In modern arena sports, photography has largely become a point-and-click undertaking. From the sidelines, sports photographers largely rely on the cameras to do the heavy lifting, then rely on their instinct to time the perfect image. By contrast, adventure sports photography is a demanding profession, requiring a keen understanding of landscape, portrait and action photography in scenes that are often far off the beaten path. We recently discovered the work of advertising and outdoor sports photographer Ronny Kiaulehn, who was kind enough to answer a few questions about his process and inspiration.
TheCoolist: What attracts you to adventure sports photography?
Ronny Kiaulehn: “Before working as a photographer in 1996, I worked in research and development for a windsurf company. My job was to test their equipment, boards and sails, in oceans and beaches all around the world. In other words, I was paid for windsurfing and hanging around on the beach all day long! After leaving that job, after almost 10 years of being in touch with nature every day, I couldn’t imagine getting an office job– that’s why I decided to get in to action sports photography.
I started out doing mainly surf/windsurf photography in the beginning. The scene was the same, I could hang around the beach with my old surfer buddies and swim in the waves with my underwater camera housing. But after realizing that it was difficult to survive with only that kind of photography, I switched over into the mountain bike business. During the years I extended my working field to include all kinds of outdoor sports, like running, road biking, sailing, stand up paddling, etc. Now I do lots of other work as well, including lifestyle, fashion, portrait, underwater and quite a bit of studio photography. That’s why I wouldn’t call myself a pure sports photographer.”
TC: What role does nature play in your work?
RK: “As most of the images I take are for advertising, I use battery-powered studio flash units to make the product “pop” out of the shot. In this case, the nature just becomes a huge studio for me. There are always surprises which you have to adapt to and often it’s a real challenge to get a good shot. There are so many components that have to play together– the weather, the right location, the mood of the athletes, the durability of the equipment, the mood of the art director, etc. There are so many things you can’t control, so at the end of the day you could say it’s karma. You could wind up with junk. It’s a bit like life, and that’s what I love about it!!”
TC: What do you hope to communicate with your images?
RK: “In the best scenario, the viewer of the image should think: ‘I would like to be there, doing the same move, getting the same thrill!” But for my clients, it’s probably more important that the viewer thinks ‘that’s a nice piece of sports equipment, I want to buy it!’”
Thanks for sharing the images and your perspective, Ronny. Ronny Kiaulehn is based in Germany where he produces images like these for a variety of commercial clients. Kiaulehn has also produced a portfolio of underwater photography, where he shoots “everything but fish” (link NSFW). In our eyes, photographers like Kiaulehn make art out of advertising and commercial photography, and even if we aren’t the target audience for his clients, we can still appreciate the skill and vision he shows in his work.