I sold ev­ery­thing, even my fil­ters. I gave my­self two weeks on eBay to get shot of the lot. Then I walked into Calumet and spent £16,000 on Nikon gear!

Ross Wood­hall, ac­tion pho­tog­ra­pher

NPhoto - - Front Page - • See more of Ross’s pho­tos on his web­site at www.ross­wood­hall.com

Ross Wood­hall knows his life could have been very dif­fer­ent. He grew up in the West Mid­lands, Bri­tain’s in­dus­trial heart­land, and left school to work as an elec­tri­cian. It seemed his child­hood love for sport and the out­doors would be­come a thing of the past. Then he met a man in a pon­cho in a pub…

When did you be­come first in­ter­ested in pho­tog­ra­phy?

I met a bloke in a pub. This would be 1991. I met a friend who I hadn’t seen for a cou­ple of years and he turned up wear­ing a pon­cho. He had long hair and a tan.

Sounds like an in­ter­est­ing re­union?

I said, “Hello mate, where have you been?” He said, “I’ve been in Chile snow­board­ing.” I said, “Where’s Chile? What’s snow­board­ing?” I then met a mate of his, a pain­ter – of door frames, not can­vasses – and I asked him where he was work­ing, think­ing he was on one of the lo­cal sites, but he said he was work­ing in the Alps. I said, ‘You don’t need an elec­tri­cian do you?’ The next morn­ing I woke up with this hang­over and an enor­mous tele­phone num­ber on a beer mat. I looked at it, rang it, and two days later I was in the Alps!

How old were you then?

I was 22 and ut­terly hat­ing life as an elec­tri­cian and think­ing, ‘Have I got to do this for the next 40-odd years?’ I did the Duke of Ed­in­burgh’s Awards scheme as a kid and was al­ways out­doors, and all I knew was that I wanted to be out­doors.

What sort of pur­suits were you into?

Cy­cling, hill walk­ing in Wales, ca­noe­ing, kayak­ing and a lit­tle bit of climb­ing. I’d been ski­ing twice, once with the school.

Did you ever un­dergo any sort of pho­tog­ra­phy train­ing?

I had no train­ing what­so­ever. In the Alps I met one guy from Winch­ester, a rep for a ski com­pany, and we would go out snow­board­ing. He had a Canon AE-1, and

he said we should take it and take some pic­tures of us snow­board­ing. He never did, but he left the cam­era in the room and I picked it up, looked through the viewfinder and thought, ‘This is a cool piece of kit.’

When did you get your first SLR?

I went to New Zealand af­ter de­cid­ing I was go­ing to be a snow­board­ing in­struc­tor. Be­fore I went, I was told I needed an SLR, so I swapped a crash hel­met for an old Rus­sian Zenit! Af­ter the in­struc­tor’s course I got two months off and did lots of snow­board­ing. There was this girl at the top who was tak­ing pic­tures of people as they were com­ing off the chair­lift and I kept ask­ing her what shut­ter speed have you got and what aper­ture have you got? An­other day, I was snow­board­ing around and this guy came up and said he was a pho­tog­ra­pher for a snow­board­ing mag­a­zine and asked to do some pic­tures of me. It turned out his girl­friend was the girl tak­ing the pic­tures at the top of the chair­lift.

So you learnt your ba­sic knowl­edge from this cou­ple?

Yeah, that’s right. I was des­per­ate for cash at the time so I asked if they needed an­other pho­tog­ra­pher. They said, “Yeah, but we want a girl.” I kept has­sling them and three weeks later they hadn’t got a girl, so I said, “Well I have got long hair!” They gave me a cam­era, took me to the top of the chair­lift and said, “Just shoot ev­ery­thing at 1/250 sec at f/8.”

Have you worked in pho­tog­ra­phy ever since?

Yes, ever since that day. Af­ter the sea­son was over in New Zealand I went home, bought ex­actly the same equip­ment and repli­cated the busi­ness in the Alps. That cou­ple then came over from New Zealand and came to work for me in France. For years, we went back and forth like that.

What cam­era were you us­ing then?

Af­ter the Zenit, it was a Pen­tax P30T, a fully man­ual cam­era. I had a 28mm

I was told I needed an SLR, so I swapped a crash hel­met for an old Rus­sian Zenit!

Ross Wood­hall Ac­tion & life­style pho­tog­ra­pher

wide-an­gle and for the first two or three years I shot all ac­tion with just one shot. I made a mil­lion mis­takes along the way. By 1995, I cracked it.

What do you mean?

I knew what I was do­ing!

Did you then be­come more ad­ven­tur­ous in your pho­tog­ra­phy?

When I went to New Zealand all I wanted to be was a pro snow­boarder, so my dream was to fly around the planet snow­board­ing in the world’s great­est lo­ca­tions. When I picked up the cam­era I re­alised then that I wasn’t go­ing to make it as a snow­boarder be­cause I’ve got too much of a sur­vival in­stinct. I’d peer over a 60-foot cliff and

think, ‘Hang on, I might break my legs here’, whereas all the top pro­fes­sion­als didn’t care less if they broke their legs.

You were more risk averse?

A lit­tle bit, yes. I just had that lit­tle bit of self-preser­va­tion and I thought the guy be­hind the cam­era has got a bet­ter ca­reer

The cam­era I reach for is the D800. If I’m shoot­ing ac­tion, or in a en­vi­ron­ment where the light’s poor, the D4 is fan­tas­tic

Ross Wood­hall Ac­tion & life­style pho­tog­ra­pher

prospect. I was so into pho­tog­ra­phy at this point, so I changed my plan. In­stead of be­ing a top snow­boarder I was go­ing to be a top ski and snow­board pho­tog­ra­pher.

Where are your favourite lo­ca­tions?

New Zealand is fan­tas­tic. You can’t go wrong. Nor­way and the Arc­tic Cir­cle is great. As soon as you get into the moun­tains it’s all bril­liant. I nearly made it to Chile and Ar­gentina, but it’s still on the hit list. I quite fancy horse rid­ing with the gau­chos. Ja­pan too, I’d like to go there, but Fukushima has put me off a bit.

What was your first Nikon cam­era?

I only jumped to Nikon about four years ago. In 1995 I was weigh­ing up my op­tions. All the Aussie guys I worked with were on FM2s with mo­tor­drives. I was all set to get an FM2 and an F4. Then the Canon EOS 5 came out. It was ca­pa­ble of shoot­ing five frames per sec­ond, and that and the silent wave aut­o­fo­cus sys­tem swung it for us. All the Aussie guys switched too so we were Canon for a long time, maybe 12 to 14 years. But when dig­i­tal came Canon started play­ing this game with their sports cam­eras, which only used a cropped chip, so as soon as the Nikon D3 came out my ears pricked up. I got the D3 and some lenses to try for a week and the files were beau­ti­fully smooth. I thought, ‘That’s it, I’ll do it.’ I sold my Canon gear, my Has­sel­blads, my Mamiyas. I even sold my fil­ters. I gave my­self two weeks on eBay

to get shot of the lot. Then I walked into Calumet and spent £16,000 on Nikon gear!

What kit is in your cam­era bag for a typ­i­cal day’s shoot?

It de­pends on the client’s needs. Gen­er­ally, the cam­era I reach for is the D800. If I’m shoot­ing ac­tion, or in an en­vi­ron­ment where the light’s poor, the D4 is fan­tas­tic.

How many cam­era bod­ies do you own?

I have a D4, D800 and D300s. I’m think­ing of get­ting an­other D800, but the D4 files are so su­perb I can blow them up to 300Mb and it’s not an is­sue at all. With the D800 you don’t need a medium-for­mat.

Lenses, I’ve got the 14-24mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.4, and I’ve got an 18-200mm travel lens, plus the 24-120mm f/4. I re­ally like the 200-400mm f/4 too, but I hire those when I need them.

That was a long list; so what is your ‘desert is­land’ lens?

Well, I’ve just hired a 24-120mm f/4 be­cause I broke my 24-70mm, so I’d go for that. With a D800, if you put the DX crop on the 24-120mm, it’s go­ing to push it al­most to 200mm. So you’ve ef­fec­tively got a 24-200mm at a con­stant f/4, and it’s a re­ally good qual­ity lens.

What about flash?

I’ve got a cou­ple of Nikon Speed­lights, but I use Elinchrom for stu­dio work.

What about when you’re out­doors? The Elinchrom again. Used re­motely the range can be limited but I’ve got the Pock­etWizards as well. I’m toy­ing with the new Speed­lights at the mo­ment be­cause they’re a bit more pow­er­ful. I’m look­ing at us­ing them for por­traits.

How do you re­lax?

Fly fish­ing. I want to go to Alaska, get in a float­plane and go fly fish­ing. My fish­ing ideas are out there. That’s one of my re­tire­ment plans, fly fish­ing pho­tog­ra­phy.

It’s very dif­fer­ent to the high-speed sub­jects you’re renowned for…

I know. When you hit that fish, the pulse is rac­ing and there’s an adren­a­line rush.

I don’t care if I don’t catch any­thing be­cause I can sit by the river and watch the wa­ter.

It sounds hypnotic?

It is hypnotic and fly fish­ing is such an art. To catch a fish is such a skill, to put a fly into the right place so that it looks nat­u­ral. Fly fish­ing is right up there.

I don’t re­ally do high-end fash­ion or fash­ion in the stu­dio – I like work­ing out­doors. I find the back­drops are bet­ter!

Ross Wood­hall Ac­tion & life­style pho­tog­ra­pher

What’s the odd­est thing in your bag?

I used to have a beer bot­tle cap, but I lost it and I’m gut­ted be­cause when I got it I was sit­ting in a bar in Alaska af­ter a mind-blow­ing day. We had been shoot­ing the World Ex­treme Snow­board­ing Cham­pi­onships, and were dropped off on a glacier at sun­set and snow­boarded down in a per­fect pink alpen­glow in waist-deep snow. Got picked up by a yel­low school bus, went to a bar, I had a bot­tle of beer and I put the bot­tle cap in my pocket. I used it to take tri­pod mounts off, like a screw­driver. I used to take that every­where with me.

Also, I’ve got a pack of Co-co­damol in case any­one gets in­jured. I’ve got a sur­vival blan­ket and laun­dry bags to put over the flash heads to act as a dif­fuser.

You are now shoot­ing out­door ad­ven­ture fash­ion. Why?

There’s me and an­other pho­tog­ra­pher push­ing it. We were both work­ing on the same idea with­out talk­ing to each other. We were both push­ing the in­dus­try our­selves to im­prove their game. We’ve gone to clients and said, ‘Why don’t we shoot like this?’ Ten years ago I don’t think the flash sys­tems were avail­able, the tech­nol­ogy wasn’t avail­able, es­pe­cially for the lo­ca­tion stuff, but when clients see the re­sults they buy into it.

Where have you been shoot­ing?

Mostly the UK and Europe. It’s been a slow burner be­cause I don’t re­ally do high-end fash­ion or fash­ion in the stu­dio – I like

work­ing out­doors. I find the back­drops are bet­ter! We did a job for a men’s mag­a­zine in Canada on a glacier at 3,400 me­tres. They were re­ally pleased with the re­sults.

How many Gi­ga­bytes of im­ages do you think you shoot in a week or a month?

In March I racked up two ter­abytes. It’s ac­tion, so I’m shoot­ing at 10 frames per sec­ond. I would say at the mo­ment it’s typ­i­cally be­tween 500 gi­ga­bytes and a ter­abyte per month. This month is a bit slow but next month might be crazy. The D800 files are so huge we have to down­size them to give them to the stock agencies.

Could you shoot a wed­ding if you had to?

I’m do­ing one on Sun­day. Not com­mer­cially.

So it’s for friends? It’s their wed­ding present. I do wed­dings for re­ally close friends. I shoot them and then sup­ply them with a hard­back book with all the pic­tures. I have thought about do­ing wed­dings and I know a lot of guys who earn a re­ally good liv­ing from it. But you know, you’re deal­ing with a woman on the most stress­ful day of her life… It’s not even that, it’s what hap­pens if it all goes wrong? I can’t be held re­spon­si­ble for that. A £170,000 shoot might go out the win­dow, but not that! There’s no fury like a bride scorned, so I keep well away from that.

What type of as­sign­ment pre­sents the big­gest chal­lenge?

I’ve got one com­ing up next week. It’s a fash­ion shoot and they want it shot in front of a fire­works dis­play and a bon­fire. I’ve got to try to fig­ure that one out.

Who is that for?

It’s a UK fash­ion brand called Luke 1977. Their idea was ‘Blinded by the Light’ – ev­ery year has a theme. The con­cept is go­ing to be bon­fires be­cause by the time it comes out it will be around bon­fire time. I’m think­ing of us­ing the Nikon Speed­lights

be­cause I can get rear cur­tain sync on that and I’ll prob­a­bly use slower shut­ter speeds, then ping them with flash and get some blur.

Is fash­ion part of a plan to wean yourself off the slopes as you get older?

I’ve been shoot­ing ski­ing pho­tos for over 20 years. If I’ve shot one skier jump­ing over a cliff I’ve shot a mil­lion. It all starts to get a bit samey. I was a great ski pho­tog­ra­pher, but I thought, ‘There’s got to be more to pho­tog­ra­phy than this.’ So we moved back to the UK and started com­mut­ing to the Alps. As I was back in the UK I thought I’d bet­ter start shoot­ing a bit of moun­tain bik­ing, a bit of run­ning, and now we’ll pretty much shoot any­thing you like, in­clud­ing out­door fash­ion.

The cam­era is the per­fect medium to com­ple­ment your in­ter­ests. The cam­era opens doors; let the cam­era open the door and just walk in

Ross Wood­hall Ac­tion & life­style pho­tog­ra­pher

What has been your great­est mo­ment?

I re­mem­ber stand­ing on a glacier in Alaska once. We went in to land and it had been snow­ing heav­ily. The week be­fore the pi­lot had got his plane stuck. A week later we’re up there and the pi­lot is freak­ing out be­cause he didn’t want to get stuck again, and he came in too fast and lit­er­ally rolled off the edge of the glacier. He pulled back, did a loop around and came back to land in his tracks. The guide and I got out and he took off again. We stood there and the guide said, “Lis­ten to that. Just say noth­ing and lis­ten to that.” It was the sound of si­lence and it was roar­ing in my ears. So we’re just stand­ing there, say­ing noth­ing and lis­ten­ing to the sound of si­lence. Then a but­ter­fly flew past and I thought ‘What the hell is a but­ter­fly do­ing at the top of a glacier in Alaska?’

If young Ross Wood­hall were start­ing out to­day, would there be any­thing he would do dif­fer­ently?

Be a hedge fund man­ager! I don’t know. Would I go to col­lege? I’m not sure I would. I think they beat the life out of kids be­fore they even start. I’d prob­a­bly start ear­lier, at 16 rather than 22.

How much longer do you think you’ll keep snow­board­ing?

I’ll keep do­ing that for as long as I can moun­tain bike, which is for as long as I can walk. I will never stop. I’ll just carry on un­til I phys­i­cally can­not do it any more. So snow­board­ing and moun­tain bik­ing are big­ger pas­sions than pho­tog­ra­phy? You know what? If I won the lot­tery, I wouldn’t change any­thing. My life is fan­tas­tic, re­ally. Snow­board­ing is a pas­sion, so is moun­tain bik­ing, pho­tog­ra­phy, fly fish­ing, food, mu­sic. I’ve tried to cre­ate a job out of ev­ery­thing that I’m into. The good thing about pho­tog­ra­phy is that if you find some­thing else that you are into, you can shoot that as well. The cam­era is the per­fect medium to com­ple­ment your in­ter­ests. The cam­era opens doors; let the cam­era open the door and just walk in.

On the edge D3s, Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, 1/100 sec, f/9, ISO200

Fling­ing up snow

Nikon D4, Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, 1/2000 sec, f/8, ISO200

Sheer ef­for t Nikon D800, Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED , 1/500 sec, f/5.6, ISO200

Bri ght on the pis te Nikon D4, Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, 1/2000 sec, f/8, ISO200

Run­ning in win­try shro pshir e Nikon D800, Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G, 1/800 sec, f/5, ISO400

moun­tai n bi king cra zy Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED , 1/125 sec, f/8, ISO50

Wra p up war m Nikon D800, Nikon AF 35mm f/2D, 1/250 sec, f/14, ISO400

Chalet Bra mes, merib el Nikon D3x, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED , 1 sec, f/22, ISO200

Ho me com­for


Nikon D3x, Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, 0.5 sec, f/3.5, ISO100

fa ncy fis h sup­per (ABOVE RIGHT


Nikon D800, Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED , 1 sec, f/22, ISO200

Alpine cab le cars Nikon D4, Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, 1/1000 sec, f/14, ISO200

Fas hio n shoo t, Wa les (left)

Nikon D4, Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

, 1/500 sec, f/6.3, ISO400

Suit by Ap­s­ley (abov e) Nikon D800, Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, 1/500 sec, f/4, ISO500

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