Category Archives: Photographer Q&A

Lucky We Live Hawai’i

Aerial view of Diamond Head in Honolulu, Hawaii. Photo by Sean Davey.
Aerial view of Diamond Head in Honolulu, Hawaii. Photo by Sean Davey.

Hawai’i is one of the most spectacular photographic destinations in the US, but what’s it like to live there? We sat down (virtually) with 5 Aurora photographers, Elyse Butler, Sean Davey, Grant KayeLogan Mock-Bunting, and Mallory Roe, to find out about life, photography, food, the silly things us “mainlanders” do when we touch down in the Aloha State, and why the natives say “Lucky we live Hawai’i.”

Aurora: What originally brought you to Hawai’i?

Elyse Butler: I was born here and decided to come back to the island after graduating college. I’ve lived on Oahu for 8 years.
Mallory Roe: During a year of travel, I came to Kauai for a week to explore and shoot around. I ran into another photographer at a waterfall who was teaching a landscape photography workshop. I told him he should hire me on to help him teach, and he did! I’ve been living on the island of Kauai for nearly 3 years.
Sean Davey: I came to Hawai’i 20 years ago as a surf photographer. Originally, I really didn’t have a lot of interest in going to Hawai’i, simply because every other surf photographer goes there in the northern hemisphere winter. But my magazine editor sent me in late 1994. I met my future wife the next season and we got married.
Grant Kaye: I was born on Lana’i in the 1970s. My folks and my huge extended Ohana (family) all still live there. Now I live in Truckee, CA, but I go home as much as I can.
Logan Mock-Bunting: For me, it was the idea of spending more time in the Ocean – swimming, surfing, paddling and freediving. My wife and I have only been here for about 3 years, living in Honolulu.

AU: What’s the greatest thing about being a photographer in Hawaii?

Elyse: The people are so friendly and the islands are incredibly beautiful. I constantly draw inspiration from the ocean and wild rugged nature that is so accessible here.
Sean: During winter, we have some of the most consistent big surf anywhere in the world and then during the summer months, the whole north shore becomes one huge swimming pool with usually some of the clearest waters. The biggest challenge that I typically face here are getting the right tides and ocean swells to match up with the right places at the right times of day. It’s like juggling nature.
Grant: The ecological diversity is almost unparalleled elsewhere on earth. Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on the Big Island have almost every single named distinct ecological zone on the planet. You can literally shoot skiing and then drive down through grasslands, into rainforest, and come out at the beach for sunset in a few hours.
Mallory: I am surrounded by diverse, breathtaking scenes and don’t have to go out of my way to take advantage of them- I can get to some of the most beautiful beaches in world, hike along some of the most amazing ridges, shoot gorgeous waterfalls, explore deep into the jungles and STILL be home by dinner!

Murielle Ribot and Olivier Aluis observing the lava flow at the foot of the volcano Mauna Loa at full moon. Big Island, Hawaii.
Lava flow at the foot of the volcano Mauna Loa at full moon. Big Island, Hawaii. Photo by Grant Kaye.

AU: What’s your favorite activity and the best place to go do it?

Elyse: Swimming and paddle boarding in the ocean at Waimea Bay on the North Shore.
Mallory: The Kalalau Valley is stunning. The trail to get to the beach is 22 miles round trip. You do it once and you’re hooked! There’s nothing that beats hiking out to the Kalalau for a few days. Mainlanders come to Hawai’i for Paradise. People who live in Hawai’i go to the Kalalau for paradise.
Sean: Put on a mask and snorkel and swim behind the waves, underwater. The view there is totally unlike anything else. One of the most remarkable things you will ever see. It’s best to do when the surf is small and the water remains clear.
Logan: Man, you can’t be giving out local knowledge indiscriminately. That’ll get you in a lot of trouble over here.

AU: Best food and favorite spot for it?

Mallory: The lilikoi fruit is my favorite. When it’s in season, you can find it just about anywhere there’s vegetation.
Sean: Lei Lei’s at Turtle Bay, just across the road from where I live. I highly recommend the crunchy coconut shrimp and seared ahi ceasar salad.
Grant: If I’m at home, the Lana’i Ohana Poke Market, where Aunty Donna serves up mean poke. If I’m on O’ahu, plate lunch in Waimanalo or from Alicia’s. If I’m on the Big Island, kalua pig and malasadas from Tex Drive In.
Logan: Can’t beat good poke (seasoned raw fish with rice and various seaweed, onions, peppers, etc.) My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

AU: What is your favorite way to eat Spam?

Elyse: Never! Ha!
Grant: Musubi!
Sean: They actually serve Spam at McDonalds.

The Kalalau Trail treks along the high sea cliffs of the Na Pali Coast of Kauai.
The Kalalau Trail along the high sea cliffs of the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. Photo by Elyse Butler.

AU: What’s the greatest misconception that “mainlanders” have about Hawai’i?

Mallory: That we constantly are visiting the other islands. Travel throughout the state of Hawai’i is not simple. It’s quite an investment just to mosey over to another island for even just a few days once you factor in the cost of airfare, rental car and accommodations. We mostly stay on our own island unless our work takes us to another island. Island hopping is not something most residents do very frequently or casually.
Sean: Hawaiian pizza was not invented in Hawaii. It was actually created by someone in Canada.
Grant: The obvious one is that a lot of people from the lower 48 think Hawaii is another country. I’ve had people in baggage claim ask me where immigration is after they get their bags!

AU: What is your favorite native plant or animal? Tell us a bit about the unique biodiversity on your island.

Elyse: I love the honu ‘green sea turtle’ and the uluhe fern. I often come upon sea turtles when I’m swimming in the open ocean, and it’s always an amazing experience. I love to find uluhe ferns when I’m hiking in the mountains, the purple coil and fiddlehead make it look like a Dr Seuss plant.
Sean: We have such a plethora of cool creatures, flowers and trees here. I just adore some of the huge monkey pod trees and Banyan trees. One Banyan tree can have unlimited number of trunks. There is a Banyan tree in Lahaina on the island of Maui that is the largest in the US and takes up an entire block of the town.
Grant: I like the beautiful Naupaka flower, which has an awesome story in Hawaiian culture. There are two shapes of the flower, each a half a blossom, one that grows at the beach and one that grows on the mountain. The story goes that they are separated, star-crossed lovers. There’s lots of good mele (Hawaiian music) about it.
Logan: The Official State Fish of Hawaii is the Humuhumunukunukuapua`a, a striking and beautiful trigger fish. Humuhumunukunukuapua`a isn’t that hard to pronounce really – just take it one syllable at a time: “who-moo-who-moo-new-ku-new-ku-ah-pooah-ah.”  But my favorite is undoubtedly the Akule (big eye scad) Baitballs – free diving through these massive schools of fish swimming in synchronicity is a magical experience.

AU: What’s your “ONLY happens in Hawai’i” moment?

Mallory: One time I walked into a Starbucks and there was a guy sitting at one of the tables with no shirt, just chopping up a pineapple with his machete. Nobody seemed to notice or act like what he was doing was out of the ordinary.
Grant: During our wedding ceremony at the Pu’u Pehe coast on Lana’i, a huge pod of humpback whales swam by real close, came up and blew air. That was pretty special.

To see more images of Hawaii featuring these photographers, click here.

Or, check out more from their personal sites below:

 

Remembering Royal Robbins

Yosemite climbing pioneer Royal Robbins slicing salami on Mazatlan Ledge on the second exploration ascent of the North America Wall on El Capitan. End of pitch 4, Spring 1964.
Yosemite climbing pioneer Royal Robbins slicing salami on Mazatlan Ledge on the second exploration ascent of the North America Wall on El Capitan. Photograph by Tom Frost

When climbing legend Royal Robbins passed away in March, we asked several Aurora photographers who had known Royal, or been influenced by him, to share their thoughts and stories about the iconic climber.

Royal was, and still is, a great inspiration to me. He was a living example of how to do life well.  He led with kindness and wisdom.  He truly was a leader of man.
– Tom Frost

I started climbing in the 80’s when it was still a fringe sport and information was hard to come by.  Royal Robbins’ books Basic Rockcraft and Advanced Rockcraft were the bibles that taught me the techniques that have kept me alive and safe to this day.
– Jonathan Kingston

I never met Royal and have only been to Yosemite once, very briefly 22 years ago. But as a young kid growing up in middle Tennessee who was rabid about rock climbing, Royal had a profound effect upon me through his books. Yosemite historical books were important, but nothing like the impact that his Rockcraft series had on me in my early teens. I must have read and re-read those two little paperbacks a 100 times. In the absence of real climbing instruction, they bridged a gulf on how to climb safely but even more importantly – they taught me how to climb from an ethical and spiritual point of view. Anyone can get up the rock, but Royal firmly planted the ethos in me that it was how you got up the rock and how you left it for others to enjoy that really mattered.
– Harrison Shull

My photo career began as a way to fund my own passion for climbing.  As an early Outward Bound instructor Royal’s books on rockcraft were on my mother’s bookshelf and he became an inspiration in the early 70’s, long before I understood how necessary and important his ethical stance was towards clean climbing.  As my generation of ’80’s climbers proliferated mass bolting and sport climbing I gravitated instead towards routes with natural and removable protection and wild places.  Royal’s books had influenced me well.  In the early 90’s Royal called to purchase a printed photograph I had taken of a silhouetted climber descending a steep cliff in front of El Capitan in Yosemite.  I knew then that my art of photography reflected a little of Royal’s art of climbing and I was happy.
-Kennan Harvey

Like many climbers and outdoor enthusiasts, I was sad to hear about the passing of Royal Robbins, one of the true pioneers and icons of our sport. Reading about Robbins’ adventures in Yosemite as a kid was hugely influential and inspirational to me. One time, my editor at Boy’s Life called and asked if I’d ever heard of some guy named “Royal Robbins” and if I wanted to shoot him taking a group of Boy Scouts from Modesto rock climbing. Of course, I leapt at the opportunity to shoot alongside the guy who virtually invented rock climbing as we know it. That night around the campfire, Royal opened up a bottle of wine, and poured himself a small glass. One of the father chaperones casually mentioned to Royal, “We don’t drink at Boy Scouts events,” to which Royal casually responded, “Oh, OK. Well, I do.” Royal and I shared a bottle of wine and we all sat around the campfire and listened to Royal’s stories. It was just an incredible experience — a testament to the fact that Royal was the ultimate climber’s climber. I’m also sure that he inspired at least one of those Boy Scouts that day to become a climber, or at the very least, to not be afraid to take risk and live adventurously.
– Corey Rich

For me, a boy living below sea level in the flatlands of Holland, reading the accounts of Royal Robinson forced me to go explore the three dimensional world. I waited anxiously for every American climbing magazine to drop in my mail box, so I could learn about adventures and dream about first ascents. It was not difficult to choose a location of my Wilderness EMT course at NOLS in 2010: Yosemite was the birth ground of modern big wall climbing. You can imagine how excited I was when I heard Royal Robins was visiting the valley. I think I even skipped some lessons from medic school, just to be sure to see and meet him and Tom Frost (I got two idols for the price of one) at a lecture in Curry village. Like a teenager at a rock concert I asked for their signatures and what I remember the most is that he impressed me with his friendliness. Today I am inspired and every time when I tie in to a rope I hear his wise words: “Climbing is not about reaching the top, it is all about the style you do it in.”
– Menno Boermans

To view more photos of Royal Robbins click here.

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Photographer Q&A – Chris Kimmel’s Packrafting Adventures

Evan Howard, an avid Explorer and adventurer packrafts the Chehalis River, British Columbia, Canada.
Evan Howard, an avid Explorer and adventurer packrafts the Chehalis River, British Columbia, Canada.

Anyone who has ever been on an adventure knows just how fickle plans can sometimes be. Being able to adapt at a moment’s notice is all part of the journey, but doing so behind a camera lens takes more than just a willingness to change course. It requires patience, skill and technique.
When the temperature was a sweltering 98 degrees last July in British Columbia, a day of mountaineering turned into a pack raft adventure when photographer Chris Kimmel, with friends Evan, Adam and Cole, decided to ditch the hiking boots for a cooler option.
We caught up with Chris to talk about this impromptu excursion down the Chehalis River in British Columbia, how it yielded some incredible photographs, and what he learned along the way.

Three Men Walk Up The River In Order To Paddle A Section Of Rapids On The Chehalis River
Three Men Walk Up The River In Order To Paddle A Section Of Rapids On The Chehalis River

Aurora Photos: How did you prepare for this excursion?
Chris Kimmel: This wasn’t what we initially set out to do that day, so I didn’t have all the right gear for photographing the water aspect of the trip – for example, my waterproof casing. I had to adapt and manage with what I had, and I was extra careful when getting my camera out while on the water. However, this prompted me to find different angles that I otherwise may not have gotten.

Distant View Of A Packrafter Along The Chehalis River, British Columbia, Canada
Distant View Of A Packrafter Along The Chehalis River, British Columbia, Canada

AP: How did the change of plans impact your photographs?
CK: The photos from the higher angles were some of my favorite shots because they required the most work. I had to scramble up the cliff face, bushwhack though the forest, search for a place to get a view, then hang myself over the cliff edge to get those shots.  It would have been much easier for me to just stay on the shore or in the boat, but the results were worth it. It’s a unique perspective that gave me the opportunity to capture parts of the canyon I’d never seen before. At one point in the trip we were rafting down and passed two people climbing. I was able to capture the rafts and the climbers in the same shot. I love this depiction of the diverse opportunities available in our back yard. All you need to do is get out and explore!

Two Packrafters Paddle The Chehalis River While Climbers Tackle A Rock Wall Beside The Chehalis River
Two Packrafters Paddle The Chehalis River While Climbers Tackle A Rock Wall Beside The Chehalis River

AP: Do you typically use trips to motivate others to “get out and explore”?
CK: I love sharing my experiences and urging others to explore the world around us. I want to show people there are beautiful places that are close to urban areas, yet remote at the same time. One of the greatest things about getting outside is that you can adapt the adventure to your skill level. Our trip had a short hike in, followed by intermediate rapids and plenty of opportunity to hike the canyon or climb the surrounding cliffs. Every step of the way could be geared up or down depending on the adventurer’s skill and comfort level.

Evan Howard Rappels Off A Cliff Towards The Chehalis River And Into A Packraft
Evan Howard Rappels Off A Cliff Towards The Chehalis River And Into A Packraft

AP: How did you come to climb and rappel that section of the canyon?
CK: Visiting from Australia, Evan had his heart set on climbing a mountain that day. We brought the rope and harnesses along just in case we found an interesting route in the canyon.  When Evan spotted this cliff face there was no stopping him from climbing it.  Adam, Evan and I have climbed a number of peaks in the Coast Mountain Range together.  Each climb seems to get more difficult so we always bring gear to set up an anchor and rappel just in case we get stuck or conditions get dicey.  The climb and rappel off the canyon wall gave Evan a taste of the mountains for the day and Adam had some fun trying to catch Evan while battling the river currents below in his pack raft.

Three Men Packrafting Along The Chehalis River, British Columbia, Canada
Three Men Packrafting Along The Chehalis River, British Columbia, Canada

AP: What was your biggest takeaway from this experience?
CK: This was my first time paddling this section of the river. It’s an inspiring place and I know I’ll be back. Adam, Evan, Cole and I learned from one another as well. As we went down the river on the pack rafts, we would give each other tips for the rapids as we went through each one. One of the biggest takeaways on any adventure is what you learn from those you’re exploring with, or people you meet along the way.

Male Explorer Looks Down At The Chehalis River Prior To Packrafting
Male Explorer Looks Down At The Chehalis River Prior To Packrafting

AP: What inspires you most as a photographer?
CK: I love exploring and seeing new places. It helps you find out exactly what you are made of when you are faced with different challenges. I also enjoy seeing and learning from how others react to adversity. If I could give any advice to someone, whether they are simply looking for an adventure or furthering that by photographing their experiences, it would be to take any chance you get to travel. As days pass, opportunities to learn from and grow from experiences pass as well. It’s incredible to see new places and capture something that you’ve never captured before.

About Chris Kimmel
Chris Kimmel grew up just outside Vancouver, British Columbia. He is passionate about finding remote yet accessible environments that he can photograph and share with others in the hopes of helping others enjoy the great outdoors. He wants people to understand and see the beauty in the natural environment that surrounds us, and he captures that in his landscape and outdoor adventure photography. Chris has been published by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, BBC, Backpacker among many others.

See more photos from the Chehalis River Adventure.

See more of Chris Kimmel’s work.

Photographer Q&A: Kennan Harvey on Photographing Will Gadd’s Perilous 330-foot Ice Climb

Any worthy outdoor adventure must also be a quest. Whether physical, emotional or geographic, the art of exploration and discovering the unknown is what distinguishes historical importance. Being the first to ascend a newly formed frozen waterfall contains a lot of unknowns and, as a result, is quite a prize. This is exactly what Aurora contributor Kennan Harvey witnessed and photographed while he was visiting Banff National Park in Canada with his close friend and professional athlete Will Gadd.

After giving a talk at the postcard-perfect Chateau Lake Louise, Gadd walked out onto the ice and the snow-covered Lake Louise to the base of the frozen Lake Louise Falls which tumbles steeply down a side creek. Intending to just gather his thoughts for another motivational speech, he noticed a slender and elegant column of ice had recently formed along the right side of the 330-foot cascade. Being a local, he knew this was a rarity – and an opportunity that couldn’t be missed.

Harvey was also visiting the area, so Gadd asked him to go along the next day to photograph while he climbed the icicle. The resulting images appeared on media outlets and outdoor websites including Daily Mail, and one image from the series was even chosen as the official photograph to represent the 2014 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival sponsored by National Geographic and The North Face.

We caught up with Harvey to hear about the images he produced and to find out more about his experience documenting one of his closest friends perform a very perilous climb.

Will Gadd ice climbing a newly formed ice pillar on the right side of Louise Falls, Banff National Park, Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada.
Will Gadd ice climbing a newly formed ice pillar on the right side of Louise Falls, Banff National Park, Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada.

What kind of gear and what technique did Gadd use to climb the ice?
Will used rigid boots with metal spikes (called crampons) attached to the soles. Gripping an ice tool in either hand – a hammer-like metal shaft with a down-sloping, sharp metal pick – he swung them above his head, very much like a carpenter hammering a nail, often several times until each pick was buried “securely” in the ice. The technique for incrementally moving upwards involves securing both ice tools for hand-holds and then kicking each cramponed foot into the ice to provide enough balance and purchase to stand up and reset each ice tool a little higher. Will also used a rope secured to a waist harness. Occasionally, he would stop and twist in a threaded ice screw with a carabiner, or a metal oval with a spring loaded gate, to attach the rope to the ice screws.

Was there anyone else or anything else supporting him?
At the other end of the rope his partner, or belayer, used a friction device to lock off the rope in the event of a fall. Assuming the ice screw is solid a climber only plummets twice the distance he or she is standing above the last ice screw. As compared to rock climbing, ice climbing falls include many more variables and are phobically avoided. During a successful ascent the rope is never weighted, however, as a “clean” ascent requires that Will holds on and climbs only with his own hands and strength.

Will Gadd ice climbing up a steep ice face on the frozen Lake Louise Falls, Banff National Park, Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada.
Will Gadd ice climbing up a steep ice face on the frozen Lake Louise Falls, Banff National Park, Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada.

How did Gadd originally approach the climb, and what role – besides photographing – did you play in helping him succeed?
The climb is about 100 meters tall, or two climbing rope lengths. The pillar was formed near the middle. I hiked around and rappelled down from the top, kicking the icicle to make sure it was strong enough to hold a climber.

Will is very experienced and although the climbing was not at his limit, he is always very cautious and careful and delicate. There is a saying that “there are no old and bold climbers.” Will has his eyes on the former and believes that the mental aspect of risk assessment is paramount!

Although equipped with ice screws for protection Will decided the slender pillar was not strong enough to use them for that section of the climb. So, as a result, he had to climb for a long length without any protection in case he fell. Essentially he was soloing.

Wow. So, clearly falling was a very real possibility. What else could potentially go wrong? What were you worried about most?
I needed to be very careful not to knock any ice down upon Will while leading but our biggest worry was that the pillar would break under Will’s weight. He climbed it like a rat steeling cheese from a trap.

How did you approach this situation from a photographer’s perspective?
I believe the essence of climbing is the grand outdoor environment so I looked for perspectives including the surrounding mountains and the powerfully sparkling sun which sharply defined the newly formed icicles.

Will Gadd ice climbing a newly formed ice pillar on the right side of Louise Falls, Banff National Park, Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada.
Will Gadd ice climbing a newly formed ice pillar on the right side of Louise Falls, Banff National Park, Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada.

What were some of the challenges you faced when trying to get these shots?
Ice climbing photography is cold, often wet, and vertical. It is important to become as intimately familiar as a blind person reading Braille with ropes and climbing equipment in order to be perfectly positioned and ready to react quickly when the perfect moment arises.

What kind of gear do you use and why?
I really appreciate the DX camera format as it has wider autofocus coverage which I find valuable when operating my camera with only one hand while dangling above an ice climber. I also used a prime, fisheye lens as a prime lens has less sun flare when shooting directly into the sun and the wide angle coverage was important to show the vast environment. Thin gloves made from Windstopper Goretex are also vital.

Will Gadd sitting in a chair next to The Fang ice climb belaying while ice climbing in the Vail Ampitheater, Vail, Colorado.
Will Gadd sitting in a chair next to The Fang ice climb belaying while ice climbing in the Vail Ampitheater, Vail, Colorado.

About Will Gadd & Kennan Harvey
Will Gadd is a multifaceted athlete – climber, paraglider pilot, kayaker and author who has been competing and exploring at the top level for almost 30 years.

Kennan Harvey is even older than Will! After a productive career of climbing and photographing remote granite spires around the world he now specializes in capturing the artistic passion of all outdoor adventurer’s, especially his ten year old daughter, beyond the reach and format of Instagram.

Gadd and Harvey have known each other for many years. In addition to being close friends, the duo often work together to capture the thrill of climbing for Gadd’s sponsors and fans.

See more of Harvey’s work here.

Photographer Q&A: Rachid Dahnoun on Assignment for Backpacker Magazine

Adventure photographer Rachid Dahnoun has never met a mountain he didn’t like. So when Backpacker contacted him to shoot a feature story about Dominica’s 115-mile Waitukubuli National Trail, he immediately jumped on board.

Dahnoun and writer Kelly Bastone spent 10 rainy days hiking and documenting the new long trail on the not-so-well-known Caribbean island, which was completed in 2011 as an effort to promote tourism. To date, the WNT has been the largest non-road infrastructure project ever attempted on Dominica. During the trip, Dahnoun and Bastone met the locals, explored the terrain and went on some incredible hikes. The feature recently ran in the March edition of Backpacker. Read the article here.

We sat down with Dahnoun to hear more about this assignment. Here’s what he had to say about his career, hiking the WNT, and his advice for aspiring adventure photographers.

A backpacker (Kelly Bastone) hikes next to the Atlantic Ocean on Segment 6 of the Waitukubuli National Trail on the Caribbean island of Dominica.
A backpacker (Kelly Bastone) hikes next to the Atlantic Ocean on Segment 6 of the Waitukubuli National Trail on the Caribbean island of Dominica.

What originally inspired you to become an adventure photographer?

Before starting college I took a NOLS (National Outdoors Leadership School) semester, and that was one of those mind-blowing trips. The entire semester was 3.5 months in the backcountry. We completed 3 weeks of winter touring and telemark skiing in the Wind River Range in Wyoming, a month backpacking in Canyonlands National Park, 2 weeks whitewater kayaking on the Green River in Utah, another week on the Dolores River in Colorado, rock climbing in the City of Rocks National Preserve in Idaho for 2 weeks, then Split Rock in Wyoming for another 2 weeks. I made some of the best friends of my life and I got to see some of the most beautiful and iconic places in the American West.

Afterwards, I moved to Baltimore for art college, took one photo elective class the beginning of my sophomore year and that changed everything. I immediately shifted my major to photography, and I couldn’t get enough. I focused on photo for the next 4 years, but as soon as I was done with my degree I couldn’t wait to move out of the city. Diploma in hand, I packed up everything in my truck and drove west. A friend from that NOLS semester found out I was moving and told me he was living in Lake Tahoe and had a spare room for rent. I figured I would spend one winter in Tahoe and then I’d try to be “responsible” with my life again. But that never really happened.  Winter turned to summer, summer turned to winter and here we are 15 years later and I still love every minute of my life in the Sierra Nevada.

The first few years in Lake Tahoe I didn’t even pick up a camera. All I did was snowboard, climb and backpack, spending all of my time in the mountains. I loved photography, but I had no idea how to make a living doing it.  After a while my camera started showing up in my backpack. I was going on all of these adventures with my friends who were semi-pro and pro athletes, and I decided to start documenting them. That started happening more and more and I found myself building a portfolio of images that I was really proud of.

Years later, a friend introduced me to Corey Rich, who offered me a contract with Aurora, which really set things off for me. All of a sudden, I started seeing my work in national and international publications and used commercially.  That market presence compounded and I had other magazines and brands approach me individually for different projects and assignments. Within the year, I started to feel my career catapult and that’s when I believed I could really do this full time. There’s been a fire ever since to go after bigger projects and assignments and keep going on trips that no one else wants to go on. It’s been a wild ride, and Aurora and Corey were a big part of that, right at a key point of my work.

A backpacker (Kelly Bastone) looks up at a very large chatanier tree (buttress root tree, Acomat Boucan Sloanea) in the rainforest on Segment 11 of the Waitukubuli National Trail on the Caribbean island of Dominica.
A backpacker (Kelly Bastone) looks up at a very large chatanier tree (buttress root tree, Acomat Boucan Sloanea) in the rainforest on Segment 11 of the Waitukubuli National Trail on the Caribbean island of Dominica.

For the Backpacker assignment, you spent 10 rainy days hiking on some gnarly terrain. How do you prepare yourself physically and mentally for a long project like this?

The physical aspect is pretty straightforward. I live in the mountains and I try to get outside as much as I can. I’m always out snowboarding, hiking, biking and climbing depending on the season and I’m doing it at elevation (Lake Tahoe is 6,200 feet above sea level). That keeps me where I need to be so when the phone rings I’m ready to go to any part of the world and jump in with whichever athletes I need to follow.

Mentally, I’m adamant about doing as much research as possible about the location I’m traveling to. In this instance for Dominica, I read as many articles as I could. I researched a lot online and talked with the writer, Kelly Bastone, quite a bit because she had already done a lot of research herself. I also pulled images, made inspiration boards and picked out locations I hoped to see. That helped me get my head in the game for what kinds of pictures I could make and how that would facilitate the creation of a great photo story.

Looking out over the beautiful and rugged coastline of the Caribbean island of Dominica from an overlook on Segment 14 of the Waitukubuli National Trail.
Looking out over the beautiful and rugged coastline of the Caribbean island of Dominica from an overlook on Segment 14 of the Waitukubuli National Trail.

You did and saw a lot – from drinking traditional “bush rum” to visiting the “fumarole-ridden wasteland called the Valley of Desolation.” What was your favorite or most memorable moment(s) of the hike? What would you say is a must see / must do / must pack for a trip to Dominica?

The Valley of Desolation and Boiling Lake, which are world heritage sites, are absolutely stunning and are not to be missed. Honestly though, I think what I remember the most about the whole experience were the people. They were so kind and generous and they opened their doors to us every day we were on the island. Whether it was camping along the trail in a small village or staying in more developed areas, it didn’t seem to matter who we ran into, they were all so open and proud of their culture and wanted us to have the best experience possible. I thought that was just amazing. It’s rare to run into so many kind people in such a short period of time.

A Dominican woman serves a shot of local "bush rum" (Dominican moonshine) infused with fresh local Anise. We discovered that this stuff is not to be trifled with.
A Dominican woman serves a shot of local “bush rum” (Dominican moonshine) infused with fresh local Anise. We discovered that this stuff is not to be trifled with.

In the article, the author refers to you as a “mountain-climbing machine.” How was this hike/climb different from the others? How did the trail compare to what you’re used to in the Sierras?

The Sierras are a great training ground but the WNT was different because it is really steep, unforgivingly steep, and almost vertical in some places. Trails in the Sierras and anywhere else in the US are a lot more graded and they’re just built that way. But in Dominica, it’s a lot of straight up and down hiking in the rainforest and every step is wet and slippery. All around I would say the hiking is pretty difficult.

A woman (Kelly Bastone) stands on the edge of Boiling Lake on the Caribbean island of Dominica. Boiling Lake is situated in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park and is the second largest hot lake in the world. It is one of the most popular day hikes on the island.
A woman (Kelly Bastone) stands on the edge of Boiling Lake on the Caribbean island of Dominica. Boiling Lake is situated in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park and is the second largest hot lake in the world. It is one of the most popular day hikes on the island.

Were there any scary moments?

There was definitely one real scary moment on the trip. There was a lot of unseasonable rain when we were there and we had gone to check out Middleham Falls along the WNT on day 4.  It had been raining heavily for days. When we arrived we couldn’t even see the falls because the spray was so thick and powerful. We realized we could be in a pretty dangerous situation with that much water moving and not knowing what was above us. We opted to get out of there quickly, but as soon as we turned around we saw another waterfall had broken off of the cliffs and cut us off. Now we were stuck between two massive waterfalls and possibly another wall of water above us. We knew we had to get out of there quickly, and made a human chain to get ourselves across the newer waterfall that hadn’t even been there 10 minutes before. Eventually, we were able to wade ourselves through the rapids and get to safe ground. It was one of those situations you get through, take a breath and say, “Okay, well that could have been a lot worse.”

Another scary moment, more of a personal one, are the snakes on Dominica.  There are a lot of snakes, no poisonous snakes, but there are a ton of snakes on the island, and I hate snakes. It was day 10 and I still hadn’t seen one, but all I kept hearing about was how there were so many boa constrictors on the island. So there I was, hiking up this really steep hill and I went to take a step. I looked down and this huge boa constrictor was coiled up and hissing at me. I cried like a baby, fell backward, and tumbled back down the mountainside. I collected myself and our guide just started laughing at me, staring at the thing and saying, “that’s just a baby boa!” I said, “Okay, good, but it’s 6 feet long so that’s not encouraging.” I got back up, put the long lens on and begrudgingly made some frames of the boa for the photo story.

A boa constrictor is coiled up in the leaves on Segment 11 of the Waitukubuli National Trail on the Caribbean island of Dominica.

What were some of the most surprising things you learned about the WNT and/or Dominica?

There are no white sand beaches, which is very much in contrast to the rest of the Caribbean. But it’s also a testament to why Dominica is the way it is and why it’s more of an unknown, less visited, destination by tourists. In fact, it doesn’t have many beaches at all. What beaches it does have are beautiful, but they’re black sand beaches and most of the rim of the island is all just huge cliffs. It’s really rugged and that comes across in their tourism and branding; they call themselves “The Nature Island.” They’ve done a really good job figuring out which resources they have and which they don’t. If you’re looking for the Carnival Cruise stop, this isn’t going to be it.

A traditional carving of a face at the Touna Kalinago Heritage Village in the Kalinago Territory of the Caribbean island of Dominica.
A traditional carving of a face at the Touna Kalinago Heritage Village in the Kalinago Territory of the Caribbean island of Dominica.
A man (Michael Eugene) holds a nutmeg in the palm of his hand on Segment 1 of the Waitukubuli National Trail on the Caribbean island of Dominica.
A man (Michael Eugene) holds a nutmeg in the palm of his hand on Segment 1 of the Waitukubuli National Trail on the Caribbean island of Dominica.

What are the similarities and differences between Dominica’s view of conservation, wilderness, nature and enjoying the outdoors and ours?

They have a deep respect for their home and the conservation of it. Opinions weren’t as mixed as they are in the United States where people do and don’t believe in climate change. I’m fairly certain everyone on Dominica believes in climate change. They’ve had some huge hurricanes that have decimated the island over the years, so it is really at the forefront of everyone’s mind.  The idea of conservation was ingrained with everyone I met.

A woman (Kelly Bastone) admires a large chatanier tree (buttress root tree, Acomat Boucan Sloanea) on Segment 1 of the Waitukubuli National Trail on the Caribbena island of Dominica.
A woman (Kelly Bastone) admires a large chatanier tree (buttress root tree, Acomat Boucan Sloanea) on Segment 1 of the Waitukubuli National Trail on the Caribbena island of Dominica.

You’ve been shooting for 13 years now. What’s your advice for someone looking to get into outdoor and adventure photography?

My number one piece of advice is to shoot what you love. If you’re not shooting what you love you certainly won’t be creating the best possible pictures that you can make. You’re never going to be able to tell a compelling story unless you have some sort of connection to the imagery you’re creating.

Also, a lot of people think that I’m outside every day on some new adventure but I also spend massive amounts of time on my computer, on the phone, in the office, marketing, networking, working on my portfolio, stock submissions, doing everything I need to do to keep a business going. In the end, you’re running a small business and you have to take that into account. A lot of times you’re going to be a one-man band for the beginning of your career. You’re easily going to spend the same amount of time in the office as you will out shooting, and I think that’s something that’s really important for people to understand.

Finally, have thick skin. There’s so much competition out there. There are so many different editors and marketing directors with different opinions on what kind of work they like, what kind of stories they like, even whether they like to communicate via email or not. You’re bound to run into the word “no” quite a bit especially in the beginning of your career. If someone tells you no, don’t let it bother you too much. Figure out how to push through. Communicate with them or show them a better body of work at a later date, or simply realize the relationship may not work and move on and find one that will.

A woman (Kelly Bastone) takes in the sunset over the Caribbean Sea on a pier at the Portsmouth Beach Hotel in the town of Portsmouth on the island of Dominica.
A woman (Kelly Bastone) takes in the sunset over the Caribbean Sea on a pier at the Portsmouth Beach Hotel in the town of Portsmouth on the island of Dominica.

About Rachid Dahnoun
Rachid Dahnoun combines his love of outdoor adventure with his artistic vision to create a touching photographic journal of the natural world. From breathtaking landscapes to gritty action photos, Dahnoun delivers compelling imagery to commercial clients, magazines and art galleries across the globe. His work has been featured with clients such as: National Geographic, ESPN, The Travel Channel, American Express, Microsoft, ARAMARK, AAA, Travel and Leisure, Expedia, Lowepro, SKI Magazine, the New York Times and many more.

Check out more of Dahnoun’s work here.