Portland, Oregon–based photographer and mountain climber Didrik Johnck captures dazzling moments in far-off locations for cutting-edge travel and tourism clients. In 2002, MSNBC.com hired him to capture its “Great Escapes” series. Gigs with MSN.com followed. Together, they prepared him for his latest assignment: a plum deal with Yahoo!
In 2005, Yahoo! created the Yahoo Media Group to produce original content for the Web. Johnck was contacted by Richard Bangs, a pioneering broadcaster on the Web, to work on the Yahoo! “Richard Bangs Adventures” series. Bangs uses the Yahoo! platform to supercharge his stories of adventurers and explorers from around the world.
”We produce multimedia immersions of our monthly journeys,” says Johnck. “Viewers follow our travels through Bangs’s daily reports, enhanced with photos and video and audio clips. We use top field communication systems for updates to give viewers a near-immediate broadcast on the Web.”
Creating the series requires long hours and plenty of planning. Even before the team sits down for an initial strategy session, ideas will be kicked around by email and phone. Projects start with a media grid to identify segments for the overall storyline. Visual elements are mapped out, and daily deliverables are scheduled with the editors.
Each adventure typically has a writer, photographer, videographer, and sometimes a field producer. “We’re constantly brainstorming about image needs and how to best capture each story,” says Johnck. “We use video, still images, a photo slideshow with audio tracks, audio stand-alones, and 360-degree surround photos.” On this project, he’s worked as photographer, videographer, and producer, capturing images hanging out of helicopters, rappeling down cliffs, and braving rushing waters.
Traveling primarily on foot, Johnck carries only the essentials: a Canon 20D body, wide and medium zoom lenses, 12GB of Lexar CF media cards, an off-camera flash unit, Sony FX and HDR-HC1 HDV video cameras, microphone equipment, a carbon fiber tripod, and plenty of batteries. A second bag contains a complete set of backup gear.
After a full day’s shoot, he works another six hours selecting and editing image files and video to upload to home servers through a landline or satellite connection. When a landline isn’t feasible, he uses an RBGAN or Nera M4 satellite data unit connected to an HP laptop, with Telenor airtime.
“The technological bar keeps getting raised in this line of work,” says Johnck. “It used to be impressive if a photographer provided a few beautifully shot low-res images of travel and nature adventures. For “Richard Bangs Adventures,” we transfer upward of 30MB of data each day: 20 to 30 images, two to four videos, audio clips, and a 1,000-word article. About 20 images are published per dispatch, some 100 to 150 images during a two-week assignment. The pressure is tremendous to consistently produce high-quality visuals.”
During the first Yahoo! Adventure, which chronicled American John Harlin III’s ascent of the Eiger in Switzerland, Johnck worked from the base camp. He captured the team making their way up the mountain, and tracked them by train or helicopter as they progressed. “As a climber, I knew I wouldn’t appreciate a chopper hovering over me as I concentrated on climbing an ice flute 3,000 feet up. We were respectful of what the team was trying to accomplish. Harlin shot many images of the actual climb.”
How did Johnck get involved in extreme photography for the Internet? ”Extreme photography was a very difficult way to earn a living,” he says. “I made a number of trips to remote places, gaining important skills that give me an edge today, such as mastering remote power and satellite communications systems, and knowing how to select the right technology and tools based on climate, environment, and other factors.” And early in the game, he realized online clients were more likely to offer young people the chance to advance quickly based on talent, rather than on who they know. For one of his first big clients, the now-defunct Quokka Sports, he shot mountain-climbing events and edited and transmitted the imagery back on a daily basis.
After Quokka, things snowballed, and in 2001 he became the expedition photographer for a Mount Everest climb with blind athlete Erik Weihenmayer. His photo made the cover of Time and thousands of other publications.
“Online publishers devour photos at such a rapid pace that many photographers are just not experienced in handling the demands and newspaper-style deadlines for this type of work. In comparison, shooting for print magazines feels like a luxury. You get to spend a week in the field, come back to a comfy office, then take all the time in the world to pore over your images.”
Next stop on the “Richard Bangs Adventures” series: Africa.