Having grown up in Saudi Arabia, returning to the US aged eight, Jody MacDonald has scarcely stopped moving since. For the past 10 years she has lived mostly at sea and, in the last five, she’s visited more than 50 countries.
Now based in Sun Valley, USA, Jody is one of the world’s leading paragliding photographers. National Geographic, Niviuk and Outside Magazine have all used her photographs and she’s recently documented an epic 800km traverse of the Sierra Mountains in California, her stunning photographs can be viewed below (or read her blog post here).
Jody has always been artistic but after taking photography classes in college she found her calling. “Photography for me was the perfect medium for expression and I fell in love with being able to catch an amazing moment in time and quickly see the results,” she tells us.
Paragliding came a little later in Jody’s life. Her brother, a bush pilot in Alaska, bought a second-hand paraglider in 2002 and they set about learning to fly it. Since then Jody’s become an accomplished pilot, but when it comes to photography she sometimes opts for the passenger seat.
“The one good thing about flying and taking pictures is that I can maneuver my paraglider in the exact location to get the shots I want but the downside is that my percentages of photographs goes way down. I constantly have to stop shooting to control or steer the paraglider and therefore I might not get THE SHOT that I’m looking for. It really depends on the flying site or the assignment I’m working on. If the situation works for me to fly myself and photograph, I will but if I need to get a high percentage of quality photos I will often get someone to fly me tandem so that I can just focus on the photography aspect.”
She adds: “While I think solo pilots always rather be in control of their own wings I’m very comfortable being a tandem passenger.”
In a life so full of adventure Jody struggled to pick her most memorable trip but one which she says she will never forget was sailing across the Mozambique channel from Madagascar to the Bazaruto Archipelago. On arrival they discovered a spectacular 20 mile dune.
“The east side of the dune juts out of the Indian Ocean at a perfect angle for paragliding, a few hundred meters above the sea,” she says. “Until our visit the massive sand playground had never been flown. We spent a couple of days flying this dune and towing up in various places in the archipelago. It was so magical to not only be the first ones to fly it but to have it all to ourselves.”
Jody’s advice to pilots looking to get good photographs is fairly simple, keep your camera handy and work with you subjects. In her own words: “Make sure you’ve got a good top loading bag that you can get easy access to and are able to store your camera away quickly when needed. Obviously make sure your camera is clipped in at all times. If you want to get better paragliding images it’s always good to work with other pilots to help you get the shots you need. I brief the pilot/pilots on what type of shot I’m trying to achieve so that they have a good understanding and we are always in radio contact so I can tell them where I want them to fly or what type of maneuver I want them to do.”
So what’s next for Jody? Well she’s off to the X-Alps this summer and then… “The thing about traveling is that the more you do it, the more you realize how little you’ve done and how much is out there. There are so many places I’d still like to go. On top of my list at the moment is exploring some of the more remote areas of Africa.”
You can keep up-to-date with Jody’s travels and photography on her website jodymacdonaldphotography.com