Sailing the world with Jody MacDonald

Light and shadows intimately dance across the sand as a paraglider flies over the surface, © Jody MacDonald

Jody MacDonald is an award winning documentary and adventure sport photographer. For the last 8 years she has been the resident photographer on board a 60ft catamaran, which she co-created, on an expedition to sail to the wildest corners of the world.

She says: "For as long as I can remember I’ve been mostly on the road. I haven’t had a "home", or at least one that doesn’t float since 2003, and even before that I spent many days living in a van or living some crazy adventure. I grew up in Saudi Arabia. Over the years I developed more than a desire to travel, but a need. Without travel I am anxious. My horizon is something I want to explore rather than a line in the distance that remains still."

She is a member of PhotoShelter, the leader in portfolio websites, photo sales, marketing and archiving tools for photographers.

Tell us a little about yourself. When did you first discover photography?
I grew up in Saudi Arabia, which had a huge impact on me. I think it opened my mind, imagination and curiosity to the world. I know my love for experiencing and exploring different locations and cultures stems from my formative years in the Middle East. After Saudi I returned to Canada to pursue a degree in Outdoor Recreation. I always gravitated towards art and physical education classes in school so at university I took some photography courses. Loving the immediacy of photography, capturing those amazing moments in time got me hooked as I was able to capture moments from my adventures. I started bringing my camera with me on my climbing, camping and paddling adventures and it quickly became a perfect marriage of my passions. After university I went on to pursue guiding opportunities in the outdoor adventure world, eventually landing a job as a photo editor for a large Canadian outdoor retailer. This gave me the opportunity to learn the editorial side of the business but eventually I got anxious to get back outside. I quit that job to travel and shortly after I found myself sailing in the South Pacific. I thought it was an amazing opportunity to focus on becoming a better photographer so I began photographing my sailing travels and adventures full time.

A professional kiteboarder performs a technical manoeuvre in the midday sun, Barbuda, © Jody MacDonald

From 2006 - 2011 you were the resident photographer on a 60 foot catamaran that sailed the world. What did you learn most from this experience?

I actually had been sailing for 3 years prior to this expedition so I have lived at sea for 8 years. The thing I learned the most was to slow down. I think the world comes into focus more when you slow down, pay attention to the details and experience the beauty and wonder around you. Sailing in a lot ways forces you to live in the present which is an incredible gift. You can’t get anywhere fast or accomplish things quickly. You’re at the mercy of nature's elements and it often dictates what you do and how you live your day to day life. It humbles you in the best and most profound ways. It’s an incredible lesson that gives me inspiration. Not only in my photography but in many aspects of my life.

Humpback Whales in the sun lit waters of French Polynesia, © Jody MacDonald

Risk and adventure are always present throughout your portfolio. How do you juggle those aspects with the actual image making?
I do participate in quite a few risky adventures but I try to mitigate the risks as much as I can. I take a look at the conditions or the situation and think about how I can make it safer based on my experience. An example would be with my paragliding photography. I’m often in mountain locations that are very thermic and challenging to fly so to minimise my risk while focusing on photography, I will fly tandem. There are other times when the flying is much safer and I know I can fly myself and photograph at the same time. I think a big part of it is having some understanding of the sports you are photographing and know what the risks are and how you can minimise them as much as possible while achieving the shots you want.

Rajan the elephant. The last of a group of 10 elephants that were hired to log the Andaman Islands, © Jody MacDonald

The magical waters of jellyfish lake in Palau where millions of jellyfish thrive in protected lakes with no predators, © Jody MacDonald

Do you have a photographic philosophy?

If you want to be a photographer first and foremost it has to be your passion. One that is so strong that you can’t imagine not doing it. It requires serious commitment and hard work and if it’s not your passion you won’t have the drive and persistence you need to make it happen. Then you have to go out into the world and shoot. Make a point of practicing and shooting as often as you can. Photograph the things you connect with, inspire you and mean something to you. Be patient, persistent, and your own vision and style will emerge. I also think it’s important to be critical of your own work. When I used to be a photography editor people would always say to me “I have some really great images for you to look at”, and I always knew they wouldn’t be that good. It’s not that you should be negative about your work it’s more about having the understanding that taking great photographs is a process that takes serious time, experience and commitment. As Jiro Ono (from the great documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”) says: “once you decide on your occupation you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That is the secret to success.”

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