Strategies and gear for living the dream
Adventure photographer Jen Edney embedded with the 2017–2018 Volvo Ocean Race, one of sailing's most dangerous competitions.
Name: Jen Edney
Job: Adventure photographer; onboard reporter for the 2017–2018 Volvo Ocean Race
Home Base: Omaha, Nebraska
Education: Bachelor’s degree in graphic design and visual journalism from Creighton University; MFA from Brooks Institute of Photography
Jen Edney was interning at the Ventura County Star during grad school at the Brooks Institute of Photography when she received an assignment that changed her life. Local 16-year-old Zac Sunderland was preparing for a solo sailing trip around the world—he’d be the youngest person ever to do so if he succeeded. Photographing Sunderland started out as just another daily assignment for the paper, but Edney continued shooting the story for a grad school project. “Soon after,” she says, “my instructors told me to leave school and focus on the story.”
Once she began following Sunderland full-time, there was no turning back: Edney officially considered herself an adventure photojournalist.
In 2017, she became the only female onboard reporter for the 2017–2018 Volvo Ocean Race, one of sailing’s most dangerous competitions, with crews who spend eight months on boats sailing around the world.
We caught up with Edney at the conclusion of the race.
On Getting Her Spot at the Volvo Ocean Race: “I’ve been working toward this job for the past six years. It’s been a long road of putting in the miles at sea, along with building relationships and the skill set needed for the job. The actual application process included submitting a production task that would be similar to what you would have to send off the boat every day. It involved creating a two-minute video, five images, and a 500-word essay.”
On Her Daily Routine During the Race: “Onboard, I would put myself on a watch system similar to the sailors, sleeping about four hours at a time and sometimes only four hours a night if it was a busy day. When I woke, I would check with the navigator or whoever was sitting at the nav station and work around the sailors’ watch schedule to get myself breakfast and ready for the day. I always helped bail water when necessary, sometimes several times a day. The rest of my time was spent gathering interviews and covering the story, editing, and sending the content off the boat. Whenever conditions allowed, I made sure to just sit with the sailors, listen, and talk with them, without the camera. It was important to me to take a moment or two each day to take it all in and enjoy the experience, making sure I was present. Sometimes that meant enjoying the sunrise or sunset without trying to capture it on film.”
On Her Biggest Challenge During the Race: “The biggest onboard challenge was that it was wet and the boat was moving all the time. In the harshest conditions, you need to move at a pace ten times slower than you normally would, with one hand on the boat and one on the gear. You need to be aware of all the danger zones, where to be and not to be so that you aren’t in the way, and you need to learn to listen to the boat to help you know what is going on and be able to anticipate where to be to get your shot.
Overall, the challenge was constantly adapting to the job of being a multimedia reporter. When I wasn’t sailing, I was a part of the Volvo media team, going wherever they needed us. That was anything from handling live cameras on arrival or departure days, producing stories about other areas of the race, news interviews, and photographing from a helicopter. I got thrown into nearly every situation possible, and while it was challenging, I loved it because it was constantly pushing me out of my comfort zone. The pace was like nothing I’ve ever worked before.”
On Her Gear for This Assignment: “We had an onboard media system that was purpose-built. It consisted of seven fixed cameras (on deck, foredeck, mid-mast, and high mast), two of which had night-vision capability. The stern camera had a delay line to allow for incidents to be captured, and we had on-deck microphones. Photo and video media was transmitted daily from the race yachts, regardless of where they were on the planet. We used a wide range of tools to capture documentary content, including Canon Mark IV DSLRs and Sony A7s with a variety of lenses, Liquid Force water housings, and Garmin POV Virb and 360-degree cameras. We saw a huge leap this race in terms of the technology, producing never-seen-before moments from the race, such as 360-degree footage in the Southern Ocean and high frame-rate footage in very high resolution.
As onboard reporters working for the Volvo Ocean Race, we were supplied with the kit. Before the race and now that it is over, I am back to working with my personal gear: a Nikon D5, Nikon lenses, speedlights, 360 Keymission, GoPro, and an Aquatech Waterhousing system.”
On Forgetting a Key Piece of Equipment: “I forgot my toothbrush once on leg three of the race from Cape Town to Melbourne. I realized it as soon as we left the dock. My skipper gave me a spare—or maybe his, I’m not sure—but it would have been a bit long to go without brushing my teeth!”
On the Creature Comfort She Missed the Most: “I missed the ability to cook and eat fresh food and veggies.”
On the Best Piece of Advice She’s Ever Received: “Oh man, this has been quite the year for learning life lessons, having experienced emotions in a more extreme way than I have ever felt in my life up until now. I could probably write a few pages on this, but I think the best advice was to be the energy that you want to attract and to be kind. We are always going to be thrown challenges in life and things we don’t understand. A lot of wasted energy can go into wondering why, how, or what if? I learned that when I redirected that energy toward others and looked at each situation, positive or negative, and found one thing to be grateful for, it changed my outlook and ultimately the energy I was directing toward others. That gave me peace of mind and affected the energy I brought to work every day, whether I was offshore or onshore.”
On the Personal Project She Wants to Pursue Now That She’s Back: “I have a film project in the beginning phase that I’m really stoked about and looking forward to fully diving into now that the race is over. I also have a project titled Our Ocean Playground that is very technically challenging—highlighting hydrofoiling, the newest phenomenon in the sport of sailing, which pushes boats up and makes it look as if they are flying over the water. It’s one I have been working on the technical side of for several years now and had to put on hold during the race. I’m looking forward to jumping back into that project and seeing how it goes.”
On How She Feels About the Push to Hire More Female Photographers in the Industry and to Make Assignment Work More Equal Between Men and Women: “It’s great that there is a push, but my hope is that we get to a point that there is no need for one. I wasn’t hired as the only female onboard reporter in a squad of ten because there was a quota to fill; it was because I had the right skill sets for the job. We (men and women) should be hired because we are best suited for the job, for our strength in content, creativity, skill sets, personality, and confidence to deliver, not because of our gender.”
On the Photographer Who Is Inspiring Her Right Now: “Ainhoa Sanchez, a beautiful soul and the person bringing you all the amazing angles, special and magic moments from the race. She can often be heard screaming while shooting from a helicopter, not from fear but from the joy she gets from the moments she gets to capture. I’ve heard her come in numerous times from a shoot saying, “I love my job!” She brings so much passion and love into her work, which also shows in the energy she brings to those around her.”