Ever Wondered What It’s Like to Chase Storms For a Living?

Interview by Laura Austin, photos by Krystle Wright unless otherwise noted

To get straight to the point—Australian photographer Krystle Wright is a badass.

Driven by a fear of regret, she has spent her nomadic career documenting some of the world’s most beautiful, dangerous, and adventurous people and places. Judging by her work, regret might be the only thing she fears. She continuously puts herself in extreme situations in pursuit of the images she wants to capture, a fact that couldn’t be more evident in her latest short film supported by Canon Australia, Chasing Monsters. In it, Wright follows photographer and storm chaser, Nick Moir, as he risks everything for his work. Wright made the graceful leap from cinematic stills into motion with her first film, and we caught up with her to see where this exciting and dangerous path will take her next.

Krystle at the office. Photo by Nick Moir

Let’s start off with the basics… if someone asked you what you do for a living, how would you respond?

I’m currently sitting on a flight where I was just asked the same thing. My career has become quite layered and complicated, so I tend to just tell people that I’m a photographer. I try to keep the answer simple unless the conversation evolves and I slowly divulge more about my career. More often than not, I find a lot of transient people I meet satisfied with a simplistic answer and it’s not too often I get a chance to really relate with others who understand the complexity of being a creative and a freelancer. But to be honest, sometimes it gets exhausting to explain and my introverted self loves to escape into my headphones.

Would you consider yourself an adrenaline junkie?

I’m always hesitant with that particular term as I feel that it holds a hidden accusation that I’m reckless. I love being absorbed in the moment, and that often involves situations where adrenaline is coursing through my veins. Anything I pursue, whether it’s work or even personal life, I crave to be wholly absorbed and forced to be present.

You just released your first video project, Chasing Monsters. Can you give us a brief overview of what it’s about?

Storms snap power lines, topple buildings, inundate roads and smash the work of humans with cool indifference. But to behold a monster storm up close is to taste the infinite. This short, intense film follows storm chaser and Canon photographer Nick Moir, cutting straight to the heart of what fuels his obsession.

Have you had any close calls while shooting these storms? 

I’ve just returned from two weeks on the road in the mid-west storm chasing, and there was one particular day where we felt we had a close call. The chase began in eastern Colorado, and as the supercell migrated over the Nebraskan panhandle, we were in pursuit of the storm. At times we thought we had spotted a potential tornado. As things intensified, we were enveloped in rain, hail and strong winds, and I was white-knuckled at the wheel. It came to a point where Nick said that we needed to pull the pin because we had no visual and there was a multiple vorticity tornado on the ground within a mile of us.

The risk wasn’t worth our lives and if you can’t see the storm, it’s just far too dangerous to chase. As we skirted back around, we were driving through another two and a half hours of hail that left our car well and truly battered and bruised. However, as we gained visual of the edge of the storm and escaped the wrath of the ‘Bear’s Cage,’ we witnessed what is considered one of the most beautiful storms ever witnessed; known as the ‘Mothership.’ I’m not sure if I can find the right words for what was an utterly surreal day, where I felt the full range of emotions from fear to ecstasy.

You are known more for your photographs. What made you want to transition to video for this?

A few years ago, I was invited to document a two-month kayaking expedition for National Geographic on the Amur River, which snakes its way through the countries of Mongolia and Russia. The only condition was that I would have to shoot motion as well as photographs. I had always been hesitant, but I desperately wanted to document the expedition and thought that there was ample time to balance the two. I’m often frustrated with cinematography as I don’t apply the same passion that I have for photography, but I certainly enjoy evolving into the director position as it allows me to also shoot stills and hire talented friends to help me realise my vision which soon becomes ‘our’ vision, as it’s always a collaboration.

What is the main difference between shooting photo versus video?

There’s really no comparison, as it’s a completely different method of storytelling. How could one ever compare a two-hour film to a singular frame? Depending on the project and what my role is, I have to switch off the other mode of thinking and focus on one style or the other. Photography is still my first passion and what I often dream about, but I do enjoy the challenge of maturing as a storyteller in motion as both mediums help improve the other.

This project was a collaboration with Canon Australia – what gear did you use to shoot this project?

Myself and the team used a wide range of gear ranging from the Cinelens, L Series Lenses, 1DX MII bodies, 5D Mk IV bodies and the C300 MII. Whether it was the time lapses or shooting on the go, we certainly had quite the arsenal of gear to help bring the vision to life.

Have the elements ever compromised your camera equipment while shooting?

There are challenging times, particularly if there is two and a half inch hail pelting down from the sky, but the only time I’ve ever damaged my equipment was during a Pakistan paragliding accident where my equipment was smashed upon impact. Aside from that small hiccough, I haven’t had any issues as my Canon equipment is durable. I do utilise accessories such as AquaTech, which helps shield my cameras from rain or the water housing setup so that I can be underwater.

Chasing Monsters is filled with a lot of quiet but intense moments. Did you pull inspiration from anywhere in particular when shooting and editing this?

I have to give high praise to Toby Pike and Jordan Swilko, who really helped drive the direction of editing. I believe the success lies in the ability to allow others to have creative freedom. The desire to create these films came out of frustration, a sense of staleness with how repetitive photographers’ stories are being told in a motion format. Considering that us photographers speak in a visual language, so often our work is left open to interpretation and I love that relationship. I took this theory into the motion aspect, where I wanted to remove the voice and let the film be an extension of the photographer’s work and let the audience interpret however they feel. I get tired of particular motion projects where it feels like force-feeding an audience into how they should interpret it.

Can you tell us more about Nick Moir and how you collaborated on this project?

Nick Moir is one of the most exciting characters I’ve met, and I can bet you that he would get anyone passionate about storms or any weather phenomenon. While we had non-stop banter going in the car whilst on the chase, Nick is also someone who I would consider one of the most sincere friends I have. I believe Nick’s body of work shows the sincerity he embodies. With Canon giving me this opportunity to experiment and be creative, I had faith in collaborating with Nick on this idea.

Photography, in general, has a lopsided ratio of men to women, but I would say even more so in the adventure sports realm. Do you feel like you ever get stereotyped or questioned about your abilities because of your gender?

There is no doubt that in my specialised field, the ratio of men far outweighs the female presence. However, I’m trying to steer the conversation towards the photographer’s work instead; I get tired of certain journalists who ask me that cliché question, ‘How does it feel to be a female adventure photographer?’ It’s as if they are asking me how does it feel to be a female. I do recognise that I have the ability to encourage other women (and also men) to pursue this profession as I wanted to show others that it is possible and that there is no reason to be held back by any constraints. I do get frustrated when I encounter those who question my abilities because of my gender but I can’t give energy to that otherwise it only festers and gives me negative feelings. It takes a long time to move the tide and change people’s perceptions, and I’ll continue to be stubborn about my passion since I am driven by the ability to evolve and mature as a storyteller.

I think as creatives and photographers we are always chasing something. Is that exhausting or exciting to you, and do you think you’ll ever hit a point where you’ll want to stay still?

Absolutely it’s both exhausting and exciting, and it can be tough to explain that relationship to others as I know I live a very unique lifestyle. But, it comes with its drawbacks, like anything in life. I’ve hit a pretty hard spot of burn-out right now, and it’s forcing me to acknowledge how I need to change. For many years, I was dead broke and on the verge of bankruptcy a couple times, but I was young and had a fierce hunger to make it work. I was always craving more, and it wasn’t until last year I had this pivotal moment realising it was taking a toll on my health. I no longer need to be moving at a million miles an hour. I’m still excited by the destination, but I want to move at a slower pace and focus on larger scale projects which need space in order to create. I crave to be still, but those who know me well, know that I still have that urge to move for now.

You’ve travelled the world, but are there any places you are still dying to go?

There is so much to see, and I often go back to places I’ve already been over and over, as there’s still so much more to experience every time. It really is people who connect me to places and why I feel that draw to return. But of course, there are many places I’ve yet to explore.

Have you had any experiences while shooting or travelling that have made you grow as a person?

I think the best education for anyone to have is to travel solo, as it forced me to grow up in the best way possible. I had to learn how to deal with so many different scenarios on my own and develop a certain independence. I also have an incredible community around me that I rely on for help and support when I need it. But in your twenties, there is typically a freedom from many responsibilities that can often hold us back, and it is just such a great time to fuck up and make many mistakes and learn from that.

Do you ever take your lifestyle for granted?

I think I’ve become complacent about my lifestyle at times. Thankfully, I surround myself with those who aren’t afraid to ground me and remind me how lucky I am to have such freedom in my choices. After wrapping up this year’s storm chasing trip, I am making a 10-day pit-stop in Hawaii on the way home to Australia to take some time off, and I realise many people don’t have that complete freedom or access to do so.

Now that you have put out Chasing Monsters, do you have any other projects you are working on or dreaming up?

I’m in the process of trying to wrap up a few other projects that I’ve had on the go and make that much-needed space to work on new ideas that have been bouncing around in my head for many months, if not years.

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