Category Archives: Photographer Q&A

Photographer Q&A with Robbie Shone

Panoramic view of the main chamber of Gaping Gill in flood
Panoramic view of the main chamber of Gaping Gill in flood

Aurora Photographer Robbie Shone has taken his camera to some of the most wild and remote places on the planet. With an overwhelming interest in capturing unbelievable, unique images, Robbie has photographed some of the world’s most spectacular caves.

Aurora Photos: What led you to your current focus on cave photography?

Robbie Shone: I have been very interested, to the point of obsessed with underground photography for almost ten years now, because of the many challenges it presents. To begin with the canvas is black, and it is your job to create a picture from the cave you descend. There are many challenges in simply getting down a cave, especially some of the larger and deeper systems around the world where only very experienced cave explorers can access. It is also this aspect that I get my rush out of. Knowing that not many other adventure photographers can achieve successful results in this harsh environment.

A.P: Can you walk us through the steps you take to prepare for a descent?

R.S: To begin with I make sure all my camera/lighting equipment is clean and in full working order. Then I charge up lots of AA batteries and camera batteries. I have several spare batteries for all my strobes. The last thing I want to happen is to run out of battery power whilst underground a long way from the surface.

Then I check that my waterproof Peli Case’s are still waterproof, lined with soft foam matting and each carry a clean towel to dry my hands on before I pick out my strobe or camera/lens.

If we’re on a big shoot in a vast underground chasm, I would hand pick a team of dedicated, trust-worthy, capable cavers who I know will perform underground and help me make the photograph. If we need to use PMR Radios to communicate, then I check that they all work, set to the same frequency and are clean and ready to go. Enough to go around. Failing that, I would brief everyone before we descend to check everyone is happy with the cave and happy to help.

A.P: A lot of people find caves frightening, yet you spend much of your time underground. What motivates you to explore such foreign landscapes?

R.S:Simply ‘Discovering the unknown’ and walking/climbing/abseiling(rappelling)/swimming into totally new and un-touched worlds where you know it has never seen light before. You have absolutely no idea what you are going to find, because no-one has been there before. Forget Mount Everest where hundreds summit each season; cave exploration is the final frontier of exploration on Earth

A.P: What was the most thrilling experience you’ve had while being under ground?

R.S: Hanging 300m off the floor and 200m below the roof of the second deepest pit in the world. Photographing Miao Keng, in China’s Wulong County (Chongqing) was very exposed and very challenging. We (the dedicated team) flew out for one month simply to make one photograph of this shaft looking straight down the heart of the blackness. It took us all over 2 hours to rappel down it and 4.5 hours to climb the 32 ropes to get out.

A.P: In our Highlighted Photograph of the Gaping Gill in Flood, can you tell us what it was like that day?

R.S: The day we shot Gaping Gill in Flood was a very wet day. There were half a dozen rescues out of caves in the Yorkshire Dales of people who had got trapped in flooding caves or had been caught out by the rapidly rising water levels. We ran in and rappelled down the ropes as quick as we could and made the panorama of the main chamber just as the waterfall was is total flood. I was unable to communicate with anyone around me. Forget radios, they didn’t work. Mark Richardson (the guy in the shot) had to run back to me after each shot to warm up and get out of the heavy spray that blew around him. I had to wipe my lens every six seconds and after every exposure. It was a real challenge and people soon got very cold (January this year).

To see more work from Robbie Shone, visit Aurora Photos.

Photographer Q&A with Bridget Besaw

Bridget Besaw / Aurora Photos

Aurora Photographer Bridget Besaw has been involved in environmental issues since an early age. Her photography tells the stories of our environment and the impact of how humans effect their habitat. We recently interviewed Bridget about her book From the Land and her upcoming projects.

Aurora Photos: You spent a great deal of time working to capture the images that are now published in From the Land, what was it like to be a part of a project like this, and what did you hope to accomplish in this project?

Bridget Besaw: It was a privilege to be able to spend so much time with people who have dedicated their lives and livelihood to creating healthy, local food. My goal was to create images that brought the viewer to the farm, to the soil, and to the people who tend it. I set out to make imagery that illustrated how closely connected we actually are to the soil and the seasons and the cycles of nature–if we choose to remember this connection.

A.P: You have focused your work environmental photography, when and how did you spark an interest in this?

B.B: I have been an environmental activist since I was a kid fishing in streams in my back yard with my dad…wondering about the health of the rivers and the fish, asking questions about wildlife and how humans were effecting their habitat from the tree-fort we made out back. After years of newspaper and magazine photography on a variety of issues that didn’t interest me, I began to develop large-scale projects that nurtured my love of nature and my desire to protect it. I realized that for me, an in-depth body of work for a conservation organization had more power to raise awareness than a single magazine article, and the creation of the work, the relationship with the organizations and the stories, was just more fulfilling all-around for me.

A.P: Is there one particular conservation project you have a deep passion for, or are you involved in any and all that you can be?

B.B: Thats a great question! One I’ve never been asked before! I recently decided to focus on stories that have a component of food/nutrition in them. I believe that the health of our bodies is directly related to how functional our relationship to the planet is. To be healthy, we must have an understanding of our delicate connection to the planet’s natural resources. So I am interested in projects that address this reality like the comparison of large-scale, high-impact agriculture vs local & organic farming, sustainable fisheries vs unsustainable ocean harvests, and ultimately–in the necessity to adapt our food consumption practices that humans must accept now in order to live in health– on a healthy planet.

A.P: What advice do have you for amateur photographers looking to break into the environmental and conservation side of photography?

B.B: Take one of my workshops! Ha! Just kidding…but I have created the “Conservation Photojournalism” workshop that I teach at the Maine Media Workshops and now I have created similar ones here in Patagonia, that pair up students with organizations and give them an assignment for the duration of the workshop. The feedback so far has been tremendous in that it gives students a safe, nurturing environment to tackle an environmental story for a “client” and then to deliver it by week’s end.

Otherwise my best suggestion is to seek out a story or an issue in your area, in your backyard, that you care about and then find the organization that is working on this issue. There most certainly is one, and they most certainly need photography to help them in their efforts. The relationship may at first be one of a simple trade of access to their people and their story in exchange for your photographs, but often those relationships build into long-term fulfilling client situations, all the while creating a portfolio and demonstrating a commitment to telling conservation stories.

A.P: Do you have any new and exciting upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

B.B: I just finished the filming of a short documentary on the salmon farming industry in Chile. I hope to enlighten American consumers about the levels of antibiotics and other chemicals this food is produced with, and to also raise awareness among Chileans about the environmental effects of the industry on Chilean waters. This will be released in both the US and Chile.

Also this summer I begin a multi-year project for the Penobscot River Restoration Trust documenting the removal of 3 hydrodams from the Penobscot River–a globally significant river restoration project that will open up 1000 miles of fish habitat and restore recreational and traditional fishing opportunities along the river.

Bridget Besaw / Aurora Photos
Bridget Besaw / Aurora Photos

To view more images from Bridget Besaw, visit Aurora Photos.

Photographer Q&A with Nick Hall

Nick Hall / Aurora Photos

Aurora Photographer Nick Hall was recently featured in PDN’s 30 2011 here is a brief question and answer with Nick about his Photography and work.

Aurora Photos: Your series Seasons of Subsistence on the Yup’ik Eskimos in Alaska has been an on going project. Can you shed some light on where the idea came from and how the project continues to unfold?

Nick Hall: I have been spending my summers in Bristol Bay, Alaska for several years now, I suppose I would say it has become my second home. In the summer of 2009 I spent a week at a traditional Yup’ik summer fishing camp. It was the first time I had ever witnessed the traditional subsistence activities of Yup’ik Eskimos first hand and I was utterly captivated. There was a lot of down time in between fishing for me to chat with all the people there and I was overwhelmed by what I was learning about the Native Alaskan subsistence lifestyle. I promised myself then and there that I was going to develop a personal project to explore this story. The story is made even more compelling to me as a former environmental scientist by the fact that a British (I’m originally a Brit) mining corporation is proposing to build the world’s largest open-pit mine right in the heart of Bristol Bay and the headwaters of its salmon rivers, which I must add are the most productive salmon rivers left on Earth. I called the project Seasons of Subsistence and I have been visiting Bristol Bay every season for the past two years.

The project has evolved a lot since I first imagined it. Last summer, 2010, I took a bunch of location lighting gear up to Bristol Bay and created a series of environmental protraits. My intention was to capture the people I had been photographing perviously and also the immense landscape of Bristol Bay. I think the results are pretty dramatic and there has been a great response from them. On my last trip to Bristol Bay, just this past March, we went even further with the project and shot a short documentary film. We are hoping to release the film in the next few weeks. I have teamed up with a super awesome Producer/Editor and I am just so excited about the convergence of still and motion technology right now. There are so many cool ways to blend the media (stills and motion) and develop seriously rich narratives.

A.P: Your portfolio showcases editorial projects, photo essays and commercial work. Can you share what the transition has been like moving into a more commercial realm?

N.H: This transition is something I have been working on and is still a work in progress. I think it is important to have a diversified business model that incorporates commercial and editorial clients. Also from a creative point of view I love the diversity of challenges one faces on editorial projects compared to commercial. I can’t imagine not doing a mixture of both.

Nick Hall / Aurora Photos
Nick Hall / Aurora Photos

To view more work from Nick Hall, visit Aurora Photos.

Photographer Q&A with Michael Hanson

Breaking Through Concrete (January 2012)

Aurora Photographer Michael Hanson recently took some time from his busy schedule to answer questions and talk about his upcoming book, Breaking Through Concrete.

Aurora Photos: Your photographs have you all over the world, how do you keep up with such a crazy travel schedule?

Michael Hanson: Lots of sticky notes on where to go next. I have struggle to be more organized than I naturally am to keep all the rental cars, flights, etc in order. I definitely travel differently than I did when I first started, but the anticipation and excitement of working outside the NW remains the same. I’ve become more targeted in my approach to a trip. I’m not wandering around aimlessly, though a huge part of me really misses that style. Photography is a key to people’s lives and homes. It’s an easy way to get access that other travelers don’t have, and I feel very fortunate to see other places and cultures through the camera. One thing the schedule has done has made part of me crave the Northwest and home. I love waking in my house and seeing my friends in Seattle, but after a short rest, I’m anxious to get back on the road. It’s a win-win, I guess.

A.P: You recently finished a study on Urban Farming, can you please share with us your experience and insight on this issue?

M.H: I was in Bolivia working on a project when news came in that the publisher had signed on to the idea of an urban farming ‘tour’ across the US. Immediately, we decided we couldn’t just drive a Subaru or a pickup truck to all these farms for 7 weeks; we had to do it with a certain style. In Bolivia, immaculate, white, retro-buses carry locals from one point to another. These buses are a brilliant white with an almost neon, summer popsicle colored stripe on the side. This inspiration led us to buy a short school bus which had been converted to an RV and ran on a combination veggie grease and diesel. We painted it white with a blue stripe on the side. We named him Lewis Lewis after a farming friend of ours who had recently passed away. We traveled for 7 weeks from Seattle to California across the Midwest to New Orleans and up the East Coast finally ending in Chicago. Each farm represents a different aspect of this urban farming movement. Some work with youth, some work with ex-incarcerated men and women, some are on rooftops, some are in the heart of a suburb and one was a collection of everyone’s yard. Of all the trips I’ve be lucky enough to be a part of, this remains at the top of the list. Every day was wild. I knew zero about diesel engines when we started and now I feel much more comfortable under the hood, or at least under the hood of a short school bus. I am sure that will come in handy again one day. Seriously though, sometimes the most adventurous trips aren’t in exotic locations or foreign countries. I can’t imagine a trip with more highs and lows, but I look back at this project as my favorite.

A.P: When will the book be Published and how can we find out more information about Urban Farming?

M.H: Breaking Through Concrete :: Building an Urban Farm Revival will be published in January 2012 by Univ. California Press. You can visit www.breakingthroughconcrete.com over the next few months as the website begins to get rebuilt in anticipation of the book release.

Michael Hanson / Aurora Photos
Michael Hanson / Aurora Photos

To view Michael Hanson’s Select Portfolio, visit Aurora Select.
To view more work from Michael Hanson, visit Aurora Photos.

Photographer Q&A with Craig Pulsifer on Watertight


Aurora Photographer Craig Pulsifer was recently faced with a photographer’s nightmare: what to do when your model doesn’t arrive? Like a true professional, Craig took matters into his own hands.

Aurora Photos: Please share with us the backstory on how you ended up starring in your own video?

Craig Pulsifer: The reason I’m in the video and not the athletic, self-assured Filipina who was cast for the part is because the talent missed her flight.  I either had to work on both sides of the lens or call the whole thing off, so I went for it.

A.P: You seem able to adapt to any situation that is thrown at you, how has this skill impacted your career in photography?

C.P: I’m not sure if my adaptability has impacted my career, or if the career has made me adaptable.  Early on, we moved our whole family of seven into the one-bedroom suite of our house and rented the upstairs for a whole year, just to survive.  Through that, I learned how to put an old Filipino proverb into practice that says, “If the sheets are short, bend your legs.”  It taught me to improvise.

That said, adaptability is the key to all good location work.  Dealing with people, places, weather, gear and other mysteries will always bring surprises.  That’s why I tend to write my plans in pencil rather than ink.  It leaves room for happy accidents to occur that you could never script or arrange; thinks like, a break in the clouds, an amazing location… and maybe even acting ability when your talent jams on you.

To view more work from Craig Pulsifer, visit Aurora Photos.