12 images

Credit: Cristina Mittermeier

How adventure photographers capture their spectacular images at sea

24 September 2021 • Written by Charlotte Hogarth-Jones

No great yachting adventure is complete without that jaw-dropping photograph. BOAT meets the specialist expedition photographers on the other side of the lens and finds out what it takes to capture images of adventure cruises...

Shelton Dupreez

Age 32

Nationality Canadian

Camera Sony A1 with 28-70mm Sony lens, WACP Wide Angle Conversion Port and Nauticam housing

Has shot on board 83m Savannah, 77m Legend, 78m Hampshire II, 74m Sherpa, 47m Latitude, 54m Spirit, 55m Kamalaya, 55m Serenity J

How I got into adventure photography

Seeking adventure and unique experiences has always been a part of my life, so when I picked up the camera in 2017, I found it easy to find myself in those kinds of situations. At the time, I was working on a yacht that did some far-out cruising in the Arctic for three years. Every chance I got I would grab the camera to try and document the incredible environment we were experiencing.

Photographer Dupreez has worked on yachts including 83m Savannah.
Credit: Feadship

Hairiest adventure moment

I’m sure I’ve had a lot of close calls without even knowing it, but one that sticks out the most is a time when my sister Angel and I were on the skeleton coast in Namibia. We set out before sunrise on a cold winter morning to shoot in a nearby sand dune valley. There was no phone signal or sign of civilisation, and as we walked deep into the dunes we thought we were completely alone.

Shortly after sunrise, we looked back and noticed a large figure on top of the dunes, staring straight at us. We waved – no response. We waved again, still no response, and then another figure joined it. Confused and getting slightly concerned, we put the drone up to go get a closer look. We were being hunted down by two fully grown brown hyenas, who were positioned between us and our car. On foot and with no weapons or anything for self defence, we immediately went into survival mode and tried to outflank them. They split up straight away and started running full speed toward us, one circling around our side. Trying to keep as much distance as possible, we ran from dune top to dune top, using the drone to try keep them away. After 30 minutes of this, we finally made it back it to the car safely.

This shot by Shelton Dupreez was taken in The Bahamas on board SeaLegacy 1.
Credit: Shelton Dupreez

The story behind this shot (above)

This shot was taken in the field with SeaLegacy 1, the flagship vessel of ocean conservation organisation SeaLegacy founded by Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier. I had been working on board for six months, helping to document their conservation efforts throughout the Bahamas. We spent a few days searching for bottlenose and Atlantic spotted dolphins off the island of Bimini, and came across this beautiful pod late one afternoon. Bottlenose dolphins are notoriously shy, so we expected them to quickly swim away, but they felt very comfortable with us and allowed us to get very close and intimate with their family. With all wildlife photography, it’s a game of patience, skill and, of course, a bit of good luck. Once your camera gear is set up, it’s a matter of positioning yourself correctly for the frame you have in mind and waiting until the animals want to show off.

The thing people underestimate about adventure photography is...

The amount of effort it takes. With social media at our fingertips, it’s easy to only see the final product, rather than the countless hours – or years – that go into capturing amazing images. The camera gear set-ups, getting to the locations, knowledge, experience, patience, weather, your physical abilities – these are just some of the factors that go into this kind of photography that most people probably don’t realise.

Upcoming adventures

The Galápagos, Cocos Island, the Sea of Cortez and then early next year the South Pacific and French Polynesia, with a four-year plan to circumnavigate the Pacific Ocean up through Western Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, and Alaska, finishing in British Columbia.

Photo of Nansen Explorer on expedition in Iceland taken by Audun Lie Dahl

Audun Lie Dahl

Age 35

Nationality Norwegian

Camera Sony A9

Has shot on board 72m Nansen Explorer

How I got into adventure photography

After spending my youth in the Norwegian wilderness I started working as a local guide for photographers. It wasn’t long before I was part of a network that arranged trips worldwide, with a camera in my hand.

Hairiest adventure moment

Watching an adult polar bear kill a polar bear cub and then carry his head around like a trophy, right in front of me.

This this image of a baby polar bear in the Arctic was taken by Lie Dahl.
Credit: Audun Lie Dahl

The story behind this shot (above)

We are always searching for polar bears and other wildlife in the drift ice in the Arctic. After hours of searching with binoculars, we saw a female with a young cub – the first time I’d seen a pair like that in the wild in more than 40 expeditions. We stopped the vessel [an old Swedish boat called Origo] a couple of kilometres away from them and just drifted alongside. After waiting for almost 12 hours, they woke up and started showing interest in us – in fact, the cub was extremely interested in our ship. He looked at his mother first for support and approval, and then he approached the vessel, turning back at first and proceeding right up to the yacht.

I had been waiting for a moment like this for years and was well prepared. My camera was attached to a monopod, and with a remote controller, I stood on board the ship while my camera was outside. I have high expectations when taking a photo like this, but there is always a “but…”. After reviewing my photos, many were blurred because the cub was moving so fast. Thankfully, this one image turned out to be perfect.

The thing people underestimate about adventure photography is…

That it’s the individual encounters you remember, not the number of days you were in a place.

Upcoming adventures

Svalbard, Antarctica and Rwanda.

Lie Dahl's next adventure will take place in Rwanda.
Credit: Unsplash

Justin Hofman

Age 38

Nationality US

Camera It’s not about the camera, it’s all about the photograph…

Has shot on board 77m Legend, 47m Hanse Explorer, 88m Arctic P, 68m Archimedes, 196m The World, 46m Pioneer, 63m Suri, 71m Enigma XK

How I got into adventure photography

I’ve always just wanted to document what I was doing. Being a marine biologist [Hofman studied marine invertebrates at the University of Santa Cruz, going on to get a professional certificate in scientific illustration] has taken me to some amazing places, and being able to share that experience with friends and family encouraged me to learn the art of visual storytelling.

My hairiest adventure moment

Flesh-eating bacteria infecting a small cut on my leg while in Papua New Guinea. Luckily my great friend, who happened to be a local, had some strong drugs to keep the bug from getting worse.

Hofman took this picture of an iceberg during an Antarctic expedition.
Credit: Justin Hofman

The story behind this shot (above)

This photo was taken while out on an Antarctic expedition on New Year’s Day. I saw this incredible opportunity to capture beautiful images of ice, and while the clients were out walking on the frozen ocean, my dive buddy Erin and I went underneath it. It was then that I saw this serene piece of ice just drifting by.

The ice is much smaller than it seems – it was perhaps the size of a beach ball – and to get the image I had to get into the cold Antarctic water, which takes a lot of gear. It’s something I’ve become used to over the years and a feeling that I relish. I will never feel as cool as when I am suited up for polar diving!

The technical side of the photo comes from spending time with the underwater photography master David Doubilet, who has shared many tricks with me over the years. He is the one that made this sort of shot famous – I’m merely walking in his footsteps.

The thing people underestimate about adventure photography is …

The amount of personal sacrifice it takes to spend months at a time away from home.

Upcoming adventures

Several filming projects with big-name production companies to document unique animal behaviour. I’m looking forward to travelling to shoots in Alaska, California and Antarctica.

Hofman has worked on board 77m explorer yacht Legend.
Credit: Jeff Brown

Christopher Scholey

Age 53

Nationality British

Camera Nikon D850

Has shot on board 75m Cloudbreak, 97m Faith, 77m Legend and more

How I got into adventure photography

Accidentally! When I applied to work on board Drumbeat in 2005 as the barman, I put on my CV that one of my hobbies was photography. Captain Mark Stevens lent me the boss’s camera and asked me to photograph the coming year’s cruising: 20,000 nautical miles across 25 countries and two hemispheres, and producing three books for the owner. It was such a remarkable opportunity in this extraordinary industry and it changed my life in so many ways, for which I am forever grateful.

Hairiest adventure moment

None yet, thankfully! I’ve always been in the safest of hands.

The story behind this shot (above)

About 45 species of birds live south of the Antarctic Convergence, and an absence of land predators, combined with the rich offshore food supply, make the coastlines a haven for immense seabird rookeries. Penguins are particularly associated with this polar region, where they live primarily on sea coasts.

We had climbed this peak to look over where Legend was anchored, in a bay in the Antarctic Peninsula. We traversed with extreme care, as there was no natural path – just an acutely angled, slippery, icy slope, with the only path created by the lead EYOS guide whose footsteps we followed in. Having reached the highest vantage point, we stumbled across this chinstrap penguin mother and baby, surprisingly high and cut off from the rest of their colony. In situations like this, it is paramount to keep one’s distance and not intrude to maintain the natural balance. The land, fauna and flora always come first and are protected in every respect. We immediately stepped back, and as we moved away she opened her wings. I was below her so held the camera above my head to get as much height as possible. In every sense, it was a very lucky shot, as I was shooting without even looking through the camera.

The thing people underestimate about adventure photography is...

Things can change at any moment. Being in the right place and keeping aware is when the magic happens. Whether on the street, up a mountain or on the water, it’s that fleeting moment – you always have to expect the unexpected.

Upcoming adventures

I’ve been fortunate enough to photograph every continent on the planet except Asia. It’s my dream to travel there, so I’m really looking forward to it.

Scholey's adventures have taken him on board explorer yacht Cloudbreak.
Credit: Christopher Scholey

Sisse Brimberg

Age Mature, like a great bottle of French red wine...

Nationality Danish

Camera Sony a7 IV mirrorless. It feels right in my hands, and the camera body is light and fast to work with

Has shot on board 96m Sea Cloud, 73m National Geographic Endeavour II, 124m National Geographic Endurance and more

How I got into adventure photography

I had already worked for National Geographic for many years when the company decided to start up NG Expeditions – naturally, I made sure I was first in line when the team began to assign photographers to do fieldwork. Through my work at National Geographic magazine, I had been to many exciting places such as the Mexican jungle to photograph a shaman, or working in the prehistoric painted caves in France which are sealed and closed to the public. All fascinating, but nothing came close to going out on a yachting adventure, which was a whole new frontier for me.

Hairiest adventure moment

It came out of the blue on the island of Spitsbergen, Svalbard. I was in the Zodiac, getting ready to jump onto the shore, which had some massive boulders scattered all over the beach and on the way down to the waterline. I was ready to leap, but at that moment, I discovered that one of those big rocks was actually a scruffy male polar bear all curled up and taking a nap less than 50 metres from the landing site! It was definitely time to pull out of there again...

This image was taken by Sisse Brimberg in South Georgia.
Credit: Sisse Brimberg

The story behind this shot (above)

For me, this image tells a remarkable story about trust and partnership. In 2004, I joined forces with my husband of almost 30 years at the time, Cotton Coulson. We decided that every single picture we took would be ours. Not mine, not his, but ours. When we were in the field, we would often swap cameras and at the end of the day, we would download all the photographs into a combined folder. Our style was so similar that sometimes we had no idea ourselves who took the picture. Friends, as well as professionals, would try to guess who the creator of the image was, and often, they would be wrong.

When on board National Geographic Explorer we were steaming into Saint Andrews Bay in South Georgia. It’s a spectacular place and home to more than 150,000 king penguins, plus an abundance of fur seals and elephant seals. As planned, we would take the guests to the beach in the early morning to enjoy the fantastic scenery. When Cotton and I were in there, I remembered that the king penguins would often swim out to the ship to feast on the micro-organisms that had been growing on the bulbous bow, which could make for a unique photograph.

We discussed how to approach the situation and decided that I would stay and help the guests with their photography on the beach and Cotton would return to the ship to see if the penguins were swimming out there.

Through our lifelong partnership I knew he understood the photo I imagined, and I trusted he would do a great job. That morning our teamwork came into play. Cotton went to the bow of the ship, leaned over the rail, and saw that the kings were having a feast just as he and I had hoped for. So, it was actually he who photographed the scene and created this exciting, memorable image.

Saint Andrews Bay in South Georgia is home to more than 150,000 king penguins.
Credit: Unsplash

The thing people underestimate about adventure photography…

It is a very highly skilled discipline where you have to compose a picture in a split second. You have to be as fast as a Formula One driver in your reaction time, and to be able to use the natural light like the Dutch Masters! And the tough truth is, you never get a second chance.

Upcoming adventures

Iceland and Bhutan.

This feature is taken from the September 2021 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.

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