On my travels this winter, I was lucky enough to cross paths with Rebecca Bredehoft, an inspirational pilot as well as an awesome photographer.
At only 30 years old, Becca already has more experience than many pilots. But what makes her truly inspirational is the way she seems to enjoy every flying day as much as when she first learnt to fly and her permanent drive to learn from the sport.
I took the chance to quiz her about her long paragliding career, her travels and managed to get a few photography tips at the same time.
How and when did you start flying?
My first tandem flight was in New Zealand in 1997. I started flying solo the following year at the Point of the Mountain in Utah, USA. I was 14 years old. I loved flying from the beginning, but as I was living in Montana (a 9 hour drive from the Point) and still in school and working, it took me a few years to complete my beginner rating. When I graduated high school in 2002 and went to university in Colorado, I started flying much more regularly.
Have you seen paragliding change much during your time in the sport?
Yes – hugely. Technology has improved everything so much in the last 16 years. Serial class gliders are performing better with more passive safety. I am amazed at the advances in acro and cross country gliders and speed wings. I love that there are such specialized toys for anything you want to do these days. People are using these tools to do incredible things – flying further, exploring new territory, and always coming up with new beautiful acro manoeuvres. And of course smaller, lighter, better cameras and the internet have made all of these advances so easy to share with the world.
How would you describe yourself as a pilot?
I like a little bit of everything – acro, cross country, tandem and speed flying. I fly just about every day, so the variety keeps it interesting. If I’m flying, I’m happy. I’m never too good for a sled ride.
Where do you do most of your flying?
I’ve spent the past 10 North American summers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The rest of the year I travel. In the past 4 years I’ve spent time flying all over the western US, Hawaii, New Zealand, Nepal, Thailand, South Africa, Ghana, Togo and the Alps. I've just got back from a 6-month flying road trip through Mexico and Central America with my boyfriend Cade and our dog Rok.
What's your greatest paragliding achievement?
That’s a tough question. I can’t say I have a single greatest achievement… I’ve reached a lot of my goals, but each time I achieve something I have wanted to do, a new goal is born. I’ve had (mostly) fun and safe flights for 16 years, I’ve learned a LOT, I’ve flown in amazing places with incredible people—these things all make me really happy.
You've been involved in some awesome volunteering projects related to paragliding. Tell me about your favourite.
I’ve had the pleasure of attending the Ghana Paragliding Festival twice—flying tourists in West Africa over Easter Weekend. Part of the deal was helping to raise funds via the Cloudbase Foundation to be donated to local schools and orphanages. The second year, I was fortunate enough to attend the dedication ceremony for a classroom block that our group of pilots had helped fund. The school was incredibly grateful and it was a very moving occasion.
I’ve also volunteered my time helping organizations that rehabilitate and protect birds of prey—both in South Africa and at home in Jackson, Wyoming. Although not necessarily directly related to paragliding, it’s amazing to be up close and personal with our feathered friends and I love doing what I can to help improve their situation.
You're a professional photographer too. Which came first, the flying or photography?
I have been interested in photography from a young age—and started flying around the same time as I got my first camera. I loved capturing flying experiences along the journey, but I really started putting the two together in 2009. I had returned to Jackson after a year in Montana, where I was working on a ranch and had hardly flown at all. I was chasing the flying every day, but my skills were rusty and I wasn’t feeling super confident in challenging conditions. So I carried my camera with me everywhere. Any time it didn’t feel right for me, I would just occupy myself taking photos of my friends flying. I had my first digital SLR and took way too many photos that summer—most of them mediocre.
As I got more comfortable in the air again, I started carrying my camera with me and taking aerial photos. That fall I spent a month in Hawaii with a group of friends, including Loren Cox. He’s a fantastic photographer and has taught me a lot. We would all go up flying, shoot a bunch of photos, then sit down with our computers in the evening and go through what we got that day. It was there that something clicked and I really fell in love with it.
Which of your pictures are you most proud of and why?
I love taking photos of my friends. Anytime I can capture a friend doing what they love in a beautiful place, this makes me happy. If someone likes a photo enough to hang it on his or her wall at home, I feel like I’ve succeeded. I’m happy if I can capture the feeling of a moment—when the background, glider and pilot, lighting, and mood come together to give you the same feeling you had in the air.
What tips would you give to someone trying to improve their paragliding photography?
- First of all, always carry a camera. This may seem obvious, but some of my favorite photos have been shot when I least expected it, or when carrying a heavy, fragile, and expensive camera was really inconvenient. If you don’t have your camera, you’ll never capture those unexpectedly awesome moments, which can turn in to the most memorable photos. You can still take great photos even without a big fancy camera or technical knowledge—some of my favorite photos were taken with an Iphone, because that’s what I had in my pocket at the time.
- Along the same lines—charge your battery and always bring extra SD cards.
- Before you launch, double check your settings and make sure you’re ready to shoot when the moment presents itself in the air.
- Spend some time at home figuring out a good leash system that secures your camera, but still allows you to move around and get the shot.
- Practice flying one-handed without your camera first.
- As far as technical advice goes, research general action and sports photography articles online—there is a ton of information out there. I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit reading through articles and learning everything from the basics to more specific action and aerial photography tips. Also spend time looking at paragliding photography that you admire and think about why the photo works. The general photography rules apply, but there are some more specific formulas that work for paragliding. Think about colors, placement of the glider, background, etc.
- Although admittedly narcissistic, GoPro selfies can make for incredibly compelling photos, especially when mounted on the end of an Xshot camera pole. Placing yourself in the frame allows the viewer to experience not only what you’re seeing in the air, but what it’s like to be there with you. I love being able to give these photos to tandem passengers to take their experience home with them to share.
- And finally, only share your best photos. I made the mistake for years of posting everything I shot. Even though it feels hard to pick just one photo from an awesome flight or a trip, try hard to narrow it down. I usually pick through photos, choose my favorites, then walk away and let them marinate for a few days. When you go back with fresh eyes, it’s easier to pick the best one. A single amazing photo almost always has a greater impact than 10 good ones.
You can find out more about Becca and see more of her work on her blog and website: