AWARD-WINNING ADVENTURE SPORT PHOTOGRAPHER JODY MACDONALD EXPLORES THE PLANET’S WILDEST CORNERS FOR NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, BBC, PATAGONIA AND RED BULL. THE ONE PLACE SHE WON’T BE IS FOLLOWING IN ANYONE ELSE’S FOOTSTEPS.
National Geographic photographer Jody MacDonald shares some unforgettable moments from life as an adventure traveller.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM ORIGINALLY AND WHERE ARE YOU BASED NOW?
I am originally from Vancouver Canada and I now live in Sun Valley, Idaho in the United States.
WHAT CAMERA DO YOU USUALLY SHOOT WITH?
I shoot with the Canon IDX for sport photography and the Leica M and X-U for everything else. I use the Canon for the high frame rate and the Leica cameras for the aesthetic that they produce.
WHAT CAME FIRST, THE ADVENTURE SPORT OR PHOTOGRAPHY, AND HOW DID THAT LEAD TO YOUR DECADELONG CAREER ON A 60 FOOT CATAMARAN?
In university I majored in Outdoor Recreation so adventure sports was something I was always interested in. I took photography as an elective in university and fell in love with it as a creative medium. I decided to bring my camera with me on my outdoor adventures so it was a great marriage of both my passions.
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT THE PROJECTS YOU’RE WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I’m currently working on a project for Leica in Papua New Guinea and have just started with Sea Legacy. I will be working on projects that help bring awareness to ocean issues in the hope of it getting more protection. Those projects will be ongoing. I will also be working on a project for National Geographic Travel this year.
FROM YOUR IMAGES AND TRAVEL DESTINATIONS, YOU WOULD APPEAR TO HAVE A DREAM JOB! WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE MEMORY – AN ABSOLUTE ‘WOW’ MOMENT?
That is a tough question. One of the best memories I have from travelling was one time when we had sailed across the Mozambique channel and found a pristine 20 mile sand dune on an uninhabited island. We were so excited to fly (paraglide) the massive dunes. We managed to get through the shore beach break with our dinghy while our boat was anchored around the corner in the calm bay behind us. We ended up flying all day and in the late afternoon from the air one of us spotted our dinghy washed up on the beach. The dinghy anchor chain had broken and the dinghy went through the beach break and had washed ashore. The tide was high and we knew we wouldn’t be able to do anything about it so we just kept flying until sunset. When we landed, we checked the damage on the dinghy and knew we would have to wait until low tide the next morning to try to get off the island.
We had no water left and didn’t bring any food with us so we ended up sleeping in our paragliding wings. The next morning we couldn’t get the dinghy motor started so we decided to keep flying. That afternoon we managed to get it running and made it through the shore break and back to our boat. It was one of the best experiences I think any us of have had. Here is a caption I wrote for one of the images from that experience:
"It was 2010 and the 4th year of our world kiteboarding expedition by catamaran and my 7th straight year at sea. Things were too dicey around Somalia to go up through
the Red Sea so from Madagascar we changed the plan to go around Cape Hope instead. We sailed across to Mozambique and made our first stop in the Bazaruto archipelago, off the southern coast. Upon reaching land the largest sand dune I'd ever seen presented itself to us. No one had ever flown it before. No helmet, no shoes and sand as far as the eye could see. We destroyed our dinghy, we got marooned overnight, we had to sleep in our wings and it was magical.”
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR FAVOURITE DESTINATION TO PHOTOGRAPH?
Like many photographers, one of my favourite destinations to photograph is India. It is such a geographic and cultural wonder. There is so much to photograph at every turn. It’s almost overwhelming and with such a diverse geographical landscape you can almost find any kind of geographical experience you could be looking for… from deserts to the Himalayas and everything in between, India has it all.
TOP PHOTOGRAPHY TIP FOR BEGINNERS?
When you are taking photographs don’t just think about the subject, try to think about the whole picture. What is in the background and how is that adding or subtracting from the photograph. Try to place the subject within that background so that they compliment each other. This will help your images have more depth and tell a better story.
WHAT’S YOUR TOP TRAVEL TIP?
Trust your instincts and always carry toilet paper ;)
IS IT PEOPLE OR ANIMALS WHICH MOST FASCINATE YOU WHEN PHOTOGRAPHING THEM?
I like both but my favourite is when they are interesting. The animals which I love to photograph are the ones that are very intelligent and I have amazing interactions with.
I also love photographing unique, interesting people... it just depends on the situation.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST PHOTOGRAPHY AWARD? WAS THERE ONE WHICH REALLY MEANT A GREAT DEAL IN PARTICULAR?
My first photography award was I think for PDN (Photo District News). It was a photograph that I took of Rajan the elephant walking in the trees in India. The award that has meant the most to me was winning the Red Bull
Illume because it’s the best of the best in the adventure sport photography world so the competition is extremely difficult. Winning that was very much an honour.
ON ONE OF YOUR INSTAGRAMS YOU’VE WRITTEN “ONE OF THOSE MOMENTS WHEN YOU LOOK UP AND THE PHOTOGRAPH JUST REVEALS ITSELF TO YOU.” DO YOU FIND THAT’S THE WAY YOU GET YOUR BEST SHOTS OR IS THERE A LOT OF WORK BEHIND THE SCENES GETTING THE LIGHTING, FRAME, COMPOSITION, ETC RIGHT?
Getting good photographs is hard work. Yes, the majority of the time you are analysing the light, composition, timing, etc… sometimes you get lucky and things just align, but you do have to be paying attention so that you can capture that moment when it does happen.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
I will continue to work on projects for Sea Legacy, National Geographic
and various personal projects. I just got back from Papua New Guinea and will definitely go back there in the new year as well as India. The world is a big, beautiful place, there is so much to do and so little time!
“LIKE MANY PHOTOGRAPHERS, ONE OF MY FAVOURITE DESTINATIONS TO PHOTOGRAPH IS INDIA. IT IS SUCH A GEOGRAPHIC AND CULTURAL WONDER. THERE IS SO MUCH TO PHOTOGRAPH AT EVERY TURN. ”JODY MACDONALD
PREVIOUS PAGE Rajan was the last elephant to survive from 10 that were taught to swim for logging in the Andaman Islands, between India and Myanmar. The elephants carried the logged trees from the islands to nearby boats. LEFT Mauritania.
CLOCKWISE FROM BELOW Mauritania; Panama; Mauritania.
LEFT TO RIGHT Palau; Rajan with his caretaker of 30 years, Nazroo. Rajan died in 2016.