How'd They Get That Crazy Shot? Like This ...

Our favorite photographers show off how much work goes into capturing a top-rate image.
By Josh Sampiero

What's the secret behind an amazing action photo? Often, a photographer is required to do much of the same difficult stuff the subject athlete is doing — while lugging camera equipment and focusing (literally) on getting the job done and watching his or her own butt.

We asked some of the best in the biz to show us the time they were in front of the lens — selfies included.

Swimming with crocodiles


Octavio Aburto photographs a crocodile under water
It's not easy to get this close to a croc © Octavio Aburto

Octavio Aburto is a photographer in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico, with a mission: ocean conservancy. His way of doing it? Raising awareness with awe-inspiring, fear-inducing pictures of very scary animals — like this crocodile below.

Octavio Aburto's crocodile close-up
Yes, this guy can bite © Octavio Aburto

With no real space between him and the croc, Aburto's only choice was to stay still — very still. It worked, but fortunately he was able to move just enough to snap this toothy pic. Check out Aburto's Facebook page and his website and throw him a like — every bit helps when it comes to saving the oceans.

Hanging out on ice


Will Gadd ice climbing at Helmcken Falls in BC, Canada
Christian Pondella shoots climber Will Gadd © Christian Pondella/Red Bull Content Pool

Adventure photographer Christian Pondella likes to hang around in some weird places — for instance, on the side of a half-frozen waterfall to capture Will Gadd's epic ascent of Helmcken Falls, in British Columbia, Canada.

As Pondella puts it: “It’s these unique opportunities that allow you to supply a perspective that the general public will not normally get to experience in their lives — a glimpse into a potentially life-threatening world. Coincidentally, it’s also something that makes you feel alive, as the forces of Mother Nature are working for you and could very easily work against you. The actual photography needs to be second nature since it’s critical to constantly focus on your surroundings.”

Will Gadd ice climbing at Helmcken Falls in BC, Canada
Will Gadd climbing at Helmcken Falls in BC, Canada © Christian Pondella/Red Bull Content Pool

That wasn't the only time he's shot Gadd's dangerous endeavors. Pondella was also on hand to document Gadd's climb of Niagara Falls — the first time anyone has attempted an ice route on Niagara and a project that brought Gadd national attention in the mainstream press.

Under the waves


Phil Gallagher photographs Ben Thouard under the Tahitian waves
Ben Thouard lines up his shot under the surface © Phil Gallagher/Aquatech

Ben Thouard likes to swim — that's why he lives in Tahiti. He also likes to take pictures of surfing — another good reason to live in Tahiti. Sure, swimming under Southern Pacific swells (and above hard, sharp reef) is a little risky, but when you nail the shot, it's worth it.

Ben Thouard's shot of a surfer seen from under water
Shadows on the wave © Ben Thouard

Scoring a shot like this takes skill, knowledge, patience and the ability to hold your breath and stay calm under water.

It also takes specialized equipment to protect photography gear, but even that protection fails under the extreme conditions. Last year, a rogue wave caught Thouard unaware on a Jet Ski and ruined over $20,000 of photo equipment. Canon was nice enough to help him out with replacing it.

Of course, underwater isn't the only place Thouard takes photos ...

Shooting while steering a paraglider


Ben Thouard geared up for paragliding
Getting ready to shoot above Tahiti © Ben Thouard

Thouard's not only comfortable under the sea, he gets above it, too, in the powered paraglider he uses to take aerial pictures of Tahiti.

A surfer in Tahiti seen from above
Raimana von Bastolaer catches a Tahitian left © Ben Thouard

This shot of surfer Raimana von Bastoaler catching a Tahitian left was captured as Thouard paraglided above. Well, if Thouard crashes, at least he's landing in water!

Chasing lava in the Arctic Cirlce


Olivier Grunewald shoots photos of a volcanic eruption
Olivier Grunewald risking life, limb and camera © Olivier Grunewald

Photographer Olivier Grunewald has made a career out of taking pictures in amazing places — particularly volcanoes.

This shot was snapped at the Eyjafjöll volcano, above the Arctic Circle in Iceland, when it erupted back in 2010.

Olivier Grunewald's photo of the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjöll volcano in Iceland
This is why Olivier goes where he goes © Olivier Grunewald

Getting this close to moving lava allowed Grunewald to get images like the one above. Dig it? You'll also probably love his images of the Aurora Borealis.

Climbing by night

Ray Demski during the shooting of Norwegian Ice
Ray Demski on position and on point © Ray Demski

Ray Demski has been climbing and shooting photos of it for most of his life. His status as one of the world's best climbing photographers gives him the opportunity to pull off complicated shoots like Norwegian Ice — where he hauled a significant amount of lighting equipment onto a wall to create an image otherwise impossible at night.

Ice climbing and the Northern Lights in Norway
Worth it? You decide © Ray Demski

The extra effort with lighting allowed Demski to catch the climber in one single moment, rather than using multiple images to fill in light from the sky and proper exposure on the action right in front of him.

Hanging out in France

Alex Buisse and Jeff Mercier dry-tooling a new route in Argentíere
Hold it… stay right there… © Mathis Dumas

Alex Buisse calls the Chamonix Valley home and for good reason — it regularly allows him to take pictures of the sports he enjoys. Here, he hangs over a ledge to shoot climber Jeff Mercier dry-tooling a new route in Argentière.

The final photo of Jeff Mercier dry-tooling in Argentíere
Dry-tooling isn't always as easy as it looks © Alex Buisse

Mercier placed second in the Red Bull White Cliffs contest this year in Dover, England. His practice hanging out with Buisse certainly paid off.

Love this stuff? Check out the world's most unlikely places to climb below.


Next Story