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Professional Insights

Corey Rich

Corey Rich

Action/Extreme Sports (U.S.A.)

The Art and Adventure of Visual Storytelling

Over 20 years ago, Corey Rich planted both feet firmly in the world of falling snow, moving water and massive stone. As extreme sports entered the mainstream, Corey was there to tell the stories of many of its icons. Editors at National Geographic Adventure, Sports Illustrated, Outside, The New York Times Magazine and many others have turned to Corey to bring them startling and memorable images from the world's wilder edges. He has also worked with companies such as Anheuser-Busch, Nike, The North Face and Apple to shape multimillion-dollar print campaigns and commercials. He lives in South Lake Tahoe, California.

Capturing what's real

From the very beginning, my interest and main goals in photography have always centered on storytelling, especially when it comes to adventure. When I was 13 years old, I was invited to my first ever rock climbing weekend. I fell in love with everything about the experience — but what I really wanted to do was share those weekend adventures with my buddies back on the playground. It was then that I first borrowed my father's camera and began trying to document those adventures. This changed my life, and now, over 20 years later, there is no other job I'd rather be doing.

One of the things I love most about the work I do is that I am a participant in the adventures that I'm documenting. Rather than shooting from the sidelines, I must do what the athletes are doing, be it on rock, water or snow. It's this combination of adventure and storytelling that really fuels my creativity and helps me see the world in the most compelling way. I need to feel that same wind hitting my face, while the same mosquitoes bite my ankles. I need to be wet and cold. I need to be sweating, and I need to be scared in certain environments, but that's the strategy: be there. Don't try to fake it — actually try to capture what's real.

Many of the athletes that I work with are also good friends, which makes working together even more fulfilling: we travel together, we sit together in planes, trains and automobiles. Then we suffer together: we go into wild places; we sweat; we share tents; we get scared. I consider this a great privilege and opportunity to be able to share the stories of people close to me.

The role of passion and unpredictability

We spend much of our time and energy simply getting to the location of the shoot, which is frequently remote. Once we arrive on the side of a cliff, the peak of a mountain or the edge of a glacier, it's crucial that I'm able to switch gears and begin focusing on being creative visually and telling the story. It can be jarring, but I thrive on the adrenaline rush I feel when my heart is pounding and there is sweat in my eyes and it's finally time to start shooting. It is a constant back-and-forth: from being an athlete and managing risk to getting the right shot or motion sequence and being creative. I really love that dance.

Unpredictability plays a large role in my work, as well. Weather, locations, sunlight and the physical and psychological conditions of athletes are always in a state of flux, but this keeps me stimulated. I'm always trying to anticipate what will happen next, simultaneously planning for the worst while hoping for the best. I think that's really one of my strengths, as well as one of the expectations my clients have when they hire me. I must make it work! No one wants to hear the excuses for why I did not bring back a story — they just want to see the finished product.

At the core, I document adventure, be it for editorial publications, commercial clients or in motion for the web or broadcast. In the beginning, I never actually set out to be a businessperson or to run a photography or video business. I never built a spreadsheet or a business plan for what the future would look like. Instead, I followed one simple rule: be excited and passionate every single day about making great content. If I could make great still images that told stories, then the money would follow. I am very happy to say that's what happened.

The D4 and the film, "WHY"

In many ways, adventure photography is still a fledgling industry. The rules are still in the process of being written. I feel truly fortunate to have started at a time and place where I can contribute to the overall shape and character of the craft. I think the biggest evolution has been the convergence of still photography and filmmaking. No longer is it one or the other. Today, you can be both photographer and moviemaker. It is tools like the D4 that give us the ability to truly excel in each field simultaneously. Documenting adventure and visual storytelling have changed forever. We're all on the same playing field now. There are no limits imposed by the equipment that we each own. The only difference now is our passion, our individual creativity and the stories we choose to tell.

When Nikon called and asked me about putting together a project that would seriously test the new D4, I really wanted to bridge the passions in my life: telling stories, elite athletes and adventure. From this, the concept for my film "WHY" emerged. I wanted to ask: "What drives the greatest adventure athletes on the planet to do what they do? What motivates them day after day to push the limits of their sport?" The D4 proved to be the exact tool I needed to tell this story — both with still images and with video. Some of the new features allowed me to capture these athletes in a new way. I could shoot slow motion at 60 frames per second while Dane Jackson kayaked over a 60+-foot waterfall. I could push in while filming Rebecca Rush racing through a desert wash using the 2.7-magnification feature. We could monitor sound while conducting interviews with each athlete. All three of these are part of the D4's fantastic video feature set. But at the core, the idea of going out and getting inside the heads of three of my heroes in the adventure sports world was very appealing.

NPS: a real partner

During most of my projects, I push my equipment to the limit: remote locations, bad weather, cameras dragged across rock and exposed to rain, snow and dust. With so much unpredictability, one thing that I can depend on is that NPS will be there to bail me out. They've shipped cameras to some fairly remote corners of the globe to keep me shooting, and supported me when I have questions (I have made my fair share of satellite phone calls to NPS from very wild places).

As an adventure photographer, I feel like I'm a member of two different tribes: the adventure tribe and the photography tribe. And those that make up the foundation of NPS — they are real photographers. They're part of the tribe as well. They're people that truly care about visual sophistication and creating fine photography and motion, and this allows me to really speak the language and talk the talk with them. For guys like me, they are a not just a service provider — NPS is a real partner.

See more of Corey's work by visiting Corey's site Open in new window.