Shoot Your Passion

Corey Rich became a professional photographer at an early age. At 16, he got his first job shooting real estate pictures for the local paper. He hadn’t yet mastered all the technical aspects of photography, but he says he’s always known a great picture when he sees one.

"I never intended to be a business owner," Rich says. "I was just following my passion. It was never about video versus still photography. It’s about storytelling. I was just totally consumed by this idea of communicating in the most powerful way.

"That was the era where my dad had a video camera where you wear a backpack with the VCR in it. We had a crappy camcorder that looked like a boombox you put on your shoulder with a lens attached to it…. I was always intrigued by multimedia, by video."

The problem, Rich says, was that for a very long time it was impossible to make video that looked as good as his photographs. That’s why video-capable DSLRs were so revolutionary. It’s not simply that they could record high-def video; it’s that the sensors and apertures combined to make video that was beautiful and cinematic.


David Lama and Daniel Streuerer, Patagonia, Argentina.

"It was always hard for me to look at a beautiful black-and-white image or a transparency," he says, "and then compare it to…VHS video content. One looked like crap and the other one was super-impressive. Over the years, I probably bought a dozen video cameras at different times…. It was just always so painful to look at the footage. The breakthrough was the day Nikon introduced the D90 as the first video-enabled DSLR."

Rich was traveling to California after a shoot back East when he picked up a copy of TIME for the flight home. In it he found the one-page technology column that changed his life.

Corey Rich’s Gear
Nikon D4S
Nikon D810
Nikon D750
Nikon 1 AW1
Many NIKKOR lenses
Litepanels continuous lighting equipment
Nikon SB-910 Speedlights
Profoto strobes
PocketWizard transceivers

"The headline was ‘Filmmaking Changed Forever,’" Rich says. "It was about the Nikon D90, and this tech reporter, not being a filmmaker or a photographer, recognized—and he might have been the first guy in the world to point this out to everyone—that what was unique about a DSLR that recorded video was that it looked cinematic."

Rich began dabbling with the camera and quickly realized it wasn’t like all those previous disappointments. Since it was a form factor he was familiar with, and he had lenses for the camera, all of a sudden cinematic video was easily accessible. He was holding his future in his hands.

When asked by a friend, a longtime adventure video producer, to shoot a segment in Yosemite National Park, Rich asked if he could use his new video-capable DSLR for the assignment.

"Coming from the film world," Rich notes, "he was super-skeptical of that idea. He was like, ‘I’m gonna send you the equipment that I want you to shoot it on.’ And, of course, I ended up on the side of El Capitan with him, and he had a very high-end camera, I don’t remember what it was, but probably a $15,000 or $20,000 top-notch video camera, and I had the DSLR. I was just comparing the images while hanging on the wall. And I proceeded to shoot the majority of the content on the DSLR."


Climbing in Yangshuo, China.
"More and more, I’m using continuous lighting for still shoots," says Corey Rich, "LED lights, HMI lights, etc. Never did I, in my wildest dreams, imagine that I would own so much continuous lighting. But now with the amazing low-light sensitivity of DSLRs, you just don’t need as much light for video or stills. In my opinion, the Nikon D4 changed the game for low-light video and still shooting. LED lights are powerful and portable."

Hanging on the side of El Capitan is difficult enough to begin with, and without a background in filmmaking, Rich was mostly winging it.

"Later I realized that a tripod would have been helpful," he says, "and an ND filter would have been helpful, and some kind of a loupe to see the back of the camera. But what was happening was, I was completely intrigued. Every time I would shoot a clip on that camera, I would pull my sweatshirt over my head to block the sun and I would watch this cinematic clip—footage of climbing that the world had never seen before because of that aesthetic that the DSLR camera provided. That was it. I was totally hooked."

The biggest difference between video assignments and photo assignments is that he’s no longer operating the camera on video shoots. As soon as a project gets large enough for a director, Rich says, that director can’t have his eye buried in a viewfinder.


Beth Rodden, Rocklands, South Africa.

"I think there are moments in any occupation," Rich says, "where you’re under enormous pressure, you’re an attorney or a doctor or a writer, and you’re working long days under pressure and you have this dream: ‘God, I wish it were simpler. I wish I was a roofer. I could just be out in the sun right now with a nailing gun putting tiles on a roof.’ There are moments as a director where you’re managing lots of people, you’re paying attention to the story, you’re interacting with the client, and I look over at the crew and think, ‘Damn, I wish I was operating the camera right now.’

"So I can’t say it took me away from the one thing I love. Part of what I love about photography is that you’re not just looking through the camera, you’re everything. You’re the producer, the director, the photographer, the fixer, the travel agent…. As a director, you tend to be all of those things, too, but you get to create content that you could never do alone. That’s the key. As soon as there’s a director involved, it means an increased level of sophistication. In terms of what’s being created, you can’t do it alone."

One of the benefits of coming up outside of the motion picture industry is a fondness for minimalism in terms of equipment and crew. If it weren’t for Rich’s ability to think outside the box, his shoots would be considerably less nimble and more expensive.

"It’s project by project," he says, "but I’m always an advocate for ‘less is more.’ One of the projects that I direct, we’re bringing high production values to the table and shooting exclusively on DSLRs. But we’re pulling out all the tricks: jib arms with MōVIs attached, flying helicopters…. At the end of the day, I hope it makes it more enjoyable to watch because it looks beautiful. It’s not just another schlocky, boring video.

"It’s about embracing technology," Rich adds. "That’s it. Because, look, guys in the film world have dreamed about doing stuff like flying cameras three feet from an athlete’s head as they mountain bike down a single-
track trail. That wasn’t possible 10 years ago. It is today."

The biggest challenge, notes Rich, is when a client wants both film and video from the same shoot. They may think of it as a time- and cost-saver, but invariably, he says, if one aspect isn’t the focus, both aspects will suffer.


Corey Rich on assignment, interviewing climber David Lama, in the Karakoram, Pakistan. "The world that I’m operating in is, we’re either using DSLR cameras or the RED EPIC or the ARRI ALEXA," says Rich, "and those all look great, and they’re pretty interchangeable unless you need to be shooting a RAW file. A RED EPIC gives you a lot of creative freedom. But a clip from the Nikon D4S next to a clip from the RED EPIC next to a clip from the ARRI ALEXA, they all look amazing. They all have that cinematic look—shallow depth of field; it just looks like film."

"A great example of that," he explains, "is within the last year or so I went to Pakistan to the Karakoram Mountains to work with this climber, David Lama. Part of it was out of necessity: We’re going to one of the most remote places in the world to climb a giant rock face deep in the Karakoram Mountains….Anyone on that crew needs a super-unique skillset—which is that you can climb this 3,000-foot rock wall. So I spent a lot of time talking with the client about the priorities. Is the priority the film or the still photographs? In this case, it was the film. ‘Come back with a great short film that we can enter into festivals and put on the web.’ And still photography? ‘We need a handful of pictures from this monthlong trip. When you’re in an amazing location and you’ve captured all of the video you need, flip into still photography mode and make some photographs."

Rich believes this dilemma won’t last long, as high-definition video gets even more high resolution. Shooting 6K, which he’s already doing on some assignments, allows for pulling a still from a high-resolution video with no qualms about the image quality, even in print. "That’s our future," he says. "And it looks fantastic."

Asked for advice for other still photographers trying to figure out video, Rich says that if it doesn’t feel like a natural fit, don’t force it. If you don’t love what you’re doing, it’s going to show.

"After I shot that first project with the D90 on El Cap," he says, "I came home and called all of my clients to try and sell every one of them on why we should extend our scheduled jobs by a day and shoot video, too. I even offered to do it for free because I just wanted to shoot more video. I was so excited. I took every opportunity to shoot, and I think that made a big difference. I was just doing what I loved doing. That’s the number-one rule: Shoot what you love. Shoot your passion. I could give you some technical advice—hold your shots for 10 seconds every time—but that’s not the real answer. The real answer is, if it’s not your calling, it’s not your calling. And if it is your calling, live it. Live it to the fullest and immerse yourself. Dive in headfirst and never look back."

To see more of Corey Rich’s photography, visit his website at coreyrich.com.

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