If you havent heard of Mead Nortton's work now it's time to get to know him! Unlike some sports photographers, Mead covers a wide range of sports. To give aspiring photographers an idea what it’s like to be a working adventure photographer, we interviewed Mead about his work, including what it’s like for him to shoot an event, some shooting tips for aspiring action photographers, and some travel horror stories.
I grew up loving sports- I played football competitively and made it to semi-pro level and realised that my athletic abilities would not take me any further but I didn’t want to give up living and interacting with athletes and sports so I turned to documenting sports and athletes with my camera.
My main job as a photographer is not to capture an image with my camera, but to problem solve and when I am presented with less than ideal conditions then I think outside the box to come up a solution to capture an image that both I as an artist and my clients will be happy with. A key factor with that is understanding your camera and lighting equipment so that you don’t waste a lot of time experimenting with settings. Also by planning ahead knowing what kind of looks you are after for each shoot and knowing when the light will be the best for the location you will be shooting at then that also saves a lot of time. In saying that when shooting some sports like Surfing or Skiing, then you are also a bit at the mercy of Mother Nature and having a lot of patience is also a key factor in being a good photographer.
I shoot with a wide range of cameras and have over 45 cameras that I have used in my career including a handbuilt 4x5 camera, pinhole 4x5 cameras (where the negatives are 4 inches by 5 inches), plastic holga medium format cameras, and digital cameras. My main cameras are Canon 5D mkIV which is great for me because it is more portable than the 1D series of cameras and the only reason I am a Canon shooter and not a Nikon shooter is that I started shooting on Canon cameras and have too many lenses to make the switch (If I had started out shooting Nikons, I would be a Nikon shooter). There is not real quality difference between the two brands. I also am using a Fuji XT2 mirrorless camera for when I want something smaller and more compact than my big DSLR Canon and have used that to photograph a 100km ultra run that I ran and documented from a runner’s point of view. I also have a collection of Go Pro cameras that I use as well.
Probably my biggest trip was my first trip to Nepal and Tibet. I spent six months in Nepal working as an English Teacher in a rural village on the trekking trail to Mt. Everest documenting the life of the students and teachers in the school and while I was there I got to climb a 6,000M mountain and attend a Buddhist festival in a remote village that no other Western visitor has attended and then I spent another month after that in Tibet where I hitchhiked to Nam-Tso Lake, the 3rd most visited holy site for Tibetan Buddhists and spent a week photographing the lake and pilgrims and also attended the Drigun-Til Buddhist Festival where I was one of three westerners in a sea of 15,000 Tibetans.
Nightmare travel stories- I guess it depends on what you consider nightmarish. I had dengue fever when I was in Thailand and spent a week in a hospital there and was almost not allowed to leave until I paid my bill in cash because the hospital would not accept my travel insurance. Only problem was that my wallet and passport were still in the hut I was staying in on a remote island 3 hours away. I finally convinced them to let me go back to the island and pay my bill to the doctor there.
Lost bags, delayed flights, double booked hotels are fairly standard stuff for me when travelling and which is why I always travel with all my camera gear on me and will miss a flight before I gate check any of my gear.
The two pieces of advice I have for anyone looking on heading out on an adventure is
1: Know/learn how to use your camera and what all the settings are on it. As good as the auto settings are getting on cameras, they can’t know if you are trying to freeze the action of a mountain biker or taking a nice calm landscape. As one of my photography teachers said, your brain is a much bigger and better computer than the little microchips put inside a camera.
2: Do your research before you go, know what the local customs are, what the rules are about where you can and can’t shoot and be sure to follow those rules and be flexible with your trip. A lot of times if I am just going on an exploratory trip somewhere I book the 1st night in a hotel and then I spend the first day in my new location to explore the area and figure out where I want to be based and I also always talk to the locals to find out their favourite places to visits, go to.