Extreme sports photographer Richard Walch is as happy hanging out of a helicopter as he is gently zig-zagging down a piste, resulting in the capture of some truly hair-raising and heartfelt moments. His passion for photography began while snowboarding with his friends and remains as strong as when he was 16, when he had his first image printed in a newspaper.
Here he reveals his creative approach, the story behind his best shot, and where he looks for inspiration.
You've been professionally photographing since you were 16. How did you discover your passion for photography?
"My passion for photography was awakened by a lucky coincidence when I changed schools and ended up in one with a professional darkroom. I spent a lot of time there, which wasn't great for my grades, but it was really good for my photography. I started with a Canon EOS-1N and worked up to the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. At the same time, I was spending all my weekends in the mountains snowboarding. My original plan was to become a sponsored snowboarder, but the truth is, I wasn't good enough. So I said, 'Okay, if I can't get sponsored, I'll try to take my camera and shoot my friends who are really good.'"
What's the hardest thing about photographing winter sports?
"It's all about organising yourself and preparing for a shoot. I never formally trained as a photographer, I just made every mistake you can think of, and strived to make it only once. One of my hardest learning curves was when I went to Whistler, Canada, after finishing school. I photographed for a week with film, went to a lab in Vancouver and put 10 rolls of film on the table, and when I got them back, they were all underexposed by three stops because I had put the camera on -3 by mistake. All these great images were wasted because they were three stops too dark. Using analog film, there was no way to fix it. You never do that again."
What form does that organising take?
"One thing I really pay a lot of attention to is how to get where I need to get, how to stay safe, how to set up for the shoot. You have to be aware when you're working in the outdoors or in the mountains or even just shooting a selfie. Be careful, observe what you're doing and then pick up the camera and get the shot."
"I never formally trained as a photographer – I just made every mistake you can think of, and strived to make it only once."
You must find yourself in some precarious locations. Can you tell us about the most exciting winter sport shoot you've done?
"Ever since I started shooting winter sports and snowboarding, I dreamed of going to Alaska. But you cannot just go to Alaska and see what happens – you have to be part of a really tight crew. I went with the leading skiers in Europe, a group called Legs of Steel. We went in heli-skiing to Haines – Alaska's best place for free riding. The snow sticks to these vertical walls [pictured below], so you can ride at a steepness that you could never ride in any other place in the world. The pressure is extremely high, because the athletes invest about €10,000 to €15,000 to do maybe six to ten runs, so when you're in that helicopter shooting out of an open door, you have to make sure you get the shots. It turned out well – everyone did their stunts and nobody got hurt."