Corey Rich

The ac­claimed ac­tion ace shares his pas­sion for Nikon kit

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Corey Rich is lean­ing back in a chair, hav­ing just re­turned home after six weeks shoot­ing in Slove­nia, Switzer­land and Italy. “One of my skill sets is pow­er­ing through the jet lag.” In less than a week he’ll be fly­ing to Aus­tria, and then back to his Cal­i­for­nia home for a day, be­fore jet­ting off again to Tahiti. It sounds ex­haust­ing, but I’d love to have his Air Miles…

Are you much of an ac­tion man?

If you go back to the be­gin­ning, I first fell in love with rock climb­ing and then I picked up a cam­era to doc­u­ment those ad­ven­tures. Deep in my soul I still love be­ing out­side and be­ing a par­tic­i­pant in the ad­ven­ture sports that I pho­to­graph. Ilive in Lake Ta­hoe, Cal­i­for­nia, which is ar­guably the ad­ven­ture cap­i­tal of the world. My en­tire life is de­signed around the abil­ity to get out­side and rock climb and moun­tain climb and swim in the lake and go on ski trips, so I guess the an­swer is: ad­ven­ture is re­ally at the cen­tre of who I am and what I love to do. It was such a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion to bring a cam­era along to doc­u­ment those week­end ad­ven­tures.

So when did you first pick up a cam­era to shoot rock climb­ing?

It’s a pretty funny story. When I was 13 years old, I won the pole-up con­test at my ju­nior school sum­mer camp be­cause I was a gym­nast. One of my teach­ers took note of this short, strong kid and said, ‘Hey, you want to go rock climb­ing?’ He was an old Yosemite rock climber. That week­end he and an­other teacher and my brother, we had our first rock climb­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and it com­pletely blew my mind, the men­tal and phys­i­cal chal­lenge. It be­came a rou­tine to go rock climb­ing ev­ery week­end, then I’d come back to this school­yard and weave yarns of my week­end ad­ven­tures. Then I kind of had this epiphany that, to tell a re­ally great story, you need vis­ual proof, so I bor­rowed my dad’s SLR and re­al­ized, after the first week­end, that it wasn’t just about hav­ing a nice cam­era, but it’s know­ing how to use it, and that was it – the par­al­lel pur­suits were born. From that point for­ward I con­tin­ued to go climb­ing ev­ery week­end, but along came my fa­ther’s cam­era.

What was your first pub­lished pho­to­graph?

You know, that also hap­pened early on. I was just so hun­gry to im­prove my pho­tog­ra­phy skills, I pur­sued ev­ery av­enue pos­si­ble. I went to the li­brary and I read ev­ery book on pho­tog­ra­phy, I signed up for the com­mu­nity year­book pro­gram in high school where I could take pic­tures. My English teacher also hap­pened to run the news­pa­per pro­gram at the high school and it turned out his wife was one of the man­ag­ing ed­i­tors of the real news­pa­per in town. They kind of slipped me into the news­pa­per to start shoot­ing the crap­pi­est stuff you could pos­si­bly shoot – I shot the real es­tate sec­tion, which meant you drove round and shot pho­tos of houses, but when you’re a kid in high school that’s big time! So, by the time I was 16 or 17 years old I was shoot­ing for the news­pa­per, the An­te­lope Val­ley Press, and it was a le­git­i­mate 60,000 daily cir­cu­la­tion news­pa­per with a photo staff of five or six folks who re­ally took me un­der their wing. I think they loved hav­ing this kid around who was so pas­sion­ate about what he was do­ing. I just couldn’t be­lieve that I had free film and an en­tire pool of cam­eras to work with. That was re­ally the be­gin­ning of it, I was get­ting paid for tak­ing pic­tures.

What’s the most sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment that has made a real dif­fer­ence to your pho­tog­ra­phy?

My an­swer is per­haps a lit­tle un­ex­pected to what the av­er­age pho­tog­ra­pher might say. It wasn’t the switch from film to dig­i­tal. That was nice, I mean res­o­lu­tion got bet­ter and work­flows got sim­pler and I didn’t have to travel with a hun­dred rolls of film, but fun­da­men­tally noth­ing changed – we were still shoot­ing im­ages in a rec­tan­gle. There were two huge shifts for me. The first was video-en­abled DSLR cam­eras that al­lowed a guy like me, a clas­si­cally trained stills pho­to­jour­nal­ist, to press a record but­ton but have con­trol of that vis­ual in the same way that I could con­trol a still pho­to­graph. That was one of those gi­ant junc­tions in the road for me where I went from be­ing a stills pho­tog­ra­pher to be­ing a film­maker.

And just in the past two years there has been an­other of these big shifts, which was the launch of vir­tual re­al­ity cam­eras. The Nikon KeyMis­sion has yet again totally trans­formed where my time has gone and what I’m do­ing with my fo­cus and pas­sion. I think if I were to block out my ca­reer so far, it’s pho­tog­ra­phy, film­mak­ing and vir­tual re­al­ity. I was re­ally for­tu­nate to help Nikon launch its KeyMis­sion cam­era, which meant, by de­fault, I was im­mersed in the world of vir­tual re­al­ity early. On my trip to Europe I was direct­ing a project for NBC’s Big

Chan­nel in vir­tual re­al­ity, pro­fil­ing Olympic ath­letes. There have been these in­cred­i­ble shifts, from be­ing the pho­tog­ra­pher to shoot­ing video, to then direct­ing video projects, to now shoot­ing and direct­ing vir­tual re­al­ity projects, and Nikon is the cat­a­lyst for these changes in my ca­reer be­cause of the tech­nol­ogy in the prod­ucts the com­pany has launched.

Ad­ven­ture is re­ally at the cen­tre of who I am and what I love to do. It was such a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion to bring a cam­era along

Do stills, video and vir­tual re­al­ity seem like three dif­fer­ent strands?

Well, fun­da­men­tally they all come back to that cen­tral crit­i­cal theme, which is: what are you try­ing to say? Say some­thing com­pelling, make those vi­su­als com­pelling. Pho­tog­ra­phy is very much an in­di­vid­ual ac­tiv­ity, it’s like run­ning a marathon: you go out there alone, it’s you run­ning, you make the pic­tures. Video is no longer a solo game: now, you’re on a foot­ball team, you’re re­ly­ing on the guys to your right and to your left, and there’s some­one throw­ing the ball to you and it’s an or­ches­trated ef­fort. Vir­tual re­al­ity is very sim­i­lar: it’s just 360-de­gree video and so, again, it re­quires a team. It’s no longer a solo sport, so the work­flows have com­pletely changed.

What has been the main chal­lenge of shoot­ing vir­tual re­al­ity?

Wrap­ping my head around vir­tual re­al­ity has been much more of a stretch be­cause it truly is a new way of think­ing, for ev­ery­one. I think, as a so­ci­ety, we’re still try­ing to fig­ure out what is vir­tual re­al­ity? How do we de­liver it? What is the plat­form? What is the most com­pelling use of vir­tual re­al­ity? As a pho­tog­ra­pher, my en­tire ca­reer, up un­til press­ing record on the Key-Mis­sion 360, was to look through a viewfinder and con­trol what I even­tu­ally wanted my viewer to see. Vir­tual re­al­ity is such the op­po­site, it’s you press the but­ton and you have to accept this re­al­ity. You can’t con­trol what your viewer will see; your viewer, in the end, is go­ing to have the abil­ity to nav­i­gate through that sphere and look at any part of that sphere they deem in­ter­est­ing. So, you’re re­spon­si­ble not just for a 16x9 rec­tan­gle, you’re now re­spon­si­ble for the en­tire sphere, and that con­scious­ness of what do you want your viewer to see, or what could they pos­si­bly see?

Is choos­ing the lo­ca­tion there­fore the most im­por­tant de­ci­sion to make be­fore hit­ting the record but­ton of a vir­tual re­al­ity cam­era?

I think it’s a big part. It’s choos­ing the lo­ca­tion, it’s fun­da­men­tally mak­ing a de­ci­sion: are you will­ing to al­low your viewer to un­der­stand how the cam­era got into that lo­ca­tion? Mean­ing, are they go­ing to see the pole that the cam­era is mounted to? It’s eas­ier to hide a tri­pod when you’re shoot­ing a rec­tan­gle. If you are go­ing to put that vir­tual re­al­ity cam­era on a drone, are you go­ing to al­low the viewer to see the drone be­cause it’s hang­ing below it? Are you go­ing to be in the shot, or are you some­how go­ing to get out of the shot as the cam­era op­er­a­tor? That means ei­ther you accept that you’re there or you’re hid­ing be­hind a bush ev­ery time you press record! So, there’s a lot of those de­ci­sions in vir­tual re­al­ity. Is the cam­era go­ing to be sta­tion­ary, or is the cam­era go­ing to be mov­ing? Is the car driv­ing by the vir­tual re­al­ity cam­era, or is the vir­tual re­al­ity cam­era mounted on the car?

So, what do you favour?

I’m not try­ing to draw at­ten­tion to how I made the shot. I want the viewer fo­cused on the sub­ject, so in a per­fect world for me I want the viewer to be fo­cused on the con­tent first, the sub­ject, and then, maybe if they’re a cam­era geek: ‘Wow, I won­der how he did this shot?’ But I don’t want them to see the tri­pod, I don’t want them to see

me, I don’t want the drone present in the shot, but that’s hard! Hid­ing those things cre­ates a lot of work, and it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to hide cer­tain as­pects of how the cam­era is mov­ing, or how it’s mounted.

Have you stuck it on the hel­met of a rock climber?

Sure. You know, I’m try­ing to think of where we haven’t put a vir­tual re­al­ity cam­era! One of the im­ages that re­ally stands out is we’re shoot­ing with a young rock climber, one of best fe­male rock climbers in the world; her name is Ashima Shi­raishi, she was 14 or 15 years old and we went to Thai­land with her. She was climb­ing over the wa­ter with no ropes. It’s called deep wa­ter solo­ing, it’s spec­tac­u­lar stuff and we were shoot­ing vir­tual re­al­ity and there was a sta­lag­mite, a tufa, hang­ing down from these lime­stone for­ma­tions. We mounted a KeyMis­sion to that sta­lag­mite 40 feet above the wa­ter, and then Ashima climbs past.

An­other great one, I was re­cently in Nige­ria shoot­ing on this Olympic project and we were shoot­ing in a mar­ket and we got this great shot of a woman walk­ing by with a bunch of car­rots on her head. I thought, ‘Wait, now let’s put the cam­era on the car­rots!’ So we mounted the vir­tual re­al­ity cam­era on her head, on a car­rot, as she walked through the mar­ket. That’s the beauty of a small cam­era like the KeyMis­sion, the only lim­iter is your imag­i­na­tion.

My ad­vice is fo­cus on the fun part. Wor­ry­ing about run­ning a busi­ness is not the fun part. The fun part is get­ting out there and mak­ing the best pic­tures and the best videos

Of all your as­sign­ments, does one stand out as the big­gest chal­lenge?

The joy in this ca­reer is that ev­ery project is dif­fer­ent. Never do I do the same shoot twice. You know that old saying, you never step in the same river twice be­cause it’s al­ways chang­ing and mov­ing, and Ifeel that about my ca­reer. What I love most about this job is that half of it is mak­ing amaz­ing pic­tures and the other half is just prob­lem solv­ing. It’s not let­ting any ob­sta­cle get in the way. What I still love is when Iget caught off guard by a new ex­pe­ri­ence. Ithink we’re ready to go and a curve ball gets thrown at me, and I love hit­ting curve balls!

We did a shoot in Pak­istan, in the Karako­ram Moun­tains, a cou­ple of years ago. Part of it was the lo­gis­tics: we brought some of the first cam­era drones into Pak­istan and get­ting the drones through cus­toms and fig­ur­ing out, ‘Can we ac­tu­ally fly a drone at 21,000 feet? Are we go­ing to make vi­su­als?’ was part of the chal­lenge. I love be­ing on the edge and ask­ing my­self, ‘Is this go­ing to work?’ I cross my fin­gers, pre­par­ing for the worst and hop­ing for the best.

What’s in your kit bag these days?

It’s a very dif­fer­ent bag, that’s for sure! The KeyMis­sion bag is tiny. I carry six in a padded brick the size of a lap­top. Then I have 20 bat­ter­ies and a bunch of mi­cro SD cards. I have a 10x4x6in bag block that car­ries all the KeyMis­sion cam­eras, and then I have a gi­gan­tic Pel­i­can case and an­other rolling bag with all the gear we’re us­ing to mount them! Not to men­tion a drone and suc­tion cups, ad­he­sive mounts, metal rods, grip tape, bands, magic arms. The fun part of shoot­ing on KeyMis­sion is that we are all to­gether in­no­vat­ing and think­ing about what are the best tools for mount­ing these de­vices. So that is the joke: here’s this lit­tle cam­era that weighs vir­tu­ally noth­ing and I have a hun­dred pounds of mount­ing equip­ment. We do a lot of in­no­va­tive and unique mount­ing be­cause we’re try­ing to sur­prise our au­di­ence with where that shot is be­ing made.

What about your still cam­eras?

I have three cam­eras. The D5 for when I’m shoot­ing sports ac­tion and I need speed; and a D810, of course, if I need res­o­lu­tion and in­cred­i­ble sharp­ness. But my favourite cam­era is the D750, be­cause it’s so light­weight and I love the vari-an­gle screen. I’m a small guy and when I’m in the moun­tains ev­ery ounce counts when I’m car­ry­ing my own equip­ment, so the D750 is re­mark­able. It’s video en­abled, it’s enough frames per se­cond, it’s the right res­o­lu­tion. No mat­ter where I am, what­ever I’m do­ing, the D750 is al­ways in my back­pack, al­ways ready to go.

What is your go-to lens?

I go through phases. For six months it’s the 50mm f/1.4, and right now – it’s in my bag here – I have a 24mm f/1.4 prime. I grew up as a zoom guy in the photojournalism world, but now I’m a prime guy and that prob­a­bly comes from my time spent in video.

What’s the best ad­vice you would give to some­one start­ing out?

My ad­vice is don’t write a busi­ness plan, don’t get dis­tracted by how you’re go­ing to make money. Fo­cus 100 per cent on mak­ing amaz­ing pic­tures or videos and the money will find you. Fo­cus on the fun part. Wor­ry­ing about run­ning a busi­ness is not the fun part. The fun part is get­ting out there and mak­ing the best pic­tures and the best videos. If you do that, the rest of it falls into place. If you’ve got some­thing that people want it’s much eas­ier to fig­ure out the busi­ness com­po­nent. You’re guar­an­teed to win if you have great con­tent.

MOUNTAINEERS David Lama and Peter Ort­ner Climbi ng Tra ngo Tow­ers , Baltista n, Pak­ista n, 2012 Nikon D600, 17mm, 1/15 sec, f/2.8, ISO800

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