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A Subtle Glimpse of Magic

An Interview with Lukasz Warzecha

Polish born and now living in Peak District, Lukasz Warzecha is a rising star and considered among the top adventure photographers in the World. Living everyday life by his own words that ‘this is the most exciting time to be a photographer ever!’ Known for shooting ‘anything climbing’ – from winter in Lofoten in gnarly conditions, Ice Climbing World Cups to portraits of Reinhold Messner at the London’s Royal Geographical Society. We recently caught up with him to find out what he’s been up to.

Sidetracked: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. It sounds like you’ve been quite busy as of late!

Lukasz: Yeah, well I basically spent the whole winter away shooting assignments, a mixture of three or four different projects. The main one was the Ice Climbing World Cups which I have been doing now for the past fours years. That usually takes me to South Korea, Switzerland, France, Russia and Romania over a two months period. On top of that I have had other assignments: I’ve been shooting skiing in Chamonix; I also got back from a trip out to the Alps with Nick Bullock, hoping to climb one of the north faces in winter. That didn’t work out in the end, mainly due to the snow conditions, but we’ve managed to have a whole lot fun anyway.

The last thing I’ve been shooting was this Portrait series for Climb Magazine – ‘The 100 most influential climbers in Britain’. I’ve been in a position to shoot some heroes of mine, and some pretty awesome people like Jerry Moffatt and Johnny Dawes, I’ve had a pretty good time over the past three months. But I feel pretty worn out.

Jumping back a bit in your career, how did you get into professional climbing photography?

I was a very keen climber and I guess for a while I’d been looking for a way to express myself and I’d been looking at all those amazing pictures of climbing – I remember collecting Petzl catalogues for example – one, they were a good source of knowledge but most importantly all the pictures in them were amazing, and you can see all these people going to all these amazing places and I was like “I want to do so some of that’. But I guess in a way I’m lazy, strange thing for me to say seeing as I work all the time. But I realised I would never be a professional climber. Then I had a pretty horrific climbing accident and after that I picked up the camera.

I found climbing photography pretty easy, but I struggled with everything else. Shooting people, I was absolutely horrible at it. I really, really enjoyed climbing photography. I guess now I’m fairly known as a climbing photographer but I’m also trying to shoot a lot of other sports, building more of a general adventure portfolio rather than just climbing. But that’s how it started for me, through this desire, this drive to share and go to these places and take those amazing images and be in those positions.

Did you have a specific moment or event that established you as a professional climbing photographer?

There was no ‘HA’ moment, and I would argue with you whether I am actually established. I still think I am learning every day and I am just shooting images and trying to create something good amongst the snapshots I take. There were moments when I remember thinking ‘this is going good’, for example when I heard from Nature’s Best Magazine in Washington that I’d won one of the categories in Nature’s Best Awards – that was pretty cool. There were even moments even last week, shooting Jerry Moffatt and him showing us around his house, showing us all the surfing photography and the surfing he’s done – I thought that was pretty amazing.

I guess I look on photography in terms of the broader spectrum of adventure photography worldwide. I certainly have my heroes in Europe but I think America is doing all some great stuff at the moment.

I’m also trying to shoot a lot of other sports, attempting to build more of a general adventure portfolio rather than just climbing. I have this desire, this drive to share and go to these places and take those amazing images and be in these positions

Every time I pick up the camera I want to ‘just get that extra something,’ to capture a bit of subject’s personality. That’s what I am looking for, a subtle glimpse of magic, you can quote that.

Who would you say is your inspiration from America? Who do you see as leading the way?

That’s the thing really; I’ve always been looking at other photographers work, not only the images they produce, but also trying to figure out what their business is like, trying to figure out what ideas they have business-wise. My inspiration definitely comes from the obvious characters, Andrew Burr and Keith Ladzinski. It’s not difficult to look at my photography and see their influence. In Europe it would be Rainer Eder – awesome photographer and overall really nice guy!

This is a thing for me, how do you judge when you are established or when you have arrived in photography? I think part of it is what images you are producing, but these days – especially with professional photography – it’s not just about images. There’s so much more into it than that. If you want to be successful, the business side is equally important; trying to strike the balance between spending time shooting or doing PR work. I know what I’d rather be doing, shooting images, but now you have to make time for all the other stuff that comes with it.

You say you’d like to move a bit more into different sorts of adventure photography; what sort of other sports would you like to start shooting more?

It’s happening already, from fell running to yoga, kayaking and road cycling, anything that can happen outdoors. Skiing is probably another one I’d really like to get into. I want to broaden my horizons and make the most of what’s happening; for example, let’s say there are times when there’s too much snow for ice-climbing, but this creates the perfect conditions for skiing.

At the same time I’d like to continue to specialise in climbing photography. Climbing in general is a pretty small slice of the whole adventure pie. I’m trying to also be able to shoot a lot more, do a lot more, and create lots of different images. That’s what I’m trying to aim for.

That certainly sounds like a good plan. So what would an average week consist of for you? What do you end up doing in a normal – if there is such a thing – week in your profession?

An average week, right, well over the winter, I’m probably shooting for four days a week and then have meetings – lunches, dinners with marketing people and magazine editors. There’s also a whole bunch of emails and general office work in between the shoots. At the moment I have Ruth Taylor, works with me as a Studio Manager, and I have Jake as well helping me with the photo shoots – he’s our intern at the moment.

The general week is, it depends; sometimes I’ll be off for a week and I’ll be shooting and I’ll come back and we have to catch on all the invoices and expenses sheets and all the business stuff that comes with it. But these days luckily I have help when it comes to office stuff, Ruth is absolutely brilliant with that, and I can go out and shoot images. I’m trying to shoot a lot more personal stuff, like I did two days ago – to shoot skiing up Stanage edge. It was a crazy idea, but I get a phone call in the morning saying ‘it’s looking good, you coming? And I was like ‘yeah! Absolutely.’ I ended up shooting just a bunch of frames really; one of which came out pretty awesome.

What core equipment do you find yourself using across a lot of your shoots?

Oo, interesting question. A camera [laughs]. I don’t know, you see I’m trying not to get equipment heavy. Let me answer it differently – I find it a bit annoying on a personal level that it becomes so important for a lot of photogs what flash or what radio trigger we’re using; what the lens is, is it f/1.4 or f1.8. That’s not the essence of what we do and if it is, then god, we’re going the wrong way completely.

Equipment, yes, is important, and I obviously realise that some images you can’t do without certain bits of gear. The new pocket wizards are the best example here. Previously, trying to sync above /200 second of a flash was tricky business. Two days ago I shot this portrait and we were syncing /600 of a second and for that reason equipment is important. But what I’m trying to say is that I don’t want to make a focus point of what camera I’m using. That’s not the essence of the photography, that’s the technical bit. At the end of the day it’s the person behind the camera and how they use their camera that is important.

Nicely put. What would you say then are the moments that you look for in front of the camera? What are the moments that you want to capture in your photography?

What moments am I looking for? Whilst I don’t want to sound cliché, I think Steve Coleman said this – that things change completely for you when you start photographing the light, when you concentrate on the light itself not on the subject and what’s happening around it. If I’m shooting for example for a client I find myself looking at the back of the camera and almost questioning whether I was needed to take that picture.

In the short, what I am looking for is that ‘subtle glimpse of magic’, quoting Dark Side of the Lens. That quote from that film has stuck with me. Every time I pick up the camera I want to ‘just get that extra something,’ to capture a bit of subject’s personality. That’s what I am looking for, a subtle glimpse of magic, you can quote that.

Lukasz

Lukasz is based in the Peak District where he has his own studio, he also runs his own photography workshops providing students with a unique experience to shoot with some of the best climbers in the World. Find out more about him and his work via his website: www.LWimages.co.uk or you can find him on Twitter @LukaszWarzecha


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