Keith Ladzinksi began his career photographing his friends skateboarding in his native Colorado. From there, he moved on to extreme sports like mountain climbing, where he adapted the techniques he had learned while taking photos of skateboarders to the vertical world. Since then he has traveled to some of the most remote and untouched places in the world on assignment for National Geographic, the New York Times, and Outside, among others. Keith has also shot commercially for Adidas, Harley-Davidson, Red Bull, and The North Face. The British Journal of Photography named him one of the top four adventure photographers in the world.
Speaking from his home in Boulder, Colorado, Keith describes why he loves shooting extreme sports, how his film of free climber Sasha DiGiulian ended up on Oprah, and why his pictures are all about making an emotional connection with the viewer.
Q & A
You started your career photographing skateboarders. Tell us a bit about your background and how you got into photography.
I bought my first camera when I was about nineteen. I grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the skateboard scene is pretty big. It was how I spent my entire youth, doing that. One afternoon, I started taking pictures and fell in love with it. It became an obsession. I like to photograph things I actively do. Living in the outdoors in Colorado, I was also able to do a lot of landscape photography and worked it into a career.
You are currently photographing the world’s top female rock climber, Sasha DiGiulian. Tell us about your work with her.
I met Sasha in 2011 at this outdoor retailers trade show in Salt Lake City. It’s something I have done every year in my career. You reconnect with people you work with. Adidas Outdoor was just cracking into the market in North America and had just signed Sasha. Their director, Greg Thompson, introduced me and said, “You guys should work together, you should do a shoot.” So we went to Kentucky, where Sasha climbed the hardest female ascent in North America. Me and my business partner, Andy Mann, filmed it and shot photos of it. That segued into a film that went viral, ending up on Oprah. It was the launching point for Sasha. She was quite young still, just about to head off to college, and her whole life changed in a big way. Every year since, we have done a project or two together. She’s on the Eiger right now trying to free climb a pretty hard route. She’s a great friend and an awesome person.
What inspires you in your work?
My intent with a photo is for the person looking at it to experience that moment [like I did]. I want to shoot photos that connect with people on an emotional level. If I can do that, I’ve been successful. I also love going to unexplored parts of the world—which is becoming harder and harder—and watching somebody do some incredible feat, like Sasha. Shooting extreme sports, you have to actively be a part of the team. And that adds an extra element that I really like.
National Geographic Creative Interview With Keith Ladzinski By Simon Worrall