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.
Climbing K2, Karakoram Range
Photograph by Tommy Heinrich, National Geographic
Standing on the front points of her crampons, Austrian mountaineer Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner climbs the steep rock-and-snow pitches up to Camp II on K2, the world's second tallest mountain, located in the Karakoram Range between Pakistan and China. As part of extensive training before expeditions, she refines her balance by walking on a rope stretched between two apple trees.
After reaching K2's summit on August 23, 2011, Kaltenbrunner became the first woman to climb all 14 8,000-meter peaks without supplemental oxygen or porters. Learn more about her in "K2: Danger and Desire on the Savage Mountain" in the April 2012 edition of National Geographic magazine. Kaltenbrunner is also one of our 2012 Adventurers of the Year.
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.
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.
Surfing "The Right," West Australia, Australia
Photograph by Ray Collins
Photographer Ray Collins was awarded the 2012 Nikon Surf Photo of the Year award for his image of Australian surfer Mark Mathews riding the wave known as “The Right” in West Australia. The award recognizes the "best of the best" in the Australian surf photography industry.
“This day was strange," recalls Collins. "It was very late season for Australia and the swell was a touch off angle.” Collins had traveled with surfers Mathews and Ryan Hipwood. “There were some extremely tense moments. Ryan was held under the water for 40 seconds," says Collins. Hipwood surfaced and recovered.
The swell was estimated at 15 to 20 feet. After capturing this photo, Collins immediately showed Mathews the frame. “I knew it was a special image right away,” says Collins. After seeing the image of himself riding into the close-out wave, Mathews exclaimed: "That doesn't even look real—it looks like something from National Geographic!”
Collins used a Canon 7D camera body with a 70-200mm, f/2.8L lens.
Climbing Idiot Wind, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Photograph by Tobias Macphee
"The rock feels a bit like fine-grained sandpaper," says Jesse Mease, seen here trad climbing 70 feet up the route Idiot Wind (5.11c) in Utah's sandstone San Rafael Swell. "Basically I was wedging and torquing my fingers into the crack and scumming my feet along the wall because they wouldn't fit—great fun." With ample pitches to climb and no camping regulations, fees, or rangers, the San Rafael Swell is one of the state's best kept secrets. "I still don't know how to get there—I was blindfolded during the drive in," notes Salt Lake City-based Mease.
Getting the Shot
“The Swell is an amazing place. You have huge sandstone walls that seemingly run forever in every direction," says photographer Tobias Macphee. "And unlike Yosemite or Indian Creek, you can go days without seeing another person."
“Shooting climbing in the desert is always a challenge," notes Macphee. "In order to rig the ropes to shoot from, you also have to be able to climb the routes,” says Macphee. “For this shot I knew that I wanted to capture more of the open space around Jesse, so I climbed a different route off to the right. I wanted to shoot this route at sunset, so most of the day was spent waiting for that 15-minute window of perfect light. It all boils down to communication and team work,” says Macphee.
Macphee shot with a Nikon D300 with a Nikon 17-55mm, f/2.8 lens.
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 over coming 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.
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, 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.
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.
Ski Superpipe, 2012 Winter X Games, Aspen, Colorado
Photograph by Scott Markewitz, ESPN Images
"It is very exciting to perform at a high level in front of a massive crowd like this," says freeskier Tucker Perkins, seen here completing a switch right-side cork 720 in the Men's Ski Superpipe Finals at the Winter X Games on January 28, 2012. The sculpted superpipe, located on Aspen, Colorado's Buttermilk Mountain, measures 22 feet in height. Perkins came in fifth place in a competition that was considered the most exciting men's ski superpipe thus far, with epic performances, unexpected crashes, and some newcomers on the podium.
The spirit of pioneering, world champion freestyle skier Sarah Burke was felt throughout both the men's and women's events. In her lifetime, Burke won four golds at the Winter X Games and successfully lobbied to get the ski superpipe added to the 2014 Winter Olympics. She died on January 19, 2012, from injuries sustained during a training accident. "I knew Sarah Burke well," notes Perkins. "It was an extremely unfortunate accident, but she would have wanted us to ski our hearts out at this event. We all did it for her."
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.
Big-Wave Surfing Jaws, Maui, Hawaii
Photograph by Zak Noyle, A-Frame
On January 4, 2012, at the famed Hawaiian break Jaws, photographer Zak Noyle captured some of the world's best surfers, including Ian Walsh, Shane Dorian, Mark Healey, and Maui standout Kai Lenny (pictured), paddling to catch the enormous waves. "There was a lot of excitement in the air and many nervous surfers,” recalls Noyle. “These are some of the most extreme surfers at the forefront of big-wave paddle surfing. They were all nervous, but ready.”
Due to the large take-off zone needed for the surfers to paddle out to the wave, Noyle needed to adapt his position. “With tow-in, they can just zip over to the perfect spot. This day more waves went unridden.”
"The surfers wore the Shane Dorian Billabong Vertical Acsent suit. It has a cartridge if you are held under the water, you can inflate the suit to bring you safely to the surface. Luckily no one got hurt, but man, boards were broken," says Noyle. Learn more about the wetsuit in our Gear of the Year.
Noyle photographed from a Jet Ski using a Canon Mark IV 1D with a 70-200mm, f/4 lens. His camera was encased in a custom made SPL water housing.
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 f4; and a 1.4x teleconverter.
Ski Mountaineering Huyana Potosí in the Cordillera Real, Bolivia
Photograph by Christian Pondella
Photographer Christian Pondella joined friends Giulia Monego (pictured) and Dave Rosenbarger to ski in the Cordillera Real mountains in Bolivia. “As a photographer and a skier, I was really excited about skiing in Bolivia and knew there would be amazing photo opportunities,” Pondella recalls. “The mountains were so beautiful that it was easy to get great photos. You just had to be confident and comfortable with the ski conditions."
The beautiful scenery is also serious terrain. On their last day of skiing, Pondella, Monego, and Rosenbarger rescued an injured skier. "We watched two climbers fall down the mountain," Pondella says. "They were lucky to fall into a crevasse, which kept them from sliding to their death. One climber broke both her legs and we spent the next eight hours rescuing her from 19,000 feet and eventually getting her to a hospital in La Paz.”
To get this image, Pondella was on top of Huayna Potosí, a 6,000-meter peak. “Standing on top looking down at Giulia with a wide-angle lens, I was able to capture a great perspective of the mountain face we had climbed up and were about to ski back down,” says Pondella. He shot this image using a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II lens.
Dual Moguls in Freestyle Skiing, Méribel France
Photograph by Alain Grosclaude, Agence Zoom/Getty Images
Skiers Denis Dolgodorov of Russia and Mikael Kingsbury of Canada compete during the FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup Dual Moguls on December 20, 2011, in Méribel, France.
Ice Climbing the South Fork River Valley, Wyoming
Photograph by Jay Beyer
"At this moment, I was wishing I wasn't so close to the top," says ice climber Aaron Mulkey, who is seen on a formation named Ice Fest in the South Fork River Valley located outside of Cody, Wyoming. "While on climbs, the troubles and stress of life fade away below. And although I am always seeking the summit, I'm on a constant mission to find that never-ending smear of ice."
The Cody resident, who is always on the hunt for virgin ice, spent the last decade making treks into the valley to see if the Ice Fest formation would freeze in a way fit to climb. "After ten years of waiting, Ice Fest was in great shape and I was able to enjoy nature's gift," he recalls.
The South Fork River Valley is one of the best ice climbing destinations in the world. "The concentration of ice and feeling of remoteness are unmatched," says Mulkey, who has more than a hundred first ascents to his name. The season typically begins in November and runs into April. "Hiking through cactus and sagebrush, then climbing high into remote alpine terrain is a trademarked feeling that only the South Fork Valley can create."
Getting the Shot
"For me, ice climbing is the hardest thing I shoot—and for that I love it," says photographer Jay Beyer. Part of capturing amazing ice climbing images is battling the elements and gear. "You have to deal with not feeling your legs for hours while hanging in a harness and keeping your batteries and hands from freezing," recalls Beyer. "One time I was getting dripped on while I was shooting. By the time I was done, there was a quarter inch of ice on the back of my camera."
Capturing this image was straight forward for the seasoned shooter. "Shoot from above and bend a wide angle past the point of natural—without getting your feet in the shot," says Beyer. Beyer carried two camera bodies, a Canon 5Dm2 and Canon 1Dm3, as well as four lenses, a 15mm, 16-35mm f/2.8L II, 24-70mm f/2.8L, and a 70-200mm f/2.8L IS.
Biking the Salt Flats, Utah
Photograph by Mike Schirf
"They race for the world land speed record in this area, and, although I wasn’t going for any records, when it’s just you, the bike, and the road, it’s time to go for it," says Park City-based triathlete Rob Lea of riding along the salt flats in northwestern Utah for this shot. "I had just picked up this amazing Giant TT bike, and between the flat road, my new baby, and the bleak but beautiful landscape, I was in heaven."
Lea and photographer Mike Schirf took this shot after a rain had brought down the temperature and formed a rainbow. "I was riding and Mike yelled out to me to look up and then to turn around and come back at him. It was just good timing."
Getting the Shot
Photographer Mike Schirf headed to the Utah salt flats with triathlete Rob Lea, intending to shoot a great image. “I was really excited to see what I could come up with,” recalls Schirf. “That place seems to create great imagery on its own.”
“One of the biggest challenges I have while shooting biking versus other sports is creating the feeling of motion,” says Schirf. Working his environment, Schirf stood on the hood of his car for a better angle. “I really liked the rainbow, so we tried a few shots to pull it in closer. The light was amazing and we definitely worked it until it was gone.”
Credits: National Geographic