Meet the adventure photography master

How would you capture ‘adventure photography’ in one image? For Swedish photographer Fredrik Schenholm it was this…

Skier: Oscar Hübinette Tolbachik, Kamchatka, Russia @Fredrik Schenholm
Skier: Oscar Hübinette Tolbachik, Kamchatka, Russia @Fredrik Schenholm

This is from Kamchatka. It’s freeride skier Oscar Hübinette swinging into a turn in front of an active volcano that’s spewing vividly coloured molten rock. And it’s quite an arresting image. It’s so good, in fact, that National Geographic went on to publish it and the story behind it.

But this image was nearly five years in the making. In December 2008 Fredrik was standing on top of Cotopaxi, an active volcano in Ecuador. He was there on another assignment, nothing related to skiing or shooting erupting volcanoes. But while he was standing there checking the light, fixing his equipment, the neighbouring volcano started getting angry, throwing out huge lumps of blazing rock and vomiting a steady stream of molten material from the deepest, darkest depths of the earth. And this spawned an idea in Fredrik’s brain. To capture his ultimate ‘adventure’ image: a skier in front of an active volcano.

“I started making loads of trips to active volcanoes after that. I became obsessed with it. Every morning and night I would check all these volcano blogs to see what was happening. Three or four times I just flew out somewhere the next day. But I never managed to capture the shot. I kept failing.”

Then on a trip to Kamchatka, a 1,250km-long peninsula in the remote far east of Russia, Fredrik achieved his goal.

“Everything just came together. And I was ecstatic. It had been a lot of hard work and I ended up with a big minus on my bank account. But it was definitely made up for by a big plus on the life account – that’s what really matters. It was my Olympic medal. It had been my goal for so long, so afterwards I didn’t know what to do.”

Sunnmöre, Norge @Fredrik Schenholm
Sunnmöre, Norge @Fredrik Schenholm

Getting this perfect shot actually started way before Fredrik was standing on top of Cotopaxi. As a teenager he started working at his father’s printing shop. But far from being bitten by the photography bug he found the work dull.

“It’s my dad’s doing,” says Fredrik. “By my 16th birthday my dad was sick of me not being into photography so he bought me a camera. And much to his pleasure, I became instantly hooked.”

Back then it was all analogue photography, but Fredrik had the advantage of milking his dad’s printing shop for all it was worth. He experimented – a lot – shooting anything that took his fancy and printing everything at his dad’s shop. But the real life-changing, penny-dropping moment came a few years later in St Anton.

Skiiers climbing up a mountain

“I was a total ski bum. I did three seasons washing dishes in the evenings and hitting the slopes and backcountry during the day. But I soon found I preferred standing behind instead of skiing in front of the camera.”

Through a combination of skills, hard work and being in the right place at the right time – not to mention having friends with more than just your average skiing ability – Fredrik was able to transition from ski bum to ski photographer. This was not something he wanted to do as his hobby. This was where he felt alive. The mountains were where he felt at home and the camera was his way of combining time outdoors with a healthy dose of travel and adventure.

Skier in the sunset, view over the mountains

Fredrik moved to Chamonix in 2002 to become a full-time photographer and it wasn’t long before his images were appearing in magazines beside first-class reportage on adventure sports athletes, most notably skiers. And he’s been focusing on adventure photography ever since.

“It was a lifestyle choice really. I just wanted to be in the mountains all the time. It was like I was in a tunnel – nothing else existed. It was the mountains or nothing.”

His style, or USP (unique selling point), is to capture the grandness of nature with people as small players in vast surroundings. “I want nature to be the focus really. I want my images to make an impact on people – to get them to say ‘I wanna be there’ – I like it when nature has a say in the photography."

Skier: Oscar Hübinette Location: Senja island, Norway @Fredrik Schenholm
Skier: Oscar Hübinette Location: Senja island, Norway @Fredrik Schenholm

So what now?

“Haha, good question! Now I’m looking for a lightning shot. There are a few climbing and biking shots I want to capture under severe thunderstorms. It’s going to be another challenge, but it’s definitely doable. But it’s hard to plan. Suddenly it just happens, that the light or the thunderstorm is in the right place – then it’s like magic. It’s gonna take a while, but it’s a good excuse to spend a lot of time outdoors.”

We just hope Fredrik’s wife and two kids are equally as patient, as we can see this being another long-in-the-making goal. But knowing Fredrik, his determination and his amazing eye for composition the result is definitely going to be worth it.


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