British Columbia·Photos

Secrets behind the success of adventure photographer who shoots for North Face, National Geographic

Corey Rich was in British Columbia this weekend to speak about the lessons he’s learned from a life behind the camera at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival.

Corey Rich has photographed everything from alpine climbing to ultramarathon racing

Climbers David Lama and Daniel Steuerer approaching Cerro Torre in Patagonia, Argentina. Rich says he had to hustle to catch back up to the fast-moving pair after snapping the shot. Photography: 17-35 mm lens, f4, 1/125 second, ISO 400. (Corey Rich/Stories Behind The Images )

Adventure photographer Corey Rich has captured images few others have seen while on shoots for big names in the outdoor world like North Face and National Geographic.

But for Rich, his favourite photos are the ones with the best stories behind them. 

"It's the memories," he said. 

"Of course, there are technical reasons like the light and the composition and moment of when I depressed the shutter, but I can't just look at an image subjectively."

Bil Phillips diving in Tulum, Mexico. Photography: 7-35 mm lens, f2.8, 1/30 second, ISO 800. (Corey Rich/Stories Behind The Images )
Peter Ortner and David Lama brewing tea and preparing for a cold night in a snow cave after a long climb on Trango Tower in Pakistan. Getting a good shot isn't always fun or comforable, says Rich. Photography: 17-35 mm lens, f5.6, 1/1000 second, ISO 100. (Corey Rich/Stories Behind The Images )

The 43-year-old from California describes himself as a lifelong storyteller. He first picked up a camera three decades ago as a young teen, around the same time he started rock climbing, and went on to cover extreme sports in extreme locations around the world from alpine climbing in Pakistan to ultramarathon racing in the Sahara Desert. 

"At a fundamental level, I know that I'm the best version of myself when I'm outside in wild places, challenging myself, pushing myself to the limits and surrounded by people who inspire me," he said. 

"But on another level, I've realized over time that my job is to make pictures that, hopefully, move people and inspire people to get outside and have adventures on their own."

The Jackson family — parents Eric and Kristine, kids Dane and Emily — out on an adventure. Though it might look dangerous, Rich says the shot snapped on a desolate road was probably safer than some of the rapids the family regularly kayaks down. Photography: 300 mm lens, f4, 1/1000 second, ISO 100. (Corey Rich/Stories Behind The Images )
Climber Tommy Caldwell sitting on his portaledge on the Dawn Wall in Yosemite, California. Photography: 50 mm lens, F2.8, 1/4000 second, ISO 200. (Corey Rich/Stories Behind The Images )

Lessons from behind the camera

He was in British Columbia this weekend to speak about the lessons he's learned from a life behind the camera at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival.

"I feel lucky that I turned adventure photography into my job but even if this wasn't how I paid my mortgage, I would still be doing the exact same thing in all of my free time," he said. 

"But it's really important to acknowledge that passion doesn't get better just because you're making a living doing it."

Adventure athlete Dane Jackson kayaking down a waterfall in Veracruz, Mexico. Rich has been friends with him for years. Photography: 16 mm fisheye lens, f4, 1/1000 second, ISO 100. (Corey Rich/Stories Behind The Images )

Not everyone is in a position to pick up and travel the world and follow their dreams, he agreed. But everyone can start somewhere. 

"It's OK to keep your day job, but the key is filling the rest of the time — the time you're not working — with what you really enjoy," he said.  

"It's feeling that magic. And we can all squeeze that into our lives."

A composite photograph of Mikey Wier carving through the snow at Heavenly Mountain Resort in California. Photography: 70-200 mm lens, f8, 1/2000 second, ISO 100. (Corey Rich/Stories Behind The Images )
A close-up of British outdoorsman Bear Grylls during a jungle shoot in Panama for the Discovery Channel. Photography: 70-200 mm lens, f4, 1/250 second, ISO 200. (Corey Rich/Stories Behind The Images )

Rich is no stranger to success — both his own and the athletic success of people he photographs. He recently published a book called Stories Behind the Images that highlights his career. 

Over the years, no matter what path or passion someone pursues, he's noticed some universal truths about what brings success. 

David Lama climbing in Baatara Gorge, Lebanon. Lama later died at the age of 28. Photography: 16 mm lens, f3.2, 1/320 second, ISO 800. (Corey Rich/Stories Behind The Images )

3 ingredients for success

"You need some raw talent — every person has some raw talent — and you need a lot of passion," he said. 

"Passion as in that willingness to work super hard and not do some of the other things in life because you are so focused on what you love doing." 

Corey Rich's wife Marina and daughter Leila read a book by headlamp in Lake Tahoe, California. Photography: 24 mm lens, f1.4, 1/30 second, ISO 2000. (Corey Rich/Stories Behind The Images )

And the third ingredient for success, according to Rich: be nice to others. 

"It really helps if you're a good person, if you're not an asshole," he said. 

Stay hungry

Also, never settle. 

"You have to keep on pushing and pushing and always striving for perfection, even though I'm not sure there really is something called perfection in photography," he said. 

"And maybe that's good, it keeps you hungry." 

Climber Chris Sharma, 15-years-old at the time, on a seaside cliff in Santa Cruz, California. This photo ended up as a double-page spead in ESPN. Photography: 70-200 mm lens, f4, 1/1000 second, Fuji Velvia film. (Corey Rich/Stories Behind The Images )