How did you become a National Geographic photographer?
A. I'd been working for some newspapers and magazines at a smaller level, and I got involved in a project where Nat Geo wanted to fly a World War I bi-plane from London to Cape Town, South Africa. I helped with several aspects of the
project including fundraising. In exchange, I was able to go as the photographer and writer.
The plane was an exact replica of the first airplane that ever flew through Africa, so it was an aviation adventure reenactment story. We ended up crashing once, so it ended up also having some good misadventure around it. I sold that to National Geographic, and they let me write it as well, and that’s how I got my foot in the door.
How do I work for National Geographic?
A. Work for others first. Craft your eye and skill as a storyteller.
What is it that draws you to rivers?
A. I love rivers—I grew up on them. I like fishing, I like boating. I like desert landscapes. I like mountain landscapes. I like wild places.
After years of documenting overseas, I was amazed that the story of my backyard river, the Colorado, wasn't being told in a broader spectrum. It made me realize that our rivers are the arteries of the planet; they're our lifelines. We can live without oil with some big, drastic changes, but we can't live without fresh water. To see these stories not being focused on made me think I should be one of the people that tries to change that, so I've just tried to focus my attention in that arena.
How did your Grand Canyon project come about?
A. I was asked to go give a talk about my Colorado River project and water at the Grand Canyon by the national park. While I was there, I was invited to walk down into the canyon and stay at one of the ranger huts down at the bottom. I had the good fortune to hike with some long-time Grand Canyon rangers, and they started telling me about some of the issues the Grand Canyon is facing and some of the development pressures that exist. It made me think, I should come back and look at that.
I reached out to a friend of mine who's written a book on the Grand Canyon, Kevin Fedarko, and we started talking. I got this crazy idea that maybe we should just walk the length of the park.
Very few people have walked the length of the Grand Canyon. It's really an extreme hike, and it became something of a personal challenge, but really it was a way to talk about the park itself and what's happening there. The issues in and around the Grand Canyon are really happening on all sides of the park and all four points of the compass.
What did you use to film Into the Canyon?
A. I used one camera and mostly one lens to keep weight down while hiking: the Sony α7R II and the 16-35mm f/4 lens. I brought the lightweight 70-200 f/4 occasionally, but I barely used it.
What's your advice for any up-and-coming photographer who wants to do what you do?
A. Find a story that you're passionate about and shoot for something that’s important to you. It sounds cliché, but follow your heart, and the money will follow. This is a tough way to make a living, but if you tell a story you care about and you're passionate about, the passion will show through in the work. And that will open doors and ways to get the story out there more. Sometimes these stories may take years to do.
After years of working and telling other people's stories for magazines, I finally just went and told what I thought was a personal story in my Colorado River book. That led me to film and to telling stories focused on water. And it's also led me to a place that is more interesting, more enriching and more engaging than if I was just trying to get the next assignment—whatever that assignment may be.