Take a look through the photography of Kyle Meyr and you’ll notice something different. In Kyle’s pictures, the landscape is as much a character as the athletes and adventurers he shoots. It plays a role, starring or supporting, just like the subject.
Kyle’s images aren’t anodyne portraits or simple action shots that could’ve been shot anywhere; they are stories of people in their environment. It’s a balance, which Kyle sums up perfectly:
Little people, big landscapes. I love it. There's nothing better than shooting somebody fighting against the environment. The landscape gives character to the person within it, whether they’re climbing a wall of ice, or skateboarding down a desert road. It adds a challenge to the pleasure they’re hunting.
And it works in the opposite direction, too. “A human figure adds personality to the landscape, and so much more context than just shooting nature alone”, he explains. “Frame a human above or below the horizon and you add scale, so you can see the grandeur of the landscape around them, or the desolation, or the vertigo, or whatever the story is you’re telling. Maybe somebody is supposed to be kayaking under those mountains and maybe those mountains are supposed to be protecting them.”
Kyle’s interest in action comes from his love of skiing. “My mother is Norwegian, and I grew up the USA, where I was always on the slopes,” he explains. But it took exposure to a very different kind of landscape to propel him into sports and adventure photography full time. After studying journalism in London for three years, city life made Kyle realise just how much he missed nature. “I knew there was so much more to shoot back in my home of Norway,” he tells us, “and when I got back there you couldn’t stop me, I took a camera everywhere, and I shot every corner of Norway.”
His time in London wasn’t a waste, however. His journalistic training helped him to learn the importance of turning experiences into stories.
I always wanted to be in the middle of things, and I had this jealousy of journalists who got to do it – people like Hunter S Thompson or Tom Wolfe – who were actually living the story. The more I used my camera when I was trying to become a part of these stories, the more I realised that I was a better storyteller if I just showed people the exact image that I was seeing, whether it was pretty or not.
In this case, living in the story means the photographer and camera need to be up to the task. “I like to be outside as much as possible,” Kyle says, “So when it comes to a camera’s battery life, being able to have something that will last a long time is very important. It’s vital in what I can come away from the shoot with.”
Case in point is the experience of shooting a Norwegian event called Norseman, one of the world’s most extreme triathlons. “You start shooting at two o’clock in the morning when they take everybody out on a ferry and drop them in the middle of a fjord, Kyle tells us, “and you don’t finish until after sunset. If you’re really enthusiastic about shooting, like me, that easily ends up being at least two thousand shots. I have three spare batteries for the α9 and the α7R III, and I haven’t shot anything yet where that wasn’t enough.”
He also relies on the α9’s faultless AF: “It’s probably my favourite thing that I’ve experienced in any camera – it gets it right ninety-nine percent of the time and that reliability means when you see a shot, it’s yours. So if I’m skiing, I can just stop on the slope, throw the backpack down, grab the camera, and know it will be ready. And to do that at 20fps with continuous autofocus, so you can have every single moment of the action and select from them later, I think is life-changing.”
Despite shooting in some of the world’s most beautiful landscape locations, his ‘run and gun’ approach of staying in the moment means Kyle has little time for traditional landscape approaches, like using filters and camera supports. “You’ll never catch me with a tripod,” he laughs, “I have a very ‘keep up with the action’ mentality and I want to shoot at a moment’s notice, so I depend on Raw and the capability of my camera.
”Turning back to the sense of adventure and wilderness in Kyle’s shots, is there anything specific he looks for in a location? “These stories are usually about humans going outside of civilisation, so the vast majority of the time I don’t want any roads in the photo. I think roads end up bringing the character back into a civilised environment.”But in some ways, that’s getting harder, because of the draw that photos like his bring to the wilderness.
In Norway they're starting to build roads and stone stairs up certain mountains because it makes it easier for tourists to get there, and for me there's nothing more disappointing than getting to the peak of the mountain and seeing that somebody had already made stairs.
A key example of this for him is at Pulpit Rock over Lysefjord. “It’s one of the most beautiful things that Mother Nature ever produced, he says, “but they just extended the road all the way up the mountain to cut the hiking distance. You completely lose that value of being able to earn the view because most of the enjoyment is ‘look what I achieved – I started down here at the ocean and now I’m 1,000m above it’. The attraction photos bring to these locations and experiences is fantastic, and I want people to see them, but when you make the wilderness easy, it changes its character and its story.”
"Not too often can you get all this neatness in one location… That's called nature"