For Andy Mann, professional adventure photographer and co-founder of 3 Strings Productions, the obsession with capturing images all started as a young rock climber “dirtbagging” around the West with a two-megapixel digital camera.
“My first potential sale came from an image I took with that camera,” says Mann. “The client asked me for the hi-res version of the image and I had to say, ‘That is the high-res!’ The raw files came out of the camera at like 100KB.”
He soon linked up with fellow adventure photographer Keith Ladzinski with whom Mann would later launch 3 Strings. Under Ladzinski’s mentorship, Mann’s art and passion for photography took off. He made enough submissions to "Climbing" magazine that they created a position for him as senior contributing photographer.
Now, over a decade later, he’s upgraded from that trusty two-megapixel camera and gone on to contribute to National Geographic and The New York Times, and has worked with clients such as Red Bull, Adidas and The North Face, among many others.
Watch Sasha DiGiulian climb a first ascent in South Africa in a video produced by 3 Strings:
Drawn to the darker expressions — raw emotion, stormy skies, glassy eyes, gritty textures — Mann describes himself as an explorer. He is driven to document firsts, whether that’s the first ascent of a climbing route or the first documented glimpse of a remote and wild landscape.
After over a decade of shooting all over the world — from Rocklands, South Africa, to the French Polynesian island Ua Pou — Mann has some basic advice: “Surround yourself with artists and athletes that you admire,” he says. “Don’t be in it for anything other than the experience you’ll have with them.” That, and buy a 50mm 1.8 lens for your camera. “Go photograph people’s faces,” he says. “You’ll learn so much.”
Finding a 'rest' on a blank, steep rock climb is much like finding true love at Coachella — it’s probably just not there.
Mann’s biggest attribute for success, though, might be his willingness to get in way over his head, which has led to working with one of his favorite subjects. Upon being offered his first underwater shooting assignment, the client asked, “You are comfortable swimming with bull sharks, right?” Mann nodded, and then took a crash course to get his scuba certification and made his first open-water dive, with camera, onto a reef with 50 bull sharks in Fiji.
“I’ve since branched into spending several months every year in the water with sharks and on other ocean expeditions,” says Mann. “They are my most cherished and favorite wildlife subjects. I guess you could say that I jumped in. “
It’s obvious that Mann has more than a few stories about his adventures, so we asked him to share the ones behind his five favorite photos from his Instagram account. Check them out below.
In the Arctic
Searching for the last remaining untouched, undocumented, big-wall rock climbs in the world requires some old-school techniques, especially in the Greenland Arctic. I snapped this photo of National Geographic Explorer Mike Libecki on an old wooden boat, hoping to catch a better view as we enter a remote fjord four days into a 30-day mission to put up first ascents. It’s one of the only remaining parts of the world in which your best information on the area is via old, de-classified Danish military maps.
Finding a “rest” on a blank, steep rock climb is much like finding true love at Coachella — it’s probably just not there. However, I love this image of Alyse Dietel using her imagination to catch her breath and read the next sequence out of a steep corner feature.
Donnie and Hawk
This is my most-liked photo on Instagram, oddly, but not totally a surprise. My good buddy Donnie Mortimer and his son Hawk connect with people who are nowhere near a stormy Colorado farm, strolling with their kid in a lion suit. Somehow, these guys got it figured out. I spend as much time on their farm as I can.
The Wave (as it’s come to be known at National Geographic’s Pristine Seas) we discovered 200 miles off the coast of Western Sahara on a recent expedition to the Selvagens Islands. A rocky seamount rises from the sea floor and gives way to this beast of a wave. The wave itself didn’t have a swell, it would just rise from the deep and toss its weight. We photographed the wave before diving under it and documenting the seamount, which was full of life. I have hundreds of images of the wave, and every single one is different. You could create a book in an hour of shooting it.
Bull sharks (photo at top of article)
My first open-water dive was an unforgettable one — 50-plus big bull sharks in Fiji. It was the first time I had worked with an underwater housing and lighting — in some regard that probably made me feel insulated and safe. I walked away happy with this photo to tell the story. Half my time now revolves around ocean expeditions and storytelling. Sharks are my favorite subjects.