Switzerland-based adventure photographer David Carlier is no stranger to precarious conditions. When it comes to outdoor adventures, you name it, he’s probably done it.
However, his most recent endeavor goes above and beyond anything he (or most anyone, for that matter) has ever done before. Alongside Claude-Alain Gailland (one of the best Swiss mountain guides) and Gilles Janin (licensed canyoning guide), David climbed the largest major glacier in Europe to photograph Gailland and Janin while they launched themselves into the glacial river stream and down the giant ice tube on a small raft.
This is known as hydrospeeding, and is not only very uncommon, it’s also very dangerous. For David, shoots like this are necessary to stand out in a saturated photography world:
Sometimes it’s key to try to find something different to shoot. Nowadays, through media and particularly online, we’ve seen so much amazing adventure photography that it is very difficult to stand out of the crowd. So I was really looking for something different, the type of images that haven’t been seen before. I was lucky to know some people in my network with whom I could do this and we found the right moment to go out there and nail it.
Because of the complex and dangerous conditions, an expedition such as this requires huge mountaineering knowledge to even reach the top of the glacier, and then canyoning knowledge to understand where to go in and out of the stream and how to correctly use safety equipment.
David explained that conditions are rarely optimum to have the right amount of water, because if it’s too hot there is too much water pressure, and if it’s too cold the water freezes. He and his crew had the perfect team and the perfect weather for all the stars to align and create the stunning photos.
These “perfect” conditions didn’t happen by accident, but rather were planned by spotting the location in the summer, and waiting for weeks until the temperature on the glacier was just perfect.
Along with the temperature, the crew had to be wary of “mills,” or big crevasses, in the glacier, checking the entire route to ensure that there were not any. They also checked for spots where Gailland and Janin could easily stop without being swept away by the stream, as well as glacial lakes, which can be located high above on huge glaciers and can suddenly be released.
Again, David is no stranger to these conditions and knows how to handle his gear. He mentioned that was no powder snow, which can be difficult on gear, or extremely cold temperatures which can kill batteries fast. Once safety was organized with their guides, he could fully focus on the shoot.
David’s favorite moment of the day was coming up close and personal with the action:
I love shooting close to the action. At one stage I could go down on a rope, very close to the water and get in a single frame the running water with the hydrospeed, the shining ice, a snowy 4000m peak in the background and the sun. This was one of the greatest moments of the day.
The images have gone viral, published in the UK Times, the Daily Mail, Telegraph, Metro, on the cover of Le Matin (the largest Swiss newspaper) and on BBC. David also gave an interview about the project to the Morning Show on WGN TV in Chicago.
It came as no surprise that when asked about advice he has for young photographers, David responded— “take risks!”