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Luck, Risk and Suffering

Luck, Risk and Suffering

John Thornton
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Photography is a science as well as an art. Technical skill and experience are the common qualities behind a good image, but instinct, judgement, risk-taking, a willingness to suffer and often a flash of blind luck are the additional ingredients that lie behind a truly captivating image.

John Thornton is a climber, skier and member of the Jöttnar Pro Team. He’s also a professional photographer, an embracer of suffer-fests, a taker of risks and in a steady relationship with Fortuna. Here he talks us through his favourite 10 images.


The Different Perspective
I’ve tried to freshen up my approach to Winter images and move away from the standard angles you see so often. This image, which was shot on a telescopic pole gets you above the action and allows you to clearly see the skiers, the terrain, and importantly their destination.


The Painful
It was 5am and we were woken by storm winds and a thick layer of snow inside our tent. Crawling from the shelter of my sleeping bag, I saw that everyone’s tents were damaged or near flattened. I grabbed my camera and I captured this image of Ernst reluctantly getting up to inspect the damage of the storm. It was cold and wild, and captured the remoteness of Kyrgyzstan.


The Risky One
Late in the day, the sun was cooking the slopes as we began touring up towards the summit. I didn’t want to stop, but knew that this could make for an image I’ve always wanted to capture. Precariously traversing my way under a sizeable wind lip, I positioned myself under this rapidly melting mass above my head. A risky situation to be in, but worth it.


The One That Nearly Broke Us
It was the Crystal Awards Innsbruck photo competition and I desperately wanted to capture the sunrise from high above on the Nordkette. We were only 300 metres from the summit when first light began to hit the slopes. Forced to take off our skis and begin boot-packing we crawled frantically up this final slope in crazily mixed snow. Stood on the summit, completely out of breath, the sun began to rise above the horizon. We were destroyed, but Kilian somehow still had the energy to perfectly execute a turn (on terrible snow) above the picturesque Innsbruck.


The Perfectly Timed
Now completely engulfed by the incoming storm, we were navigating only by this single knife edge ridge. Thick clouds were all around us. We were graced a sudden single calm moment and a beam of light that illuminated my partners below. Just a few seconds later and I could barely see them.


The Mistake
It’s the Arco Rockstar photo competition and we’re on a tight deadline. With the sun rapidly rising and beginning to hit the wall, I hauled myself up this rope as quick as possible whilst Chesko smoothly climbed his way up. We got some great shots, including this one which focuses down on the action and emphasises the exposure below. That’s when I realised that this exact image had been taken in last year’s competition! I couldn’t use it and we had just wasted time, or perhaps not. I really like the composition of this image and it’s still one of my all-time favourites.


The Award Winner
We took our first photo at 6am and it was now 7pm. One of the longest days of non-stop shooting I’d had, and what better way to end it. Perched high above Lake Garda, Mattias and Chesko topped out on their last climb as the sun beamed from the mountains behind. It was a long day but it paid off when we took 1st place in the Arco Rockstar!


The Sufferfest
I had been battling high winds and freezing temperatures all alone for several hours as I retreated back to the hut. As I descended the cloud became a little thinner and the sun began to rise. Precariously positioning my camera and setting the timer, I attempted to capture this beautiful moment. I was frozen to the core, but suffered for the next 45 minutes running up and down that ridge to get the shot. As a photographer, it’s moments like these that I love!


The Experiment
Dunking my camera in the snow before shooting the skier went beyond all my instincts to keep the lens clean. I was highly doubtful of this working first time but it did. I love this image because it puts the viewer in the action. It instantly reminds me of when I’m skiing, the emotions it brings and that amazing feeling of being engulfed in the deep, powdery snow.


The Lucky One
With no marker and barely any description of where to make the turn, I was highly sceptical of this working. Yes, I did have to think carefully about the framing of this photo and the desired exposure. However, the fact that Felix managed to make his turn directly in line with me and the sun was pure luck. This image (along with others) were later published in Ski Canada Magazine.


John Thornton is a member of the Jöttnar Pro Team. Read more about him here.

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