Paul Bride is an internationally acclaimed photographer and one of the most noticeable names in extreme photography today. Based in Squamish, British Columbia, he actively travels the world for his numerous projects, shooting images of nature and extreme sports able to astound even most tempted spectators. We talked with Paul about his way into photography, his work with professional climbers, his international awards and creative plans.
How did you become a photographer?
Truth be told, photography chose me. I never set out to be a photographer and never had any formal training past one semester in grade 10. It wasn’t until after I’d finished college and was leaving for a 6-month solo trip through Asia that I picked up a camera and even then it was only a little point and shoot film camera that my girlfriend at the time (now wife) loaned to me. Armed with eight rolls of Kodak print film, I set off.
Upon my return home to Canada I had the film developed and was pleasantly surprised with my photos but more importantly noticed the composition mistakes I’d made and was curious how to fix them. I started reading everything I could about photography. Approximately a year later I bought my first SLR camera and it was as if someone turned on the lights: full manual photography just made sense.
I was always skiing, climbing, hiking, etc. and got a job bartending nights so I could shoot during the day. I always had a subject because I was always in the mountains with friends. Digital didn’t exist at the time so you had to be very careful how much you shot. 35mm slide film was what the pro’s used at the time so I went out and bought a few rolls, nailed a couple images I was proud of and started submitting my work via the mail to outdoor magazines, and editors just started buying my work. I remember getting a phone call very early in my career from a climbing magazine after my first submission to them asking me who I was and what kind of training I’d had. “None,” I said and then they let me know my image was going to be on the front cover.
I thought, “Wow – one of the magazines I read and love was going to print my image on the front cover!” I couldn’t believe it nor did I until I was holding the copy in my hand.
It’s now over 60 front covers later and on assignment globally for some of the top outdoor companies and magazines in North America, and I’m still just as excited as when my career began.
What and who influenced you creatively?
My biggest influence has always been my own imagination. Looking back, I was a pretty weird kid with an overactive imagination. I was always fighting dragons or pretending I lived on some far off planet. I spent a good part of my childhood playing alone in a ravine across from my parents’ house. It was only a little section of forest with a small creek in the heart of the suburbs outside of Toronto, but to me it was the coolest place on earth where Bigfoot lived and adventures happened every day.
When I got older and started traveling and getting into photography, I saw what was possible when I came across the work of Steve McCurry in National Geographic. He was someone that I really admired and still aspire to today. The places he had been to and the people he took images of really influenced my work and what I wanted to accomplish in photography.
How do you usually choose a new destination? Do you plan everything carefully before the trip or prefer being spontaneous?
When it comes to photographing climbing the destination is always pre-determined. Usually, the athletes I work with have an idea of what they would like to climb, how technical and big the routes are influences how much planning or spontaneous the trip is going to be.
What places have you visited lately and what is on your bucket list?
I’m constantly on the road. This year alone I’ve done approximately 40 flights, multiple destinations throughout North America and Asia. I just arrived home from shooting a surf trip aboard a yacht in the Banyak islands off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, and am currently in San Francisco during this interview.
Next month I’ll be in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Northern BC, then hopefully back to Europe in the fall, then Australia and Papua New Guinea before the year’s end. My bucket list of locations is pretty long, but to share a few: Antarctica, Siberia, and the Faroe Islands.
Can you think of your photo with a special story behind it?
I have a few special images, but the most recent is of climber Marc Andre Leclerc taken last year in Scotland. It was early morning approximately 4am when Marc myself and Paul McSorely left the parking lot in torrential rain heading up to Ben Nevis by headlamp. I remember Marc saying how much he loved bad weather as we approached the mountain, moving higher the rain turned to snow and the three of us kept ascending. As morning broke it was a full blizzard, a complete white out except for the rock face in front of us.
I was having a really tough time shooting, as the snow and winds were so bad. Most of my time was spent cleaning off my lens. I did manage to capture one special image of Marc before calling it quits for the day, it is entitled “The Storm” and won first place in the CVCE international photography competition in Bilbao Spain, first place in the extreme sports category in the International Photographer Awards from New York City, and made the top 55 finalist for the Red Bull Illume. It will travel the globe for the next 2 years as part of a photography exhibit illuminated at night.
How does travel change you as a person and as an artist?
Travelling has opened my mind to new experiences and cultures, visiting beautiful landscapes has inspired me to see more and create more than I thought was possible. The more I travel the more I want to see…
Do you think a photographer must be able to take risks for good shots?
That’s a bit of a loaded question. Yes, climbing can be dangerous, and so can photographing it, but with the proper knowledge and correct gear the element of risk is minimized. When I first started taking climbing images, the set ups and locations were pretty basic. But as I got more involved in photographing climbing, the locations got more elaborate and the risks increased, but my knowledge of safety also increased. In the end the risk is a personal decision that “You” are comfortable with and what “You” consider a worthwhile image.
Is there a recipe for great extreme photos? What are your tips?
If there is a recipe, I don’t know what it is. However, I can offer a few tips that have helped me.
Avoid shooting in popular areas, having the same photograph as everyone else won’t get you noticed;
Try shooting in bad weather it creates a more memorable visual for the viewer;
When shooting travel be up before dawn and always carry a tripod;
Research as much as you can before visiting new areas;
Be very careful of your horizon lines, crooked images won’t do;
Avoid shooting stills on large MB cards. If something was ever to happen to your camera, it would be terrible if you had an entire trip on just one card and lost everything. Shooting on a selection of smaller cards backed up on an external drive will really set your mind at ease.
What kind of creative growth do you expect from yourself in the upcoming years? Do you plan some big projects or special destinations?
For the past 20 years there have always been projects in the works when it comes to my photography. I’m only limited by my imagination, so as long as I stay healthy, special destinations and big projects will remain my focus. Creative growth is something I never force. My ideas regarding photography have both grown and changed over my career, and my interest to pursue new ideas in dramatic locations is still strong. The creative growth will follow.
To see more of Paul's work, visit his website: