The im­ages taken by Ben San­ford, Neil Sil­ver­wood, and Ben Jack­son in­spire the ad­ven­ture pho­tog­ra­phers’ au­di­ences to fol­low them out­doors and prove that the South­ern Hemi­sphere re­ally does make for the per­fect play­ground. How­ever, in cap­tur­ing alpine sun­sets and lime­stone for­ma­tions, the pho­togs put their bod­ies on the line to get the in­cred­i­ble shots

With most forms of pho­tog­ra­phy, there ex­ists a nec­es­sary dis­tance be­tween pho­tog­ra­pher and sub­ject; the artist shoots some­thing while re­main­ing apart from it. When it comes to ad­ven­ture pho­tog­ra­phy, though, that dis­tance is erad­i­cated. Ad­ven­ture pho­tog­ra­phers don’t just shoot an ad­ven­ture, they are on an ad­ven­ture — in the thick of it, with ev­ery wild thrill and dan­ger­ous spill that en­tails.

For those who feel that ad­ven­ture runs in their veins, we have spo­ken to some of the re­gion’s most in­trepid pho­tog­ra­phers to dis­cover what it takes to put life and limb on the line for the rush of the shot.

THE HEIGHT OF AD­VEN­TURE From on high, the world’s nat­u­ral splen­dour un­furls at a scale and from a per­spec­tive that peo­ple are sel­dom privy to; to hit those heights, you need no small amount of skill, fit­ness, and for­ti­tude. Just ask Ben San­ford, the young pho­tog­ra­pher from the Blue Moun­tains in New South Wales, who is shar­ing spec­tac­u­lar views from some of the high­est peaks of Aus­tralia and Aotearoa.

“I love the con­cept of cap­tur­ing or­di­nary peo­ple do­ing in­cred­i­ble things,” he ex­plains. “There’s def­i­nitely some sat­u­rated ar­eas of pho­tog­ra­phy, but I feel [that] there are fewer peo­ple who will put their body on the line to get an in­cred­i­ble shot.”

Of course, there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween tak­ing a cal­cu­lated risk and be­ing plain reck­less. Ben has spent years cul­ti­vat­ing his climb­ing and moun­taineer­ing skills and en­sures that he keeps just as fit as, if not fit­ter than, the ath­letes he is pho­tograph­ing. He is also fas­tid­i­ous about hav­ing both the right tools for the job and in­ti­mate knowl­edge of how they work.

“It’s not all fun and pretty pictures; it re­quires a lot of plan­ning and ef­fort. There’s much to con­sider when it comes to weather, gear, and stay­ing safe,” he says.

Ben’s part-time ad­ven­tur­ing — he also works as a pho­tog­ra­phy as­sis­tant in Syd­ney and shoots more bor­ing stuff to pay the bills — re­cently brought him to our shores to tackle the wild ex­panse of the South­ern Alps, climb­ing four dif­fer­ent sum­mits in var­i­ous re­gions of the range. One high­light of his trip was climb­ing Mount Malte Brun, which saw him as­cend­ing loose moraine, scree, soft snow, and loose rock ridges; de­scend­ing glacial ice­falls; and travers­ing long tracts of white ice. It was three days of hard slog, but the pay­off was abun­dant.

“To me, moun­taineer­ing is the cul­mi­na­tion of all climb­ing skills,” Ben tells us. “I am at­tracted to the alpine en­vi­ron­ment, as it’s so dif­fer­ent; the views are in­cred­i­ble, and they make all the pain and suf­fer­ing worth it.”

For this kind of jour­ney, Ben car­ries a sig­nif­i­cant ar­ray of gear, while try­ing to keep his pack as light as pos­si­ble. Though his full kit con­sists of Canon 5D Mark II and Sony A7R II bod­ies, a trusty lens trio (16–35mm, 24–70mm, and 70–200mm) and a tri­pod, flash, and wire­less trig­gers, gen­er­ally he’ll ven­ture out with just a body, 16-35mm lens and tri­pod as the sit­u­a­tion de­mands. How­ever, the list of

“I love the con­cept of cap­tur­ing or­di­nary peo­ple do­ing in­cred­i­ble things,” he ex­plains; “there’s def­i­nitely some sat­u­rated ar­eas of pho­tog­ra­phy, but I feel there are fewer peo­ple who will put their body on the line to get an in­cred­i­ble shot.”

non-pho­tog­ra­phy gear can get much longer: ice axes, cram­pons, ropes, snow stakes, ice screws, dry bags, wet­suit, hel­met, har­ness — and that’s not to men­tion the ba­sic sleep­ing and cook­ing kit.

“You need to know your ca­pa­bil­i­ties and lim­i­ta­tions, and also know your gear and its lim­its in­side and out,” Ben warns. “You don’t have time to waste fluff­ing around, or you will miss the shots and re­duce what you can achieve in the time avail­able.”

While the thought of amass­ing a big cache of spe­cial­ist equip­ment will ap­peal to the gear­heads out there, the pho­tog­ra­pher warns about get­ting overly pre­cious with your toys. You are, af­ter all, plan­ning to take them to the ends of the earth.

“Un­der­stand­ing how to take care of your gear ef­fi­ciently is key, but [so is] un­der­stand­ing that a photo can be worth more than the cost of re­plac­ing equip­ment,” Ben ad­vises. “If you want to keep your gear per­fect, stick to fash­ion and por­traits.”

When asked for his ad­vice to as­pir­ing ad­ven­ture pho­tog­ra­phers, Ben says that work­ing as an as­sis­tant for ex­pe­ri­enced pro­fes­sion­als is pos­si­bly one of the best ways to not only im­prove your shoot­ing — through the use of both nat­u­ral and ar­ti­fi­cial light­ing — but also your knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of all as­pects of the busi­ness. Suc­cess in the in­dus­try is more than just mak­ing great im­ages, he em­pha­sizes.

WAY ON DOWN If up doesn’t take your fancy, there’s plenty of ex­plo­ration to be done in the down­ward di­rec­tion, too.

Neil Sil­ver­wood is one of the coun­try’s few ded­i­cated cave pho­tog­ra­phers, spend­ing days un­der­ground ex­plor­ing sub­ter­ranean tun­nel sys­tems. As with his moun­taineer­ing coun­ter­part, what drives this pho­tog­ra­pher to ex­plore is the chance to show peo­ple things in this world they’ve never seen be­fore.

“I started out in cave pho­tog­ra­phy by ex­plor­ing deep cave sys­tems in the South Is­land. We were the first peo­ple in these places,” Neil ex­plains. “You would come out af­ter a week un­der­ground, hav­ing had this in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence — be­ing the first hu­man be­ing through some of these pas­sages.”

Neil was re­cently part of an ex­cur­sion that un­earthed what is cur­rently the deep­est known cave in the South­ern Hemi­sphere — a 1200-me­tre-deep sys­tem ly­ing be­tween the Stormy Pot and Net­tlebed caves of the Mount Arthur re­gion. The de­scent took three days, and, thanks to the pho­tog­ra­pher, there are re­mark­able im­ages to doc­u­ment the his­toric sub­ter­ranean jour­ney.

“You can’t just wan­der through a cave and take photos; it takes about an hour to get a shot,” Neil says of his process. “Most of the shots are pre­con­ceived; you imag­ine them be­fore you ever take them.”

Since he works in ab­so­lute dark­ness, the pho­tog­ra­pher has to in­tro­duce all the light into the scene. He does this through the use of five elec­tronic flash guns with built-in ra­dio trig­gers, along with an­tique flash bulbs, which can kick out up­wards of 10 times more light. The re­sul­tant im­ages af­ford a sur­real, ex­hil­a­rat­ing view of a land­scape that could just as eas­ily be out of this world.

Of course, such an in­hos­pitable en­vi­ron­ment comes with its share of risks. In put­ting to­gether a re­cent book, Caves: Ex­plor­ing New Zealand’s Sub­ter­ranean Wilder­ness, the pho­tog­ra­pher de­stroyed more than $10K’ worth of equip­ment while nav­i­gat­ing pre­car­i­ous drops and con­strict­ing, wet conditions. It’s not just gear that can be im­per­illed; on a re­cent trip, a fel­low caver had a fall and frac­tured both his tibia and fibula bones, with the for­mer burst­ing through his skin.

“We tried to talk him into get­ting onto the stretcher, but he wouldn’t have a bar of it, be­cause it would have taken us two or three days to get him out,” Neil re­calls, “so he walked, limped, and crawled his way out of the cave.”

The pho­tog­ra­pher says that shoot­ing ad­ven­tures like this can open doors to places you’d never dream of get­ting ac­cess to — for in­stance, he re­cently shot a story about high-alti­tude ski­ing in Afghanistan — but it doesn’t come easy.

“I hope you like noo­dles, be­cause it’s pretty hard to make money and sur­vive if you’re pho­tograph­ing in­ter­est­ing, ad­ven­tur­ous sto­ries,” he ad­vises. “You’re go­ing to need to be re­ally driven, and you’re go­ing to need to take your cam­era out when it’s get­ting re­ally rough — the bad times as well as the good.”

CAST­ING OFF A ma­jor­ity of our blue planet is given over to wa­ter, so it’s no great sur­prise that many of the most ad­ven­tur­ous shoot­ers are called to the depths. Ben Jack­son is a qual­i­fied white-wa­ter

kayak in­struc­tor, heli-kayak­ing en­thu­si­ast, and po­lar ex­pe­di­tion leader, who, for more than 20 years, has been trav­el­ling the globe ex­pe­ri­enc­ing wa­ter in all its most ex­treme forms, cam­era in hand.

“Af­ter 100-plus trips in the po­lar re­gions, I’m still very mo­ti­vated about vi­su­al­iz­ing and cap­tur­ing im­ages at each end of the planet,” he says. “Chal­lenges are plenty, but it’s al­ways worth it.”

The out­doors has al­ways been a part of the pho­tog­ra­pher’s life, but it’s not just ex­treme ad­ven­tur­ing that at­tracts him. Some of his wildest ex­pe­ri­ences have been a com­bi­na­tion of travel, cul­ture, and ac­tion. He cites a month-long ex­ploratory white-wa­ter kayak­ing trip in the In­dian Hi­malayas — time spent sleep­ing rough and ex­plor­ing ar­eas never seen by kayak — as his wildest trip to date.

“The lan­guage, cul­ture, land­scape, and white wa­ter were a step above any­thing else I’d ever ex­pe­ri­enced; it was the most in­tense month of my life, and we had plenty of ad­ven­ture along the way,” Ben re­calls. “From watch­ing one of our team al­most drown, to brib­ing our way out of a false ar­rest, to re­cov­er­ing the body of a de­ceased lo­cal, it was a pow­er­ful ex­pe­ri­ence through and through.”

The dif­fer­ence be­tween a travel pho­tog­ra­pher and an ad­ven­ture pho­tog­ra­pher can some­times come down to im­pul­sive­ness. On a kayak­ing trip to D’Urville Is­land in the Marl­bor­ough Sounds, the pho­tog­ra­pher climbed a huge rock out­crop to get a wide shot of his party. In his en­thu­si­asm, how­ever, he had ne­glected to plan a way back down the loose ter­rain.

“I’d gen­er­ally back my­self in any sit­u­a­tion, but here I was def­i­nitely tread­ing a very fine line in get­ting back down with­out slip­ping or fall­ing. By the time I had made it back to my kayak, I’d man­aged to de­stroy the only dry bag that would fit my cam­era — less than ideal for a five-day sea-kayak­ing trip.”

Ben’s many trav­els out to the frigid zones have led to their own share of per­ilous sit­u­a­tions as well, usu­ally by way of be­ing pushed around and trapped by the for­bid­ding ice en­vi­ron­ment. The di­ver­sity of land­scapes Ben has ex­pe­ri­enced has served to high­light a key char­ac­ter­is­tic of a suc­cess­ful ad­ven­ture pho­tog­ra­pher: will­ing­ness to make the most of any mo­ment.

“Liv­ing and work­ing in such dy­namic en­vi­ron­ments mean you have to be op­por­tunis­tic in many re­gards. If I see a good wildlife shot while I’m shoot­ing land­scape, I’ll take it, and vice versa,” he ex­plains. “[With] some of my favourite shots, all the rules are bro­ken.”

Fol­low the fea­tured pho­tog­ra­phers’ ad­ven­tures through­out New Zealand and abroad: /ben­san­ford­me­dia neil­sil­ver­ /ben­jack­sonnz




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