Mongolian Eagle Hunters' Legacy Beautifully Documented by Photographer Sasha Leahovcenco

Mongolian Eagle Hunters' Legacy Beautifully Documented by Photographer Sasha Leahovcenco

When a commercial photographer, Sasha Leahovcenco, decides to document the touching experience and life of people he has never met before, the result is quite astonishing. You would think pre-production played a huge part and that he had to have had exceptional gear, carried by a huge team, but the truth is far from that. The experience was the heart of this series, and the pictures show it well. Combining both journalistic and commercial genres with a very personal approach yields pictures we only wish we could see more often.

Leahovcenco friend, Cale Glendening, who is also a director and cinematographer, was in China for a project and wanted to travel to Mongolia. Before he left China, he asked Leahovcenco if he wanted to join him there. The rich culture, the breathtaking landscapes, and the quite interesting nomadic life that this western Asian country has to offer made the decision very easy. Only two weeks later, both friends met in Ölgii.

As you can guess reading this, not much planning went into the creation of this series. But planning is not everything. In fact, when the goal is to document a story, I would be tempted to say that planning should be the least of a photographer’s worries.

The story these two creative minds went to Mongolia to capture is quite touching. While discussing with their local guide, the name "Konki" came out. Konki is a young eagle hunter. However, he hasn’t been for very long. He is the descendant of a family of eagle hunters, but he was never interested in this practice. When his father passed away about two years ago, he decided to learn the ins and outs of this art to carry on the tradition. One of his cousins and some of his friends came together to give him a hand and teach him. Konki is now looking forward to seeing his son grow up and being able to pass on to him the legacy.

Documenting such a story means following the hunters in their daily journey. Leahovcenco had to deal with the cold weather, the steep mountains, and the language barrier (a local guide is always great in this case), as well as carrying the photography gear while following the Mongolian on their treks. The pictures were created on the go, using the beautiful scenery and lighting the daily locations had to offer.

Leahovcenco made the choice to keep his gear to a minimum. He brought with him only a Canon 5D Mark III, a 24-70 f/2.8L II, and an AlienBee B800 with a 35" octa. When traveling, carrying too much gear can create problems rather than solve existing ones. As they had to walk quite a bit every day, having a small kit was almost a requirement. Also, as Leahovcenco told me, when shooting, having too many lenses, light shapers, and other gadgets to chose from might make you overthink and overcomplicate things. Learning to do with what you have is paramount and helps you concentrate on your subjects rather than on futile details no one will ever really care about.

When I asked Leahovcenco if he wanted to share one more thing with our readers, his answer resonated with me. He couldn’t quite put into words the feeling he had creating this series, but he told me that the best part of this whole project was the experience: sharing the life of these eagle hunters he had never met before, living like them, eating like them, experiencing what and how they live. This is what he thinks of when looking back on these images, and I believe that this is what we should think of as well.

Photography is an incredible art and means of communication. We get to meet people and share things with them that we probably wouldn’t otherwise. It’s a perfect excuse to live dreams that are close to impossible to realize. The gear, the pre-production, the post-production: all of those participate in creating more fancy images. However, the experience and relation with your subject are what give a soul and spirit to the pictures. The series Sasha Leahovcenco created and shared here with us is the proof of it.

Check out more of Leahovcenco's work on his website

Images used with permission of Sasha Leahovcenco.

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13 Comments

Marco Fiorini's picture

Wonderful portraits..

Louis Tinsley's picture

Now thats how you shoot

The images are really nice, well done, good light, poses, background, timing, but although I know shallow DOF is cool I would have preferred the eagles to be sharp in the upper body portraits because they are an important part of the image and the people's lives. In the full body environmental portraits, I just don't like the slightly blurred background. Either blur the hell out of it, or make it sharp. Well, I guess that's personal preference.

tim gerges's picture

Incredible Images!!!!

Oscar Bjarnason's picture

Love these

More please.

Radoslaw Kazmierczak's picture

Landscape looks like painting. Awesome.

Joshua Mattox's picture

Wow those are some really great portraits! Fantastic work!

Mark Scott's picture

wonder if that is natural fog or a machine? Amazing shots. Mongolia is definitely is on my wish list!

Oliver Oettli's picture

Having travelled to Mongolia several times - where I also shoot documentaries and portraits - I can assure you there is basically no way to bring a fog machine to this place. I am already wondering how he charged his flash there. I can only imagine its done by solar energy or a device that turns the car battery into chargeable electricity.
I once brought an Elinchrome Ranger with me, but the battery only lasts so long and I was busy all the time trying to charge it.

Cale Glendening's picture

Happy to clarify this for you fellas. We took a generator with us, which is how we powered our batteries. Sasha charged his packs and I charged my red epic batteries. This smoke above is actually created by a stove from inside the house. Konki and his son are on their roof and the smoke is coming from their chimney.

Chris Nguyen's picture

Damn, these are beautiful.

Yang Shan Ting's picture

love the light balance! well done and very inspiring :D