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Keith Ladzinski: Extreme Destinations

We speak to award-winning Nat Geo photographer Keith Ladzinski

Written by
Babette Radclyffe-Thomas

Ahead of the opening of his latest photo exhibition in Hong Kong at our luxury event space, The Haven, we spoke to award-winning National Geographic photographer and filmmaker Keith Ladzinski. Ladzinski has travelled to some of the world’s most extreme destinations to capture a vast array of stunning images, and here he shares with us his top tips for fellow thrill seekers.

The selection of images on show at his new exhibition 'A Fragile Planet' truly reflects the fragile beauty of planet Earth, from awe-inspiring landscapes to wildlife from all over the planet. His images serve as the perfect reminder of the fragility of our natural habitats, the animals that live within them and to encourage us to preserve these pristine environments. This is the fourth instalment in a series of exclusive interviews.

What are some of your favourite most extreme destinations?

As I look at each one of these images I am reminded of how grateful I am that they have taken me out of my comfort zone, and how each encounter just fuels the addiction to want to do it again. So many of the photos on show at this exhibition were taken on an actual expedition. A lot of the images here required a ridiculous amount of sweat equity. There was a lot of discomfort involved to take most of these shots. In order to capture the image of the colony of fledgeling Adélie penguins heading out to sea, I had to lie in the water for over 30 minutes wearing a dry suit. I had to move as little as possible because the penguins won’t jump into the water in front of you, so I had to wait for quite a while!

Taking the shot of a leopard seal hunting in Antarctica was one of my most memorable encounters ever. Getting in the water with a 15-foot leopard seal is a pretty scary experience if you’ve never done it before! The image of the aurora borealis in Greenland was taken during a month-long expedition. We lived in tents as were climbing the big tower. When you are out in a place for a month you really get into it, and you experience everything ranging from the best to the worst weather conditions.  You definitely make a lot of compromises in order to get the final shot, and the payoffs are moments just like this, when the aurora borealis appears for only one night and you can’t even believe what you are seeing.

The key exhibition image of the warm sunset glowing over a floating iceberg in the Lemaire Channel, Antarctica, is also a perfect example of those special moments. For most of the trip, it was raining and really dreary in the Antarctic Peninsula, as its just the nature of the climate down there. When you are down in that region for long enough you get to experience a moment like that, when the sky explodes and the stars align, and those are those incredible moments that stay with you. I have been on so many trips that have made me feel broken and exhausted, but when I leave and I’m able to look at the photos or video later, I never remember the discomfort. Its definitely still there somewhere in the back of my mind, but instead I remember those wonderful moments.

When was the last time that you have been pushed to your extremes?

Oddly enough, it might not sound like an extreme destination, but I recently did a shoot in Northern Michigan. It was an ice-climbing shoot for Red Bull up in the Upper Peninsula. It is extraordinarily cold there, it’s even as cold as Antarctica! The weather comes right off Lake Superior and it just whips up such high winds that are really cold. It is such a beautiful playground for ice climbers. It was really interesting to explore this area as I’ve travelled to places like Antarctica and Northern Greenland which are renowned for extreme weather conditions, and to experience this in America – it blew me away. Nature photography really exposes you to extreme locations.

I also spent all of December in Colombia filming birds. Columbia has the densest population of diverse birds anywhere on the planet. The country offers everything from endemic birds to birds that come in from the Far North, the Arctic and Northern Canada and even Southern Argentina. All of these diverse birds fly to Columbia where they then nest. It was fascinating to film there knowing that not so long ago a lot of these places were too dangerous to even visit. Without my camera, there is no way I would have ever had such a fantastic opportunity. My camera really has been my passport to the world.

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