The acclaimed action ace shares his passion for Nikon kit
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