Capturing inspiring photos of athletes and explorers is no easy feat. It’s often a matter of waking up before sunrise and tackling challenging weather conditions in search of beautiful light and breathtaking vistas.
David Degner, a Boston-based adventure photographer, is driven by the challenge of this undertaking. Working for iFit‘s immersive fitness technology, David has photographed athletes in some of the most extraordinary places on earth, including Egypt and Mount Everest.
It was a few years ago, while David was living in Egypt, that he shot his first interactive personal training project for the fitness app. During a multi-week marathon David traveled up and down the Nile, from the Pyramids to Petra to Wadi Rum, capturing images to be used in the app and in advertising for the innovative fitness brand.
Since David specializes in environmental portraiture, this project was right up his alley as he had to create about 10 unique portraits a day, as the rest of the crew set up or broke down their video equipment. His experience with environmental portraits allowed him to work quickly and flexibly, which enabled the remainder of production to flow smoothly.
I lived in Egypt for eight years, so I photographed similar projects with tourism companies, and I had a lot of local knowledge. I was really in my comfort zone because I knew all of the locations and was able to quickly propose alternative solutions to the problems that inevitably crop up.
David’s latest project for the interactive training platform was a trek up to Everest base camp where he produced photos for the platform while hiking. In addition, the team did a live broadcast of the climb up Kala Patthar, a landmark in the Nepali Himalayas located on the south ridge of Pumori.
The expedition was exhilarating in its own right, but David was thrilled to discover that the project was nominated for a Sports Emmy!
This is the first time that a connected fitness series received a nomination for a Sports Emmy. It shows the company’s forward-thinking vision and the creativity of the producers to make a project like this that breaks all stereotypes and expectations of an exercise video.
I was the least experienced mountaineer on the team for the Everest project. The talent had summited Everest more than 20 times combined, while the producers and camera operators had already worked on multiple projects around Everest. In contrast, most of my experience was in the hot, flat parts of the world. But the team was great at helping prepare, and I was able to bring fresh eyes to the shoot.
After quarantining in Katmandu, David and the production crew took helicopters into Lukla and hiked almost every day for two weeks — filming along iconic sections of the path as they made their way up the mountain.
We would wake up to a beautiful scene every day, and I would use it as my palette. It started wet and green, and as we went higher, it became dry and rocky with jaw-dropping views around every corner. We started early in the climbing season while most people were still avoiding travel because of Covid restrictions, so there was almost no one else on the trail, and it felt like we had this whole mountain range to ourselves.
Filming and photographing on the 5,644m Kala Patthar is inherently challenging. We all moved slower at that altitude; sleep was fitful, we lost our appetites, etc. But the real challenge was that the video would be a live broadcast for iFit members. It required several climbs up the mountain for logistics, practice runs, and photos. Then we had to wake up around 3 AM to climb in the dark and broadcast during sunrise for the American and European audiences to watch at a reasonable hour.
An operation like this required a great deal of teamwork and for everyone to be flexible, often swapping roles when someone got sick or tired. While there was a whole crew involved in filming, David worked alone on the photography without much feedback after they hiked past cell service. Although it required a lot of trust from the producers, David enjoyed the creative freedom.
The hike was long, I had to carry my equipment on my back, and there was no camera store nearby. Moreover, I did most of the photography in the mid-day sun. So I rigged a light but powerful strobe out of two Profoto A1x flashes reflected into a compact umbrella. That gave me enough light to overpower the sun. The talent and I often went out before sunrise or after sunset to shoot portraits for something different.
The experience taught David a great deal about working in cold environments and how far he can push his body. In fact, it came up for him while he was hiking for two weeks through Tunisia’s desert and in Maine on the Coast Guard Ice Cutter for a recent project.
There were a lot of memorable moments and accomplishments with my friends on this trip. But my favorite little moments were eating freshly baked apple pie in Dingboche and seeing a small deer called a Muntjac in Phortse.
See more of David’s images on Instagram.