Ewan Harvey | Editorial Photographer
Never one to turn down an adventure, Scotland based photographer Ewan Harvey joines Ewa Kalisiewicz and Tim Howell on a ski-touring and BASE jump expedition through Sarek National Park in the far north of Sweden — Europe’s last true wilderness.
Tim Howell leads an adventurous life. After turning eighteen, he set off to train and work as a game ranger in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Sadly, his guiding was cut short after visa problems so he returned to the UK where he enlisted in the armed forces, serving his duration as a Royal Marine Commando. Fast-forward a few years, and he is one of the world’s most accomplished wingsuit pilots and BASE jumpers opening new exit points with an appreciative nod to the merits of old-world exploration. Also a formidable alpinist and climber, his elite skillset is matched only by his determined mindset and easy-going attitude.
Tim and I teamed up last year to climb Mount Kenya where he achieved the first wingsuit jump from the mountain, the highest on the continent. It was also the first BASE jump in the whole of Kenya. We met for the first time in Nairobi and ended up making a pretty good team.
Ewa Kalisiewicz is an also an extremely accomplished BASE jumper, and happens to be Tim’s wife. Born in Poland and now living in Switzerland, Ewa works Monday through Friday for the IATA as a professional in the corporate world, but as soon as 5pm on Friday hits, she swaps high-flying meetings for high-flying adventure.
During her school years Ewa was determined to earn her wings and worked very hard to make it happen. Working full time while studying allowed her to save enough to complete the requisite sky dives to confidently progress to wingsuit piloting and eventually, wingsuit BASE, widely regarded as the ultimate expression of extreme sport.
Known in the industry as the ‘Wingsuit Power Couple’, Ewa and Tim met on a BASE jumping course she was leading in Spain. Travelling the world together, planning adventures and accomplishing objectives, they have continued to develop their backcountry, alpinism, and flying skills. Together they make a formidable team.
Into the wilderness
I was invited to join Tim and Ewa on their expedition to the Arctic circle to climb Skierfe – a shark-like mountain deep in the Sarek National Park in Northern Sweden. With almost 500m of vertical drop into the Rapadalen valley, the plan was to jump from the summit. But getting there was no small task.
Reaching the top of Sarek’s Skierfe was going to be a very different challenge to our African expedition. The frozen lakes, boreal forests and wind-blown mountains of the Arctic Circle were only a few of the obstacles we would have to face. Even in April, it was uncertain how conditions would be. The week before we arrived in Kiruna, the locals described how a recent snowstorm had been the heaviest they’d experienced in the last three decades. No issues for skiing then.
Telephoto lenses are versatile. I use them so I can stay involved in the moment. Being able to take cutaways and establishing shots without hesitation is a good way to develop a narrative and provide context. The above panorama below is taken at 70mm and merged in Lightroom. All taken with the Sigma 70-200 F2.8 DG OS HSM | Sport.
It did not take long before the couple were nearing the base of the mountain. With parachutes deployed they landed safely in the Rapadalen Valley.
This late in the day, the frozen lakes formed pools of water. The rivers were thawing as winter was coming to an end. Tim found this out the hard way on his way back to camp. I received a radio message to let me know he had gone through the ice. Apart from being uncomfortably wet, Tim was safe and well back at camp.
Pushing the limits
Even though taking photos is my job, there are many more important responsibilities any expedition photographer must meet. You are part of the team, and the team comes first. From the few expeditions I’ve covered so far, I have learned that the key to success in the backcountry is efficiency. Everything from packing, to setting up camp, cooking meals and layering clothing – being fast and organised is the name of the game. This is where Ewa and Tim’s experience really shows, and while I got quicker each day, being familiar with your equipment is vital.
Covering an expedition like this often means you’re ahead or behind of the action to get the angle and tell the story, which means being fast and flexible. This is not so easy when you are following two elite alpinists. I tried my best and was helped greatly by a steady supply of chocolate.
Similarly, I am not precious with equipment. It is rare even that I carry a camera bag with me, as I prefer my camera to be always at the ready. My selected lenses are usually wrapped in my down jacket or similar (apologies to all gear heads!). I’ve never had an issue with any of my lenses, owing to the fact that they are extremely well built.
I am often shooting in extreme conditions and remote locations – it is important for me to have absolute trust in my kit. It is essential that I can capture the critical moments, such as the BASE jump, and not worry. Weather windows and timings can be very slim and there is no practice – you only get one chance to get the shot!
Why I shoot with SIGMA Lenses
The first Sigma lens I ever used was the 85mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art and I was blown away. The images it can produce are simply incredible. Having used similar lenses previously, I found the understated design of the Sigma 85mm to be much more comfortable and felt that I had much more stability due to the larger dimensions of the lens. Since then, I’ve used the new generation of Sigma glass on every single one of my commercial projects and continue to be impressed.
I am incredibly fortunate that as an editorial photographer, my assignments are incredibly varied and that is why I love what I do. However, I need to have lenses which are able to deliver in all environments and subjects to the highest quality. I have absolute confidence when shooting with my Sigma lenses, they have not let me down even in extreme condition. Everybody misses the shot sometimes, that’s just life. At least I know that it’s my fault and not my equipment!