Life in Focus: Christian Pondella on Packing Up and Starting a Photography Career

Christian Pondella and Will Gadd - Norway

All photos by Christian Pondella. Used with permission

Christian Pondella has been an adventure photographer for years. He is based in Mammoth Lakes, CA, and besides adventure photography he also shoots loads and loads of skiing. Because he was an avid athlete growing up, he embraced his artistic side and his active side to create the photographer that he is today. Right now, he is the head photographer for Red Bull USA, a member of the SanDisk Extreme Team, and a senior photographer for Powder magazine.

And recently, he partnered up with F-Stop Gear to bring you guys an awesome video about his work. But we were sure to ask him some questions of our own as well. And if you want more, check out the rest of the Life in Focus series.

Phoblographer: In your video for F-Stop Gear, you talk about how you got your break in photography, but how and when did you know that it was what you wanted to do with the rest of your life?


Christian: At one point photography was my only source of income, and that is when it was apparent that this is my job and what I love to do. I am lucky to be able to combine passion with my work. However, I can not say this will be my job forever… Life evolves and you never know what the next chapter might hold.

Phoblographer: Here in NYC, shoots and sets are all usually planned out well ahead of time. But when you’re out in the wilderness and you’re embracing the spirit of adventure, you probably can’t always think so far ahead. So how do you find and figure out which locations to shoot at?

Christian: Often times many of my shoots are planned ahead. It is important to be a part of and embrace yourself in the activities you shoot. I spend a lot of time skiing and climbing with my friends, not shooting or working. You got to have your eyes open and thinking cap on, observing the light, textures and conditions, and then go back to the location when you know all the elements can potentially come together.

Location: Mammoth Mountain, CA Skier:  Bernard Rosow

Phoblographer: What’s in your gear bag right now and how do you ensure that both you and your gear stay perfectly in shape when you’re out on locations?

Christian: My gear bag varies vastly! I think I own 9 or 10 lenses and 2 camera bodies. I obviously would not use all that gear in one day. If I am shooting an event I would use both my bodies and some fast heavy lenses. If I am going into the mountains my camera gear needs to be pretty minimal. Always my 5D Mark III and one or two F4 light weight lenses. My combination of lenses seems to always be changing, which I think is good to keep things fresh and different. All my gear stays well protected in my F-Stop bags or roller. It is essential to have the proper bags to carry your gear, especially in the mountains.

Phoblographer: How often do you shoot with strobes out there? And how difficult is it to work in those conditions with lights?Skier: Giulia Monego Location: Huayna Potosi - Cordillera Real, Bolivia

Christian: I go through stages on how often I use strobes. Fortunately I am not one of those guys who has a reputation for using strobes and feel I need them for every shoot. However, when I do use them, it can make some amazing images. It really comes down to where I am going to be and if it is practical to bring them. Obviously, if your objective is to go climb and ski a mountain, then you can not bring them. But if you are going into the mountains with a snowmobile for a specific photo shoot, then you would probably bring them.

Phoblographer: What advice do you have for photographers starting out?

Christian: I always tell photographers who are just starting out to shoot things you are passionate about. If you have a connection to what you are shooting you will be much more productive.

Phoblographer: You’ve been photographing professionally for 15 years. What advice do you have to give on maintaining a balance between life and work?pondella_fstop_blog_013

Christian: It is very important to keep a balance and not just work, work, work! I live in a place where I can shoot photos every day, but I probably spend more days just going out skiing and climbing with my friends and leaving the camera at home. It was the love of the outdoors and the sports that got me into photography, so it is important to keep enjoying these things. A few weeks ago we were driving home from a photo shoot, and we watched the most amazing sunset as we were driving. The driver asked me if we should stop the car so I can take some pictures, and I said “no.” I did not feel like taking out my tripod running a few hundred yards to find a great perspective trying to get the shot. I just wanted to enjoy it with my own eyes in the company of my friends sitting in the car with me.

Phoblographer: Tell us about one of the most dangerous or cliff hanger (no pun intended) moments from your career.

Christian: I have had a lot of dangerous situations in my career, probably more situations that I might not even have been aware of. One particular situation was shooting ice climbing underground in mine shafts with Will Gadd. After about a week into the shoot I let my comfort level down there get in the way with my judgment. I put myself in a spot where I was not protected from falling ice. Then in a blink of an eye a massive piece of ice broke several hundred feet above me and came racing at me. I was lucky enough to be able to run out of the way and just missed getting killed by a massive ice avalanche.

Phoblographer: What do you think is more important in regards to marketing yourself as a photographer: Social Media or Blogging/Content Marketing?

SKIER: LOCATION: Nevados De Chillan PHOTOGRAPHER: Christian Pondella

Christian: I think it is all important to an extent. I try to stay on top of blogging and the social media, but find myself going long periods of time without doing any of it. The most important thing for me is to continue to get your images out there and published in magazines for people to see them. The best marketing a photographer can have is for someone to open a magazine and see an amazing photo and have your name at the bottom of it.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.