Category Archives: Photographer Q&A

Photographer Q&A – Geert Weggen Communes With Squirrels

red squirrels sitting in a camping bus

We recently sat down with Geert Weggen, nature photographer based in Sweden, to discuss his “naturally staged” tableaux of wildlife, usually focused on red squirrels. You can see more of his  fantastical, yet real, work here!

red squirrel on a chair holding an umbrella with nut in mouth

Aurora Photos: You have been featured on the internet a number of times (here, here, here…you get the picture) for your wonderful captures of, “squirrel lifestyle,” let’s call it. We have to ask. Why squirrels?

Geert Weggen: The amazing thing about squirrels is that they can do many things similar to humans. Their front legs are like hands and they can stand on two legs, like us. Besides all that, they can do even more…they’re very acrobatic! With those talents, I can capture photos where people can imagine themselves in the scenes: Driving, riding horses, cleaning, opening doors, holding umbrellas etc.

I live in nature, with the forest literally next to my house. I built an outside studio where animals can come and go. With all the wild squirrels visiting me every day they are the perfect subject to take photos of.

red squirrel standing on moped with yellow orchids

Au: Can you describe your process and technique?

GW: My studio is about 30 square meters and has a half open roof and 2 open sides. The rain and snow can come in, but still my equipment will stay dry. I created a 2-meter square table, which is the same height as my kitchen window from where I can shoot. The flashes are on remote and I use a big reflector. There is always back light, which is why many times only ambient light is not enough. I create scenes on my table and put food in the places where I hope squirrels will come. Sometimes I have to clone away small food buckets or wires from my photos. Sometimes I can do four scenes in one day.

great tit is painting abstract art

Au: Was there a trick you tried to get a squirrel to do that didn’t quite work?

GW: There have been shots which I worked at for 5 days, but in the end I got my result. Like I had the idea that the squirrels were skiing in the snow, and I really wanted them to hold both poles in each hand. I am not a very patient man, but when I have an idea in my head it is hard for me to walk away. Sometime, I have difficulty capturing the squirrels with flowers; most of the flowers come from my garden, and there’s a short window of time where they still look fresh.

I’ve had issues with mischievous squirrels in the past…some love to take props in to the trees and disappear before I can even take a shot. I lost a beautiful tea pot some years ago, though I was lucky then, and was able to capture the images I wanted before it disappeared. In fact, I FOUND IT this year in the forest, after all these years!

red squirrel standing on jumping horse with a hurdle

Au: What’s the one shot you’d love to set up, but haven’t tried yet?

GW: For 4 years now I’ve been photographing the red squirrels and I have literally worked with thousands of ideas, but there are still a few I haven’t tried. It would be wonderful to capture two squirrels kissing, but I have no idea how to get them into that shot. I have captured squirrels sniffing each other, but these situations are impossible to plan.

squirrel with water, light tower, shark and canoe

Au: It’s a common saying in the business, “don’t work with kids and animals”… would you say that’s true?

GW: Well…It can be frustrating. I often find myself cursing. There are many potential issues…Of course there is wind, and weather problems, etc. In the winter days, I sometimes only have 3 hours of light, and it can be so cold that in 5 minutes I cannot feel the buttons on  the camera, but all that is not even the biggest challenge. The animals do exactly what they want, and I have no control. They are always on the move and very quick! Photography is not really relaxing when they are in front of my camera; I need to be alert and very quick to capture those moments! Lucky for me, there are so many squirrels that I have many chances to capture what I hope for.

Red squirrel holding a Mobile Phone in hands

Au: Do you think some of the techniques you use on squirrels would work on kids?

GW: For me, the trick is food and trust. The animals are always looking for food and looking for it in my studio with me nearby. It takes a long time before they feel safe. Similar to deer, they are alert the whole time. However, when they started to trust me they naturally became curious and dared to challenge themselves in new situations. Whenever I set up a new scene, they almost go directly towards it and act like they are familiar with their new surroundings, and behave like I am not there.

I don’t photograph children, but I guess it has a lot in common with how I approach photographing wildlife. Children need to feel safe so they can behave naturally and they like a reward as motivation. When I have a good shoot, and the wildlife cooperates, I will climb out my window to give them a nut, as a reward. I assume child-photography involves rewarding the kids when they cooperate and listen, as well. However, I do think you can guide children in a different way than squirrels.

Here’s a few action shots and behind the scenes of Geert’s studio. You can see more of his furry friends in action here!

man feeding a red squirrel which is standing on a wishing well

man feeding a red squirrel  with a shark in hands with water and canoe

man feeding a red squirrel which is standing on wooden blocks with text happy fathers day

Climate Change: Good News From the Front Lines

Fernbank Forest, Downtown Atlanta, Georgia in the background. Photographed from a drone. Fernbank Forest is a 65-acre urban old-growth Piedmont forest in downtown Atlanta, Georgia.
A view above Fernbank Forest, with Atlanta, Georgia in the background. Fernbank Forest is a 65-acre urban old-growth Piedmont forest being conserved and protected near downtown Atlanta.

The news coming out of Washington DC, in the form of the President’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, has been disheartening for many who are concerned about the state of our climate and environment. But there is good news, too. On the front lines of the fight against global warming and climate change, much is being done at the grass roots level, at the local governmental level, and through independent scientific research. Several Aurora photographers have been on those front lines covering the stories of positive change and bring us the following good news.

Ice storm experiments in New Hampshire, by Joe Klementovich

Researcher does research on replicated man-made ice storm damage in order to study the effects of ice storms in New Hampshire forests
A researcher from Hubbard Brook Research center examines man-made ice damage from a replicated ice storm in a New Hampshire forest in order to study the effects of ice storms on the environment.

Ice climbing, mountaineering and suffering at cold belays has prepared me well for shooting through the frigid February nights at Hubbard Brook Research center. Tucked back in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Hubbard Brook has been studying the environment on a large scale since 1955. They were the first group that discovered acid rain back in the 70’s. The last two winters, graduate students, scientists, and researchers have been mimicking ice storms to study the effects on the forest, looking at everything from soil change to the impact on birds and insects.

Having a dedicated photography and film crew to capture the process as well as the aftermath allowed the researchers to create a library of images and video that has become critical in explaining and sharing the experiment at a public level and to the scientific community. Photographs and video were picked up on a wide variety of outlets ranging from National Geographic to the Weather Channel to the local paper.

In a day and age where science is under attack from various corners, producing a photographic record will hopefully pushed the climate change conversation into living rooms and cafes, not just the research offices, and help show the real life impacts it is creating. The experiments have been a success scientifically, but it also showed the science community that being able to effectively demonstrate their work to the world visually is just as important as the experiments.

Click here to see more photos of the ice storm experiments by Joe Klementovich

Hubbard Brook Website. 

Energy Independence at the Ashram, by Ashley Cooper

The Muni Seva Ashram in Goraj, near Vadodara, India, is a tranquil haven of humanitarian care. The Ashram is hugely sustainable, next year it will be completely carbon neutral. Its first solar panels were installed in 1984, long before climate change was on anyones agenda. Their energy is provided from solar panels, and wood grown on the estate. Waste food and animal manure is turned inot biogas to run the estates cars and also used for cooking. Solar cookers are also used, and the air conditioning for the hospital is solar run. 70 % of the food used is grown on the estate. They provide an orphanage, schools for all ages, vocational training, care for the elderly, a specialist cancer hospital withstate of the art machinary, and even have a solar crematorium. This shot shows students making a portable solar cooker. These lightweight devices were used on an expedition to the Himalayas to cook all the expeditions food.
Students at the Muni Seva Ashram i Goraj, India, make a portable solar cooker. These lightweight devices were used on expeditions to the Himalayas to cook all the expeditions food. Almost 100% of energy at the Ashram is generated through solar and wood grown on the estate.

Visiting the Muni Seva Ashram, in Goraj, India, is like stepping into a haven of peace and tranquility. The Ashram delivers services from the cradle to the grave. They provide an orphanage, infant and secondary schools, vocational training, old people’s sheltered housing, and a specialist cancer hospital with all the latest high tech equipment. The Ashram is 100% powered by renewable energies. They fitted their first solar panels in 1984, long before any one had heard of climate change. Since then they have invested in more and more renewable technologies. Solar panels, provide much of the energy, along with biofuel which is generated onsite from food waste and wood from the estate. 70% of the food is grown organically in the grounds. The two cars used by the Ashram run on biogas, and even the air conditioning in the hospital is solar powered.

Deepak Gadhia had been a successful Indian business man until his wife died of cancer. From that point on he dedicated the rest of his life to supporting the Ashram and has been the driving force behind its conversion to renewable and sustainable practices. His enthusiasm has been infectious, and his dedication to helping his fellow citizens humbling. His proudest moment of my tour was showing me the world’s first solar crematorium, designed by Deepak and built on the estate. Local religion dictates that upon death you are cremated. In the past locals have gone into the forest to chop down enough wood to build a funeral pyre. Long term, this is a destructive process that impacts on biodiversity. The large solar reflector, concentrates the suns rays on a metal box in which the body is placed. It can burn four bodies a day, leaving the local forest intact.

I left the ashram amazed by what I had seen and convinced that this has to be the way forward, it is possible to power our lives exclusively from renewable energy, and if we are serious about tackling climate change it is the only option we have.

Click here to see more photos of the Ashram by Ashley Cooper

Fernbank Forest Restoration, by Peter Essick

Southern two-lined salamander (Eurycea cirrigera), Fernbank Forest, Atlanta, Georgia
Southern two-lined salamander (Eurycea cirrigera), Fernbank Forest, Atlanta, Georgia. Delicate amphibians like salamanders are often the first affected by changing climate. Restoring habitat like Fernbank conserves critical biodiversity where urban areas might otherwise encroach.

Fernbank Forest is a 65-arce urban old-growth forest a few minutes from downtown Atlanta. The forest is owned by the Fernbank Museum nearby, but until recently few people were allowed to visit. The forest is an excellent example of a southern Piedmont forest with many species of old-growth trees, animals and native plants. However, in recent years the forest floor was overrun with invasive plants such as English Ivy, monkey grass and wisteria. Through the help of volunteers, donors, ecologists and donors the museum began a program of restoration four years ago. This past October, the forest was opened to the public and restoration efforts continue. It is hoped that over the coming years the forest can be restored to a fully functioning forest that will not only be enjoyed by visitors and wildlife, but also become a valuable asset in the battle against climate change.

I started photographing Fernbank Forest almost two years ago to document both the natural beauty and the restoration efforts. The difference to the forest floor was very evident this spring as many native wildflowers and ferns  began blooming in areas that were once covered in ivy. I hope that my photos will show that urban forests are not only vital green spaces for our environment, but can be a rewarding subject for an photographer willing to walk in the woods with their eyes open and camera ready.

Click here to see more photos of Fernbank Forest by Peter Essick

Clean Cookstoves and Solar Sister Make a Difference, by Joanna B. Pinneo

Mforo, Tanzania a village near Moshi, Tanzania. Solar Sister entrepreneur Fatma Mziray cooking dinner on her clean cookstove that uses wood. Fatma Mziray is a Solar Sister entrepreneur who sells both clean cookstoves and solar lanterns. Fatma heard about the cookstoves from a Solar Sister development associate and decided to try one out. The smoke from cooking on her traditional wood stove using firewood was causing her to have a lot of heath problems, her lungs congested her eyes stinging and her doctor told her that she had to stop cooking that way. Some days she felt so bad she couldn't go in to cook. Fatma said, ?Cooking for a family, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner I used to gather a large load of wood every day to use. Now with the new cook stove the same load of wood can last up to three weeks of cooking. ?With the extra time I can develop my business. I also have more time for the family. I can monitor my children?s studies. All of this makes for a happier family and a better relationship with my husband. Since using the clean cookstove no one has been sick or gone to the hospital due to flu.? Fatma sees herself helping her community because she no longer sees the people that she has sold cookstoves have red eyes, coughing or sick like they used to be. She has been able to help with the school fees for her children, purchase items for the home and a cow. ?What makes me wake up early every morning and take my cookstoves and go to my business is to be able to take my family to school as well as to get food and other family needs.?
Solar Sister entrepreneur Fatma Mziray cooking dinner on her clean cookstove in Mforo, Tanzania. Fatma is a Solar Sister entrepreneur who sells both clean cookstoves and solar lanterns.

The most dangerous activity for a woman in the developing world is cooking for her family. More than three billion people worldwide still cook and heat their homes using solid fuels. The simple act of cooking causes roughly 4.3 million premature deaths per year from respiratory and pulminary illnesses from smoke inhilation.  These deaths disproportionately affect women and children who spend the most time indoors in close proximity to dirty cook stoves.

Fatma Mziray, a vibrant thirty-eight year-old Tanzanian woman, raises six children, works on the farm with her husband, runs two side businesses and cooks most of the three meals a day for her family.  Fatma has not always been this healthy and vibrant. Like others in her community she cooked over a traditional three-stone cook stove that is highly smoky. Fatma started having chest pains, her eyes were red and watery and she was always tired. When Fatma heard about an easy to use and inexpensive efficient cook stove from a Solar Sister Tanzanian entrepreneur, she bought one. Not only did she start feeling better immediately, as did her children, but she noticed that she used a fraction of the firewood as the traditional cooking method. Now she is a Solar Sister entrepreneur. herself. Working with and organization like Solar Sister provides her with extra cash to send her children onto secondary school, an opportunity she did not have. She also helps other women in her area to improve the health of their families, simultaneously lessening local deforestation and reducing carbon emissions from traditional stoves.

In 2016 I received a Ted Scripps Fellowship at University of Colorado in Boulder to study environmental journalism and research household air pollution. Through working with Ripple Effect Images, I learned about the devastating effects of household air pollution, especially on women and children in the developing world. Great progress has been made by organizations like Solar Sister to find creative life changing and life saving solutions that also make our planet cleaner and more livable. Although the stoves are not 100% clean technology, they are significantly more efficient and healthier than the three-stone method. The Solar Sister model works because not only do women like the stove, but the peer to peer effort to sell and distribute the stoves makes local women more likely to put the new cleaner stove to use.

Click here to see more photos of Solar Sister by Joanna B. Pinneo

You can  view more stories and images of climate impact, both positive and negative, in our Environmental Photography collection. Through this collection, Aurora provides communication professionals the visual resources to effectively tell the evolving story of our environment and our planet.

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.


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.