See our favorites from Extreme Photo of the Week. Plus: the stories behind the shots.
Backcountry Skiing in Arolla, Switzerland
Photograph by Jérémy Bernard
"I want people to dream about skiing when they see my work,” says photographer Jérémy Bernard. In 2011, the International Freeski Film Festival, or iF3, launched a photography contest to honor the work of still photographers. In the inaugural year, Bernard captured the Best European Photographer award and returned in 2012 to win Best European Cliché for this picture of skier Nicholas Falquet. "This is the second time for me to get an award at IF3. That’s an honor for me—it means that people like my work and are touched by it," Bernard says.
Near the end of a ski season with tumultuous weather, Bernard was on standby in Arolla, Switzerland, with Falquet brothers Nicholas and Loris, waiting for a weather window to allow the trio to be dropped by heli at the top of a mountain.
“Spring light is still really soft in the morning on the north to northeast face of the mountain, so we got nice contrast and kept details in the shadows, while the sky was pitch-black," Bernard says. "On top of that, I was just surrounded by big faces all covered with white snow. It’s like a big reflector was just pointing at the skier and lighting him a bit."
After shooting an initial line, Bernard noticed this scene to his left and asked Nicholas if it was safe to ski with the ice cliff below. Nicholas gave the OK and made the run. “A day like this morning happens twice in a whole season," Bernard says. "You just have to take your chance and don't let it go!”
Bernard photographed using a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV and f/2.8L USM, 70-200mm lens.
Canyoneering Monmouth Creek, British Columbia, Canada
Photograph by Francois-Xavier De Ruydts
“This was just one moment of a challenging descent down 16 rappels with rushing waterfalls, nature-carved rock slides, and cliff jumps,” says veteran canyoneer Damien Briguet, whose dozen years in the sport include six working professionally out of Switzerland. “The water below was nice, but really cold—just ask the fish in the pool!” Briguet is seen in the "cave” of Monmouth Creek, located just outside of Squamish and about an hour north of Vancouver, British Columbia. “I'm part of a small canyoneering community in Vancouver. This is a new sport in western Canada, and we are all really excited to discover more wet canyons.”
Getting the Shot
Photographer Francois-Xavier De Ruydts met Briguet for the first time just a few days before the duo decided to explore the undescended Monmouth Creek. “That's what exploration is about,” says De Ruydts. “Basically, you don't know what you're doing or where you're going. Nobody knows what's around the corner. Exploration of canyons is a [huge] commitment—most of the time, the only way out is down.”
He calls Monmouth "a real natural wonder" with "16 rappels ranging from 5 meters to 45 meters. As the bird flies, it is no more than 500 meters long, but the elevation gain is about 600 meters. It is a very steep canyon."
The first full descent took a total of two days. “Managing your camera exposure is a nightmare in canyons. The water is almost pure white, the wetsuits are almost always black, and [the space] is often not more than ‘not very dark,’" says De Ruydts. “I shot this image from a very, very tricky spot. I was attached to my rope, standing in a super-slippery toboggan, which had been carved by water. The tripod was standing on this almost vertical rock and attached to my harness … that was pretty uncomfortable."
De Ruydts photographed with a Nikon D700 and carried a Nikkor f/2.8, 24-70mm lens and a Nikkor 50mm lens.
Highlining the Needles, Sequoia National Forest, California
Photograph by Jeremiah Watt
“At this moment I was facing down canyon, which was a very exposed feeling!” says climber-highliner Scott Turpin, who was photographed at sunrise walking between two towers in the Needles in California's Sequoia National Forest. “The direct exposure to the notch was only about a hundred feet, but on all sides, the ground fell away quickly down to the Kern River thousands of feet below.”
To play in the Needles, Turpin and his friends had to hike three miles on a good trail followed by about a half mile of third-class scrambling to get to the world-class climbing destination. The line was rigged between two of the most prominent towers, the Sorcerer and the Charlatan.
“I could feel the sun moving quickly and saw it finally out of the corner of my eye,” Turpin recalls of the chilly morning. “The moment was brief, as are most perfect moments. I turned around, slid out on the line, found my breath, and walked back.”
Getting the Shot
“Two years ago, Scott and I had been to the Needles with a few other friends to rig and shoot, but due to high winds, the line never went up,” recalls photographer Jeremiah Watt. “[Scott] was headed for a rematch and wanted to know if I'd be interested in shooting."
Photographing from about 200 feet below the line, Watt planned his lighting and waited for the right moment. “There's a large granite spire just behind my left-hand side. I knew that first light would be stunning, but thought that as soon as the sun broke the horizon, it would throw the shadow of the spire across the face and spoil the image,” he says.
Instead, Mother Nature surprised the photographer. “The sun graced the shoulder behind me and tattooed this crisp silhouette of the pines on the face," Watt says. "If the sun had been a fraction higher or lower it wouldn't have worked. ‘F/8 and be there’ is an old photo mantra. Granted this is at f/5, but being there was the ticket.”
Watt used a Nikon D700 camera and a Nikon 16-35mm lens.
Climbing the Great Arch, Getu Valley, China
Photograph by Sam Bie, Petzel/Solent News/Rex USA
“Danny is an incredible climber—a machine!” says photographer Sam Bie of shooting climber Danny Andrada on Corazón de Ensueño, an eight-pitch route on Chuanshang Cave, also known as the Great Arch, in southwestern China’s Getu Valley. This may be the hardest continual, overhanging sport-climbing route in the world. The Great Arch is 164 feet high, 230 feet across, and 449 feet long.
After climbing for an hour, Bie was in position to capture the photo he planned for. “The perfect place for me to shoot was across from Danny’s route, aligned with the middle of the arch, about 525 feet above the ground,” he says.
Getting into position to shoot can take hours, and Bie often has long waits between photographing climbers. “I fell asleep twice in my harness!" he says. "Being rigged into ropes is my ‘office.’ I slept at work,” recalls Bie.
Bie photographed with a Nikon D300 and a Nikon AF DX Fisheye-Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8G ED lens.
Surfing Cloudbreak, Tavarua, Fiji
Photograph by Thomas Servais, A-Frame
On June 8, 2012, the Volcom Fiji Pro competition was temporarily called off due to dangerous conditions—which was good news for the handful of big-wave surfers who had traveled to Tavarua to watch and wait for the world-class oceanic lefthander Cloudbreak to go huge. Here Hawaiian surfer Reef McIntosh is seen on a massive wave. Photographer Tom Servais was there to shoot the action.
“It was unusual that so many big-wave surfers showed up for this swell. It's always a gamble relying on weather reports,” says Servais, who was already in Fiji to cover the contest and surf. “It was one of the biggest swells ever," he recalls. "A few waves at the end of the day were considered some of the biggest waves ever at Cloudbreak.”
Cloudbreak is located two miles off Tavarua and is the best and closest spot to access the wave. “The hardest part about shooting Cloudbreak is getting there,” says Servais. The trip included an 11-hour flight from Los Angeles, a taxi to the beach, and a boat ride to the wave break.
Servais watched the swell grow all day and captured surfer McIntosh courageously surfing the explosive waves. “It was exciting watching the swell get bigger and bigger all day,” recalls Servais, who captured the action from a boat.
Servais photographed with two Canon bodies, a 300mm f/2.8 lens and 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, all kept safe in a Pelican hard case.
Kayaking Seymour Canyon, British Columbia, Canada
Photograph by Jordan Manley
“Seymour Canyon is my favorite place to kayak. It is one of the most beautiful runs I have ever done, and I don't have to travel far to get to it,” says longtime kayaker John Irvine, who first ran this river about 20 years ago. “When we first ran it in the early nineties, we were amazed that it was not more commonly run. It was hard but not that hard.” The igneous canyon with a lush rain forest canopy overhead encloses Class IV rapids, assesses Irvine. “What made it most classic is the fact that it is in the heart of the city of North Vancouver, a five-minute drive from my current residence. We were awestruck.”
To get to the put-in for this shot, Irvine bushwhacked into the canyon down a tiny creek tributary just above that rapid. “It was the hardest part of the day because the creek was completely overgrown with devil’s club, a really nasty, prickly plant that is quite common on the West Coast,” says Irvine. “I don't recommend hiking through thick devil’s club in surf shorts.”
Getting the Shot
Photographer Jordan Manley worked with Irvine to capture the aerial photo of the Seymour River that he had in mind for a personal photo book project. “The book is about the amazing landscapes we have in the corridor from Vancouver to Whistler and the ways people have found to explore them. As a landscape closely tethered to a metropolis, I think this corridor is very special, and I feel lucky to call such a place home,” says Manley.
To get the shot, Manley and Irvine scouted locations along the canyon where Manley could be rigged with ropes above the river. “I have two friends who work professionally as rope-access technicians. They rigged a Tyrolean across the canyon so I could be suspended directly above the canyon. We planned carefully, so I was hanging exactly above where I wanted to shoot John, as well as where the light graced the wall of the canyon,” recalls Manley.
Manley captured the cool, blue-cast light he wanted for the image by shooting on a cloudy day. “I had a specific kind of light in mind for this shot. Soft light works best to reveal the intricacies of the canyon, water, and foliage. And rain before a shoot helps to bring out a pop of color in the greenery.” The crew set out for the day with a rainy forecast. “We got our shots and then it turned sunny. Lucky!” says Manley.
Manley photographed with a Nikon D4 camera and a Nikon 17-35mm lens.
Paragliding Above the Red Desert, Wyoming
Photograph by Nick Greece
“I fly for the joy and freedom—the views are mesmerizing,” says 25-year paragliding veteran Jon Hunt, who along with photographer Nick Greece flew for 200 miles on this seven-hour flight in August 2012, setting a distance record in the U.S. They launched out of Wilson, Wyoming, and flew for seven hours, passing the Teton Range, the Gros Ventre Range, and the Wind River Range to finish near Rawlins, Wyoming.
“Over the last 60 miles we flew over the amazing Red Desert of Wyoming, an incredible wilderness of high-altitude desert featuring fantastic rock formations and mineral deposits," recalls Hunt, who is based in Jackson, Wyoming. “This particular spot is amazing because of the remoteness and stark beauty of the desert landscape, but our entire flight path is a new classic.”
Getting the Shot
“Paragliders follow cloud streets in the sky that serve as visual markers for rising columns of air. We surf these columns of air, going as fast as 2,000 feet per minute,” says photographer and paraglider Greece.
“The bumps that you hit in an airplane, bumps that make folks gasp, are actually the huge air waves we are trying to ride and spiral to the cloud on,” says Greece. Shooting in about 20-frame intervals with his camera strapped in his harness, Greece finds himself photographing about 20 percent of his flight. The rest of his time is spent flying. “I chuckle sometimes when reviewing photos after a flight. I see frames where I had to literally drop the camera in my lap and grab control of the wing,” says Greece.
On this day in August, Greece and Hunt battled strong winds. “We were running to the one place that still had sun … That sun makes up a big part of this photo, and those rays are what propelled us over the sought-after 200-mile mark,” states Greece. “I still can think back to this day and visualize some of the climbs and amazing traversing of unbelievably beautiful lands. I feel incredibly lucky to have shared it with such a good friend and mentor, which is very rare in our sport. We were in the right place, at the right time.”
Backcountry Skiing in Neff's Canyon, Wasatch Mountains, Utah
Photograph by Mike Schirf
"I go into auto mode once I'm in the air," says freeskier Tyler Peterson, seen here in a 360 true tail, a trick that involves grabbing the skis' tails while making a full revolution in the air. "All the thinking and visualization happens before I ride off the jump."
Peterson and photographer Mike Schirf hiked for three hours and 3,500 vertical feet to take this shot in Neff's Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains backcountry. The pair strategically built a jump with a view of Salt Lake City, which has 11 ski resorts and ample backcountry offerings within an hour of the airport. "By this point it was about 6:30 p.m., and it was very difficult to see my landing," says the Salt Lake City-based ski halfpipe competitor. "But I had already hit the jump several times while the sunlight was fading away, so I knew how long I needed to be in the air to land smoothly."
Getting the Shot
Photographer Schirf worked carefully to find the right exposure to capture Salt Lake City's bright lights and Peterson mid-trick at dusk. When the dramatic sunset they had hoped for did not appear, Schirf used gels to add another element to the scene. "Gels are a great way to add a new element to a photo," says Schirf, who doesn’t typically work with gels. "It definitely has to be the right situation, but I think when used well, they can make a photo.”
Schirf photographed this shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens.
Highlining at Cathedral Peak, Yosemite, California
Photograph by Mikey Schaefer
"On the highline my thoughts are simple and clear," says pioneering rock climber, BASE jumper, and wing suit flyer Dean Potter. "Fundamental needs shine through the mental clutter. I focus completely on my breath, my connection with the line, and making it safely to the other side." This highline was set up on the summit of Cathedral Peak, in Yosemite National Park, at an elevation of 10,911 feet. Though Potter is untethered, he is in control. "I’ve always been a 'free soloist.' Whatever I do, I long to be untethered and free," notes Potter. "I am completely confident with my ability to catch the line if I were to fall. I’ve practiced this catch move successfully for the past 19 years."
This shot is just one spectacular scene from "The Man Who Can Fly," an episode of Explorer airing Sunday, February 12, 2012, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel (see a photo gallery). The show captures Potter's quest for true human flight, with first feats in free soloing and wing suit flying in Yosemite, California, and British Columbia, Canada. The episode examines Potter's unique blend of daring, determination, and pursuit of the unknown.
Getting the Shot
“Hands down this was the most complicated photo I've ever taken,” says photographer Mikey Schaefer. “It started a year earlier with Dean [Potter] seeing the moon rise over Cathedral Peak and noticing that it would make a great shot.“ A bit skeptical, Schaefer used an app called The Photographer's Ephemeris to locate where the moon would rise from a relative location. “I went out the night before the shoot with a GPS and lined everything up. Sure enough, the moon rose exactly where I thought it would,” says Schaefer.
In Tuolumne Meadows, Schaefer set himself on an adjacent ridge from Potter, about 1.2 miles away, and began shooting at 7:30 p.m. “Thankfully the light was absolutely perfect, as it was just ten minutes before the direct sunlight would be off of Dean. This allowed me to balance the exposure evenly between Dean and the moon, as there weren’t too many stops difference between the two,” recalls Schaefer.
Schaefer worked throughout the filming of the show, from rigging ropes to operating video cameras, all while shooting still images as well. The image of Potter against the moon stands out from the rest of the shoot. “The whole scenario seemed crazy,” Schaefer says. ”I was over a mile away from my subject, who was walking a tightrope with certain death consequences if he fell. I was running through the woods with $20,000 worth of camera gear, making the most unique photo of my career. I'm still a bit amazed that I managed to stick the shot."
This image was captured using a Canon 5D Mark II and an 800mm, f/5.6 lens with a 2X doubler.
Climbing Portal Peak, Banff National Park, Canada
Photograph by Paul Zizka
"The rock was loose and crumbly—it was a precarious perch that both scared and intrigued me equally," recalls local climber Rossel Sabourin, seen here scaling the "Flower Pot," a rock tower on Portal Peak in Banff National Park, Canada. Sabourin and his girlfriend had admired the rock feature every morning from Num-Ti-Jah Lodge on the shores of Bow Lake, where they are the innkeepers. On this day, a group of friends decided to explore the peak in perfect, sunny conditions. "From the top of the pot, the panoramic view was incredible: the turquoise waters of Bow Lake, the iconic red roof of our lodge, and the Wapta Icefield spilling into the lake."
Getting the Shot
“The Wapta Icefield is notorious for its whiteouts and powerful storms, even in the summer,” says photographer Paul Zizka. “Portal Peak itself is very seldom visited, partly because of the poor quality of its rock,” he says. “It’s not a particularly technical peak, but does require a significant amount of elevation gain. It is fairly dangerous down-climbing, including glacier travel, as well as dealing with some of the worst rock, in an already shaky mountain range."
“I definitely wanted to stop by this feature on the way to the summit, but didn’t expect anyone would venture onto the tower itself. When Rossel did just that, the photo op became obvious,” Zizka says. “I was limited in terms of angles to shoot. The Flower Pot is flanked by precipitous drops on most sides."
To capture this image, Zizka used a Canon 5D camera body and Canon 17-40mm lens at f/4.0.
Surfing the Lofoten Islands, Norway
Photograph by Chris Burkard
"This was my first time surfing the Arctic Circle," says southern California-based surfer Dane Gudauskas, who hadn't seen snow for a decade before this trip. "My face felt swollen from the cold, my body felt sluggish, but I was filled with so much excitement that I felt like I could surf all day." Surfers Keith Malloy, Pat Million, and Sam Hammer were also part of this exploratory trip in Norway, where the weather would flip from blaring sunshine to sideways hail, sleet, and snow in an instant.
"We would get our wetsuits on in the house, then walk down the ice-covered road to the beach, then walk into snow that was sometimes up to our waists—all just to reach the water's edge," recalls Gadauskas, whose group was aided by some local surfers who showed them around. "When the water hit any exposed skin, it would burn like fire until your body temperature could warm up from paddling. Only then could you get the mojo working."
Big-Air Telemark Freeskiing, Winter Teva Mountain Games, Vail, Colorado
Photograph by David Clifford
“The flame was pretty gnarly,” recalls 23-year-old telemark freeskier Chris Ewart. “But the size of the jump itself was enough to make me completely forget that there was even a flame there!” The local freeheeler took first place for landing a huge double front-flip off a 70-foot jump during the Telemark Big Air competition last Saturday on Golden Peak during the inaugural Winter Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado.
In the first event of its kind, the skiers alternated with ten of the world’s best freestyle mountain bikers, who dazzled the crowd in the Best Trick Bike competition. BMX rider Chad Kagy took top honors for his backflip tail whip. Many of the riders had never practiced on snow until the day of the event.
Likewise, Ewart had never tried this trick in competition before, but decided to go big. “All the bikers and freeheelers were super positive in the drop-in gate and it was crazy to see people from both sports throwing down. The crowd was cheering and getting excited. The whole mood of the night got me really stoked up to try it out,” says Ewart, who is also an EMT.
Such audacious feats happening in the air come with some carnage in the landings. Yet after each crash, the competitor shook it off with great style to the delight of the crowd of 5,000 people. “I crashed a couple of times,” says Ewart. “Some of the other guys had some nasty falls, but props to them for continuing and throwing down hard even afterward.”
For the mountain bikers, the frosty terrain brought some benefits. “The snow makes it much harder to land, but it doesn’t hurt nearly as bad when you don’t,” says rider Cameron Zink.
The festival’s events included races for elite and amateur athletes in mixed climbing, Nordic skiing, ski mountaineering, snow biking, snowshoeing, and running, as well as gear demos, bands, parties, and great conditions for skiing and snowboarding.
Getting the Shot
“Photographing the Teva Mountain Games is always a blast for a variety of reasons, but mainly the vibe they create is so fun you want to be there,” says photographer David Clifford.
For this shot there were two big-air competitions going on at the same time, within about 20 to 30 feet of each other. “It was tricky. I was under the jump, shooting from a lower angle to get some big-air perspective. The telemark skiers and mountain bikers would intermittently take turns on the jumps and the bikers could choose from two different ramps,” says Clifford. "We had different focus points and lighting adjustments to make each and every time. Often times the skier would be way past the zone I was lighting, and then the fire would go off.”
Photo shoots always come with unexpected challenges, and Clifford had his fair share during the Winter Teva Mountain Games. Just an hour before the competition his Elinchrome Quadra completely died. "I ran down the ski slopes, borrowed a bike, got my Profoto 600-watt backup pack and head. The reflector was missing, so we placed the head inside the head of the Elinchrome, upside down, and bounced the light off the wall of the jump. It was brilliant because we got some direct light for the bikers and some reflected light on the foreground for the tele guys.” Later, Clifford was about to head to cover the ski-mountaineering race and discovered someone had stolen his ski boots. “I pride myself on getting the shot and overcoming anything, but that was a new twist.”
Clifford used a Canon Mark IV with a 16-35mm, 2.8L lens. Clifford’s lighting gear included two MultiMax pocket wizard transceivers, one built-in pocket wizard, a Profoto 7B with two heads, and a Profoto AcuteB 600R.
Mountain Biking Mary's Loop Trail, Fruita, Colorado
Photograph by Anne Keller
"This is so incredibly beautiful—I am so lucky to be here," thought mountain biker Candace Shadley (right), seen here with fellow rider Julie Gamache on Mary's Loop, which begins as double-track and then turns to single-track here as it contours the Colorado River. The pair stood at this point to take in the sunset and wait for just the right light. When the moment came, the duo sprang into action.
"Mary's Loop is a fantastic place for riding, full of rocky trails, beautiful views, and great weather," says Shadley, who founded the Trek Dirt Series, a 12-year-old instructional biking program that offers 18 camps annually, mostly for women, throughout the American West. "It's a bit hot in the summer, but that just means you ride early or late."
Getting the Shot
“The last half mile of the trail is where things get interesting,” says photographer Anne Keller of Mary’s Loop trail. Keller originally planned to shoot at Horsethief Bench Trail, but the cloudy sky and impending storm forced her to adapt and rally the riders to race the storm and bike to Mary’s Loop.
“That shoot ended up presenting one of the most unique lighting situations that I've seen out here,” recalls Keller. “The light broke through with a band of pink for several minutes and the looming storm cast the landscape with a strange blue tone.”
To capture the unusual lighting, Keller closed down her aperture and shot toward the west, exposing for the striking, saturated sky. “The combination of light, clouds, and lightning all felt electric at that moment; I didn't want to leave,” says Keller.
Keller shot with a Nikon D3 camera and Nikon 16-35mm f/2.8 lens at f/22, 1/15th of a second.
Snowboarding Methven, New Zealand
Photograph by Jeff Curtes
“Jussi is a pure freestyler, a fantastic jumper, and a really good and stylish jibber,” says photographer Jeff Curtes of shooting with Burton rider Jussi Oksanen at Ice Station Zebra glacier in Methven, New Zealand. A low-precipitation snow season created stunning glacial terrain in Methven. “The snow bridges were minimal, so we moved confidently with our guides through the otherwise sketchy terrain,” says Curtes. “When [Oksanen] saw the ice, his eyes lit up with possibilities,” recalls Curtes, who shot this image with no additional lighting. "There were plenty of natural reflections, so it was the easy choice,” says Curtes.
Curtes shot with a Canon EOS 1D camera body and Canon 70-200 mm lens.
Kayaking Sahalie Falls, McKenzie River, Oregon
Photograph by Tim Kemple
"This is the moment when I hold my position and close my eyes as I anticipate the impact," says extreme kayaker Erik Boomer of dropping over 80-foot Sahalie Falls on the frigid McKenzie River near Portland, Oregon. "All the work is done at this point; it is just time to enjoy the feeling of free fall."
Boomer, who paddles over 20 to 40 waterfalls a year, is a true expert. But that doesn't mean he can just go with the flow. "Waterfalls like this always have x factors that you have to deal with," notes Boomer. "It is impossible to anticipate exactly what the water will do as you approach the lip. Waves, boils, and eddy lines are constantly surging, so you have to be prepared to react to the water the whole time."
In 2011, Boomer and his expedition partner Jon Turk pulled off the first circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island, a feat which made them two of our 2012 Adventurers of the Year.
Getting the Shot
"They say that Sahalie Falls is 100 feet tall. The pure drop after the first dip is about 80 feet. It's an impressive sight by itself, never mind seeing somebody kayak off it," says photographer Tim Kemple. A recent snowstorm left the landscape highlighting vibrant blue and green hues. "The water was bright blue, the moss was electric green, and the snow juxtaposes everything perfectly," says Kemple. The group waited for clouds to arrive, ensuring Kemple was photographing in even light.
To locate the best spot to photograph Boomer, Kemple knew he needed to head upstream and away from a classic tourist lookout for the falls. Kemple spent over an hour breaking trail through three feet of fresh snow. "By the time I was there, Boomer, who had simply paddled across the rapids, was ready to drop," recalls Kemple. "What really blew me away was how easily and confidently Boomer paddled. He hit the bottom of the falls, popped out, and paddled to the take out. Like it was no big deal," says Kemple.
To get this shot Kemple set up three separate Canon cameras with remote triggers. He fired a fourth camera, which got this shot, while teetering on the edge of the cliff.
Ice Climbing in the Western Fjords, Norway
Photograph by Celin Serbo
"I am so cold," was the thought going through ice climber Chad Peele's head on the third and last pitch of this 500- to 600-foot first ascent outside of Eidfjord, Norway. "By most standards, it was not an incredibly difficult route with a rating around WI4-4+, but it was so cold that day that everything felt so much harder!" recalls Peele.
Frigid temperatures aside, this is paradise for people who love to ascend frozen falls. "Norway's glaciers carved a labyrinth of fjords that hold plenty of water at just the right temperatures to form long flows of ice," says Peele. "Scouting for first ascents relies on local word of mouth. It takes a lot of walking around with binoculars in the cold and can be quite tricky sometimes."
Getting the Shot
“These fjords rise up out of the ocean and the cliffs lead to vast rolling, windy terrain,” says photographer Celin Serbo about shooting this photo of Peele during a First Ascent expedition in western Norway's fjord country. An experienced climber, the Boulder, Colorado-based photographer was prepared to suffer: “It's cold. Your gear takes a beating. You must be very mindful of the climbers to not knock ice down on them.”
Though the team mostly climbed in areas protected from the wind, the elements were challenging. “I would hear snow coming, cover my camera, and wait it out. After 30 seconds, the snow would pass. My gear—and myself—were completely encrusted,” he says.
Serbo captured the unique point of view by shooting from a cave along the route. “We had a fixed line on the first two pitches of this three-pitch route. Once the climbers started up the third pitch, I decided to stay in the cave because of the great framing it provided.”
Serbo carried two Nikon D300 camera bodies and four lenses: 10.5mm f/2.8 DX Fisheye (used for this shot); 17-55mm f/2.8; 70-200mm vr, f/2.8; 300mm f/4; and a 1.4x teleconverter.
Sunset Skiing in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
Photograph by Erik Seo
"It was pitch-dark," says freeskier/BASE jumper Max Kuszaj of this shot in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, just off the road between Alta and Snowbird ski areas. "My main thought was to make polished ski turns, while being basically blind ... I was skiing off of feel and instinct." When the lake-effect storms unleash Utah's classic, light snow, top-notch skiing abounds. This location just had perfect pitch, perfect snow, and a picturesque sunset. "Little Cottonwood Canyon has amazing sunsets all season long," says the Connecticut native now based in Salt Lake City. "I try to appreciate every single one I witness."
Getting the Shot
What’s the best thing about shooting at Alta? “The snow,” says photographer Erik Seo. "It’s deep and light. It makes it easy to get good work done, time after time.” While capturing this scene, photographer Seo and skier Kuszaj had an unintended audience. “This is the second spot in the Alta area that I’ve shot just off the road. In both instances, there was no shortage of hecklers. I hope they actually remember the heckling and see this,” jokes Seo.
Seo worked with a two-flash setup, shooting towards the West, with Kuszaj skiing on an untracked, north-facing slope at sunset. He shot with a Nikon D40, instead of his regular Nikon D3. “The D40 allowed me to use my flashes at 1/1000 of a second and darken the scene more than normal, keeping the flash power the same,” says Seo.
Climbing Sea Stacks, Newfoundland, Canada
Photograph by Christian Pondella, Red Bull Content Pool
“If pirates got up these towers, they certainly were good climbers,” says Canadian climber and paraglider Will Gadd, seen with partner Sarah Hueniken on Skerwinkle Rock, a sea stack rising out of the ocean near East Trinity in Newfoundland, Canada. Legend has it that pirates left their treasure on top of the isolated rock formations by leaning their boat masts against the spire. “This climb had by far the worst rock I've ever climbed. It was more like climbing rotten ice than rock,” says Gadd. The pair relied on close teamwork to get up four sea stacks. While perhaps seeing birds land on the towers to eat the sea urchins and crabs they caught was not so surprising, Gadd was astonished to run into a huge colony of ants living on top of a 20-by-20-foot tower summit. “I have no idea how they survived for so long, as there was no way for them to reach the mainland,” says Gadd. “We felt like we were the only food they had seen in decades and had to run for our lives!”
Getting the Shot
Photographer Christian Pondella has worked with Gadd for many years. On Pondella’s third trip to Newfoundland, the team headed to see sea stacks Gadd had located on Google Earth. “Will and I have been on many great adventures together, and this was pretty similar to most," says Pondella. "We had an idea of what we were getting into but had no idea of how it would unfold when we got there.”
Pondella used rope to hang over the edge of a cliff adjacent to the sea stack and photographed from there. “Fortunately the sea stacks were close to the shore, so I was able to shoot them from the sea cliffs," says Pondella. "It was a perfect vantage point; I was the same height as the top of the sea stack.”
Though Pondella originally planned to feature more of the turquoise blue water surrounding the sea stack, Gadd’s climb brought different lighting. “The outline of the trees looks pretty cool and dramatic. The reality is, in a place this beautiful, once that sea stack had light on it, it was going to make for some beautiful photographs,” recalls Pondella.
Pondella photographed with a 14mm lens.
Sidecountry Skiing Mount Baker, Washington
Photograph by Grant Gunderson
"Shoot, I can't really spot my landing because there is so much slough [snow] moving with me, I hope I stick it!" thought Elyse Saugstad while skiing the sidecountry at Washington's Mount Baker Ski Area. The Olympic Valley, California-based skier was hucking a 20-foot cliff during a weeklong Mount Baker shoot with phenomenal snow conditions for Salomon Freeski TV's "Pacific Northwest Road Trip" (watch the video).
"Mount Baker is a great spot for skiing because the terrain there is vast and challenging," says the Girdwood, Alaska, native. "It snows a great deal at Mount Baker and since a skier is always in search of fresh powder, Mount Baker is a great place to ski."
Getting the Shot
“Mount Baker is probably one of the toughest places there is to shoot skiing, but I love the challenge," says photographer Grant Gunderson. “We were dealing with some pretty insane avalanche danger the day this photo was taken.”
To get the shot, Gunderson set himself on the opposing ridge from where Saugstad was skiing. “We took our time to find some lines that could be safely skied and shot. Towards the bottom of her line, Elyse hit air off this cliff and the image lined up perfectly.”
Gunderson photographed using a Canon 1D MK4 camera body with a 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens.
Surfing Teahupoo, Tahiti
Photograph by Brian Bielmann
Surfer Nathan Fletcher’s amazing ride at Teahupoo, Tahiti, was captured by photographer Brian Bielmann in August 2011. “This was the heaviest day anyone had ever surfed or photographed," recalls Bielmann. Fletcher’s incredible ride and Bielmann’s photo are nominated for the Monster Tube Award in the 2012 Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards.
“We had the most fearless boat driver in Tahiti and that’s the reason I got the shot,” says Bielmann. The other boats in the area were already at the top of the wave looking down or on the other side of the wave, but Bielmann’s boat remained. “Nathan caught this wave and was below sea level from my angle. Then we watched him ride the biggest tube ever ridden, all the way through, before finally being taken over by the wave,” an amazed Bielmann recalls.
Unusually large swells often create unusual situations. “The waves were so big this day, they were rushing up the shore and slamming into people's homes, dragging all kinds of things back into the ocean. At one point, I saw a refrigerator floating through the lineup. When I got home, we realized it was our fridge that I had photographed,” says Bielmann.
“After the wave closed, I looked at my viewfinder and saw this shot, but it’s hard to tell if things are sharp on the water," Bielmann recalls. "When I finally saw the photo, I knew it was the best shot I had ever taken in my life.”
Bielmann photographed this image using a Canon EOS-1D Mark III, with a Canon EF 70-200mm, f/4.0 L USM lens.