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© Richard Walch
German photographer Richard Walch started out over 25 years ago shooting snowboarding and skiing, and now specialises in dramatic action shots of snow and water sports. He was 16 when photography became a passion and at the age of 18 he started shooting for magazines professionally.
At the age of 26 his journeys to the best mountain spots were published in a book called ‘Fascination Snowboarding’. Ten years later he published his second book, this time about "the German dream of the Americas Cup." Overnight Walch was asked to shoot ‘the premier league’ in sailing and a year later became the official team photographer for the first German Americas Cup Team. Walch became fascinated by the power of water and wind and tries to shoot water like snow. "With a fresh eye to the sport and with a bag full of motivation, I soon found myself at the heart of the sailing community.”
For the last five years Walch has produced a calendar called ‘The Art of Sailing’. The calendar is printed on foil and has a strong layout. It won the Kodak Photo Prize as well as Gold and Silver at the International Calendar Show in Germany. Walch also shoots advertising and editorial work for companies such as Head, Elan, Oakley and Tommy Hilfiger as well as major brands such as Apple, Velux, Audi and BMW.
Handball is one of the fastest indoor sports and has become the next adventure for Walch. “As the lead photographer for the Velux5oceans round the world sailling race, Velux asked me to bring my style of photography to Handball – their latest sponsorship.” It turned into a two-year project for Walch and the European Handball Federation published a book about the project, featuring his photographs, in 2011.
Since 2008 Walch has diversified from stills into shooting HD movie projects with Canon EOS DSLRs, including TV adverts and commercial projects. He is always on the move to find out what technology has to offer and how this can influence his photography and filming in a positive way.
From the snow to the sea, there’s nowhere Canon Ambassador Richard Walch won’t go in order to capture his stunning, extreme action pictures. Richard Walch speaks to CPN to reveal his photographic and film-making motivations and why he loves shooting the great outdoors.
When you’ve spent several punishing hours climbing a mountain, with snowboard and backpack strapped to your shoulders, the last thing you might want to do is spend hours in the freezing cold being creative. Fighting the elements in the pursuit of great pictures might sound like fun, but for some people the extreme outdoors is more than just a playground – it’s a workplace. And Richard Walch knows all about the challenges his place of work presents. Where once for him the adrenaline of getting on a ‘board and carving up some snow was the reason for getting out of bed in the morning, now the rush comes from producing stunning images and videos of fellow snowboard athletes and sailing teams – in all manner of precarious situations.
“As soon as I arrive at a location or event I switch the mode dial on in my head,” Richard explains. “I become completely focused on the picture. I am in 100 per cent photography mode. The photography is the rush for me now. It’s like entering a zone – I have trained myself to see light and motion and I try to anticipate both. That’s what drives me.”
At home on snow as well as water, it was the latter that has presented Richard with his most exciting challenges. “In 2005 I started shooting sailing,” he recalls. “Before then I always used to specialise in snowboarding and skiing, because that’s what I loved the most, but then something funny happened: the guy who gave me my first job shooting a snowboarding event a few years earlier, got the money together to start the German Americas Cup team. He secured the backing, recruited the talent and realised that he needed a photographer. It was an ambitious project, as Germany – though quite successful in World Championship and Olympic sailing – had never competed in an event like the Americas Cup before. He called me up and told me to be at the airport in 45 minutes, ready to fly to Valencia, Spain. I live 30 minutes away from the terminal so had, like, 15 minutes to pack my gear! But I got there in time and from that first adventure all those years ago I have become the official team photographer.”
Richard quickly fell in love with the high seas, relishing the challenging environment but also developing a healthy respect for its power. “If you don’t have enough respect, you’re dead. I respect the mountains and the sea equally. Water moves all the time, just like snow in a way, but it’s so much more intense and I try to capture that – especially that moving feeling as the waves fall and rise; capturing a ‘feeling’ is an essential part of my photography. I shoot at the lowest angles – often with long lenses – sometimes putting the camera in an underwater housing if I need to, just to get that definitive moment. I’m generally really brutal with the equipment because I know it can take it. It gets so much punishment from the elements but the reward comes in the end because I get different shots which – I hope – show that intensity.”
Richard Walch is clearly very engaged and ‘at one’ with his choice of subject, and his passion for great images quickly rubs off on those around him. As Canon’s latest Ambassador (as of August 2012) he feels very privileged to be in a position to showcase his work – and Canon’s equipment – to a wider audience. “I feel very lucky to be in this position where I can demonstrate the capabilities of these fantastic cameras and lenses,” he enthuses. “I work with people all the time, and I love the energy I get from them when they understand what it is I am trying to achieve. My commitment to Canon is equal to my commitment to my work.”
Richard also enjoys those solitary moments, too. “If I’m at a sailing event on the boats, there are those very special moments when isolation is all around you,” he reflects. “When I am cruising out on a boat to meet the regatta field, for instance, it’s such a great moment because for a few minutes before the craziness begins you have left all your problems on land. You have cleared your mindset and you know that what you will shoot today will be special – those moments are only there for one time.”
Mental preparation for the extremes of sport is vital in Richard Walch’s job, and having equipment that you know will work the instant you press the button is imperative. Richard shoots with an EOS-1D X and a 5D Mark III – recent upgrades from an EOS-1D Mark IV and a 5D Mark II respectively – and puts his trust in them every day. “You have to be on alert all the time. Once you are out there you have to be ready to shoot instantly. Things can happen in a split second and you’ll never get a second chance. That’s the fun though.”
Richard Walch never intended to become a photographer. “It kind of just happened naturally,” he reflects. “My whole education was drawn towards business – I have a degree in business studies – and as a photographer that’s certainly a useful tool. But my love for photography started way before that in high school – we had a really good set-up there with a proper darkroom, print room and a top-notch lab. I was in charge of the lab and loved every moment being there.”
He adds: “It was while I was at school there in the Alps that snowboarding really began to get popular and all my friends were into it, some of whom went into it professionally and eventually featured in my photographs. The photography evolved naturally without even planning. The lucky moment for me came when the sport became a trend sport – it became a big industry and I was there right at the start of it.”
Richard’s first EOS experience happened when he had just finished his studies and was about to turn professional. “I went to Photokina in Cologne, Germany, and spent time at the Canon booth where I met the Head of the Pro Division who allowed me to try out the latest kit of the time. It was an EOS-1N. I tried it, loved it and bought it. I was convinced Canon was the right choice back then, principally because of the autofocus. It was super quick and in my job I needed that speed. Canon was the first to make the focus motors in the lens – which totally makes sense. I chose Canon because the guys there were friendly – totally cool – and I was so young with sparks in my eyes and they could see that and supported me as a motivated young kid. The second reason was the product. It just worked – and what I liked back then and still do now is it gives you solid feedback.”
Richard Walch is one a new breed of image-makers whose work embraces not just the frozen moment (quite literally, in some cases) but the moving one, too. Thanks fundamentally to the EOS 5D Mark II – and, more recently, the Mark III – he has experimented with EOS Movies and now incorporates both moving and still images into his workflow. It has opened up his way of thinking and has helped him get more work from clients in the process. And though movies require a new way of thinking, some techniques are complementary.
Richard explains: “The biggest advantage of shooting movies with a DSLR is that you can build on your photography skills. The camera, the lenses, they are already familiar to you. Everything I learned as a photographer I can transfer to movie making and what I say to anyone wanting to try, is this: ‘with the 5D Mark II and III you are already half way there.’ Sure, there is lots to learn about movie-making, but these cameras and lenses give you a huge advantage.”
On the subject of making films he is quick to point out that he’s not about to jump into Spielberg’s size nines. “Everything I do stays under five minutes – I’m no Hollywood director and I’ve never been to film school, but everything I do comes from instinct,” he admits. “The very best movie projects, I have realised, are done as a partnership between cameraman and director and the biggest learning curve for me is that in photography you are one man Joe, but in filmmaking you need a team.”
Richard has worked on three films so far: ‘I love my friends’, ‘Racetrack’ and ‘Radball’, each growing in complexity. “All the projects I have been undertaken with Manamedia – a great team,” he quickly points out. “Dani ‘Kiwi ‘Meier taught me about directing and Bryce Gubler showed me the secret of true solid camera work. On our first project we where a really small crew. But by the time we worked on our third project – ‘Radball’ – the number had grown to 25 people on set. It’s amazing how quickly all these doors opened up for me thanks to Canon and the 5D Mark II and III cameras.”
“Editing is the key to strong movie making. I suck at editing,” he candidly admits, “so I work with people who have a passion in that area, just as I do for photography. Of course you need to have a strong idea at the start. The real secret for success comes in sitting down with an editor to work out how to achieve that. If you take care in whom you pick to work with, and then give them some space to breathe, they will raise that concept to another level.”
Away from the slopes or the sea, Richard is finding a bigger rush these days in blending technology together. Stills and movies in one massive creative doughball? That’s a recipe for success in his book. “My latest project is something I’m doing for the Tyrol tourism board. I’m mixing panoramic shots with movies of the same scene. I photographed a snow slope, shooting it in the morning, then at midday and then at night. And then with the 5D Mark III I filmed a skier skiing right across the shot. I stitched 40 different images together afterwards to make a big panorama and the whole thing looks fantastic. The camera angle doesn’t change but the day changes from morning to night, and the movie brings it all together. That’s what’s exciting to me – to bring it all together in one bag, shake it all up and see what happens.”
Richard Walch travels light, by design. He carries everything he needs in a big backpack that he straps to his back when climbing the slopes or aboard boats. “My favourite lens is the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. It’s an eye pleaser; a workhorse, just brilliant. The other special lens I love using is the EF14mm f/2.8L II USM. It’s just a cool lens. It looks cool too!” he jokes. “It allows me to get amazing angles and it is incredibly sharp. I can shoot really difficult angles especially when I’m filming, which is where you really notice any weaknesses in a lens. Angles are important, especially with sailing shots.”
“In my backpack goes an EOS-1D X and 5D Mark III plus the EF14mm, EF16-35mm, EF24-105mm, EF70-200mm f/2.8 plus an EF1.4x III converter and an EF500mm f/4. Of course, I can send in a shopping list now I am an Ambassador!” he laughs.
Richard uses the 1.4x extender a lot. More so than he did with the previous series II. “The III series is so sharp – a much better product. But it doesn’t really like water! I dropped one a few weeks ago on a wet ship and the electronics stopped working!”
He loves the new range of EF lenses, not just because of their extreme sharpness, but because they are easier to handle. “I hand-hold all my kit – so weight is a big issue for me,” he advises. “With the latest generation of cameras and lenses Canon has really stepped it up. They have totally done their homework and it’s a pleasure to work with this new generation.”
“The time in photography now is just so exciting,” he concludes. “It’s so cool that companies like Canon listen to the feedback we photographers give. They are as committed to making it happen as the image-makers. That, to me, gives me complete trust. We are on a tip of an technology iceberg!” Well, he’d know all about that...