Corey Rich says that long ago, he learned the technical part of any job is 10%. Creativity, problem-solving, optimism, and surrounding yourself with intelligent, hardworking people is the remaining 90%. When you know how to be creative and assemble the right team, that’s when all great things come. We talk about how he grew his photo career into prolific creative photo and video offerings that grace much of the media we’ve been drooling over for the past 20-plus years.
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How were you introduced to the outdoors and Adventure Sports Storytelling and Photography?
I was a gymnast as a kid. I grew up in the Mojave Desert. I was ironically about my daughter’s age, seven years old in second grade. My second-grade teacher had an elite gymnast as a daughter and she thought it might be good for me to try gymnastics. I don’t know if I was ever hooked on gymnastics, to be honest. I think I just liked the challenge of it even early on. It was hard. Then it became a huge part of my life, maybe a little less than 10 years. I became a pretty competitive gymnast who competed at the state level.
One day we had a pull-up contest in junior high school and I did 35 pull-ups. One of the school teachers took notice of me and invited me to go rock climbing. That weekend, my brother and I went climbing. We went to the Needles of California, a little spot called Dome Rock, and that was it. I was hooked. I just loved every aspect of climbing – the mental, the physical, the cultural components, the drive up to the needles with two of my school teachers, Bob Porter and George Egbert – and I was hooked.
Then the next weekend, I borrowed my dad’s camera because I wanted to make better pictures and tell better stories of these weekend adventures. I realized right away that my dad had a pretty nice camera, but my photos still suck. I realized that it’s not about the camera, it’s about how you use it and how you think. So within a week, two passions were born – a passion for adventure, for climbing, and the passion for storytelling.
Where did the storytelling part come from? Do you have any storytellers in your family?
I think my dad was always this oral storyteller. He loved yacking it up, shooting the shit with his buddies in our kitchen or around a campfire. My dad was a scuba diver. It was big into back in the day when it was a little more of the Wild West diving off the Channel Islands and you could actually bring home stuff to eat.
We had so much abalone, like hundreds of abalone shells in our backyard in buckets. He and his buddies every Friday after work would take off and get on a dive boat out of Ventura or Oxnard and go out for two days. They would come back with wild tales of adventure and some food to eat.
I think I learned storytelling from him. He always was a good storyteller. He would come home and tell some crazy tale of a kid blowing up and the sheriff coming to school and the parents having to get arrested. Not always doom and gloom, but he could see the light. He understood the highlights of his day. He told even a better story of scuba diving, and so did his buddies.
Tell us about your first Adventure Sports Storytelling and Photography commercial shoot?
I started to shoot a ton of climbing. That was my passion. It’s worth saying that I simultaneously was really trying to just become a better photographer. So I started this parallel pursuit. I started working at the local newspaper taking on assignments for the Antelope Valley Press. Then in college, I went to the Modesto Bee and got two internships back-to-back in the summers. So I was learning to tell stories, editorial storytelling for the newspaper.
Then I took a semester off from college and drove around the Western United States, photographing rock climbing. I sent some unsolicited submissions at the end of that semester, one to Climbing magazine and one to Patagonia, the clothing brand. Much to my surprise, both of them called me within a weekend. Those were really my first climbing photographs to get published. One was the cover of Climbing magazine. It was a photo of my super close friend, Rikki Ishoy, climbing at the Buttermilks right above our house. The other photo, I don’t remember what it was, was a lifestyle photograph that published in the Patagonia catalog. That was the first commercial paycheck I ever received. Those two first experiences really opened the door.
I had the cover feature story and inside. Then Patagonia became my first real client because commercial clients pay so much more, triple or quadruple, what an editorial client pays. I owe a lot to the climbing magazines and to Jane Sievert and Karen Bednorz with Patagonia at the time.
I started getting spec assignments where they would pay for my film and for the trip. Then they would license the pictures they wanted. As my name started appearing in magazines and in Patagonia catalogs, the phone just started ringing more frequently. That opened the door to ad agencies calling and other outdoor brands.
How did you get involved with Novus Select?
Twenty plus years ago, in the early part of my career, I was just a prolific shooter. I was shooting all the time for the magazines and for Patagonia. And I owned all of that work. And so a big chunk of my income was relicensing that the images that I had shot. I might shoot for Patagonia or, for some brand. Then two years later I would be licensing those images again and again. This was the tail end of the heyday of stock photography. I missed the true heyday that was 20 years earlier, in the nineties. But a big chunk of my income was stock photography. At that point, my office was downstairs at my house in South Lake Tahoe. I had two staff members and one of them was dedicated entirely to licensing the stock photography business for us.
At one point a photographer and entrepreneur in the space, Jose Azel reached out to me or sent an email to half a dozen photographers. He said he owned a company called Aurora Photos, which had a very high-end stock photo agency. It was founded by a few national geographic photographers. Jose sent this email to a few of us and asked if we’d ever be interested in a brand that focused on outdoor adventure photography.
I was hit up for ideas like this all the time, so I responded while flying back to Reno and wrote a real simple response. I didn’t know Jose personally, but I said, “I’d be interested, but I’d have to have some equity in the company.”
I landed in Reno, and I sent a hundred emails that I’d written while I was on the plane. By the time I’d walked out to my car, my cell phone was ringing and it was Jose on the other line. We had this long conversation about what an ideal outdoor adventures stock agency would look like. Then we did an experiment and a few of us all kicked in some money and committed some of our photography to create a collection. That was Dan and Janine Patitucci, Brian Bailey, Scott Markewitz, and Greg von Doersten. We all were the founding members. We all did this together, and it was an experiment. Some guys learned it was for them, some guys learned it wasn’t for them.
Over time, I was the last man standing. It was the right fit for me. It evolved over time into Jose and I being partners in Aurora Photos. Then we created an assignment agency that was run out of New York City that was originally called Aurora Novus. Meanwhile, the economy changed and we watched the ups and downs in our industry and the evolution of our industry. Eventually, it evolved into what it is today, which is Jose is no longer in the business, and Aurora Photos sold off the stock photography agency side. Novus Select, which is the assignment and production company side, is owned by four partners, that’s Wyn Ruji, Lincoln Else, and Andy Mead. We have 13 full-time employees and an office. Our office address, I love saying this, is 1111 Ski Run Boulevard.
Do you have any suggestions or advice for folks wanting to get into Adventure Sports Storytelling and Photography?
Yes. It just struck me recently that I think so often we look at the past – what worked, what are the lessons that we can learn from the past, and how does the industry work? Of course, you should do that. You should look at what makes a great Adventure Sports Storytelling and Photographer. Understand the craft and understand what works from a business perspective, but never feel confined by what worked in the past.
I think we’re truly living in the golden age of storytelling. It’s right now. You’re no longer beholden to a publisher that you’re begging to publish your photographs. You are the publisher. You own your channel or 20 channels. Whether it’s podcasts, photography, books, just do your thing. I don’t have the answer, but it’s that 20-year-old kid coming out of college or dropping out of college right now that drive around in their sprinter van and take pictures and shoot films climbing. Your career is not going to evolve the same way that mine did. I’m old school now. I was this guy that shot film and had images published in print magazines.
The 20-year-old coming out of college right now are leveraging the internet. They’re going to be leveraging platforms like Instagram and Facebook. They’re going to be doing podcasts and they’re going to be creating whatever the next iteration of a blog is. You’re going to be shooting in VR, using venues on Facebook. It’s going to be more immediate and you’re going to figure out how to monetize all of these platforms and monetize your audience.
I don’t have the answers, but I definitely recognize that this is an incredible moment in time from a business standpoint and from an Adventure Sports Storytelling and Photography selling standpoint. The power has never been more in the hands of the content creator.
Put your money and time into the things that you believe in.
Follow up with Cory:
Adventure Sports and Outdoor Storytelling with Photographer/Filmmaker Corey Rich
Welcome to episode 265 of The Outdoor Biz Podcast. We are talking with acclaimed photographer and filmmaker Corey Rich. Brought to you by Wolfgang Man & Beast. Corey Rich says that long ago, he learned the technical part of any job is 10%. Creativity, problem-solving, optimism, and surrounding yourself with intelligent, hardworking people is the remaining 90%. When you know how to be creative and assemble the right team, that’s when all the great things come. We talk about how he grew his photo career into prolific creative photo and video offerings that grace much of the media we have been drooling over for the past twenty-plus years.
Welcome to the show, Corey.
Thanks for having me. It’s great to catch up. It has been too long.
The last time we were together was one of the events in Jackson. It was either one of those workshops or we were doing a product thing. I don’t remember.
It might have been at the Summit Adventure Workshops. Sadly, I will admit, they are still thriving. Every year, I intend to be there and get pulled away for an assignment.
You are still the global traveler from what little that I can follow you on. You are all over the place. We will talk a little bit about that.
That’s true up until March of 2020 when the pandemic hit. Like many people, a lot of our lives changed and evolved during the pandemic. I had a book come out in the fall of 2019. I was doing a book tour in early 2020. I remember my last stop was in New York City as the world was wrapping its heads around what does COVID-19 means. I was staying at a Marriott property. I did a quick workout in the morning and I jumped in a cab to go to the airport. I remember talking to my wife and she said, “Why don’t you stop at a CVS and get hand sanitizer and a mask?” I’m in New York City and I stopped at a CVS and there wasn’t a hand sanitizer on the site or a mask.
I’ve got on my last flight back to Reno, Nevada to come home to Tahoe. Except for one excursion, I have been home. There’s a few driving assignments but my world has evolved. My business went from traveling 200-plus days a year and either directing in-person or pressing the shutter in-person to tons of remote directing and creative consulting. There are few shoots where we gathered a crew when it felt safe. We took all of the COVID protocols. This may be the first time I’m admitting it out loud but in public, it has been the most fantastic year of my life to be home and have a routine.
My daughter, Leila, wakes up and I’m at the house unless I’m out ski touring or riding my bike. I get home when she goes to bed. I can’t say that there has been a single moment where I felt this burning desire to get back on a plane and do a complicated sequence of travel to some remote place. When it turns on it, I will be as excited as I used to be to explore the open road and be out there. I am soaking in every minute of being home.
I would be doing the same. We have all been impacted by it. I used to travel a fair amount too, not so much since I came back to Bishop and settled into the work I’m doing. Like you on the road, hundreds of days a year and it changes you. It creates an adventure wanderlust that you look forward to. When it stops, I’m the same, and I’m like, “This is cool, hanging out here in Bishop and doing the podcast and getting to explore some of the areas and stuff.” It changes us.
The only missing piece that’s been a little hard is here I am hanging out in South Lake Tahoe and getting plenty of recreation. Hanging out with friends has been a lot harder because of COVID. I have two elderly parents that live nearby. I’m cautious around. I wouldn’t say we are on the extreme side of caution with COVID. We are somewhere right in the middle. We are not losing. We are not overly cautious. That has been a tough one. Some of my even closest friends, we can’t hang out indoors. We are keeping the pod closed. The good news is that it forces more ski tours and mountain bike rides.
That’s a good thing.
It all comes down to how do you adapt? As a human being, an entrepreneur, and a creative, how do you adapt in times? You think it’s going to be one way, and then life deals you an unexpected card. That’s what the pandemic has been for everyone.
That’s the 800-pound gorilla still in the room. We don’t know what the future is. We have this previous life that we are used to, hopping on planes and not thinking twice about hitting the road. Even with the vaccine, I don’t know that this is ever going to go away. For maybe in Leila’s lifetime, they won’t be worried about it. It would be like the flu for her generation. For us, as we transition through the fixes, the remedies, the vaccinations, and all the different things, is that going to take two years? Is that going to take twenty years? It’s an unclear future for us.
You learn to adapt and cope with whatever situation you’re in.
I don’t claim to be an expert on that one.
It could be the vaccine that will solve it all and we will be back normal. That would be great.
This comes from mountain experience. You learn to adapt and cope with whatever situation you are in. You fly halfway around the world, you plan to go on an expedition, you plan for dry weather but it rains the whole time, and you end up wearing a trash bag for fifteen days. We are in that world. We are going to be wearing masks. There are going to be certain protocols and lifestyle changes that we hadn’t accounted for. Life will go on. Even in our industry, we will get along. We are seeing that.
We are slowly tiptoeing back into major production, 30, 40 people on a set and everyone is getting COVID tests every day. Everyone is wearing masks, social distancing and hand sanitizing. There’s a new role on the crew and it’s the COVID compliance officer for the big shoot. One thing we have proven is as humans and as storytellers, we are adaptable people. We persevere. We will do it as safely as it can possibly be done. As a society, we are making strides in the right direction with vaccinations. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for society but also, the outdoor, photography, video, and storytelling industries.
It will be fun to watch. Let’s start with how you’ve got introduced to the outdoors and adventure.
I was a gymnast as a kid. I grew up in the Mojave Desert. Ironically, when I was seven years old in second grade, my second-grade teacher had an elite gymnast as a daughter. She thought it might be good for me to try gymnastics. I don’t know if I was ever hooked on gymnastics, to be honest. I liked the challenge of it. Even early on, it was scary and hard.
My sister did gymnastics. She worked her ass off at it.
It then became a huge part of my life for years. I became a competitive gymnast. I competed at the state level. I became a good athlete. I was strong. I learned discipline. I trained hard, sometimes 3 or 4 hours a day for 6 days a week.
Was it close to you? Could you go to your site? My sister had to get shuttled all around. As you get better, you get to go to the different club over here, which has a better coach. Was there a lot of commute time so to speak?
We were in a rural community. We lived near the Antelope Valley. I live in a tiny town called Leona Valley. It was twenty minutes to get to the gym. My mom and dad shuttled me. There’s this crazy moment where it was a nonprofit gym. There was only one gym in town. At one point, we were losing the coach. Since I was involved, my parents hired a coach from Michigan. He was some stud, a national team member, just out of college. He moved into our house with us and stayed with us. Tony Lanzero was his name.
My world changed. The coach lived in our house. I went to the gym whenever Tony went to the gym. I remember Tony rolled into town. He had a Harley-Davidson with high handlebars. I was ten years old sitting on the back of his Harley going to the gym. Tony was a badass. Tony was the real deal. He took it to the next level. I’ve got so fit. It’s where I learned self-discipline and where I had mastered the art of pushing hard and forcing myself to live outside of my comfort zone. Tony went on to produce a couple of Olympians, badass girls. The girl’s team was incredible. Tony helped sculpt me into being this solid athlete.
One day, we had a pull-up contest in junior high school and I did 35 pull-ups. One of the school teachers took notice of me and invited me to go rock climbing. That weekend, my brother and I went climbing. We went to the Needles of California, a little spot called Dome Rock. That was it. I was hooked. I loved every aspect of climbing, the mental, the physical and the cultural components. The drive up to the Needles with two of my school teachers. It was Bob and George Egbert.
The next weekend, I borrowed my dad’s camera because I wanted to make better pictures and tell better stories of these weekend adventures. My dad had a nice camera but my photos still suck. I realized that it’s not about the camera. It’s about how you use it and how you think. Within a week, two passions were born, a passion for adventure, climbing and storytelling. In parallel, I started to try to climb as much as I possibly could. In the gym, I started training for climbing. I started consuming as much literature on photography as I possibly could. I was on the track. I wouldn’t have known then that that would be my career.
Where did the storytelling part come from? Do you have any storytellers in your family?
My dad was always this oral storyteller. He loved yucking it up, shooting the crap with his buddies in our kitchen or around the campfire. My dad was a scuba diver back in the day when it was a little more Wild West of the Channel Islands.
You could bring home stuff to eat.
I always joke that we used to eat abalone like it was ground beef. We have hundreds of abalone shells in our backyard in buckets. Every Friday after work, he and his buddies would take off and they would get on a dive boat out of Ventura or Oxnard. They would go out for two days and they would come back with wild tales of adventure and some food to eat.
I learned it from him. He used to love telling stories about work. My dad was an educator. He was first a teacher at the high school level, and then a Counselor and Vice-Principal. He then became an Assistant Superintendent at a big school district in the Antelope Valley. He was a good storyteller. He would come home and tell us some crazy tale of a kid blowing up, the sheriff coming to school, and the parents having to get arrested. It’s not always doom and gloom.
He could see the light. He understood the highlights of his day. He told even a better story of scuba diving and so did his buddies. He has a couple of great friends. That’s where I learned it. It then got taken to the next level. That’s part of the climbing culture. I would get in the car with Bob Porter and George Egbert, my school teachers. For three hours on the drive to the Needles, they would tell stories. We would get back in the car and tell more stories. I don’t know a climber that doesn’t tell stories. That’s part of the culture.
I don’t think I know an outdoor person that doesn’t tell stories. That’s part of the deal.
Half of them are true and the other half are wildly exaggerated.
Half of the stories that they tell, there’s only maybe 20% of it that’s true and the rest of it was embellished to the hill. What was your first commercial shoot? You shoot the climbing that you did. That’s probably your first outdoor adventure activity at shooting.
I started to shoot a ton of climbing. That was my passion. It’s worth saying that I simultaneously was trying to become a better photographer. I started this parallel pursuit. I started working at the local newspaper and taking on assignments for the Antelope Valley Press. In college, I went to The Modesto Bee. I’ve got in two internships, two back-to-back summers. I was learning to tell editorial storytelling for the newspaper.
Finally, I took a semester off from college and I drove around the Western United States photographing rock climbing. I did two unsolicited submissions at the end of that semester. One to Climbing Magazine and one to Patagonia, the clothing brand cool. Much to my surprise, both of them called me within a weekend and we shoot some pictures.
Unintentionally, those two unsolicited submissions were my first climbing photographs to get published. One was the cover of Climbing Magazine. It was a photo of my super close friend, Rikki Ishoy, climbing on The Tablelands right above your house. The other photo was a lifestyle photograph that I published in the Patagonia catalog. That was the first commercial paycheck that I ever received. Those two first experiences opened the door to making money and becoming a professional photographer.
They opened two doors. They probably opened the door for you because you can see that this is a thing. It also put you on the map and so did other people.
It’s those two brands. I started getting published in every issue of Climbing Magazine, and then eventually Rock and Ice Magazine. I had the cover feature story inside. Patagonia became my real client. Commercial clients pay so much more, triple or quadruple what an editorial client pays. I owe a lot to Climbing Magazine and Jane Sievert and Karen Bednorz at Patagonia at the time. I started getting first spec assignments where they would pay for my film and they would pay for the trip. They would license the pictures they wanted. In Patagonia, I did some first assignments at climbing and Rock and Ice.
You are right. As my name started appearing in magazines and the Patagonia catalogs, the phone started ringing more frequently. That opened the door to ad agencies calling and other outdoor brands. It was a steep incline. It went from I was a nobody who worked at a newspaper for two years to save up $3,000 to go on a road trip to the phone was blowing up. I was having a hard time passing my classes in college because I was on the road.
One thing we’ve proven, as humans and certainly as storytellers, is we’re pretty adaptable people.
Did you finish college?
No, I never did. I’m three classes shy. It took a monumental, herculean battle to even get to that point. The last two years of college, without exaggeration, I probably only attended 20% of my classes. To this day, I’m surprised that I pulled that off. My dad would love one day for me to finish. I’m not sure that’s in the cards.
These days, it’s a whole different world. I’m not sure that a college degree holds as much cache as it did back then.
In case kids are reading, I would say I’ve got a ton out of college. The only obstacle that might create is one day I could envision myself being a college faculty member and that might be a barrier. Maybe I can convince or twist someone’s arm into making an exception. My five years in college paved the way in opening the door to life experience, exposure to the intellectual conversation, and opportunities that I don’t think I would have found had I gone straight out of high school into pursuing my passion.
The same for me, I stumbled into the recreation degree. Here I am, years on and an outdoor career. College is one of many options as the world expands. How did you get involved with Novus Select? When did that start? Did that start back then? Was it a little later?
There’s a bit of a history there. I’m terrible with time, so I could be off by a decade.
We won’t hold it.
Years ago, in the early part of my career, I was a prolific shooter. I was shooting all the time for the magazines and Patagonia. I owned all of that work. A big chunk of my income was relicensing the images that I had shot. I might shoot it for Patagonia or some brand. Two years later, I would be licensing it again and again. It was the tail end of the heyday of stock photography. I missed the true heyday. That was twenty years earlier, the early ‘90s, the late ‘90s.
A big chunk of my income was stock photography. At that point, my office was the downstairs of my house in South Lake Tahoe. I had two staff members and one of them was dedicated entirely to licensing stock photography. It was a large business for us. At one point, a photographer and entrepreneur in the space, Jose Azel, reached out to me or sent an email. He sent it to a half dozen photographers. He owned a company called Aurora Photos, which is a high-end stock photo agency. It was founded by a few National Geographic photographers.
Jose had sent an email to a few of us and he said, “Would you ever be interested in the brand that focused on outdoor adventure photography?” I was hit up for ideas like this all the time. I responded while flying back to Reno. I had a laptop and that was way before Wi-Fi on planes. I wrote a simple response. I didn’t know Jose personally. I said, “Yes, I would be interested but I would have to have some equity in the company. Otherwise, there’s no point.” I landed in Reno and I sent 100 emails that I had written while I was on the plan.
By the time I had walked out to my car, my cell phone was ringing and it was Jose on the other line. We had this long conversation about what an ideal outdoor adventures stock agency would look like. We experimented. A few of us all kicked in some money and committed some of our photography to create a collection within Aurora. That was Dan and Janine Patitucci, Brian Bailey, Scott Markewitz, and Greg von Doersten. We all were the founding members.
Scott was on the show.
Scott is a great guy. He’s a fantastic guy. He’s an OG and a legend in this industry. We all did this together. It was an experiment. Some guys learned it was for them. For some guys, it wasn’t for them. Over time, I was the last man standing. It was the right fit for me. It evolved over time into Jose and I being partners in Aurora Photos. We created an assignment agency that was run out of New York City that was originally called Aurora Novus.
Meanwhile, the economy changed. We watched the ups and downs in our industry and the evolution of our industry. Eventually, it evolved into what it is now. Jose is no longer in the business and Aurora Photos sold off. The stock photography agency side is no longer owned by Jose or me. Novus Select, which is the assignment and production company side is owned by four partners, three of my close friends here in South Lake Tahoe. That’s Wyn Rugi, Lincoln Else, and Andy Mead. We have an incredible staff. We have thirteen full-time employees. We have an office. I love saying our office address, 1111 Ski Run Boulevard. It’s easy to remember.
We are a production company/hybrid assignment agency. We still have a foothold in the outdoor adventure space but it’s not the bulk of what we do. We found this sweet spot where a lot of our work is in technology. We are working for Fortune 500 brands telling stories and that’s everyone from Apple, Google, Amazon and other startups. We are all passionate storytellers. We are still working on documentary films and photo shoots that take us to a wild outdoor adventure destination. One thing that we have stumbled into is that it’s hard to grow up and make enough money to pay a mortgage and save for your kid’s college education exclusively working in the outdoor industry.
The outdoor industry is beginning to deal with that as an entity. It comes up in a few conversations and you start to see articles about it. I had to go do something else.
Don’t get me wrong. Three-quarters of my career was amazing. I am who I am because of the outdoor industry. Many of my values evolved and were established because of the outdoor industry. It’s still a huge part of who I am. As partners at Novus, we figured out this hack, which is, “We can still do the work we love, which is the outdoor adventure.”
Work is a portion of it but we can also do highly stimulating challenging work in larger industries where there are 1 or 2 zeros added to every job on the invoice. It feels like a sweet spot. We have an incredible staff of people that I work with, a team. I’m blown away every day by how impressive our team is as each individual but then as a team and how well we perform.
You guys have always produced some great work.
It’s an interesting one when folks go to the Novus website. Folks will scratch their heads a little bit and they will be like, “I thought you said they don’t do outdoor adventure.” It’s not our main stead, and then you will see our reel. There are a lot of adventure work. You will see some of the examples of what we have done. One of the interesting phenomena is when you are working in that Fortune 100 or Fortune 500 world.
There are a lot of the work we do. We are not allowed to share or take credit for it. As partners and as a staff, we have checked our ego at the door and said, “That’s okay.” We are growing. We are being paid to grow. We are doing challenging work. We are super proud of a lot of the work that we do and we get paid well for it. We have to own the fact that much of it we can’t put on our website.
That’s admirable because that shows that you are committed to the craft as opposed to committed to the client. It doesn’t matter who the client is. You are all about the story, the imagery, and all those things, which is admirable. You guys are going to tell a great story and capture great images. It doesn’t matter if it’s Novartis or the Bishop Chamber of Commerce. It’s going to be what it is. That’s great.
Do we have a piece up there by Novartis?
I don’t know. I made that up.
That’s hilarious. We do work for Novartis.
Sorry, Novartis. I don’t know anything.
You saying Novartis, there’s a little nugget of insight in that. The industry is small. I have known you for a long time. We have crossed paths many times and we will continue to cross paths. We have actively had an internship program at Novus. The first one was Corey Rich Productions. We have had dozens and dozens of paid internships over the years.
One of our interns, Bjorn, was from Maine. His mother was from Switzerland. After he left us, he ended up with a job at Novartis in Switzerland. He brought us in to do a pretty major production in Switzerland. The lesson in there is the network that you are building and those relationships. It’s important to maintain quality relationships with people because you will never know where it’s going to lead in the best way. We laughed many times when we were in Switzerland working with the Bjorn. Our intern was our boss. That was not lost on him either. He found great humor and joy in telling us what we needed to do.
It’s rare to meet a climber who doesn’t tell stories.
That must have been fun. This show is a great example of that, too. It’s a collection of the people I have met over the years and also the connections that they have made for me. It’s a great community. It’s amazing where it takes people. You start in The Outdoor Biz. For you guys, it connected you with someone like Novartis. You never know where the path is going to lead.
For me, to close that circle or that thread, the outdoor adventure piece of my life, I live it every day. I have to admit, I’m glad that I looked at my calendar. Right before I went to bed, I noticed, “I’m doing this show.” In my brain, I was going to get up at 5:30 and go for a ski tour. I get a dose of that outdoor adventure every day living in Tahoe. It’s why I live in Tahoe.
It’s true that I probably shoot an outdoor adventure picture every time I go up for an adventure, whether that’s riding my bike, skiing or climbing. The difference is I don’t always bring my Nikon. Sometimes I’m truly out there for myself. If I see something amazing, I shoot a picture with my iPhone and it’s more a record shot. It’s a memory, a quick moment. I’m not always trying to publish everything that I shoot.
We wouldn’t go down this path but with the new iPhone 12, you might be able to publish some of those. It’s amazing.
It’s incredible. I also find that if I chose to, I can fill my year with exclusively non-outdoor adventure storytelling. I also know that’s not the right balance for me. One of the realities is I need to make sure that every year I’m doing a few expeditions or adventure trips and that I’m not exclusively telling stories that are non-adventure. I need enough of that to feed my soul both creatively and even physically to go out and suffer, get cold, wet, and be uncomfortable for a couple of weeks at a time.
It’s got to be some multi-day stuff.
It makes me at home and working on projects that don’t make me as uncomfortable physically and more enjoyable.
Is there a shoot in your past that was particularly epic, either crazy weather, cranky subjects? I have heard some of your travel stories and those were pretty crazy stories.
Not cranky subjects. I have done a pretty good job of getting cranky subjects before I even commit to going on the trip. There aren’t many in our industry. People have bad months or bad weeks on an expedition. In general, I have spent a lot of time around many of the best adventure athletes and they are pretty solid. Even some of the folks that get bad reps maybe we are a little quirky.
A lot of times, as the trip gets rough and the weather gets rough, those guys, their personalities get better. That’s where the stories come out. They get committed and grind it out.
I don’t know what my sweet spot is. I’m still at the core. I’m a rock climber. I love the climbing culture. I love skiing, mountain biking, and adventure trips but climbing is as special as it gets. There’s a certain breed of human that loves climbing. To this day, I still light up when I’m on a climbing trip and hanging on the side of a wall.
One amazing aspect of the pandemic was I’m home. Pre-pandemic, our dear friends, Chris McNamara and his wife Victoria, we are at our house and we are all gathered around the kitchen island. Timmy O’Neill and his wife Sarah O’Neill, we are joking, we always call them the O’Steeles because she used to be Sarah Steele. We are all in our kitchen pre-pandemic talking about couples trips. The ladies, Sarah, Victoria, and Marina, my wife, said, “Let’s climb El Cap together.” The guys, of course, brushed it off. We are like, “That isn’t happening.” It humored them. Sure enough, in the middle of the pandemic, we went and did a three couples ascent at the Zodiac. The six of us did the Zodiac and it was awesome.
It’s not that my job was exclusively to take pictures. My job was to make sure Marina was safe and watch over the whole party. A year has passed or had passed since I have been on El Cap. It was a reminder that I love that place. I love being in a big vertical environment and seeing the forest below, birds flying by, looking through the camera and making compelling images. It’s such a wonderful space to make images. It has never gone away for me. It still lights the fire every time I start ascending a line or hanging in my harness with the camera strapped to my back.
Rafting on the river for me is that spot. I don’t get to do it much anymore. We don’t have whitewater here. My knees are hammered. I’m not sure I could anchor myself in a boat properly but that’s the place. It’s the same thing. There’s action, water, moving things and things to deal with. It’s pretty fun. When you get an assignment or when you go negotiate an assignment, how do you go about developing the story of the shoot? Do you have a recipe in mind ahead of time or does it come up during the brainstorming session? How’s that come about?
I’m a collaborative guy. That’s 80% of the reason I get hired. There are a lot of guys, men, and women that can take a nice photo or shoot an interesting-looking video. The approach, the story, the narrative, and the logistics piece are honestly where maybe I shine the most. That’s through years and years of experience. I always say that the reason I get hired is not because of what I can do. It’s because of the mistakes I have already made that I won’t make again. It’s true.
Often, I get hired, and right at the beginning of the project, I can already identify the potential issues. What I end up talking about for the first couple of hours with the client is, “Let’s not do this because I can see this issue. Let’s not do this because this is the best approach.” It’s that process and approach. I love the process. In the process comes the story development. It’s a lot of brainstorming, talking and thinking. It’s also the right team.
It’s interesting even in Hollywood, a director wins an Academy Award. They do a good job of it when they stand up and give a speech. It’s not them because they were key and they were the CEO of the film. The reality is many people were super smart and contributed a ton and made thousands of decisions along the way that made that film work and not become a total disaster. In any project that I do, it’s me but at the end of the day, I’m responsible for, “Don’t eff it up.” There are also anywhere from 1 to 12 people who are equally as engaged and involved in making smart decisions at every turn.
The secret is being committed. It’s being truly focused and trying to think like chess. You are thinking a few moves ahead. It’s like, “If we do this, then what does that mean? What’s the consequence? What’s the benefit?” It’s surrounding yourself with the right team. It’s not cutting corners. It’s engaging the right people who have the right motivation, the right skillset, the right time, availability, and then diving wholeheartedly into it. That’s the process that I have been using for many years.
In the beginning, it was mostly me and I put in all the blood, sweat and tears. Slowly, over time, I had the ability to get other people involved and help. It’s not that you bring other people in not to do the work for you, you bring other people in to do the pieces that they are better at so that you can focus. There are certain things that I’m an expert at and that’s where my time should be going. My time should be going to the highest level of story development and decision-making, the visual aesthetic and some of the logistics stuff. Can I do it? Yes, I probably can. Although I will admit, some of the day-to-day how to do it, I have been a little detached from that for years or the financial side of it.
That’s part of the team, too, to make sure not only you have the right members but you have the right members in the right assignment. You get some guy who’s a great digital editing guy but you put him there schlepping bags, the right guy but the wrong job.
It’s the right people doing the right job with the right mental attitude. That’s the other key. I have met folks that are good at what they do but with a bad attitude. Quickly, they are off the team. Ace Kvale said this years ago. I don’t know if you know Ace.
I met him a couple of times.
Ace is a legend in the adventure sports world. Ace gave me some advice, which is, “People want to work with people that they enjoy being around. Good people.” I understood that then but now, I understand it’s not just clients who want to work with people that they enjoy being around. As a Director, the project leader, I want to work with people that I enjoy being around, whether that’s our full-time staff, our contractors that we hire or the person that’s good at what they do that’s a little off short.
I can relate to that through some of the brand jobs I have had. Over the years, you get a great team and everything hums along. You then get to a place where you are like, “This is good.” It’s like any sports team or any expedition team.
It’s the chemistry.
Sometimes it’s hard to read. You get out there and you go, “This is not quite right.” You persevere. Tell us about your book, Stories Behind The Images. It came out in 2019. What spawned that idea?
It’s the end of 2019. I was putting together essays for my blog. This goes back several years ago when blogs were the thing. I was working with Andrew Bisharat who’s a talented writer and a close friend of mine. Andrew and I run it usually on a monthly basis. Every now and again, we would crank out two in a month picking a photograph and then telling the story behind that image.
It started as a fun project, and then we published 80 of those essays over a few years. They were anywhere from 500 words to 3,000-word essays. They started instructional. Usually, it was like, “How did I make this picture?” We then realized it wasn’t that fun to do how-to essays. The more I could tell stories of how I bumbled, fumbled, the mistakes I made, the caricatures of the people in the photographs. 1) It was way more fun to tell those stories. 2) The engagement was significantly higher. Sometimes we’ve got hundreds of thousands of views on these essays.
Bring other people in to do the pieces that they’re better at so you can focus on the stuff that you’re the expert on.
Of course, we started publishing on the blog but then we would publish on social media, Facebook at the time. That got even more traffic. It got to the point where we had published 80 of these essays. One day, Andrew and I looked at each other and we said, “We have written a book. Here it is. It’s going to require editing.” I decided, “Let’s self-publish a book.” We went down this road of Andrew and I edited those 80 essays down to 50-ish essays, sometimes combining themes and eliminating the less interesting essays. That was fun but a difficult process to get it tighter.
Lindsey Thompson, one of our producers, knows this. We went down to San Francisco and met with printing houses. Lindsey and I hired a designer and we laid out the whole book. I remember I was flying to Siberia for an expedition. It was this massive sequence of travel. I was going to be gone for a month. On the first flight, I needed to make the decision, which printing house we are going to use. I remember thinking to myself, “What are we doing? Why are we going to publish this? This sounds like, ‘Write a check for $25,000 to print it.’” We are going to have boxes of books. We are going on a distribution, marketing and book tour.
I remember I landed somewhere in the United States before the first international flight and I called Lindsey and I said, “Lindsey, pause, hold the brake. We have the book in hand. Let’s send that book to a few publishers and see if they want to take it off our hands.” We sent it to Patagonia. They have a publishing division. We sent it to The Mountaineers in Seattle. Several years earlier, I published a book with Chronicle Books. We were committed to giving them the first right of refusal. We sent it to Chronicle.
It was pretty awesome. I disappeared. We had zapped phone and it was to call home. I went into the Siberian Tundra for three weeks. When I came out, I called Lindsey when I’ve got to the first landline. Lindsey said, “Patagonia and The Mountaineers are super interested. Chronicle is going to pass. They are not doing photo books.” Long story short, we went with The Mountaineers. It was the best decision that we made.
It’s a great book. It’s beautiful.
They did a great job. They probably evolved it to 10%, with some layout changes and some copy edits. More importantly, we had smart people and that’s what they do every day. They had a distribution channel in place. They helped us with the book tour. We did 25 or 30 book tour stops around the country. That was super fun. Thank goodness, it came out pre-COVID.
You wouldn’t have been able to travel. I don’t remember where I saw this, maybe you were on Facebook or something but you were sitting with Leila reading. She was reading. She was picking stories. That would be a great little thing. If you guys out there reading want to check these out, they are on Facebook. Some of those little interactions were cool. I love that.
That was fun. That was right at the beginning of the pandemic. You asked why I did the book. The truth is I did the book because I am planning to live until I’m 100. If I’ve got hit by a bus tomorrow, I wanted Leila to have some of these stories. I hope it makes some other people happy along the way and brings joy to their life. I wanted this to exist for Leila. That was pretty fun at the beginning of the pandemic. I impromptu started sitting down and reading her a chapter.
She got to pick the chapter. I remember there are a couple you looked at it and you go, “That’s the one you are going to pick?” That’s pretty funny.
I wish I had stuck to that and finished the book. We have seen that a little with the pandemic.
You can get back to it. Do one a month or something. Do you have any suggestions or advice for folks wanting to get into the photo game or the storytelling game?
Yes. I think about this frequently.
I bet you get asked a lot.
It struck me that often we look at the past and what worked. What are the lessons that we can learn from the past? How does the industry work? Of course, you should do that. You should look at what makes a great photographer, a great director, a great storyteller who understands the craft, and what worked from a business perspective but never feel confined by what worked in the past. We are truly living in the golden age of storytelling. It’s now. You are no longer beholden to a publisher that you are begging them to publish your photographs. You are the publisher. You own your channel.
There are so many channels, whether it’s podcasting, photography or books. Just do your thing. That’s well said. I like that.
Be innovative. It’s your job. I don’t have the answer. It’s that twenty-year-old kid that’s coming out of college or dropping out of college to drive around in their Sprinter van and take pictures, shoot films and climbing. Your career is not going to evolve the same way that mine did. I’m old school. I was this guy that shot film and had images published in print magazines.
The twenty-year-old coming out of college is going to be leveraging the internet. They are going to be leveraging platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and they’re going to be doing podcasts. They are going to be creating whatever the next iteration of a blog is. Also, you are going to be shooting in VR using venues on Facebook.
Some of the stuff these guys are creating is with a phone.
That’s it and it’s going to be more immediate. You are going to figure out how to monetize all of these platforms. You are going to monetize your audience. I don’t have the answers. I recognize that this is an incredible moment in time from a business standpoint and a storytelling standpoint. The power has never been more in the hands of the content creator than now.
This is it. This is the moment. Your podcast, you own it. You are not beholden to anyone. You do whatever you want with that podcast. You can put as much energy or as little energy into this podcast, growing it and monetizing it. That’s the advice. Study the past. It’s your mission to figure out what the future is going to look like. I don’t think the future has ever been greater from a storytelling standpoint.
I say this a lot on the show and people are probably tired of me repeating this phrase, “Scratch your own itch.” If you like it, I guarantee you, there are at least 1,000 more people that like it. I’m going to reference the Kevin Kelly article, 1,000 True Fans. These days, if there’s 1,000, there’s probably 1,000 more of those. Do what you want to do and pick the channel. That’s great advice. I love that. As we go to wrap here, if you had a huge banner to hang up in front of one of the trade shows, we have all been to these trade shows, hopefully, we will go again, what would it say?
It would be to put your money and time into the things that you believe in. Put your money and time where your mouth is. For me, I care deeply about being a steward of our environment and protecting our wild places. Now I have a little girl and I care deeply about our community and providing an opportunity for kids that don’t have as much as our daughter has. It’s one thing to say that it’s another thing to walk the talk. Put money into the things that you believe in and put your time into the things that you believe in.
A lesson I learned years ago is I was invited to be on the Access Fund Board of Directors. It was a pivotal experience. I learned what it meant to be a steward, be philanthropic and help make a change. That was several years ago. I still don’t consider myself an adult. I look in the mirror and I realize, “I have somehow become an adult.” That’s it. Put your money and your time where your mouth is and walk the talk.
Corey, thanks for the time. It has been great catching up with you. I look forward to doing it over beer one of these days.
It’s my pleasure. It’s good to catch up. Next time we are barreling down 395. I will reach out.
We will go to the Mountain Rambler Brewery. It sounds good.
Thanks, Rick. It’s great to catch up.
- Corey Rich
- Wolfgang Man & Beast
- Summit Adventure Workshops
- Climbing Magazine
- Rikki Ishoy – Instagram post
- Rock and Ice Magazine
- Novus Select
- Jose Azel
- Dan and Janine Patitucci
- Brian Bailey – Instagram
- Scott Markewitz
- Greg von Doersten
- Wyn Rugi
- Lincoln Else
- Andy Mead
- Scott Markewitz – Past episode
- Ace Kvale
- Stories Behind The Images
- Andrew Bisharat
- Lindsey Thompson – LinkedIn
- Chronicle Books
- The Mountaineers
- Facebook – Corey Rich Facebook Post
- 1,000 True Fans – Kevin Kelly article
- Access Fund
- Aurora Photos
- Antelope Valley Press
- The Modesto Bee
- Facebook – The Outdoor Biz Podcast
- Twitter – Rick Saez
- Instagram – Rick Saez
About Corey Rich
Long ago I learned that the technical part of any job is 10 percent. Creativity, problem-solving, optimism, and surrounding yourself with intelligent, hardworking people is the remaining 90 percent. When you know how to be creative and assemble the right team, that’s when all great things come.
I’m a photographer, director, and Nikon Ambassador based in South Lake Tahoe, California. I chose to live in one of America’s great outdoor playgrounds for its skiing, climbing, and biking opportunities because I believe that living in a place that inspires your passions directly translates into doing the best work of your life. South Lake Tahoe also acts like a magnet for talented, like-minded creatives. It’s where I’ve met some of my best friends and some of the most talented, inspired collaborators that I could ever imagine.
My goal is to work on creatively satisfying projects, but what makes it all worthwhile are the lifelong friendships I’ve earned in the process.I live in South Lake Tahoe with my wife, Marina, our daughter, Leila, and our mutt, Preta (who happens to also be my favorite mountain-biking partner).