Crash Taylor Interviews Christian Pondella

First off, the best comment of last week and the winner of the Kingston Elite Pro card goes to Barry Paffey.  Congratulations Barry.

Over the last few weeks I have been getting a lot of e-mails asking if I could do an interview with a sports photographer.  Well here you go, the ultimate sports photographer and an interview that will inspire you to the fullest.

This week I welcome Christian Pondella. Christian has been a good friend for a very long time as I'm best friends with his brother. He is the head photographer of Red Bull USA and senior photographer for Powder magazine. Words cannot explain how much I admire Christian and his photography. Every time I view Christian's work I get a visual explosive adrenaline rush. He has written a description for every image showcased giving you insight into how the image was created. Absolutely brilliant! Enjoy the stunning portfolio of cutting edge images that take photography to the thrilling edge.  As always your comments are appreciated.

Hi Christian,

Tell us a little bit about yourself. I am an easygoing guy who loves the outdoors. I have been passionate about sports my whole life, and now I am an adventure sports photographer. I am very fortunate to make a living photographing and participating in things I love to do.

Where is home? Mammoth Lakes, CA

Did you go to school to study photography? I went to Regis College in Denver, Colorado and majored in fine arts with an emphasis in photography.

How long have you been a photographer? I started shooting photos in the late 80’s, first got published in 96’ and photography has been my only source of income since 2000.

How would you describe your style? I like wide angles and I like to get close to the action. As an athlete myself I like to bring a more intimate and personal perspective to action sports.

What’s it like shooting for Red Bull? Shooting for Red Bull is amazing! They have sent me all over the world and have given me the opportunity to shoot a wide variety of adventure sports and the world’s greatest athletes. Most importantly everyone I work with is very personable and super cool.

Do you have some recent images you can share with us?

--- This was an assignment with professional skier Chris Benchetler in the Whistler Backcountry. We were filming for his new si movie "Hunting Yeti". A lot of the skiing was stormy tree skiing with lots of powder. Later in the day as it got darker we used the Acute B to give the image a real vibrant and punchy look. Canon Mark III, Canon 24-105, Profoto Acute B ---

--- I took this image while on assignment for Red Bull, Powder Magazine, Helly Hansen and Kastle Skis. It was taken in Chamoix, France moments before we skied the couloir. This was a warm up run before we eventually climbed and skied The Matterhorn, The Eiger and Mont Blanc. Helly Hansen is now using this image for one of their ad campaigns. Canon 5d, Canon16-35 II ---

--- This photo was taken 600 feet underground in an old mineshaft near Nora, Sweden. This was a project with Will Gadd (climber) who came up with the idea to ice climb underground. We were also filming a documentary short film that was a part of the Banff Film festival last year. This was probably one of the most dangerous and scariest places I have ever photographed. A few days later at our next location, my fears were confirmed! Canon 5d, Canon 16-35, two Quantum T5D’s ---

--- This was location #2 for the underground ice climbing in Sweden with Will Gadd. We were about 500 feet down in a cavern the size of a coliseum. One of the most surreal, beautiful places I have ever been. Moments before this photo was taken I heard and watched a massive piece of ice fall from above and land about a 100 feet above me. I had about a split second to run 10 feet to my right and watch a huge wave of ice go rumbling five feet next to me. Canon 5D, Canon 24-70, two Quantum T5D’s ---

--- This image was taken in the Whistler Backcountry of professional skier Eric Pollard. It was taken late in the day so I used a Profoto Acute B portable strobe. The off camera strobe illuminates the skier and the snowflakes to give you a look and mood that you could not capture with just ambient light. Canon Mark III, Canon 16-35, Profoto AcuteB ---

--- This was an athlete project for Red Bull that took place in Newfoundland, Canada. This image is of professional wakeboarder Parks Bonifay sliding across an iceberg. I obviously used an underwater housing to show the beauty of the iceberg above and below the water. Canon Mark III, Canon 15 fish, SPL water housing. ---

--- This image was an athlete project for Red Bull of FMX rider Mat Rebeaud taken in Payerne, Switzerland his hometown. This is his training facility in the countryside. With the slight overcast skies and the big hay bail in the foreground, I converted the image to a B&W infrared. This made the image much moodier and dramatic. Canon Mark II, Canon 70-200

--- I took this photo of Chris Davenport in Portillo, Chile. We were trying to capture a creative angle while skiing a classic run called the “Super C Couloir”. I mounted my Nikon F5 to my chest with a 16mm fisheye and chased Chris down the run while I triggered the camera with a wire cable in my mouth. Nikon F5, Nikon 16mm fisheye, Velvia film ---

--- This was a world record of Kevin Robinson jumping 27 feet on a BMX bike out of a mega ramp in Central Park, NY. It was called the Red Bull Experiment. For this image I knew I was going to be located on the top corner of the ramp and would need as full frame fisheye so you can see the whole ramp, and still keep Kevin in the frame. Fortunately I was in NYC and I rented the Canon 1DS Mark III. Canon’s Mark III’s can flash sync to 320 of a second, and my 5D will only sync to 200 of a second, which is a huge difference when it comes to stopping fast action. When you are shooting a world record, you probably are not going to get a second chance! Canon 1DS Mark III, Canon 15mm fisheye, 2 Profoto AcuteB’s, Pocket wizards ---

--- This was taken at the Red Bull Air Race in San Francisco. I used a special wing tip mount, and I mounted my Canon 5d and 15mm fish eye and had the pilot trigger the camera with a Pocket Wizard, which was attached to the throttle of the airplane. ---

--- This was an athlete project with Tao Berman a professional kayaker. We took this image near his house in White Salmon, Oregon. I wanted to get an up close and unique perspective. Together we figured a way to mount my Canon Mark II, Canon 15mm fisheye and water housing on the front of his kayak, and trigger it wireless with a Pocket Wizard. ---

--- I took this image while we were 2/3 the way up the West Face of the Eiger. Often times I will get really close with a wide angle and stick my camera right next to the subject. This image was taken while on assignment for Powder Magazine, and the story was called “Chasing Dragons”. This was the opening spread of the story and obviously worked real well with the dragon theme. Canon 5D, Canon 16-35 II ---

Would you say you’re an adrenaline junkie? I am an espresso junkie!

Risking your life to capture the ultimate image is something a lot of us wouldn’t do, has there been any close calls? I have had more close calls than I can remember. It is best to have short-term memory and not dwell on a near death experience. Forget about it and keep doing what you love to do!

Have you ever been published and if so who with?
ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Maxim, FHM, Outside, Men's Journal, National Geographic Adventure, GQ, Outdoor Photographer, Powder, Skiing, Ski, and just about every ski publication throughout the world. I have also been published in a lot of major newspapers worldwide.

Can you tell us about your first paid photo assignment? My first assignment was a backcountry skiing photo shoot in the Sierras for Powder Magazine.

What type of cameras do you shoot with? Canon – Mark III, 5D

If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why? I could not choose just one, that is why I own 7 “L” series lenses. I used to own 8, but I destroyed one when it tumbled over a cliff (attached to me).

I feel that with the higher and better resolution cameras it is even more important to have really nice glass. When Canon comes out with a version II lens I feel it is a very wise investment to upgrade. Lenses built in the 90's, or even early 2000's worked great with film, but digital brings out more of its faults, especially if you like to shoot backlit and into the sun, which I do a lot.

What lighting equipment do you shoot with? I have a variety of lights depending on the location, but they all need to be battery powered. I have the basic canon speedlight, two Quantum t5D's, and two Profoto AcuteB's.

You are well known in the ski industry for your excellent use of strobes, can you explain how you use flash when photographing your ski images? When shooting strobes and skiers, it is a lot of commitment between the skier and myself. It takes a lot of time to set the strobe up, especially when you are working in deep powder. Ultimately it is best to have an assistant who carries the strobe and can adjust the flash output and direction of the light. Unfortunately it is usually just me and the light. I usually do not like to have the light very close to me, so there is a lot of hiking up and down while snapping a few test shots to make sure everything is positioned right and the flash exposure is correct. This is when having a very patient skier is a necessity! For the most part I am shooting the 600 watt Profoto head at full power and my Canon Mark III at 320 around F11. I also use an extended reflector that keeps the light from spraying and also concentrates the power. Obviously you only get one shot! One of the difficulties of shooting skiing is most often you only get one shot, whether you are shooting 8 frames per second or using a strobe. You have a beautiful canvas of powder in front of you, once the skier hits it, it's done. If you blow the shot you do not get another chance until it snows again.

What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera? My powder skis!

What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer? My 30” LCD.

What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc…? I mostly run a lot of actions from Bridge, just convert raw, dng, tiff files to jpgs for clients and web galleries.

How important is Photoshop (post processing) in your final images? I am not a big fan of post processing. I shot film for many years, so for the most part I just colour correct my raw files to look like my favourite film, and turn down the exposure a little since I shoot my digital files a little bright.

Are you a Mac or PC lover? I got one of each, soon to be all Mac. Working on my Mac is like driving on a highway with a sports car and no traffic. Working on my PC is like driving in rush hour traffic in LA.

What piece of equipment would you most like to get but don’t have yet? Probably get the new 5D, unfortunately it is not a whole lot better for shooting sports then the old one.

What’s the best part of being a photographer? Getting paid to do something you love to do!

How do you keep yourself motivated and your photography fresh? I shoot a lot of different subjects and sports, so that helps to keep it fresh. I also try to experiment with pov camera mounts or unique angles to capture something with a new and different perspective.

What has been your most memorable assignment and why? Just this past spring I spent three weeks in the Alps, climbing and skiing some of Europe’s most iconic mountains. We skied the Matterhorn, Eiger, and Mont Blanc. This assignment was for a feature in Powder Magazine and I was shooting for Red Bull, Helly Hansen, Kastle Skis, and Matchstick Film Productions.

If you could shoot an assignment with someone who would it be and why? Sports Illustrated bikini model in the Caribbean. I usually shoot dudes in cold snowy places.

What would be your dream destination assignment? Sports Illustrated swim suit edition.

Who or what inspires you in your personal life and work? Galen Rowell was and still is an inspiration for me.

A website and/or blog you visit often? www.dpreview.com - always checking to see what new camera equipment is coming out.

The hardest part of your job? Being away from my wife.

Things you say or do to put your clients at ease in front of the camera? Often times I am shooting people doing things that are very dangerous. So it is best to be easy going with them and try not to put any pressure on them to get a shot.

The first photographer that comes to your mind and why? Galen Rowell – When I was younger my parents would buy me books and posters of his. I have always been into the outdoors especially the Sierras and that is where he took a lot of photos.

A sport photographer who inspires you? Scott Markewitz, he is still the best in the ski industry and he is 10 years older than me. As long as he is still at it, I know I got another 10 years in me!

The last workshop or seminar you attended and why? Scott Kelby’s Lightroom. I was in LA and so was the workshop, and Lightroom was new at the time. It was a great workshop.

One way you market your business? I am very active in a lot of the sports I photograph and I keep a good relationship with the athletes and the companies that support our industry. Basically stay involved.

If not a photographer you would have been? A ski bum.

Do you make time for personal photographic work? If so, what do you enjoy photographing and do you have an image you can share with us? Most of my ski photography is personal work that I sell to clients.

--- This image was a personal project with professional skier Chris Benchetler. I mounted my 5D with a 15mm fish eye on his hand. These types of images have been done before in skiing, but I wanted to step it up a notch and incorporate some strobes and have him fly 50 feet through the air spinning a 360 and grabbing the tail of his ski. I had the vision and the technical ability, but it was Chris who had the talent to make this image happen! It ended up on the cover of Powder Magazines photo annual in 2008, and was also photo of the year for Powder Magazine. Canon 5D, 15mm fisheye, 2 Profoto AcuteB’s, Pocket Wizards ---

--- This was a photo shoot with professional skier Andy Mahre. Besides shooting action photos of athletes, it is important to get some lifestyle and portrait images. Magazines and sponsors usually like to accompany action images with lifestyle images. I took this in the underground parking structure of our condo complex. I have an action in Photoshop that converted the image to look like it was “cross processed” something I frequently did when I shot film. Canon Mark III, Canon 70-200, 2 Profoto Acute B’s ---

--- This was a personal project with Will Gadd in Banff National Park, Canada. I basically just wanted to go climbing and shoot some cool photos of Will along the way. Obviously I did not climb this route since it is the worlds hardest mixed ice route. Canon 5D, Canon 15mm fisheye, Canon 580 speedlight ---

--- This was another personal project with Lonnie Kauk taken at the Buttermilks in Bishop, California. We both enjoy climbing together and when the moment is right, making some beautiful photographs. I just sold this image to Patagonia to be hung in their retail stores. It is amazing how a fun afternoon with your friend can turn into a very profitable day! Canon 5D, Canon 14mm, Profoto AcuteB, Pocket Wizards ---

If you could be invisible for one day with your camera... in the dressing room of the Victoria Secret models

Photographing penguins in the Antarctic, a fashion shoot for Vogue in Paris or Formula 1 in Monte Carlo? Since I was heading to Antarctica this week to shoot penguins and skiers, but had to cancel the trip due to an untimely knee injury, I would have to pick Antarctica. This was a ski mountaineering assignment for Helly Hansen, Kastle Skis, Warren Miller, and Skiing Magazine.

London, Japan or the Bahamas with a Hasselblad H3DII-50 and Kate Moss? Bahamas of course!

Is there anybody, living or dead you would love to capture on film and why? Kobe Bryant because he is one of the best basketball players ever, and I am a huge Laker fan.

What advice do you have for photographers just starting out? Shoot things you are passionate about.

What talent would you most like to have? Race in the Moto GP circuit

Something you’re still learning? Always learning!

What do you love to indulge in? Powder Skiing

Something that is overrated? A digital camera, in many ways photography was so much simpler with film.

Something you’re saving up for? Mac Pro

If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be? Dalai Lama

Where you'll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.? If I am not on an assignment, hanging with my wife.

Your favourite film (movie) of all time? Bond… James Bond!

First thing you would do if you won the lottery? Vacation!

Three words that describe you. Easy going, athletic, happy

What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now? Same!

And the last question, if you had one wish… Don’t change a thing!

Oh one more please, if someone said ‘how can I be the next Christian Pondella?’ What would you say? Hopefully you got ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Your readers can find out more about me:

Website: www.christianpondella.com

  • Woaaaaaaaaa

    Makes photographing weddings seem like a walk in the park !!!


  • Great interview with some amazing shots!!!


  • Crash this interview is incredible. Christian is brilliant, I love him already. I'm learning so much from this site. I just bought a Canon 50D and hope to one day be a fashion photographer and be interviewed by you. Keep them coming. My boyfriend is going to love reading this when he gets home. Looking forward to next week.


  • Great interview and smashing images. I felt myself pushing back into the sofa looking at the Chamoix shot.

    Wide angle.. check, powerful strobe.. check, balls of steel.. check.

  • Niiiice!

    Unbelievable action, light, and forethought - all in perfect balance! You should raise your prices.

  • Great interview, some amazing images.

  • Pretty wild...amazing photographs. They certainly do give you an adrenaline rush.


  • Incredible. Christian's photography is absolutely inspiring to the aspiring outdoor sports photographer. His strobe work gives me all kinds of ideas ... and makes me wish I had a lot more money :-)

    Thanks Crash, superb idea and fun interviews.


  • When you said sports photographer you should have said adrenalin junkie...excellent photography he doesnt just record an event he uses
    unusual angles for that wow! factor.
    Nice one keep em coming
    All the best Will

  • When I read the title I thought "Oh no, not lots of pictures of David Coulthard walking back to the pits" but thankfully I was wrong :-)
    Some great images on there - getting into the position to take them is probably more difficult than taking the picture! Pocket wizards get a good review! Interesting stuff, thanks Crash.

  • There is so much energy and life in these photo's, how Christian managed to capture particular moments is just incredible. I'm not big on sport, but these are totally inspiring. Fantastic work - will keep revisiting his site to see more!!!

  • Oh my god - just looking at these images gave me vertigo, they make you feel like you are actually there!! Very scary but very inspiring. I'm embarrassed to admit that I always thought winter weddings were challenging, he makes them look like a walk in the park.

    I absolutely loved this interview as it's not something I would normally ready about. Well done - keep 'em coming Crash.


  • I needed this at the beginning of the football season, but it'll sure do for the last 2 games and next season. Christian has some outstanding photographs! Great feature artist.

  • Piotr Skorupski - Poland
    November 4th, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    Zarąbiase fotki, zabawa z grawitacją, pełne dynamiki, wielki "szacun"(super pomysł z tymi wywiadami) (koment po polsku, he he ehe)
    Piotrek - Mrągowo - Poland

  • Christian's work is amazing. I learned so much from this interview. Thanks so much Crash for doing these. Christian seems like a super cool guy and I'm sure one day he will photograph Sport's Illustrated models. Maybe he could shoot them on the iceberg in Canada.

  • [...] on the image above to view more of Pondella photographs and his interview with Crash Taylor. Company [...]

  • Extreme sports extremely well photographed, every image fantastically thought out and executed; inspirational! Thanks Crash.


  • Fantastic!
    this guy is awsom, his images rock, and being a bit of an adrenaline junkie myself (oh yea, I once took part in a figure 8 race on a circus mini-bike mate!), I can appreciate the position Christian put himself in..,,,,,,,.."I mounted my Nikon F5 to my chest with a 16mm fisheye and chased Chris down the run while I triggered the camera with a wire cable in my mouth"!!!!!!!!!!!.......hell yea!

    Superb Crash....not yer average sports tog...eh?


  • Nice interview, Pondz!
    Keep up the good work!!!!!

  • These interviews are great. I can't wait to read them each week, the photographers featured are so talented. Crash you are onto something here, this site is going to be huge. I will be spreading the word and have already told so many friends. I hope one day I will be a professional photographer, in the meantime, I will just continue to be inspired by your great site. Christian is an amazing photographer and now I'm going to view his website. Thanks, Jessica

  • What a guy!

    Excellent interview Crash! But the real hero is Christian! Makes the extreme wedding photographer look like me! haha

    I'd love to see is guy do a wedding!


  • Crash, I'm a business owner but my dream is to become a professional photographer. I just want to say how happy I am that I found this site. I read every interview today and got so inspired. My goal is to become a full time wedding photographer. Crash your wedding photos are so amazing, do you need an assistant? I can feel the passion in your work and your style is so engaging.

    As for Christian, all I have to say is WOW! I will leave that for the boys :-) You wouldn't get me climbing mountains.

    I have subscribed and can't wait for the next one, who is it please?

    Much love,

  • Holy Cow! This interview was AMAZING!! His work is OFF THE HOOK!!!

  • I can do that; NOT. Nerves of steel and a stedy hand come to mind.


  • "I triggered the camera with a wire cable in my mouth"
    That's insane :) How is it possible?

    I thought that sports photography is boring until i saw these images. Now i found a man who's work is inspiring and amazing. Thank You for very interesting interview!


  • ADHD! Love it.

  • Sander Taphoorn
    June 2nd, 2009 at 11:46 am

    It has been awhile but I had the change to have a small chat with Christian on the phone. Unfortanetly never met him in person. But still would love to meet him. His pictures are such a great 'experience' for the eye, if you are in a rush and there are pictures passing by from Christian you will find time to have a rest and stand still at his wonderfull pictures. It gives such a great vibe. Well done Cristian, keep up the good work, Sander.

  • Wow, amazing photography.