“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." That sentence, from the Roman philosopher Seneca, has become my personal motto.
I started shooting ocean photography in 1998, after moving from France to Sydney, Australia. I was born in New Caledonia, a French territory in the Southwest Pacific, and my parents gave me my first bath in the warm Pacific Ocean, when I was just a few weeks old. Since then, I've always been attracted by the ocean.
With my ocean photography, I'm trying to convey what a special and spectacular sport yachting really is. For me, sailing photography came naturally, and I found that I could be extremely creative with my images, once I was able to prove I could also produce clean photography. I'm always trying to achieve the trinity of what I believe makes a great photograph: technically sound, great composition, and a great story. Although it's easier to concentrate on getting close to the yachting action, my aim is to capture both the action and the seascape, without compromising either. In the process, I've been fortunate to travel to some great sailing areas and it has been a privilege to work with so many dedicated and enthusiastic sailors.
To succeed on the water, you have to love and respect the ocean, keep things simple, and work with an open mind and wide eyes. You want to try to make every boat look as if it is one of the great beauties of the sea! You have to know your gear perfectly, be able to fix things yourself, be careful of the people around you and fully concentrate at all times. Be prepared, because a tricky situation can escalate into a disaster suddenly. For this reason, I always try to have a storyboard for the shoot in my head. At the end of the day, this kind of photography requires a lot of intuition, fitness and of course, luck.
I had the opportunity to photograph Thomas Coville, on his trimaran Sodebo, for the performance outdoor clothing company Helly Hansen. We shot during his training sessions in the Atlantic Ocean, before he set the world circumnavigation record. Thomas is 50 years old, but with a body of a 30 year-old. He's one of the best offshore sailors in the world, owning several solo, non-stop records for sailing around the world. He has sailed on a 100-foot-carbon-multihull on his own, and it's hard to truly appreciate until you're onboard just how impressive, fast (average speed 35 to 40 miles an hour ) and frightening this kind of yacht sailing can be.
One of the biggest challenges is finding the best way to capture these images. Sometimes I'm in a helicopter, sometimes in a chase boat. For this shoot with Thomas, I was with him onboard the trimaran. At the kinds of speeds he goes, you simply can't follow him in a tender, you have to be right there. For a day like this, you always have to be ready for any situation, but sailing with professionals, I trust them 110%, without question. I keep myself fit, prepared, and calm, no matter what happens.
“Let’s do something that’s ACTUALLY fun.” Libby Sauter, Yosemite bigwall climber extraordinaire, turns to me with a pleading look while we’re huffing and puffing and shivering in the Argentinian cold at 18,000ft. “I mean it. Let’s get this mountain over with, and then let’s go somewhere remote and adventurous - but the type of adventure that’s WARM and FUN.” We’re just barely halfway through a brutally difficult six-week speed record mission on 22,838ft Aconcagua, capturing content for adidas Outdoor, and we’re already brainstorming our next project.
Three months and one high-altitude speed record later I am still huffing and puffing, but this time in a very different setting. Libby, myself and our friend Allison are standup paddle boarding on Lake Powell as part of a multi-sport adventure - the very adventure that was conceived during those long cold days on Aconcagua. This time we’re focused on advocacy rather than on the quest for standout athletic performance: we want to playfully explore Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, to capture images and stories that can help advocate for the preservation of these tremendous landscapes.
Libby, Alli and I start out with long slow days of desert trail running and canyoneering before packing up to embark on a two night / three day SUP backpack. We each carry forty pounds of gear - paddleboards, overnight and emergency gear, and my full camera kit - cross-country along miles of remote and difficult slick rock terrain as we gradually descend into the hot maze of canyons that defines Lake Powell. Five hours after setting out from our vehicles we finally reach the lakeshore, tucked away deep in the sunless bend of a canyon.
This is where we’ll inflate our paddle boards and take to the water. But this is also where Libby discovers that she only packed in the blade of her three-piece collapsible paddle and not the shaft, which throws a bit of a wrench into our plans to SUP dozens of miles in the next 48 hours. Hiking back to the cars to retrieve the missing shaft would be a ten hour round trip and is out of the question, but as the old adage goes in these types of adventures: “If you don’t have it you don’t need it.” We devise a way to jerry rig a workable paddle from our combined kit plus a tree branch or two.
The next two days are my personal crux: I am doubling as SUP guide - since neither Libby nor Alli have experience on a standup paddle board or on the lake, while I can draw from my lesson’s of an eight-day solo SUP expedition that I embarked on in these same parts the prior year - and as photographer while also balancing my camera gear on the front of my paddle board, camera and lenses precariously close to a potential watery death.
It’s not an easy setup but this is my favorite way of shooting: as part of a self-motivated, intimate project that results in organic imagery. This particular mission in Grand Staircase is just that - a passion project that combines adventure and creative work in the best possible way. And at the end of our time on Lake Powell and in Grand Staircase, the three of us walk away with a treasure trove of images, memories, and an infinite amount of excitement to plan the next project.
12:30 pm, October 22nd 2018, Sandpoint, Idaho. Bikes, Boards, Baggage, Booze, and Bodies. The van is loaded and pulling out of port. The direction is unknown. Agenda, equally obscure. And we like it. An intentionally agendaless journey is new but not unfamiliar. Being late October, the internal compass says we aim south to capture any shred of warmth still remaining in the low, angling sun. Suzanne, co-pilot and partner of nearly a decade, settles in with our new pup Suki and van life begins again.With life as layered and busy as it is, sliding in behind the wheel of Blanca (a 1999 VW Eurovan, current odometer reading 415,567, about half of that mine) has become my antidote to busyness. Somehow just getting out of town without too many crab claws (loose ends that grab you and keep you from leaving) is a success.We drive a mere 4 hours from home and find camp.Darkness falls. Tequila falls… into empty, receptive cups.A crisp IPA is cracked.Cooking a meal is a relatively low priority on night one as we bask in the excitement of being on the road, buoyed by a full moon dancing behind an eerie cloud cover and an opportunity to light paint.Our course meanders over days through the interior of Idaho, discovering remote vacant hot springs and uncrowded backroad locales that allow for maximum freedom. We are both surprised by the impact of wildfires as we snake our way toward Stanley Idaho, skirting the south edge of the Frank Church Wilderness (still the largest wilderness in the lower 48).I stop to capture the scene but the record-keeping-moment soon transforms to a painterly one. The landscape has become a quilt of life and death, blackened Standing Lodgepole Pine mixed with green regenerating ground cover and hints of fall color, divided by a bending deep blue ribbon of water. It’s raw and captivating.As we continue to surrender to the moment and try not get too far ahead of ourselves, it’s already day 5 of our 9 day trip. What is our plan? Where are we going? Our minds drift. We look at weather reports. Sun and warmth are desirable. We head West. More specifically, we drive towards the wide open space of southeastern Oregon where the population density is 2 humans per 500 cows per 100 square miles or something like that. Who cares about stats, it’s expansive and definitely pulls us into that feeling. That feeling of remoteness. Planetary if you will.One thing I have realized in my travels with Blanca in the West is that it’s not for everyone. I like it that way. I can tell it’s not for everyone because I hardly see anyone else out in the places I choose to go. I have learned it through my own experience and taking to heart the advice of Edward Abbey when it comes to dirt roads and exploration and getting “out there.”So one may ponder and wonder, this all sounds way too leisurely to qualify as work. How are you able to hit the road and just be free for days on end? The answer is choice. As a kid born into a line of inveterate travelers, it has become a choice and not anything based on luck or social status or anything else. It’s my work. It’s my life. I continue to make the choice. There is compromise for sure. There are also perspectives and responses I have endured over the years from “oh you are so lucky” to “must be nice” to “only wealthy people travel.” And yet my hope and goal in all of it is not to boast or display nor is it to amass an Insta following or assemble any cult. It is to share and inspire. It is for my children to see how their father lives and engage them in life on the road. It is for my friends to be stoked and curious and ask where is that, how do I get there. My intent is simply not to lead by example but to live by it.
See more of Woods' images here!
We had the pleasure of "sitting down" with advertising and lifestyle photographer Chris Ross recently, to discuss his background, career in photography, and what lengths he'll go to to "get the shot." We caught up with Chris after a recent shoot that combined his love of fishing and getting in the water: documenting three expert flyfishing women in pursuit of flyfishing's grand slam in the Florida Keys. Here's what Chris had to say:
I have a degree in advertising from The University of Georgia and a commercial photography degree from Brooks Institute. At Brooks I was drawn to the coastal life and based a lot of my studies and subjects around the ocean and the beach scene. We had a school boat that would take us miles off the coast to the channel islands where we focused on underwater photography. After graduating I landed my first serious job with Costa Del Mar sunglasses who wanted to use me for both my above- and below-water editorial shooting style. My philosophy is to be a fly on the wall, documenting the entire experience. However, that does not mean I'm stationary; on the contrary, I am always in constant motion. Rig the fishing gear…hunt for the fish…catch the fish…jump in the water and release the fish, etc. If I can capture lifestyle in a way that pulls the viewer into that story than I have accomplished the mission!
Due to my risk-taking nature, my wife is not too keen on some of my adventures. However, it's this inherent risk, the essence of an adventure, that drew me to photography. I have been dragged by a bowline around my waist to shoot sailfish on the hook while running. I have been face to face with 18-foot white sharks without a cage for numerous National Geographic shoots. I have had to dodge families of Howler monkeys in the Panamanian jungle not happy with my presence...Whatever it takes!
This particular shoot was done to document a fishing feat that has not been accomplished by any woman in history. It’s called the grand slam of fly fishing. In order to earn the title, an angler needs to land three specific species of fish found in the Florida Keys on a fly: permit fish, bonefish, and tarpon. They must do this in one day's outing. The three women, amongst the best anglers in the US, all came from very different backgrounds: a college student from Florida, a mother of two who owns a fishing shop in Montana, and a young woman who is a fly fishing guide based out of Oregon.
The whole shoot was done in The Keys, primarily embarking from Islamorada and Key West. The sweltering heat was the biggest challenge for me. We had to be covered head to toe with sun protective gear as we were on the water from dawn until dusk for 5 days straight. I was just waiting for the chance to cool off in the water to get some underwater/split photography when they landed a fish.
Another challenge was the intense and quick changes in the weather pattern. The intense hot sun gave way to extreme showers that could blow in very fast. We were on very tiny flats boats with little storage so getting gear buttoned up was a challenge. On numerous occasions we had to delve deep into the mangroves in order to find that “honey hole” that held that special Tarpon that was ready to eat! Everything was done via kayaks; pulling ourselves under mangroves and squeezing through tight passages, it felt like we would never make it out of the vast maze-like network! The population of Bull sharks in this area are high and when you are concentrating on taking pictures of the food while underwater you really aren’t sure if you might be on the buffet as well!
Like all good fishing tales, this one has a happy ending. The young angler from Oregon caught the permit, bonefish and tarpon in one day, on the 4th day of trying. She's now the only female in history to have recorded a grand slam in The Keys!
The Faroe Islands, a group of rocky, volcanic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, are gaining increasing popularity among photographers and adventure travel enthusiasts, due to their rugged hiking terrain, spectacular bird watching and interesting cuisine. We sat down (virtually) with 5 of Aurora's photographers - Paolo Sartori, Paul Zizka, Brandon Huttenlocher, Sergio Villalba and Jose Azel - to find out what it's like traveling to this outdoor playground.
Aurora Photos: What first drew you to explore the Faroes?Paul Zizka: First and foremost, a sense of curiosity and a passion for isolation. The green, the ruggedness and the wild weather keep me going back.
Brandon Huttenlocher: The remoteness and my curiosity, wondering what else is there after seeing a few other photographers' images.
Paolo Sartori: I traveled there before the big boom of the Faroes on Instagram. I’m always fascinated about remote and diverse places so when I saw a photo of the Mulafossur waterfall, I said, “Ok, let’s go!”.
Sergio Villalba: I have now been to the Faroes 3 times...once for windsurfing and twice for surfing. My first time was 2008.
Jose Azel: I was lucky to have visited the Faroe Islands in 1990 when I was given a magazine assignment. Since I was into mountain biking at the time, I suggested I take my bike. The editor agreed. It was the first time I flew with a bike and while it was a bit of a hassle, in the end it was worth it.
AU: What was your favorite island or area to shoot, and what was your favorite geologic feature?
Paul: I am big on ruggedness, and in the Faroes, the further north you get, the more rugged the landscape gets. The northern halves of Eysturoy, Kalsoy and Vidoy are particularly dear to me. The sea cliffs and sea stacks in the far north are incredible!
Brandon: I really liked Kalsoy and Mykines! The sheer cliffs that jet straight out of the ocean are ridiculously impressive.
Paolo: In the Faroes every village is something unique and beautiful…if I have to pick a single place, it's probably Saksun. The small house above the beach is totally insane.
Sergio: All of them have this amazing, remote feeling. Streymoy and Vagar, though not the most isolated, have the most stunning places.
AU: One of the most iconic areas on the island is Mulafossur waterfall; how long did you spend waiting for the perfect shot? How many other photographers were standing next to you?Paul: I've made perhaps 5 or 6 visits to that location over the years, and I've shot it on my own as well as surrounded by several fellow photographers (in the context of workshops). I've probably spent 10 hours gazing at and shooting the falls in total.
Brandon: I think I ended going there a total of 4 times throughout my time in the Faroes at all times of the day/night. As soon as I got my rental car I drove straight there, and I finished my trip there just before heading back to the airport. My first time, there was a photography workshop group; however, when I was there in the middle of the night, I was alone.
Paolo: The day we went there, it was raining like hell and there was nobody around. I waited almost an hour and when I realized that the rain wasn’t going to stop…well, now I know my camera can still work under a storm!
Sergio: I’ve been to this place several times, all of them on exploration trips. It’s one of those corners that are so perfect that seem to be designed on purpose by someone else. Anytime of the day (or the night) is ideal to get a nice shot. Since it was waves that we were in the search for, I always visited the Faroes in the middle of winter, so I had most of the spots to myself.
AU: The Faroes are sparsely populated, though that population is very diverse. Due to the small size, and the isolation of island life in general, what was the locals attitude to you? What was their attitude to you as a photographer? Are they tired of you over-running their country?Paul: As with many Scandinavian people, they are reserved at first. Eventually though, they open up and have been extremely friendly and helpful to me. Having said that, they are currently experiencing an unprecedented boom in tourism. Time will tell whether the Faroese government can manage that new growth in a way that the locals do not get disgruntled with it all.
Paolo: There wasn’t that much instagram-based tourism just a few years back. I didn’t meet many people in the villages, but those few ones were really friendly.
Sergio: As in most other cold places, people tend to be a bit cold in the beginning, but I don't think it has to do with me being a tourist or a photographer. Since I always visited the Faroes in winter, I never bumped into another tourist. The Faroese rely on their oceans to make a living; the soil is waterlogged all year long, so too tough to grow crops. They’ve been making big efforts to promote tourism. However, their tourist infrastructure is pretty small compared to other popular destinations; I don’t think they could welcome big crowds of people.
AU: The Faroe Islands are one of the 10 biggest salmon producers in the world, and many an image of the islands contains the tell-tale rings of salmon farming. There was also a long history and culture of whaling there. It seems many gourmet restaurants have opened recently. What was your favorite food?Paul: The fish is excellent. I've particularly enjoyed the halibut and haddock!
Paolo: The best food was salmon, of course. There are a number of good restaurants, especially in Torshavn, but in general they are really expensive.
Sergio: You can get some crazy good food there but you have to pay the price. Fresh salmon, dried whale or even sushi is mental, but most of the time you find yourself eating gas station hotdogs since there’s no restaurants or shops in most towns.
AU: You've managed to capture the islands ruggedness, yet also add a sense of allure and invitation. How did you travel around? Bike? Hike? 4 x 4? Climb? Ferry? Sail? Strap a saddle to the largest sheep and hope for the best?
Paul: I first experienced the Faroes through extensive hiking, which was incredible. Since then, I've explored more thoroughly and further afield via ferries and the incredible road network.
Brandon: My main mode of transportation was this tiny little rental car that felt more like a go-cart. Most islands are connected via underwater tunnels or bridges. I did take a ferry over to Kalsoy. They do some boat trips which are pretty awesone getting you out on the water and able to look back at the island and the sheer cliffs straight out of the ocean. But the best and most fun transportation in the Faroes is the helicopter! Its extremely cheap and scenic. I flew from the airport to Mykines island for about $30USD (round trip). Just do your research about it, as you can only do a 1 way trip each day.
Paolo: I was moving around in a Land Rover Defender, sleeping in a roof mounted tent. It was perfect because it allowed me to stay on location by night.
Sergio: Car, lots of hiking and occasionally a chopper. The weather’s so rough you need to make sure to check the forecast properly every morning before you hit the road.
Jose: The bus system is extensive and goes throughout the island. There are no official bus stops, at least not at the time, and I all I had to do was flag on down if I wanted a ride. To satiate my thirst for adventure, nothing beat biking on their narrow roads. They have many tunnels under their steep mountain terrain; speeding into these somewhat dark, narrow tubes on a fast downhill provided me with an adrenaline rush! Fortunately, the sparseness of automobiles kept encounters to a minimum.
AU: Is it EVER sunny there? Seriously. Epic photos guys, but the sun has to shine sometimes right?Paul: In my experience, never for very long. I've been to the Faroes at different times of year and fickle weather seems to be the norm. That's fine by me. I find the ever-changing, moody weather fits the landscape perfectly.
Brandon: If it is sunny, you’d better not blink, because it’ll be gone before your eyes open again! Oh, and the wind. If you enjoy the wind, this place is for you. I watched the water from the Mulafossur waterfall blow back up and not even touch the ocean one afternoon is was so windy.
Paolo: I’ve been there for a week, and I got a couple hours of sun in total. On the last day I was talking with a local, and when I complained about weather, he said “oh, you are lucky, we had good weather this past week!"
Sergio: Absolutely! Even in winter, I believe they enjoy more sunny days than UK or Belgium. The sun doesn't rise high enough to reach the deep valleys though.
AU: What was the most interesting thing you learned about the Faroe Islands / your favorite experience / experiential wisdom you'd like to pass along to future travelers?Paul: The Faroes are truly a place like no other. I highly recommend you get there before the crowds do. It's really only a matter of time. And get out on foot. Even when the place starts getting the visitors it deserves, there will be many pristine stretches of shoreline to explore for those willing to put in the work.
Brandon: Take the helicopter. Watch out for sheep while driving. Embrace the excessive amount of wind and gloomy weather. You're not supposed to camp in cars like most people do in Iceland (we wont tell anyone I did this). Its an incredibly safe country. Oh, did I mention the wind?
Paolo: For me the most interesting part was the people living there. For most of us that are living on the mainland would be really hard to stay there for more than a couple weeks. We are used to have relatively easy access to almost anything; driving a couple hours from home I can be on a 4000m peak in the Alps or on a sunny beach in the Mediterranean. I can’t even imagine how difficult it would be to live on a remote island with only 10 other people, hours away from the nearest hospital...
Jose: Several impressions have stayed with me ever since my visit there. First and foremost was the stark beauty of the landscape: treeless and bright green, often with a clear blue sky and expansive views of the ocean. Perhaps I got lucky and had a fair number of good weather days. The other lasting mark was the quaintness of the buildings. So many seemed too perfect to be real. Almost none needed paint and the villages that lined the shores of the many coves and bays were incredibly picturesque.
To see more images of the Faroes, click here.
Or, check out more from their personal sites below: