One word turns up again and again in a conversation with photographer Andrew Kornylak: authenticity.
"Authenticity is something that's really important, no matter how well lighted a photo is or how flashy," says Kornylak, an Atlantan who has made a name for himself as an outdoor sports photographer.
"For me, the way to do that is through participating. I'm into mountain biking, paddling, trail running—pretty much any outdoor sport appeals to me. The cool thing about photography is, on the one hand you have to participate to get something authentic. And on the other hand you get to participate. You know it's going to be a good time."
For Kornylak, authenticity starts in the rock-climbing world.
"The climbing photography world demands authenticity," he says, "because the audience is generally very knowledgeable about the subject matter. If it looks bogus, you will get called out."
Kornylak has been climbing since 1992 but has been taking pictures even longer. "I was always into photography growing up, as a hobby and an interest. We had a lot of cameras around. I remember sitting through quite a few Kodak Carousel evenings. I think I was always the last one awake. My brother was a newspaper photographer for a bit, and I inherited his camera when he went to law school."
Although he loved photography, Kornylak pursued a career in software development in Atlanta. "Photography was always in the back of my mind, but doing it professionally never seemed very realistic. Software was a good career to be in. You could always get work. It was flexible."
After moving to Tucson for a while in the late 1990s, Kornylak slowly made the transition from amateur to professional photographer. "I decided to try photography as a career, not full time but just trying to sell my photos, licensing my images and trying to get assignments—mainly in the climbing world because that's what I knew best. The climbing photography world is still pretty small, but it was really small back then. You knew everyone who was shooting photos."
In 2000 his first photos were published-a two-page Outside magazine spread. "That got me pretty fired up," he says. "I, of course, quit my day job and decided I was going to be a full-time photographer right then and there. It didn't quite pan out that way, of course. For several years I was still doing software on the side and trying to make my photography career work, learning the ropes about the business end of things, developing more and more time on the photography end and the creative thing, which was cool."
As his career began to develop, so did the art of digital photography, which turned out to be an easy transition for Kornylak, given his background in software. "I was kind of immediately drawn to all this digital photography," he says. "It was a really easy transition for me, and I was excited to try this technology and learn it and just kind of get into it.
"Another thing that was happening was I was really into other sports-action sports photography, like skateboarding and mountain biking. I noticed that the photographers were always pushing the limits of what they could get away with on [certain] types of cameras and lighting.
"You'd open up a skateboarding magazine and you'd see shots that were using off-camera flashes and strobe lighting and artificial lighting and colored light and big fisheye shots, things like that. Creatively I think they were always ahead of the curve."
Kornylak wanted to bring that kind of creativity to climbing photography, which at the time relied mostly on natural light. "I think it was gnarly enough just to get up there and shoot the photos without learning off-camera strobes and all that," he says.
But Kornylak was eager to stretch himself. "I started experimenting with off-camera flash and strobe lighting and almost like studio lighting out on the rocks and in the mountains. That was pretty new at the time. Now if you open up any camera magazine, it is pretty ubiquitous.
"Maybe it was something whose time was coming. But at first when you sent these editors at the climbing magazines lighting shots and artificial lighting, no one was taking them because they just looked too different. After a lot of persistence and sending the shots over and over, they finally relented. At the same time, the craft was increasing on the photographer's end."
Experimenting with technology also allowed Kornylak to hone his skills for other types of work, such as studio photography and portraiture. "More and more I approach photography from a photographer's standpoint instead of from a climber's standpoint," he says. "I love doing portraits. I love doing a story. I love doing reportage. I love the photographic essay. I love doing weddings. If it's an opportunity to be creative photographically, I'm in."
Much of his work is editorial, working for publications such as The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Adventure, AARP The Magazine, Garden & Gun, Backpacker, German GEO and Business Week, as well as the Discovery Channel.
"I definitely feel fortunate to have those clients because they provide a lot of work. It's good exposure, its good work and it pushes me to keep my level of photography high. There's a lot of work you could do just in the climbing world, but not all of it is going to push you to do your best work every time."
More and more he's also shooting video for corporate clients, producing pieces that he says "kind of ride the line between editorial storytelling and commercial storytelling."
Still photographers have an advantage over straight video photographers as they begin to shoot video, he thinks. "When you're a photographer there's an expectation of really focusing on all of the elements that make a great single picture, like great light and great composition. A lot of straight videographers don't focus on that as much. Photographers tend to be a little more careful about that."
Although he uses regular video cameras to shoot much of his video work, Kornylak has become known for what he calls Stillmotion photography, which blurs the line between still photography and video.
"The term came to me when I was having a discussion with another photographer," he says. "We had this discussion about the different forms of video and what makes a video a video. What's the line between still images and moving images? It's very fluid. It's a gray area. We were talking about the ideal camera that would do both stills and videos and where you could effortlessly switch between the two."
Kornylak had recently seen a presentation by Ed Kashi of the MediaStorm multimedia production studio featuring photos Kashi had taken using a motor drive in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
"He put together this sequence of thousands of images that was something faster than a slide show but slower than video," Kornylak says. "It was more like real time than what you would see in time-lapse photography, in that vague space between video and still photography.
"That inspired me to try something like that myself. What he did was very different. It was a lot of bursts of photography that would sort of dance around a single composition, freeze on that shot and then move on."
Kornylak began experimenting, using a Nikon D2X. "The D2X had a high enough buffer and a fast enough frame rate that I could shoot images all in a sequence and you would get sort of a fluid illusion of motion, basically animation or something.
"If you just hold the shutter down and think about it as more of a movie camera instead of a still camera, you're repurposing the still camera to being a very rudimentary film camera. It's kind of like a step back in history."
Kornylak continued experimenting and progressed to the D3, which enabled him to shoot faster, "at 11 frames a second, instead of six or seven," he says. "The buffer was bigger, too, so I could shoot for 12 seconds at 11 frames a second.
"It's fun and it's kind of a neat little space to explore. No one was really doing that much. It looked really cool. What you end up with is a bunch of clips that you can lay in a video. It looks very fluid to a human eye, but the resolution of each frame is very high."
He puts the projects together using Final Cut Pro editing software. You can find examples of Kornylak's Stillmotion work on his blog at www.theblindmonkey.com.
For most of his work these days, Kornylak relies on the D3S. "It's just a powerful, all-round, does-everything camera," he says. "It will also shoot video. Although I like geeking around with a lot of cameras, it's important to pick up that workhorse camera that you use all the time. It's the camera that never fails you. You're always going to be able to shoot exactly what you want and come back with your best image.
"I'll always have a second camera, too, like a D3. For me the big difference between the D3S and the D3 is the dust reduction on the sensor for the D3S. A lot of environments I find myself in, it's like a critical piece of technology.
For family pictures, he often tries to use the D3X. "It's more of a practical issue because I know if I come back with a great photograph, even if it's a portrait of my kids, then I want to have that option and put it in my professional collection."
After all, using a camera you're comfortable with allows you to focus on the picture, not the tool. And that helps you to be... what's that word? Authentic.