately ahead of time.

    Add’l Upgrade: Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Panel. Why buy? If you’re setting up your GoPro for a time-lapse and you’ve got some sun to work with, you can plug the Nomad 7 directly into the GoPro and be charging throughout the shoot. Portable, light-weight and dependable.

    The Nomad 7 Solar Panel from Goal Zero.

    The Nomad 7 Solar Panel from Goal Zero.

    2) Suction Cup. Getting there is often half the fun. It’s also an integral part of the story. Tell this segment of the tale by mounting the GoPro onto the vehicle that’s getting you there. It’s a great way to show passage of time + distance while taking in the landscape. (Disclaimer - I do NOT recommend affixing to the fuselage of a commercial airplane. The suction cup is only rated for 150+ mph. Plus this will get you arrested.)

    3) Mounting Frame. Those who want to play around with mounting options will soon grow frustrated with the limitations of the GoPro housing. Consider an upgrade, like Unruly’s Headgear or Headcase frames, which add a slew of 1/4″-20 mounting point options. The Headgear is designed to work with the existing GoPro housing; the Headcase replaces it. (Note: Unruly’s current options cover only the GoPro and Hero 2. You can make reservations to purchase the upcoming Hero III Headgear.)

    4) Filters. If you’re doing underwater shoots or ski/snowboard stories, you’ll want some filters. A red filter is crucial for heading deeper than 10 feet, where you need to filter out the blues. A solid polarizer filter is essential for any sort of shooting where glare is an issue (snow + water). PolarPro has a pretty comprehensive collection of filters worth checking out.

    The Polarizer Cube Filter from PolarPro.

    The Polarizer Cube Filter from PolarPro.

    5) Telescoping Pole. Ah, the selfie. I’m as guilty as anyone of turning the camera on myself from time to time. There’s a definite skill involved in performing a stunt/sport/activity one-handed, and to be quite honest I sometimes question the wisdom of using these things while, say, tooling around crowded streets on a motorcycle, but there’s no question they provide a unique perspective and one that has become synonymous with the GoPro. You’ll want one that extends, is light and ideally will float when the camera is attached. Durability is a must, as this thing will likely get banged up. This is another accessory category filled with options, but Go-Scope ticks all the boxes for me.

    Got any must-haves on your list? Shout ‘em out in the comments below.

    Pause - How a 60 Second Video Can Change Your Day

    September 16th, 2013

    I’ve been pretty excited about a small project that we’ve been playing with and developing over at Camp4 Collective for the last few months. At its most base, you can call it bite-sized visual poetry, something easily digestible. We think of it as a chance for the viewer to break from the grind or, better still, the mindless rabbit-holing into the endless abyss we call the Internet. It’s an opportunity to observe. To breathe. To Pause.

    When Pause #1 was first dropped, the concept was really just an outlet for some of the stunning, but unused, footage we all have collecting dust in drawers. There are always gems from shoots that we loved but didn’t necessarily fit in an edit, funny moments, beautiful moments. It has since evolved into a bit more: the skeleton of a story; a classic behind the scenes moment; a sequence of athletic movements that will leave you breathless.

    I’ve assembled below a handful of my favorites so far. If you like what you see, I invite you to head over to the Pause vimeo page or the Pause Facebook page to check out more. My advice? Don’t watch them all at once. Turn to them when you truly need a break. But if you do binge, rest assured there will be more….

    PAUSE 8 from PAUSE on Vimeo.

    PAUSE 1 from PAUSE on Vimeo.

    PAUSE 3 from PAUSE on Vimeo.

    Pause #14 from PAUSE on Vimeo.

    PAUSE 11 from PAUSE on Vimeo.

    8 Adventure Travel Tips

    September 9th, 2013

    jimmychin_insta_renanPlanning your great escape? Here are a few travel tips to ensure (well, increase the likelihood) of smooth sailing. Of course, hitting a few bumps in the road can be a good thing. A friend once told me “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong….”

    1. Stay flexible. Not the yoga kind (although that helps). Plans can change. Buses run late. Luggage gets lost (see #4). Ultimately, the success or failure of your trip from a happiness/fulfillment standpoint will come down to how well you managed the unforeseeables. Remember this: the best stories you later tell will be of the chance encounters, the follies and the unexpected. Roll with it.

    2. Know the customs/culture of your destination. This is part due diligence and part survival skill. At the very least, you’ll avoid an embarrassing or awkward situation. No joke — it can also keep you out of jail, or worse. Remember Michael Fay? While we’re on it, it won’t hurt to learn a little of the language. Just some basic phrases will be enough to make you feel like you’re fitting in, and shows you care enough to try.

    3. Play the guest. Respect + humility. Those two concepts will get you everywhere, in my opinion.

    4. Pack lightly. You may be going for two weeks, but pack like you are going for one. Ditch the four “night out” get ups and the three pairs of board shorts. The extras will only weigh you down, especially if your adventure consists of a significant amount of foot travel. If you can get away with it, pack only what can be carried on the airplane. Nothing is worse than arriving at your destination airport only to find your checked luggage never made it out of Phoenix. Here are some of the essential items that I always take with me.

    5. Have a connection. If you don’t have one, find one. Tap into the 6 degrees of separation and find that friend of a friend living in or around your adventure destination. This is particularly helpful on trips to foreign countries where tourists are targets and hustlers are rampant. You’ll want someone you can trust advising you on the best places to eat, stay, explore, etc. If you don’t know ANYONE, make a connection. Stay wary and on guard, but don’t be afraid to make friends. Not everyone is out to fleece you.

    Did someone say pack light?

    Did someone say pack light?

    6. Document the trip. Take photos and keep a journal. You may think you’ll remember every last detail, but once the trips start adding up (and hopefully they will) you’ll be thankful that you have some old pages to pore over and photo galleries to click through. And when the grind starts wearing you down again, pull this material out to get motivated for your next adventure. (Read my journal entry after surviving an Avalanche.)

    7. Know your strengths and limitations. You can’t just decide one day to climb K2 and go do it the next. While it’s absolutely okay to try something new on your next adventure trip, you might not want to make Half Dome your first rock climbing experience. And even the most seasoned mountaineer needs to train before tackling an Everest. Do yourself a favor and brush up on the skills needed for your adventure and work some fitness into your daily routine.

    8. Aim high. This is adventure travel, not R & R at a beach resort. Challenge yourself. Try something new. It could turn out to be your next passion in life. (That’s how I found surfing.) If you’ve made the commitment to adventure, make the commitment to get out of your comfort zone at some point along the way. Trying something new, getting humbled is always exciting and makes for the best trips. A good schooling and little suffering along the way of an epic adventure can make the daily challenges of life back home infinitely more manageable when you get back. (Here are some more thoughts on Leaving Your Comfort Zone.)

    It Takes a Village - 9 Crucial Film/Video Project Roles + Descriptions

    August 27th, 2013

    Camp4 Collective director Anson Fogel in Alaska.

    Camp4 Collective director Anson Fogel in Alaska.

    As I’m exposed to bigger productions, I’ve been introduced to more and more types of roles on film sets that each play an integral role in the success of any given day’s shoot. While I love the ease and mobility of hanging by a rope with a single camera, a couple of lenses and the sun as my only lighting, a production crew can achieve a great deal when the various tasks get divvied up and assigned to specialists.

    It takes a serious balance of glue, chemistry and leadership to keep all the parts moving synchronously, and to see it come off is like watching a well-rehearsed ballet. Even in the oft stripped-down world of adventure storytelling there is a dance that gets played out between director and cinematographer that, when nailed, results in some pretty astounding work.

    Anyone looking to dip their toes into this world would do well to know some of the more common jobs occupied on even the smallest of sets and in the most lightweight of production companies.

    Producer. A producer typically wears a few hats, including fundraiser, accountant and lead recruiter (responsible for finding/hiring the Director and other key crew). Be nice to the producer. They may not be calling the creative shots, but they hold the purse strings.

    Director. The creative buck stops here. The most important thing to understand is that the director essentially has the final creative word for the project. It’s pretty common for the Director to have a hand in all the major aspects of the film, including scripting, composition of shots and editing.

    Cinematographer/Director of Photography. These titles are often used interchangeably, so I am grouping them together. In my 2013 Reel, I use footage from projects in which I’ve been the cinematographer. With the direction that adventure storytelling has taken, it’s a role that takes on more and more importance, as this individual is responsible for the look or visual feel of the movie. The cinematographer makes important decisions like what camera or lens to use. On bigger productions, they are in charge of the whole camera crew.

    Camera Operator. As the name implies, the camera operator controls the camera as directed by the previous two individuals. On bigger sets, the cinematographer/DP does not actually handle the camera, but in my world, they’re often one and the same.

    Gaffer. This person is in control of the lighting. Where the majority of what I shoot is outdoors and nearly 100% dependent on natural light, I don’t have to mess around with gaffers much. But their job is super important, as in film/video — much like in photography — lighting is everything.

    Skip Armstrong and Anson Fogel handling the big gun.

    Skip Armstrong and Anson Fogel handling the big gun.

    Grip. Where the gaffer decides placement and particulars of the lighting and light sources, the grip takes the light that the gaffer sets up and builds outs the effects around it, like creating shadows and patterns. (The Key Grip is just the Head Grip. The Key Grip, Gaffer and Cinematographer/D.P. will do a lot of collaborating together.)

    Best Boy. Again, it’s not a role I have to deal with often, but on bigger productions the Best Boy plays a pretty important role, making sure the electrical load stays balanced and uninterrupted power gets supplied where needed.

    Production Sound Mixer. Where the Gaffer controls the lighting, the Production Sound Mixer is in charge of all things sound on the set. This includes placement and selection of microphones, operation of the recording devices and live mixing of the audio.

    Editor. With the proliferation of GoPros, everyone has an “edit.” It’s a cool phrase that underscores, however unintentionally, the importance of the editor. Shoot all the raw, amazing footage you want. It’s the editor who cuts and pastes that footage into a coherent, compelling story.

    The great thing about this industry (film/video) is that there are plenty of opportunities for a hard-working creative type to get involved. With cheap and accessible gear like GoPros, just about anyone can try their hand at being the director, DP and editor of an adventure story.

    Filmmaker Nick Martini Reinterprets the Ski Film in New Short, “Mutiny” [w/ Interview]

    August 8th, 2013

    I’ve been digging the stuff coming out of Nick Martini’s company, Stept Productions. When they dropped the trailer for their upcoming latest, “Mutiny,” I reached out to Nick to find out a little more about his transition from badass freestyle skier to equally badass filmmaker.

    1) Why did you start making films?

    My brother and I grew up ski racing on the east coast. Once we started our freestyle exploits it always seemed natural to have a camera capturing the action. As our skiing progressed so did our film work. Our childhood hobby managed to transition into our passion and our business.

    2) Could you give any advice to those who are trying to break into the action sports film genre?

    Focus on great stories. With the introduction of affordable video cameras everyone and their father can go capture great action shots. The story behind those shots is what grabs the viewer and can make your videos stand out.

    3) What type of film are you trying to make? What are you trying to make people walk away from your work thinking?

    Our new film “Mutiny” is supposed to be an original interpretation of a “ski film”. Resembling a documentary format, the film follows a group of skiers living in Boulder, CO. Residing in a college town in your early 20’s isn’t typically conducive to professional athletics. Our lifestyle plays a big part of the story, and we hope people walk away feeling enlightened, but at the same time uncomfortable about what they have learned.

    4) How much does being the athlete and subject of films at one time effect your filmmaking process and connection with your stars?

    When shooting sports I think it is key to have some experience in the activity. Athletes have special insights to their sport that third parties can never understand. Capturing those subtleties allows the core viewers to really connect with the film.

    5) If you could make any other type of film, besides skiing/action sports, what would it be?

    It would be fun to find someone that no one had ever been in contact with. I would make a movie about that guy. I have always been a big documentary fan, but at the same time I would love to work on shorter commercial spots in the future.

    6) What’s your favorite season?

    I have always loved winter, but considering I work most of winter and I am just learning how to surf…. Summer may be tied…

    7) Who are your biggest influences in filmmaking?

    The friends we work with on our movies are my biggest inspiration. There are so many young talented kids who are hungry to do something new. The amount of energy shared by our crew is a catalyst for creativity.

    8) Who are your ski heroes?

    Doug Coombs and Scot Schmidt

    9) What are you shooting with these days? Gear wise. What’s in your basic can’t-leave-home-without-it kit?

    For the ski film the Canon 5D and 7D prove to be the most reliable and adaptable. For outside work we use a variety of higher end cameras. Our go-to piece of gear is our Steadicam, which creates stable shots in almost any condition.

    10) What’s the single best day you’ve had this year?

    We went back home for a two-month shoot in Boston and we received a big dump of snow in early January. After finishing up a great morning shoot, I spent the afternoon in the heli getting shots of the snow-covered city. Ripping around the skyscrapers and grazing over Fenway park is an unforgettable memory.

    Check out more of Nick and Stept Productions’ work:


    3 Basic Rules of Adventure Storytelling + Expedition Photography

    July 30th, 2013

    jimmy-chin-cameraI’ve been at this job for some time now, and while the pictures may make things look all fun n games n adventure, there’s no question that it’s an endless struggle. Don’t get me wrong - I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and I pinch myself constantly to remind myself that yes, this really is what I’m doing for a living.

    I’m by no means the expert but I’ve had plenty of time to think about what is required to do this job well. This isn’t the definitive list, but I think it’s a good jumping off point for anyone looking to get into the business of adventure storytelling.

    So what does it take?

    1) You cannot be the weakest link. It doesn’t matter what you (or those you are filming/shooting) are doing. It can be climbing, skiing or high altitude mountaineering. Whatever it is, especially in participatory scenarios, you need to pay your dues and make damn sure you are solid at what you are doing and shooting. At best you’ll slow everyone down. At worst you’ll become a liability and may put your life — and the lives of others in the group — at risk. It helps if you are passionate about the sports you are shooting. It’s going to take a lot of time and heart to get good at something. Your due diligence will pay off in terms of being part of the team (instead of being an outsider), understanding the athletes, the sports, the culture around it and, most importantly, gaining the respect of the talent you are working with. If you’ve paid your dues, you’re more likely to get the call to shoot.

    In my humble opinion, this is what keeps this little niche from becoming overrun by the many, many amazing photographers and cinematographers out there. Some of what we do is just impossible to do unless you’re highly skilled and knowledgeable about the sport. In my case, I was a climber, skier and into this lifestyle before I was into documenting it. The skills I’ve learned going on expeditions, climbs and travels across the globe get used on just about every shoot I go on. I’m comfortable grabbing my camera hanging from the wall because, first and foremost, I’m comfortable hanging from the wall. Make sure you are, too.

    jimmychin_3rules2) Be prepared to work. Hard. This is not a vacation. You will not be sleeping in. Forget about the late night parties and leisurely breakfasts. If you want to get the material, the footage, the shot, you need to be prepared to work some insanely long hours and stay awake longer than everyone else. It helps if you are passionate about what you are shooting (see above). For adventure photographers and videographers, getting into position and getting the right light is everything. This means knowing how long it’s going to take to get where you need to be, where the sun is going to track (homework) etc. It means waking up ahead of everyone else and staying up long after the sun goes down. It means setting up your time lapses, reviewing dailies (see my filmmaking jargon post), planning out the next day’s activities. You need stay organized, plan endlessly and do everything you can to set yourself up for success because when the action happens, especially if it’s a once in a lifetime shot, you better not miss it.

    I’m tired just thinking about it.

    But if it’s what you’re meant to do - if it’s what you love - you’ll hardly notice the lack of sleep. I promise.

    3) Timing is everything. At the end of the day, I’ve only captured a few shots that I’m really proud of. And when I look back at them, I realize that much of it had to do with timing. When I say timing, I mean being ready at all times because some of the best moments happen when you least expect them. You never get to switch off. In fact, you need to be at your best whenever you think it’s ok to turn off. Some of my best images have happened right before or after the main event. Take off the blinders. It’s easy to miss those moments when you’re focused on the shot you’ve been imagining for weeks leading up to the shoot. On expeditions, there’s very little time to switch off as it is. Add photography into the mix and you need to have your brain duct taped into the “on” position. It’s exhausting, but keep it that way.

    Got any tips you’d like to share? Sound off in the comments below.