Q&A: Adventure Photographers Dan And Janine Patitucci
Whether you realize it or not, you've probably seen one—or many—of Dan and Janine Patitucci's photos. And, odds are, you probably looked twice. They're famous for their vivid, authentic images of mountain sports, lifestyle and travel. Their images are intense and authentic because they're athletes and mountain people themselves, and making images is one way they express their love for that life. From their home base in Interlaken, Switzerland, they've traveled the world—from Annapurna to North Korea—in search of visual stories to tell, and their work has appeared in a multitude of magazines including National Geographic, and represented mobs of outdoor companies in ad campaigns, including Outdoor Research. We chatted with them about what inspires them, how they keep up with the athletes they shoot—and what gear keeps them performing at top speed.
OR: What does a typical day in the life of Dan and Janine Patitucci look like?
Dan: A typical non-photoshoot day, where it’s just us, revolves around balancing office time with mountain time. We get outside almost every day of the year for fun and/or training, and every day includes the decision, to take a camera? Or not?
We incorporate our location scouting into our daily training. We have a huge list of places we’d like to check out near the house. Living in Interlaken allows us to be in the mountains from our door, with countless prime locations to explore. We run, hike, ride or climb in all the many places nearby, always seeking great spots for future shoots. And if we do decide to take a camera, we shoot while scouting. Ironically, these are typically our best days, when it’s just us, or with a friend, and the goal was to scout. From all these years, our best images have come on these days.
OR: Why do you think that is?
Dan: The odds are good. We’re out all the time, rain or shine, so it increases the chances of getting something special. It’s real, and the mood is right. There’s no pressure—if we get something on these days, great, if not, we got a day of fun in. We’re photographing the life we’ve chosen to live, and it’s self motivating.
OR: You two shoot athletes who climb, run and ride at the highest levels, and you have to keep up with them to a certain extent. What do you do to keep up your fitness?
Dan: I train in the mountains almost every day of the year. My goal is to be all-around fit. In the winter I do ski mountaineering almost every day. I train alone and treat it more like trail running than ski touring—my days are more about the up than the down. As it’s so popular in Europe, I also do several ski mountaineering races a year. At the same time, I’m sport climbing at the gym or on nearby winter crags. Ski mountaineering is perfect prep to move back into running come summer.
The summer is about doing it all, but especially lots of vertical. From our house, I can go straight up in any direction for 1,700 meters. Ueli Steck lives in our town and is a great friend who I regularly train with. From him I learned to spend huge amounts of time going up, fast and consistent, then one day a week I run intervals on flatter terrain to maintain speed. From this year-long program, my body feels strong enough for anything I want, or have, to do. Most importantly, from all the training, I don’t get exhausted when shooting with other athletes. I can perform alongside them and stay focused on being creative and getting my work done as a photographer.
OR: What's one of the most challenging shoots you've ever done?
Dan: Every shoot has its own challenges. On a recent assignment in North Korea, I was undercover as a journalist, so I was stressed beyond belief while trying to still shoot without looking like a photographer. On Annapurna with Ueli Steck, I missed an acclimatization trip due to being sick, and then had to try to stay with him on some days up high when I wasn’t ready. I could barely function, much less shoot. Once in Peru, we were on a two-week trek and it rained all day, every day. We saw none of the famous peaks we were there to see.
So, typically our challenges actually come in the form of weather. The Alps are not California—we get a huge mix of conditions, and if we have to shoot and things aren’t cooperating, we have to tap into experience to make it work.
OR: Obviously you need your gear to keep up, as well. What’s your philosophy on gear?
Dan: My philosophy is all about less being more. I have as little as possible, but what I do have needs to be perfect. As photographers, we are ridiculously simple. We don’t use a tripod, a flash, filters, or many lenses. If you ask me about cameras I probably won’t know the answer to anything technical. Our goal is to create experiences that we can go shoot, simply. The very nature of what we shoot requires that we not carry much, so we have come to be able to get all our work done with very little. I feel like our portfolio reflects that; real moments, done simply, that result in beautiful images.
All that said, I have thought through the gear I do use, and have some systems I fully rely on—so as to keep it all to a minimum.
OR: So what gear makes the cut, then?
Dan: I have a little OR bag that goes with me almost every day, whether I’m training or heading out on a photoshoot. Inside are the things I must have. I adjust them accordingly, but always leave the things I don’t need that day in the same place, to be returned to the bag when I get home so they’re ready for the next day. They are: a headlamp, one GU pack with caffeine, ear plugs (for Euro huts), waterproof phone sleeve (it’s the Alps, and I need to be online for work!), an OR Uber Tube, and a small multi-tool knife. Unless I’m doing something short, I almost always take a puffy, right now it’s the Superlayer. Also, summer in the Alps means a fair bit of rain, so my Helium tends to be along every day as well.
OR: Were you photographers first, or athletes first?
Dan: For me, I was certainly an athlete first. For Janine, she was a photographer. I got my start in climbing because I was a sponsored climber in the US in the early 90’s. My responsibility was to present slide shows at REI stores about my travels and experiences in what was then a very small, but growing, sport. Janine came to the US from Switzerland to go to photography school. We connected, and thankfully she enthusiastically dove into my world of mountain sports.
I think because we’re such passionate athletes, and really only shoot what we are passionate about, we’re able to tap into what viewers and athletes doing these sports also love about them.
OR: How do you two work as a team? Do you usually have specific roles you stick to?
Dan: Depending on what we’re shooting, and the nature of the shoot, I do most of the photography. Janine backs me up by keeping an eye on things, works as my assistant, and is the stylist for commercial shoots. She is absolutely key in the process. But she also shoots, typically what I am not shooting. She can be the risk taker with images, try different angles, use the opposite lens of what I think is the right one. Or, for many subjects, like details, she takes over. Sadly, many of our images have been miscredited to me as most people think I am the one shooting everything. In the office, I’m the marketing person and the communicator. Janine manages our database and websites, and processes all our images. After 15 years of marriage and running a business together, I think we have it pretty well dialed in.
Janine: Dan and I have completely different skills, which makes us a good team, and because of this our positions naturally fell into place. His strengths are my weaknesses, and vice versa.
OR: There are so many adventure photographers out there basically shooting the same things. How did you two develop your style? What does it take for a photographer to stand out?
Dan: Our “style” kind of matches our lifestyle and philosophy on life. We like to play in the mountains, in beautiful places, with great friends. We strive to be our best at the sports we’re passionate about, to travel, to see, to experience, to listen, to be in the right place at the right time, for everything! And during all this, we make images of what we find beautiful about the experience. From all this we have learned the skills to consistently make great images, and we can apply these skills to either personal work where it’s just us, or big commercial and editorial projects.
OR: What's the toughest thing about being both an athlete and a photographer?
Dan: Finding balance. When we’re training, or just doing our own thing, we often feel guilty for not shooting. Or we go into the mountains without a camera and conditions are incredible. We have to not let ourselves feel like idiots for not taking a camera. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a daily issue. Our workplace is the mountain environment, and we go there every day. We have to find the right balance because our job is to record beautiful things, and we see beautiful things every time we’re out. It’s up to us what we record in the camera versus what we keep to ourselves.
Check out more of Dan and Janine's work at www.patitucciphoto.com.
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/PatitucciPhoto
Instagram : @danpatitucci & @janinepatitucci
Twitter : @patitucciphoto