World-renowned photographer and storyteller Corey Rich has led a life filled with unforgettable memories. From watching and recording history take place while hanging on the side of Yosemite’s El Capitan, to sleeping in a snow cave with climbing’s most accomplished athletes, there is not much he hasn’t seen or done.
Rich recently passed through Salt Lake City while on his “Stories Behind the Images” book tour and I was able to steal a few minutes of his time to talk about his photography, adventures and new book.
“Stories Behind the Images: Lessons Learned from a Life in Adventure Photography” is a compilation of his most story-rich photographs, captured throughout his life as an adventure photographer and filmmaker — and it’s absolutely breathtaking. Though it’s not intended to be read cover-to-cover, I devoured the book from front to back in less than a week.
But it’s not your typical photography book as it isn’t necessarily a portfolio of Rich’s best work. Rather, it’s about the larger-than-life people and places he has been able to meet and visit throughout his lifetime.
Rich grew up in California, where he discovered his love for climbing thanks to one of his teachers. After rock climbing for the first time, he picked up a camera so he could capture his weekend outings and share the eye-opening moments with his friends. Photography and climbing immediately intoxicated him. Rich shot photos for his high school yearbook and worked for a local paper, all while refining his eye and craft.
After bargaining with his dad, Rich took a semester off from college to fully devote his time to traveling the West and photographing rock climbing. It was a life-changing decision. Soon after, his images landed countless magazine covers, Patagonia catalogues and much, much more. Now, Rich directs and produces high-value commercial projects for Fortune 100 companies.
“I’m not exclusively shooting adventure sports anymore. I’ve evolved as a creative person.” Rich said. “I’m busier than I’ve ever been in my life working on creatively challenging projects. There can be gaps when I’m not sharing or publishing adventure [photographs] because I'm so busy with other work. I’m just not allowed to share or show it. It’s a creative challenge, but a sweet spot to be in.”Though, climbing, adventure and the outdoors are what always have and always will ground the photographer. “While working with great people and bigger teams, I realize that if I don’t have enough time outside then I’m not as creative,” said Rich. “The outdoors feeds my creativity.”
One of the most difficult aspects of adventure photography is working in extreme and risky environments. For creatives working in the outdoors, though, the most compelling stories are often told when the photographer is most uncomfortable. Pushing the margins of safety can sometimes mean capturing the best images, but it also means walking a fine line.
“While the athletes are focused on performance and safety, you have an extra layer of commitment. You’re focused on performance and safety, too. But you also have to make images,” Rich said. “There is no ego in what we’re doing. This type of photography relies on total transparency and trust in your partners. And there’s no photograph worth getting hurt or dying for.”
As is evident in “Stories Behind the Images,” Rich’s life is a testament to living without regrets and following your passion. He started creating pictures with a film camera when he was 13 years old and dedicated his life to visually telling stories.
“What drives me is that I want to move the needle in some way. I want to make people feel something,” Rich said. “My goal is always to get people outside and to have experiences of their own. And on a deeper level, once people are outside they’ll start caring more about these places.”
To say Rich has achieved and continues to achieve his goal would be an understatement, as the photographer has constantly proved that he does in fact "move the needle." Rich has consistently been on the cutting-edge of photography’s latest and greatest technology and has mastered the art of immersion-based storytelling, through both the still and moving image.
As covered in the book, Rich was asked by Nikon to introduce its latest camera at the time, the Nikon D4. For the project, the director was given a blank canvas, allowing him to create whatever he wanted to.
For the shoot, Rich experimented with early-drone technology by mounting one of the Nikon D4 bodies onto a DIY drone, a rig built in a garage with random parts and pieces. The idea to utilize this tool for this particular shoot — with one of the few flagship Nikon bodies at the time — was cutting edge. His choice almost led to a damaged or lost camera, but the reward was worth the risk. Corey’s film resulted in a seven minute long film titled “Why”, which features three world-class athletes — Alex Honnold, Dane Jackson, and Rebecca Rusch — and the story behind what drives them to push the limits every day.
Since then, Rich has proceeded to debut other cameras and technology, such as Nikon’s D4s, D5 and D850, among others. He also helped launch Nikon’s KeyMission 360, a dual-lens action camera that shoots high-res stills and motion in full 360 degrees.
And the introduction in the industry of VR and 360 means the way we creatively tell stories is constantly changing. Though for Rich, the future of storytelling is nothing short of exciting, as the coming years hold endless possibilities.
“For almost every job we do for Fortune 100 companies there is a still photographer and videographer,” he said. “I do think the time is coming where we will be legitimately pulling stills out of video. I think it’s in our future to shoot stills and video simultaneously.”
Rich continues to stand on the cutting edge of the photography and storytelling world through Novus Select, his video production company based in South Lake Tahoe. With three business partners and a well-rounded staff, Rich has long outgrown just being “Corey Rich the Photographer.” With a roster of various directors and photographers, Novus Select caters to high-profile clients all around the world.
“In Latin, novus means ‘new,’ which reflects our idea of a new horizon or new light,” Rich said. “In some ways, that’s what we’re always striving to do — to bring the best talent and most gifted, talented people together to push boundaries.”
Now, Rich resides in South Lake Tahoe with his wife, Marina, daughter, Leila, and his dog, Preta. When asked what advice he would give to his daughter if she wanted to follow in his footsteps, Corey thoughtfully responded:“Part of my motivation for writing this book was that if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, it gives her a taste for who her dad is: Passion is what drives everything in my life, as well as being opportunistic and caring for those around me. I don’t have any expectation that she will be a storyteller or photographer. I just want her to try everything and figure out what it is that she loves doing, then do it to excess all the time while surrounding herself with people who are equally as passionate. That is what leads to a fulfilling life.”
To dive deeper into Corey Rich’s life and to read about the stories behind his images, pick up his book on Amazon today. To stay up to date on his latest work, follow his Instagram or check out his website.
All images are used with the permission of Corey Rich.